The Gravity of Karma (Part 2)

This past weekend in the early hours of June 12, 2016, approximately 50 people were killed, another 50 wounded in the "worst mass-shooting in US history." I'm not going to expound upon the need for gun control, I'm not going to share an opinion whether everyone in the nightclub were packing a weapon, then a lot fewer people might have died. There are plenty of politicians and people from all walks of life that will supply the sides of that coin, and my opinion will add nothing about the subject. In the Dharma talk titled “The Gravity of Karma,” I mentioned the Sandy Hook school shooting of December 2014 (a classroom of 20 six-year-olds and six adults were killed), and the December 26, 2004 tsunami that killed a quarter of a million people.

In an unfortunate twist of serendipity, the original blog came out hours after the Orlando nightclub murders; the talk had actually been given a couple weeks previously. What I'd mentioned about Sandy Hook and the Tsunami, is now applicable to Orlando, and any future disaster and to previous ones as well. If you were to look at the Saṃyukta Āgama from the Pali Canon you'd come across this:

"According to the seed that’s sown,
So is the fruit you reap therefrom
Doer of good will gather good,
Doer of evil, evil reaps,
Down is the seed and thou shalt taste the fruit thereof."

That could be taken literally, and there's nothing wrong with doing so. I find it an oversimplified reading of Karma-Vipāka, what some translate as cause-effect. Thich Nhat Hanh would point out that the "seed" requires other factors to sprout: Sun, rain, soil, etc. Seed doesn't just sprout simply because it's a seed. Causes and conditions are required. 

The Madhyamaka school of Nagarjuna would investigate karma as it would any other empty, impermanent phenomena. There are four possible takes with karma: First is that cause is the same as the effect. Next, that the cause is different from the effect. Third that the cause is both the same as and different from the effect. And finally that the cause is neither the same as nor different from the effect. What the Madhyamikas would conclude from this is that there are problems in each argument, and conclude that the Middle Path is where Truth is.

The later Huayan school was more inclined to investigate the interpenetration of all phenomena, where in regard to the action/following action karmic sequence, "cause" results in "effect," but this effect is in turn the “cause” of the following “effect.” This virtually renders any difference between "cause" and "effect" moot. It's a dependent origination chicken/egg situation, where both sides could be argued for, and both against, and equally correctly and incorrectly. For my interpretation, the Middle Path is interpenetration, where cause is effect, effect is cause, and they are neither same or different.

But enough academics. Fifty people were killed in one night in Orlando, and honestly, there are probably any number of other locations in the world where murder is happening, maybe more victims, maybe fewer, and a great number will never be known through the media. Regarding Orlando specifically, there will be some who say, "How could God allow that to happen? There is no God." Others will forthrightly contend that because it was a nightclub frequented by the LGBTQ community, that as obvious sinners, that their deaths were not only God's will, but that they deserved to be killed as well. There are also some who, looking at the Saṃyukta Āgama, would conclude that the patrons of the the Pulse were merely reaping their karmic seeds. If that were the case, that would likewise have to apply to Sandy Hook, the tsunami victims, the 29 coal miners at the Upper Big Branch mine, etc. That interpretation strikes me as no less fundamentalist than those who judge than the "Gods will/they deserved it,” and equally naive. 

But being judgmental is not what this is about. Judging that a victim in a disastrous death is more horrific than another requires that multiple simultaneous deaths are "worth" more than individual deaths. The second judgement is that death is somehow a punishment rather than simply what happens. I don't say that to be cold or callous. Going back to the "cause is effect is cause" line, we have to observe what “cause” that the death “effect” will have, and what we can do about it. We can wring our hands, offer prayers, and in a few days when the media uproar stops (as it always will), and let it slide into being a statistic rather than tragedy. What is required is response rather than reaction, wisdom rather than revenge. 

Some will point to the Orlando gunman's religion, and say it was an act of Islamic terrorism. Others will point to the victims being in a gay bar, and classify it a hate crime. It may be both, but likewise it may be neither, and possibly neither. If either of those designations are taken as a cause for the action of murder, what “effect” was it that caused that "cause?" And that's not to make any excuses, or even to hypothesize about reasons. Understanding as best we can the relationship between these A►B events is what we can do here&now to affect what happens now, and help us to decide on a course to affect the future.

Hate for LGBTQ, hate for Muslims, hate for guns, hate for gunmen, hate for gun-control advocates, hate for nature, hate for God, will only maintain the status quo. Where does lovingkindness come into play, and if not that, at least respect, or at least tolerance, and if not that, at least a willingness to stop hating, to stop being willing to do harm. A bodhisattva vows to save all beings. "All" may be really tough to swallow any day, but in the aftermath of a headline grabber, even moreso. But we need to get there, regardless of the difficulty, regardless of the emotions that fuel hate today and tomorrow.

Rage is a natural reaction to events such as mass-murders. Clinging to rage will only serve to be another "cause," which be be another "effect," an A►B►A►B►A►B►A►B►A►B►A►B simplistic rhyme scheme that goes nowhere other than "self-" perpetuation. Rage is impermanent, but when we decide to let it dissipate will be when we decide to live in the here&now rather than the past, and work diligently to have an effect on the future that benefits all beings, even the ones with whom we might be vilifying with righteous indignation today. And maybe when we observe our own emotions, we may be able to see the interpenetration of emotions that take place in everybody, everywhere, every day, and decide what we can do to break the causal chain of hate and replace it with love.

Indeed, karma is relentless.

To listen to the Dharma talk, click on the title or navigate here:
To read the original blog “The Gravity of Karma, go to: