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Is karma relevant in the West today?

by Denis Wallez (@DenisWallez)
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Karma is among the Buddhist teachings which are largely under-appreciated in the West, yet are critical to those seeking Awakening! Therefore, it seems it'd be worthy to find a presentation of these teachings which might appeal to Westerners, with explicit links to modern Western philosophy, formal logic, the scientific method, etc.

This would be an attempt to reduce what's "lost in translation" from East to West, while also having a critical reappraisal of the notion of karma (for, in light of recent progress, maybe some traditional perspectives do need to be dropped!).


Karma has been dismissed by some Western authors as an antique Indian religious myth, akin to some reassuring “fair world” doctrine; and yet it is first and foremost described in early Buddhist texts as a causal model. The latter suggests the very opposite of some cosmic rebalancing: causes will lead to their effects without any (divine?) judgement on adequacy, appropriateness or equilibrium.

Supporting an agenda to create a Western form of Buddhism, views on karma have also been described as non-essential to Buddhism, notably in contrast with meditative methods and instructions… and yet, perceiving karmic tendencies (in particular the “knowledge of the passing away and rebirth of all living beings”), perceiving causality in terms of dependent origination, are clearly associated with the Buddha’s Awakening. The eightfold path itself depends on understanding the nature of human effort, in terms of causality and of identifying what’s skilfull (based on what it will give rise to).

Therefore, it seems key aspects of the Buddhist teachings on causality might have been lost in translation... This, of course, was not necessarily helped by historical debates between Buddhist scholars themselves (e.g. the first chapter of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā by Nāgārjuna questions the very concept of ‘conditions’, and it’s relatively easy to misinterpret it as a broad rejection of causal models).


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