When I have the guts to put my name on the dokusan list to speak with Reb Andersen I will pose some of my questions to him. For whatever reason this question of karma has plagued me for many years. I even got it tattooed in sanskrit on my wrist as if never to forget its constant presence and impact in (my) life. It’s funny though because while I find myself preoccupied with it at times I also wonder, “who cares?” But in Zen we chant to repent our ancient twisted karma every morning! That’s big. That’s big to not understand exactly what you are repenting. And for the record, I have already let go of any residual Catholic apprehension related to my past experience of “confession.”
In Hinduism I often understood karma as being related even to your past life and how well you lived it. Your circumstances could be due to actions that you took in this life or before. I never really liked the idea of consequences from a past life I cannot remember. I have more recently heard about karma as simply action and consequence. That regardless of your action there will be a result that is neither positive or negative. For example, if you jump out a window you will hit the ground. It’s just what happens. I know not all situations are that simple but it is a good place to start. I also like that it shows what a neutral consequence means. I think more about it and acknowledge that the consequence maybe has to be neutral because when we choose our action we do not know what the consequence will be and we never really “know” what’s helpful. Oh yes, and that intention is much more of the important factor in that whole equation. Indeed, that does seem to be all you have control over, that and your choice.
I also have heard it described as something akin to habit. That karma is setting up a pattern of action or behavior. Like when we do something once we are more likely to do it again, and again, and again. People, even in the Zen world of Green Gulch, use karma so loosely sometimes I don’t get it. I hear things like “it’s your karma to be here” or “burning away bad karma” or as I mentioned “ancient twisted karma.” Interesting.
Access to Insight, a Teravadan Buddhist website has this to say among other things:
“For the early Buddhists, karma was non-linear and complex...Buddhists saw that karma acts in multiple feedback loops, with the present moment being shaped both by past and by present actions; present actions shape not only the future but also the present. Furthermore, present actions need not be determined by past actions. In other words, there is free will, although its range is somewhat dictated by the past. The nature of this freedom is symbolized in an image used by the early Buddhists: flowing water. Sometimes the flow from the past is so strong that little can be done except to stand fast, but there are also times when the flow is gentle enough to be diverted in almost any direction.”We'll see what comes up.