Contemporary Ideas about Karma
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines karma as “the force generated by a person’s actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person’s next existence.” Karma is a fundamental Buddhist concept. Buddhists hold that wholesome deeds and intentions create beneficial karma, and unwholesome deeds and intentions create harmful karma.
The consequences of a person’s deeds might not be revealed in his or her present life, but only in subsequent lives. This is why some people might not seem to “reap what they sow.”
It is questionable whether all Buddhists have subscribed to the doctrines of rebirth and karma as elaborated above. Over time, ways of mitigating or reversing the effects of karma appeared in Buddhist traditions, and many contemporary Buddhists believe in transmigration but do not think their everyday behavior will affect their future lives. Some may even reject karma and rebirth as fatalistic justifications for prejudice, such as sexual discrimination, or for such misfortunes as poverty, physical disability, and natural disasters.
What is karma? How do people today understand it? We may need to rethink karma, an important Buddhist concept that has often been misinterpreted and exploited for various reasons, so that Buddhism will continue to be a spiritual guide for people’s thoughts and deeds.
Understanding Karma for Today by Dominick Scarangello
Dominick Scarangello, PhD, specializes in early-modern and modern Japanese religions. He has taught at the University of Virginia and was the Postdoctoral Scholar in Japanese Buddhism at the Center for Japanese Studies, University of California, Berkeley (2013-14). Currently, he is an international advisor to Rissho Kosei-kai.
What Does Karma Really Mean? by David R. Loy
The true focus of the karma teaching is not on the consequences (effects) but on one’s actions (causes).
David R. Loy is a professor, writer, and Zen teacher in the Sanbo Zen tradition of Japanese Zen Buddhism. He is a prolific author whose essays and books have been translated into many languages. He teaches in America and other countries on various topics, focusing primarily on the encounter between Buddhism and modernity and what each can learn from the other. See www.davidloy.org.
Karma as the Constructive Activity of Experience by Maria Heim
Karma . . . is not so much reaping what one sows but the constant work of fashioning who one becomes.
Maria Heim is Professor of Religion at Amherst College. She holds a PhD from Harvard University and did her undergraduate work at Reed College. She has held fellowships from Guggenheim and Fulbright. Her most recent book is The Forerunner of All Things: Buddhaghosa on Mind, Intention, and Agency (Oxford University Press, 2014). She is currently working on two projects: a study of emotions in classical Indian thought and a study of Buddhaghosa’s hermeneutics.
Chinese Buddhist Perspectives on Karma by Beverley McGuire
Neither a theodicy nor a license to judge other people’s actions, karma provides a means of confronting and responding to one’s own life and morality, but the most honest stance toward other people’s suffering is that of extreme humility.
Beverley McGuire is an Associate Professor of East Asian Religions at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She received her PhD in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University, and she specializes in late-imperial and modern Chinese Buddhism. She has published articles in Journal of Chinese Religions, Material Religion, and Religion Compass and a book entitled Living Karma: The Religious Practices of Ouyi Zhixu (Columbia University Press, 2014).
All Sentient Beings Are Bodhisattvas by Fumihiko Sueki
Modern Buddhists have . . . concealed [the] doctrine of karma and the cycle of rebirth or have sought to abandon it as violating the true teachings of the Buddha. But are they right to do so? Should we reject the concept of past and future lives and assume that our few decades in this life are all there is?
Fumihiko Sueki, PhD, is a professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo, the Graduate University for Advanced Studies, and the International Research Center for Japanese Studies. He currently serves as president of the Japanese Association for Comparative Philosophy. His research focuses mainly on reconstruction of the intellectual history of Buddhism in Japan from ancient to modern times. He is the author and editor of a number of books, mainly on Japanese Buddhism and the history of Japanese philosophy and religion.
Do Not Do What Is Wrong by Nichiko Niwano
Nichiko Niwano is president of Rissho Kosei-kai and an honorary president of Religions for Peace. He also serves as an advisor to Shinshuren (Federation of New Religious Organizations of Japan).
Reviewing the Buddha’s Teaching on Karma and Its Social Ramifications by Jonathan S. Watts
The Buddha repudiated both past karmic determinism (pubbekaṭavāda) and theistic determinism (issarakaraṇavāda), because they lead to passive resignation and discourage taking action that can be of direct benefit.
