[作者] 坦尼沙罗尊者



by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu


Karma is one of those words we don't translate. Its basic meaning is simple enough action but because of the weight the Buddha's teachings give to the role of action, the Sanskrit word karma packs in so many implications that the English word action can't carry all its luggage. This is why we've simply airlifted the original word into our vocabulary.

But when we try unpacking the connotations the word carries now that it has arrived in everyday usage, we find that most of its luggage has gotten mixed up in transit. In the eyes of most Americans, karma functions like fate bad fate, at that: an inexplicable, unchangeable force coming out of our past, for which we are somehow vaguely responsible and powerless to fight. "I guess it's just my karma," I've heard people sigh when bad fortune strikes with such force that they see no alternative to resigned acceptance. The fatalism implicit in this statement is one reason why so many of us are repelled by the concept of karma, for it sounds like the kind of callous myth-making that can justify almost any kind of suffering or injustice in the status quo: "If he's poor, it's because of his karma." "If she's been raped, it's because of her karma." From this it seems a short step to saying that he or she deserves to suffer, and so doesn't deserve our help.

This misperception comes from the fact that the Buddhist concept of karma came to the West at the same time as non-Buddhist concepts, and so ended up with some of their luggage. Although many Asian concepts of karma are fatalistic, the early Buddhist concept was not fatalistic at all. In fact, if we look closely at early Buddhist ideas of karma, we'll find that they give even less importance to myths about the past than most modern Americans do.

For the early Buddhists, karma was non-linear. Other Indian schools believed that karma operated in a straight line, with actions from the past influencing the present, and present actions influencing the future. As a result, they saw little room for free will. Buddhists, however, saw that karma acts in 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. This constant opening for present input into the causal process makes free will possible. This freedom is symbolized in the imagery the Buddhists used to explain the process: 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.

So, instead of promoting resigned powerlessness, the early Buddhist notion of karma focused on the liberating potential of what the mind is doing with every moment. Who you are what you come from is not anywhere near as important as the mind's motives for what it is doing right now. Even though the past may account for many of the inequalities we see in life, our measure as human beings is not the hand we've been dealt, for that hand can change at any moment. We take our own measure by how well we play the hand we've got. If you're suffering, you try not to continue the unskillful mental habits that would keep that particular karmic feedback going. If you see that other people are suffering, and you're in a position to help, you focus not on their karmic past but your karmic opportunity in the present: Someday you may find yourself in the same predicament that they're in now, so here's your opportunity to act in the way you'd like them to act toward you when that day comes.

This belief that one's dignity is measured, not by one's past, but by one's present actions, flew right in the face of the Indian traditions of caste-based hierarchies, and explains why early Buddhists had such a field day poking fun at the pretensions and mythology of the brahmans. As the Buddha pointed out, a brahman could be a superior person not because he came out of a brahman womb, but only if he acted with truly skillful intentions.

We read the early Buddhist attacks on the caste system, and aside from their anti-racist implications, they often strike us as quaint. What we fail to realize is that they strike right at the heart of our myths about our own past: our obsession with defining who we are in terms of where we come from our race, ethnic heritage, gender, socio-economic background, sexual preference our modern tribes. We put inordinate amounts of energy into creating and maintaining the mythology of our tribe so that we can take vicarious pride in our tribe's good name. Even when we become Buddhists, the tribe comes first. We demand a Buddhism that honors our myths.

From the standpoint of karma, though, where we come from is old karma, over which we have no control. What we "are" is a nebulous concept at best and pernicious at worst, when we use it to find excuses for acting on unskillful motives. The worth of a tribe lies only in the skillful actions of its individual members. Even when those good people belong to our tribe, their good karma is theirs, not ours. And, of course, every tribe has its bad members, which means that the mythology of the tribe is a fragile thing. To hang onto anything fragile requires a large investment of passion, aversion, and delusion, leading inevitably to more unskillful actions on into the future.

So the Buddhist teachings on karma, far from being a quaint relic from the past, are a direct challenge to a basic thrust and basic flaw in our culture. Only when we abandon our obsession with finding vicarious pride in our tribal past, and can take actual pride in the motives that underlie our present actions, can we say that the word karma, in its Buddhist sense, has recovered its luggage. And when we open the luggage, we'll find that it's brought us a gift: the gift we give ourselves and one another when we drop our myths about who we are, and can instead be honest about what we're doing with each moment at the same time making the effort to do it right.


有些词我们是不译的,karma(业)便是其中之一。它的基本含义很简单行动(action) 但由于佛陀的教导中关于行动的阐述占据了相当的比重,karma这个梵文词因此满载复杂的内涵,使得行动(action)这个英语单词不胜重荷。这就是为什么我们何以干脆把原词空运过来,入自身语之故

karma与命运同义恶运是一股来自我们过去的、不可解释、不可改变的力量,我们对它隐隐约约感罪有应得、想改变它却无能为力。我听见人们在恶运突降、招架不及时,逆来顺受地叹道: 我猜这是我的karma。这句话里隐含的宿命,是我们当中不少何以对业力观心存排斥之故,因为听上去像是在麻木不仁地故作神秘,如此即可使任何苦难、不公正事合理化。如果他贫穷,那是因为他的karma。 如果她被强暴,那是因为她的karma。从这里出发,再走一小步便可以说,他/她活该受罪,因此不值得我们相助。


对早期佛教徒来说,业力是非线性的。其它的印度教派则相信,业力作用线性: 过去的行动影响现在,现在的行动影响将来。结果,他们认为自由意志无多少发挥余地。然而佛教徒却把业力看成是个反馈循环,当下时刻同时由过往行动与当前行动构成;当下的行动不仅构成未来,也构成当下。这个始终对当前输入开放因果过程,使自由意志成为可能。佛教徒在解释这个过程时用流水的比喻象征自由:有时来自过去的水流强势,除镇定之外可为不多,但也有时水和缓,可它朝几乎任何方向改道而行。



我们阅读早期佛教徒对种姓制的批判,在理解其反种姓制的寓意之外,常怪异感。我们不曾意识到的是,这些批判正打中了我们有关自身背景的神话我们总是执迷于那些代表自己来历的事物: 种族、民族传统、性别、社会经济背景、性向即现代种群的属性。我们付出大量精力,制造与维持某个种群神话,以便对这个种群的好名声持一股与有荣焉的骄傲感。哪怕成了佛教徒,也要以这个种群优先。我们要一种推崇那些神话的佛教。


karma这个词已恢复了它在佛教意义上的内涵。如此探索这个词的内涵,会发现它带来了一件礼物: 当我们放下自己是谁的神话,能够诚实地面对每时每刻自己的行为,同时努力行事周正──我们便获得了这件既可自赠、也可赠人的礼物。





Source : http://www.theravadacn.org/


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