Tuesday, November 11, 2008


After reading "Karma, Rebirth, and the Problem of Evil", the argument that was presented caused me to believe that maybe Karma doesn't actually offer an explanation for suffering and evil. I have always thought that Karma offered a good explanation for the some people or cultures of why evil and suffering exists, but this article caused me to rethink my ideas. The main point that caught my attention was the idea of the memory problem. In order to learn and progress, we must learn from our mistakes. Since in Karma you do not know what punishments are being given for, whether from a past life mistake, or a recent mistake, there seems to be no way to morally progress. This idea puzzles me because no one would ever know which wrong doing they are being punished for and can't learn. Also the idea of death puzzles me with Karma. Everyone eventually dies which means everyone has done wrong and is being punished, but if someone does everything right, like for example Jesus? Some explanations are given in the reading, but I don't think they totally answer the question.


jeff said...

I agree that the memory problem does present a very real problem to karma as an explanation of evil. Punishment only seems effective if an individual knows what it is for, and can therefore correct the actions that brought it about. While weak, the only justification I can think of for this discrepancy is that an objective morality exists and that when we are punished we must assume that we have broken that moral code, and all we can simply do is accept the punishment and try and do better in this life. Even I recognize the weakness of this argument in that we spent an entire class period debating whether and objective morality really exists.

The death question seems much easier to rationalize. If you know that upon death you will immediately start over, it's hard to view death as evil or suffering. Compare it to a class. You do terrible in one class, so you drop it and retake it again next semester. It seems that in the cycle of rebirth death acts as the perpetual second chance. And the argument that the cycle of rebirth itself is an evil ignores the fact that both Hinduism and Buddhism provide an explanation out of the cycle. I think death can only be seen as evil if it is final, i.e. if you don't get it right this time, your done for.

richie w said...

In trying to reason "moral education" with karma after class I kind of came to the conclusion, or maybe the assumption, that the moral education lies in the realization of karma, the awareness of karma. I thought of it like this: If you are being punished for something in this life for an evil a past-self committed, evidently there is no real way to learn or grow from, essentially, the suffering "you" have cause "yourself." But if one is aware of the "law" or "doctrine" of karma, then it is simple, you are suffering because of karma. You don't need to know the exact evil a past-self committed or why you seemingly deserve the suffering you are receiving because of that, if you yourself understand that that's the way that karma operates. Now, I see the holes in this, and the eyebrows being raised, and where I can no doubt be unable to fill in those holes or stifle those active eyebrows I can offer this: If the problem lies within the thought "not everyone, everywhere, is aware of karma," then this can seemingly be answered by the cycle of rebirth, or samsara, and the infinitude of the cycle (of course this brings back the infinite regress problem, but work with me). Because of the unpredictability of the nature of karma and the cycle of rebirth, one cannot definitively say one will eventually be reborn into a life where one will be aware of karma, but because of the infinity of options (or rather consequences) of rebirth, one can assume that, within infinity, at some point someone will be reborn into a life where one will become aware of karma.

Now, as I've stated, I see the holes in my swiss-cheese of an argument, but for me personally, until I read that article, karma had never been as "problematized" for me as it was, and this is the only way I can seemingly make sense of the "moral education" argument, which is, I admit, a pretty good one.

Anonymous said...

I felt in reading the article and in our discussion in class that a majority of the "problems" of Karma could be addressed by understanding that these problems are stemming from a western perspective on Karma. It seems to me that the doctrine of Karma's been around way to long for westerners to say that its an ideology that will be done away with when easterners get to the point that they philosophize it away. Not only is this a very egocentric view of philosophy, but it also completely discredits eastern philosophy. I'm sure the doctrines of Karma have addressed these problems in many cases or from their eastern perspective they do not see the problem. I don't believe you can remove a doctrine from its origin and discredit it without any back up from that origin. Its comparing apples to oranges. And imagine the christian, or Extreme Muslim's response to that kind of criticism of their doctrine. It doesn't happen because most eastern religions exhibit a vast amount of tolerance toward all religions and their respective origins of perspective.

Blake said...

This is in fact the truth! Karma does not actually offer an explanation of suffering and evil but it was not created to explain them. The Eastern traditions recognize more readily that Evil and Suffering are just as much a part of "this life" as Good and Happiness, and this is reflected in karma theories.