The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #37530   Message #523449
Posted By: Peter T.
08-Aug-01 - 10:03 AM
Thread Name: BS: What is this stuff - Karma?
Subject: RE: BS: What is this stuff - Karma?
There are different versions of karma, depending on your taste or religion. The standard theory is that it originated as a term used in public rituals prior to the advent of what could be called early Hinduism (roughly 1000 B.C.). Assume for the moment that public rituals mimic the structure of the universe (that is why they are held in sacred spaces, are oriented the way they are, etc.) in part in order to pay homage to the universe, but also with the idea that you might be able to move the universe around a bit through making a ritual pattern on earth that reflects a larger cosmic pattern. That pattern is sometimes called rta, or dharma. If you make a mistake during the ritual (like trip over your robes), that was considered to be karma, like a little piece of wrongness, or pollution, affecting the ritual. Now fast forward about 300 years. In the emerging cities of the Indian subcontinent, those large scale public rituals (tribal, involving animal sacrifice, etc.) begin to give way to private rituals and the idea of the individual. The way for an individual to do right is to follow their dharma (svadharma), and when they do things wrong, that do not adhere to the dharma, they create personal karma.

So, in early Hinduism, personal karma is a mechanical force, something that happens when you physically do something wrong. When Buddhism and Jainism and revised Hinduism come along, they emphasize not physical action, but intention. If you did not intend to kill that person, that it happened by accident, then you don't accrue karma. There are long and involved legal and religious disputes (as here, cf. no-fault insurance) about how much intention there has to be, if you generate karma just by being a normal unenlightened human being, etc.

The most important thing is that in contemporary Eastern thought, karma is not mechanistic. It should also be said that some religions, like Buddhism, are very sceptical about karma, for complicated reasons. You don't need to believe in karma or rebirth to be a Buddhist. You need it for some others.

Hope that helps.

yours, Peter T.