[Buddha-l] Karma and ethics [was: angels]

Steven Lane steven505 at earthlink.net
Fri May 27 11:25:53 MDT 2005

The closet person I have ever had to a teacher specifically states the view
below is incorrect. While it probably is correct in Hinayana and Tantric
traditions in other Mahayana traditions one's karma is never made worse by
taking a vow and then breaking it. That particular teacher says that a vow
is a model for the mind it is better to take it and break it than never to
take it at all. At least the imprint of the vow remains even if it is
broken. The Pure Land tradition agrees with that and it is my own personal
belief also. The tantric and Hinayana traditions emphasize the retribution
aspect of karma far too much for my tastes as well as far too much to be a
useful teaching in today's world. I personally am much more attracted to the
salvific doctrine of the Mahayana schools.




If you'll read the karma chapter of the Abhidharmakosha carefully, I think
you'll find that the effects of bad karma are more serious when one has
taken vows. The reason for this is that vows are seen as a way to cultivate
habits that conduce to peace of mind. If one fails to follow a vow that one
has voluntarily chosen to follow, then the chances of having the discipline
to cultivate wholesome habits are seriously diminished, and one's sense of
failure is higher. Since a sense of failure is one of the many forms that
dukkha takes, to fail to follow a voluntary vow results in dukkha. That is
karma-vipaaka. Thinking about it in ethical terms could be somewhat
wrong-headed, for it is imposing a category onto Buddhism that is alien to

Richard Hayes
Department of Philosophy
University of New Mexico

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