Karma in Yoga and Zen

The teacher in his sermon was explaining the doctrine of karma


The teacher in his sermon was explaining the doctrine of karma, which teaches that all voluntary actions produce an effect on the doer in this or future lives. ‘If you want to know what you have done in the past/ he said, ‘look at your present circumstances, which are the result of what you did; if you want to know what your future will be, look at what you are doing now, which will shape it. In the Christian Bible too the same doctrine is hinted at in the words, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” ’

Afterwards one of the pupils said to the teacher, ‘In the Christian Bible there is a story of the man who was attacked and left for dead by robbers. Two people passed by on the other side of the road, and then a third man picked him up and looked after him. It must have been that man’s karma to be rescued; so the ones who passed by did not do him any harm. Nor did the third man do him any good which he would not have had anyway – it was his karma to be rescued.’

‘That is right,’ replied the teacher. ‘His karma was mixed, as it nearly always is; he had done some deeds of cruelty which brought him the karma of being attacked himself; but he had also done some kindness, which saved him from dying.’

‘In that case,’ argued the pupil, ‘there is no point in trying to do any good to people; if it is their karma to receive good, they will have it anyway; and if it is not, nothing we can do will give it to them.’ The teacher made no reply, but later on when they went for their afternoon walk, he called in at the house of a rich disciple, and came out holding a silver coin. Just outside the town he dropped this on the path, and then seated himself with the pupil a little distance away. ‘It is the karma of this coin to be picked up,’ he remarked, ‘let us see what happens.’

Two men came walking quickly towards the town. They were quarrelling furiously. ‘Why did you have to answer him back like that?’ shouted one of them. ‘Look at the trouble it will make for us –
why can’t you keep calm ? Tell yourself it takes two to make a fight.’

‘It only takes one,’ growled the other man, ‘as you’ll find out if you keep on about it . . .’ and they passed, glaring at each other and without noticing the coin.

Soon afterwards came a man who was drunk; his bleary eyes could hardly make out the path, let alone the coin. He too passed by.

The next man was walking calmly. He noticed the coin, and looked around. Seeing the two, he asked, ‘Have you dropped a silver coin perhaps ?’

The teacher got up with marked respect and bowed as he replied. ‘It does not belong to us, sir.’

The other returned the bow, and saying ‘Well, I will find a use for it’ went on his way.

‘That one will spend it wisely’ remarked the teacher appreciatively. ‘But you see the point about the karma? It was its karma to be picked up, and it was picked up. But unfortunate were those who missed the opportunity, and fortunate was the one who saw it and took it. It was the same with those three men near Jerusalem; it was the victim’s karma to be picked up, but fortunate was the Samaritan who actually picked him up. He was the instrument through which the blessing came, and, as the voluntary instrument of blessing, he was blessed himself.’

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