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(11/12) Changing a sufferer's condition
November 19th, 2018

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

(11/12) Changing a sufferer's condition

(intro to the series at
Question 11, and its answer provided by the spam:
If a person’s present suffering is the result of bad karma from a prior life, why should we try to do anything to change their present condition? Aren’t they simply getting what they deserve?

Why help those who are simply paying the price for an evil prior life? Passivity and apathy seem to be a common problem within Buddhism, largely in response to a concept known as “samsara”. Take a look at this article from an online Burmese magazine:
“This passivity is largely due to the promotion of saṃsāra. Taken from the Pāḷi word sam (succession) sara (going, wandering), it refers to the cycle of human existence, or the cycle of life and death. Saṃsāra poses that people are mere guests in this life, and life is just a transit point. Saṃsāra is the flux of mind and body, of mental and physical phenomena. Humans are travelers in the realm of saṃsāra, where nothing holds permanent. Moments of sadness and misfortune, as well as glory and happiness, are accepted as part of the natural ups and downs of life. Burma’s political and religious elite has affirmed saṃsāra as the only indisputable Buddhist doctrine, and the public has meekly signed on. Because so many Burmese Buddhists tend to see themselves against the backdrop of saṃsāra, it has wide reach over existing social structures, even though Burma is not religiously homogenous. Every experience, even a bad one, is seen as part of life and the impermanent nature of the world. Rather than being angered or aggrieved by unfortunate experiences, Burmese Buddhism preaches that it is best to let them go.” (by Min Zin, Engaging Buddhism for Social Change, March, 2003

Oh dear…

If a person’s present suffering is the result of bad karma from a prior life, why should we try to do anything to change their present condition?

Because… errr… at your own personal level, pretending to cultivate a spiritual way of life, you should refrain from being an asshole???

Why help those who are simply paying the price for an evil prior life?

By compassion, a key ethical value and a key Buddhist value too… By loving-kindness… By equanimity (not selfishly preferring yourself, or those you consider your own —group, family, nation…— to others)… By empathy… i.e. by the Brahma-vihara, key gates to the Dharma!
By "right action", "right speech", "right livelihood", i.e. by a virtuous life, and by "right views", "right intention", "right effort"… i.e. by the eightfold path!
By wisdom (there's no end to suffering possible if people don't engage with the situation at hand when betterment is called for)!

And "tough love" is just a lie, not love (

Moreover, if your own 'good' karma has put you in a position to help (i.e. in a position to cultivate wholesome qualities further), then you'd be squandering this 'good' karma… and wasting (out of complacency / negligence / selfishness / stupidity) the opportunity to create more 'good' karma… thereby ending up with only your negative karma left, and 'losing out' by your own ignorance.
You're not Yama (ruler of the hells) or Māra (lord of death). You're not the arm of justice either! So, play your role: practice and become a role-model of virtue, of generosity (incl. time, efforts to help, not just money), of compassion… or end up suffering, yourself, due to self-centred stinginess!

Aren’t they simply getting what they deserve?

No: karma is not judgemental (it's just causality), you are! Karma doesn't 'judge', and repeating a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation will not make it true (cf. 4/12 of this sewries,
Karma is not some act of cosmic balance or other bullshit: it's just the consequences of previous volition. Somehow, it's the opposite of rebalancing! So there's no "deserve". But there are patterns to note, and lessons to draw, if one wants to avoid repeating painful mistakes. The sufferer is already getting the lesson though, so there's no point in someone else, full of conceit and blind to inter-dependence (hence to one's own failure at preventing suffering around oneself), making it worse by withholding resources or help.

And if you fall for such a stupid line of reasoning, in fact you're so blind by prejudice (and so much trying to spare yourself the effort of helping others, of being generous toward others, etc.), that you're missing the obvious!
Not only a person suffering has such an experience, but it also has you in the vicinity! That'd be karma too. And you don't know when or how the unfolding of the karma of this person is meant to end. Therefore, by withholding your help, you might actually be interfering with karma: maybe you were 'meant' to be the one putting an end to the painful experience of the sufferer, but you're withholding the help which was just as 'deserved' as the suffering! You're just (poorly) playing the role of some blind vengeful god, full of negative judgement on others… badly interfering with karma, by contributing hatred and aversion.
So not only the line of reasoning doesn't hold and isn't based on the teaching on karma (as causality, not cosmic justice), but also it isn't consistent anyway: even if you believe in a naïve childish justice mechanism, you have to help.

(Karma:) if you don't help when others are in need, it's likely that your volitional deed (of de facto promoting indifference as legitimate) will lead others to think it's OK to be indifferent when you'll be the one in need.
Even if you believe in a naïve childish justice mechanism, you have to help. As previously explained (4/12), causality can lead to a mere appearance of justice. When you contribute shitty values in the world, you'll have to live among people being influenced by your contributions.

As for the quote, I'll laugh: the article precisely denounces a flawed understanding of karma as such, and promotes engagement over complacency… but the spammer merely repeats the same mistake which was just denounced!
No, complacency and indifference are not what Buddhism teaches. That some political 'elite' in some Asian country would have found it convenient to reuse some Buddhist vocabulary to promote a status quo of indifference vis-à-vis suffering makes it a political self-serving doctrine, not a Buddhist doctrine.
What Buddhism teaches is equanimity, not indifference: a response unbiased by personal agenda or preferences, not blindness to the circumstances at hand. And Buddhism values the opposite of passivity: the bodhisattva ideal (whether it's seen it as a Mahāyāna path, or as what makes a buddha so inspiring even in the Theravāda tradition) precisely is about effort for the benefit of all!
Coming from an American Evangelist (there are nearly 40 millions poor people in the USA), such a criticism of passivity in the face of social injustice is likely to be a serious case of « Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? » (Matthew 7.3) Unless one thinks that replying "it's God's will" instead of "it's their karma" is any better? Both are wrong views.

#Buddhism #Dharma
image from +Bodhipaksa's