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

Richard P. Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Fri May 27 12:42:54 MDT 2005

On Fri, 2005-05-27 at 13:25 -0400, Steven Lane wrote:

> 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 am completely ignorant of tantra, so I can say nothing about it. There
is no school of Buddhism that calls itself Hinayana, so I am not sure
exactly to what you are referring. A straw man, I guess. All I know is
that the Buddhist texts with which I am familiar do not talk about
retribution at all. They talk about the probable consequences of
attitudes and actions. And this way of talking, it seems to me, is ideal
for today's world. 

Today's world is being ripped to pieces by people who pass judgement on
the external conduct of others and who insist on passing laws that would
oblige all people to act in accordance with the values of only a few
people who fancy that they are in a unique position to know the mind of
God. Buddhist karma theory, in sharp contrast to that, is an invitation
to turn inward to study the psychological effects of thinking and doing
on one's own state of happiness and well-being. Being inward-looking,
Budhdist karma theory has very little potential (perhaps none at all) to
be used as a rigid standard by which to disparage and marginalize
others. This can be said of all Buddhist discussions of karma that I
have ever seen, and that includes a pretty substantial amount of
literature of Mahayana as well as of Sravakayana. As I said before, I
must defer all discussion of tantrism to those who know something about

Richard Hayes
Department of Philosophy
University of New Mexico

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