Friday, March 23, 2012

Karma and meditation

The “popular” understanding of Karma is: “doing good things gets good consequence (now or later), doing bad things gets bad consequence (now or later)". As a moral advice, it is fine. Nevertheless, the concept of karma is more complex than this "popular" exposition. In this post I’m going to discuss its meaning in relation to meditation, and Zen meditation in particular.

In Platform Sutra, when Zen sixth patriarch Hui Neng was once asked about what his key teaching was, he said, “I only teach how to find the true self, and not liberation from Zen meditation” 惟论见性,不论禅定解脱。Two issues here, firstly what is “true self” and how to find it, secondly why not teaching liberation or enlightenment through meditation?

Simply put, “true self” is a self that is not conditioned or programmed by one’s genetic determination (defined in the broadest sense) or one’s nurtured (后天) influence. This “true self” or white light is always there and it is only being contaminated or veiled by the determining or influencing factors. What is the essential nature of this “true self”? It is Emptiness or Void (空). During such moment of Emptiness, one is able to freely choose to be a Buddha, and in order to be enlightened, one has to make a commitment of choosing! Look at the issue from another perspective, one can fail to have an enlightened experience if, when one is in a mental state of Emptiness, one doesn’t recognize the opportunity (such opportunity is oftentimes alerted by one’s master, if one has the karma or luck to be with a master around and who can recognize such a state in one), or one is not prepared or doesn’t like to do so in the first place!

As the Dalai Lama said one can actually see the white light when yearning! And during disastrous or stressful situation, one can be “bumped” out of one’s body psychologically, i.e. to a moment of Emptiness (空): perceiving things yet not perceiving it from a “self” as we recognize it day to day.

A person who is successful in this enlightenment training will be able to be “conditioned” to be in Emptiness (空) when faced with situations that normally will arouse our response for self-preservation or self-enhancement. In Zen-lingo, it is called “when karma (conditioning situation) comes, (one will) respond with Emptiness (缘起性空)"

I shall talk about the second issue in a future post.

New note: check HERE for the follow-up post.


  1. I like the condition of 'emptiness', as it sounds like the state we were born into. Later, life conditions us and our responses. It is truly peaceful to enter a state of emptiness, as in meditation, as a means to restore ourselves. At least that's what my limited understanding tells me. I hope you are doing well, and great to read you here :)

  2. Thanks again for sharing. I felt the same as you.

    Life is a double edged-sword and so is "civilization" (and its cousin: "socialization"). Emptiness can be a route of we moving away from "civilization" or a way of we moving towards a better appreciation of it. I choose the latter route, in full consciousness and conscience, like I prefer poetry to trance-like mysticism....:):)


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