Jonathan S. Watts has been a researcher at the Jodo Shu Research Institute in Tokyo since 1999 and at the International Buddhist Exchange Center in Yokohama since 2005. He has also been an associate professor of Buddhist Studies at Keio University, Tokyo, and has been on the executive board of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) since 2003. He has coauthored and edited Never Die Alone: Death as Birth in Pure Land Buddhism; Rethinking Karma: The Dharma of Social Justice; and This Precious Life: Buddhist Tsunami Relief and Anti-Nuclear Activism in Post 3/11 Japan.
Discovering the Lotus on This Shore: A Reading of Kenji Miyazawa’s “Okhotsk Elegy” by Jon Holt
Miyazawa wrote stories and poems in order to help others understand, venerate, and propagate the Lotus. In doing so, he created works that are both very Japanese and very worldly.
Jon Holt is an Assistant Professor of Japanese in the Department of World Languages and Literatures at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. His research interests include modern Japanese poetry, Japanese Buddhism, and manga. Recent publications include “In a Senchimentaru Mood: Japanese Sentimentalism in Modern Poetry and Art” (Japanese Language and Literature ); and “Ticket to Salvation: Nichiren Buddhism in Miyazawa Kenji’s ‘Ginga tetsudō no yoru'” (Japanese Journal of Religious Studies ). His translations of Amari Hayashi’s tanka recently appeared on asymptotejournal.com.
The Actual Refugee Crisis in Europe by Ignacio Marqués
We have seen European leaders meeting in Brussels to consider the promise of providing more facilities to Turkey if it agrees to stop the crowds of refugees and allow them to remain in its territory, forbidding their access to EU countries.
Ignacio Marqués, a Roman Catholic priest in Barcelona, founded the Sant Pau Centre Terapèutic there in 1984, Spain’s first Welcome Centre for helping sub-Saharan people. He was for ten years the Archdiocese of Barcelona’s episcopal delegate for migrants and gypsies, and promotes interfaith dialogue among people from 127 countries, including Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Christians. In May 2015 he visited Japan and spoke at Rissho Kosei-kai Dharma centers in Tokyo and Nagoya.
Niwano Peace Prize
Abiding by the Laws of Interdependence The 33rd Niwano Peace Prize Acceptance Address by Dishani Jayaweera, Cofounder of the Centre for Peace Building and Reconciliation, Sri Lanka
The Niwano Peace Foundation awarded the thirty-third Niwano Peace Prize on May 12 to the Centre for Peace Building and Reconciliation (CPBR) of Sri Lanka for its distinguished contributions to peace building and reconciliation in Sri Lanka during and after the country’s twenty-six-year civil war and its help in rebuilding a society that honors diversity. The presentation ceremony took place in Tokyo. In addition to an award certificate, CPBR received a medal and twenty million Japanese yen. The cofounder’s acceptance speech follows.
The Centre for Peace Building and Reconciliation (CPBR) of Sri Lanka was founded in 2002 by Ms. Dishani Jayaweera, a former attorney, and Dr. Jayantha Seneviratne, an expert in conflict transformation, who are Sinhala Buddhists by birth. CPBR is a nonprofit organization promoting peace building and nonviolent conflict resolution. It supports personal and societal transformation within and between ethnic, religious, linguistic, and regional communities in Sri Lanka, working at the grassroots, local, and national levels. To achieve goals of national reconciliation, CPBR focuses on people considered to hold the greatest influence and promise for transformation: religious leaders, women, and young people.
The Asian Conference of Religions for Peace The 33rd Niwano Peace Prize Acceptance Address by Dishani Jayaweera, Cofounder of the Centre for Peace Building and Reconciliation, Sri Lanka by Nikkyo Niwano
Nikkyo Niwano, the founder of Rissho Kosei-kai, was an honorary president of the World Conference of Religions for Peace and was honorary chairman of Shinshuren (Federation of New Religious Organizations of Japan) at the time of his death in October 1999. He was awarded the 1979 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.
The Threefold Lotus Sutra: A Modern Commentary (125)
The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law Chapter 25: The All-Sidedness of the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World (4) The 33rd Niwano Peace Prize Acceptance Address by Dishani Jayaweera, Cofounder of the Centre for Peace Building and Reconciliation, Sri Lanka by Nikkyo Niwano
This is the 125th installment of a detailed commentary on the Threefold Lotus Sutra by the founder of Rissho Kosei-kai, Rev. Nikkyo Niwano.