Or was it karma?


Yesterday morning, I opened my web browser to read about Sharon Stone suggesting that the Sichuan earthquake was China reaping its own karma (see article or video).

She has since apologized, and I don’t think she meant any harm. And I don’t think there was anything particularly unique about what she said. After all, Buddhists have been talking about this on the blogosphere since Cyclone Nargis.

Was it all just bad karma?

There was mention of the Dalai Lama blaming current Tibetan suffering on past Tibetan feudalism. But what about Cyclone Nargis? Payback for Ayutthaya? And now the earthquake… Much of the talk has centered on the fact that the people most hurt by these natural disasters are generally poor and innocent civilians. But I’m not going to get into that discussion. There is a brighter side.

While many Buddhists, like Stone, have mused about this question, many have also gone to great lengths to see exactly what is said about cyclones and earthquakes. Hence the five niyamas. Maybe karma isn’t exactly what we think it is (see Thanissaro Bhikku’s notes).

This morning I was surprised to find mention of this in a BBC article. I found the article fair and well balanced. Who would ever have thought that an international Western news organization would care to do so much research? I guess my news standards must have dropped below what they used to be.

Here are four of the five niyamas in the BBC’s words:

  1. inorganic or environmental factors, such as the weather
  2. organic or biological factors, like bacteria or viruses
  3. psychological factors such as stress
  4. and transcendental or spiritual factors (such as the sometimes powerful galvanizing effect of spiritual practice)

The provocative musing about someone’s “just desserts” is not the end of the story. Dig deeper and the way things work turn out to be more complex.

5 Replies to “Or was it karma?”

  1. Natural cosmic and geological disasters has been happening since the ‘big bang’ billions of years ago and is still happening to day in the form of earthquakes, cyclones, floods, droughts etc. And it will happen anytime tommorrow, anywhere. This is not a question of who, when, what, why. It just is. I do not claim to understand it myself.

    As to the payback for Ayutthaya? My blog ‘Warring Neighbours’ with my photograph of a decapitated and mutilated stone statue of the Buddha, is not about revenge of any sort, but rather, a meditation on our human condition, of our brothers and sisters, our unending need for war and peace.

    Read more http://www.vicchin.wordpress.com

  2. I’ve watched the controversy unfold following Sharon Stone’s remarks. Putting the karma question aside, it’s a reminder to exercise mindfulness at all times, especially when your very utterance has the possibility of spreading to the four corners of the Earth because of your celebrity.

  3. The concept of karma was not introduced by the Buddha. Karma was an old Indian term used long before the Buddha. The heart of the Buddha’s teaching is the law of dependent origination. Buddhists just borrow the simple concept of karma to simplify the explanation of the profound doctrine of pratītyasamutpāda. Of course when the whole thing becomes oversimplified, it is easily misunderstood by novices.
    The teaching of Buddha is essentially about self-cultivation. The doctrine of dependent origination (or karma) is best learned to facilitate self-cultivation.
    With the proper internalization of the doctrine of karma, we would be able to see things as they are, and thus ready to renounce attachment and clinging. Conversely, if the doctrine of karma is witlessly utilized for the sole purpose of finger-pointing and fault-finding, bad karmic action is performed and its bitter fruit would have to be reaped sooner or later.
    Obviously, the Stone karma is a good example of the misuse of karmic misunderstanding.

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