Buddhist Doctrine of Karma

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The Buddhist doctrine of karma ("deeds", "actions"), and the closely related doctrine of rebirth, are perhaps the best known, and often the least understood, of Buddhist doctrines. The matter is complicated by the fact that the other Indian religious traditions of Hinduism and Jainism have their own theories of Karma and Reincarnation. It is in fact the Hindu versions that are better known in the West. The Buddhist theory of karma and rebirth are quite distinct from their other Indian counterparts. In Buddhism the law of karma is the moral law of causation - good actions give good results and vice versa. It is the quality of an act, which determines its consequences. But what determines the karmic quality of a deed? In Hinduism it is the correct performance of a person's "duty", especially his caste duties that counts. Early Buddhism, which recognized no caste distinctions, evaluates the karmic quality of an act in terms of moral and ethical criteria. In particular it is the mental factors, which accompany the commission of deed that determines its consequences or "fruits" (vipâka). All negative karma (i.e. those leading to bad consequences) arise from the three roots of unwholesomeness. These are greed (lobha), aversion (dosa), and delusion (moha). Accordingly good karmic results follow from deeds that spring from generosity (caga), loving-kindness (mettâ) and wisdom (vijjâ). The Buddha emphasized that it is the mental factors involved rather than the deeds themselves that determine future consequences. Thus the same deed committed with different mental factors will have different consequences. Likewise purely accidental deeds may have neutral consequences, however if the accident occurred because insufficient mindfulness was exercised it could have adverse results for the person responsible for it. The theory of karma presupposes that individuals have "free will". Everything that happens to an individual is not the fruit of some past karma. In fact the...
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