Calling the Karma Police

If you’re a Buddhist, the idea that Karma = Santa Claus might seem like a pretty false analogy. And yet Scientific American (!) blogger John Horgan writes that,

Buddhism, at least in its traditional forms, is functionally theistic, even if it doesn’t invoke a supreme deity. The doctrines of karma and reincarnation imply the existence of some sort of cosmic moral judge who, like Santa Claus, tallies up our naughtiness and niceness before rewarding us with nirvana or rebirth as a cockroach.

I did not know that. Huh. Huzzah, Science!

Horgan writes lots of other things, too. I wonder what you’ll think of them.


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    Horgan knows not of what he writes. Karma is seen as a natural force. It’s not a judgement. It’s supposedly the natural consequence of an action.

  2. avatar
    Ester Adler Says:
    December 4th, 2011 at 4:00 am

    Well, reading his article, most of what he says makes a lot of sense, or at least coincides with my own doubts about Buddhism. His criticisms are quite valid, and his Santa Claus analogy does correspond to the belief of many a Buddhist indeed.

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    Hang on a minute. As a practicing Theravada Buddhist, I’d like to make it clear that everything this fellow, John Horgan, is saying is fundamentally and deeply inaccurate about Buddhism. I would encourage anyone who shares his beliefs in any way to go to a local Buddhist center or check out a book to get more reliable and meaningful information.

    As Craig points out, karma simply means action. It has nothing to do with God or Santa. It just means that skillful or unskillful actions, perceptions, mind states come to fruition in their own time. It has nothing to do with what you believe in, in fact. I’d recommend “Kamma and the end of Kamma” by Ajahn Sucitto, which I’m reading currently. It’s not a totally easy read, but Sucitto is great.

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    thanks, well said.

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    There is a phrase that’s used in Zen and, I think, many other schools of Buddhism : “He’s awfully proud of his understanding.” In this case, the phrase should be amended to “He’s awfully proud of his misunderstanding.”

    That’s why I have a problem with atheists; at least, those who insist on debunking religion : They declare themselves experts on whatever religion they’re critiquing, assume that their interpretations are the only interpretations and that said interpretations are 100% accurate. Then, once they’ve debunked their own flawed interpretations, they slap themselves on the back and declare victory for Reason / Science / Their Own Egos. “They’re awfully proud of their misunderstanding.”

    In short order, the author’s misunderstanding on karma were pointed out by two different average everyday Buddhists here in this comments section.

    But what about the other incorrect things he puts forth? For example, there’s the assumption he makes about what he calls the “myth” of enlightenment:

    Since when has any Buddhist been promised moral infallibility through enlightenment ? I haven’t. That’s not what enlightenment is anyway. It’s the realization of the true nature of reality. While that helps decision-making, it doesn’t provide omniscience.

    It comes down to the old Zen proverb:

    “Before enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.
    After enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.”

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    I’d have misgivings about a cosmic judge who tallies up my naughtiness and niceness, hanging a cockroach lifetime as a threat over me. If that’s what he understands as the teachings of Buddhism, I don’t blame him for going elsewhere.

    Still, I don’t understand why he feels compelled to make so much noise about his lack of understanding, and the distaste he feels towards his half-formed notions about someone else’s faith.

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    interesting comments, all, folks. thanks. and more here:

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    Hotei = Santa Claus

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    [...] [...]


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