Historically, Hinduism predates Buddhism and, ironically, Western interest in Hinduism predates interest in Buddhism. This has caused a few problems insofar as people have confused the Hindu view of karma with the Buddhist view. Both religions use the same word, but what is meant is different. The Hindu view concerns predeterminism or predestination – and the Buddhist view does not.
When I use the word Hindu, I should point out that I am using it as a blanket term and so what I say may not apply to every Indian religious tradition that is not Buddhist, Sikh, or Islamic. I’m using the term as Buddhists use it – to mean the religious tradition from which Buddhism separated. Be that as it may, there seem to be many similarities in the non-Buddhist Indian traditions that have come to the West and the religious tradition from which Buddhism separated.
I do not really want to criticise that tradition – but it is not possible to describe Buddhism without doing so to some degree. Obviously all religions have their qualities and suit different people – and Buddhism is not the perfect method for everyone. So, having said all that – let us look at the difference. Karma, in Hinduism, is materialistically based vis-à-vis cause and effect, and karma in Buddhism is perceptually based vis-à-vis causality.10
This is why some people think that Lamas can absorb their negative karma or take it on or whatever. This is impossible. If it were possible for you to take on the negative karma of a killer, you would become a killer. You would become a killer because the karma of a killer is the wish to kill. The only way to remove the karma of a killer is for the killer to lose the desire to kill. Then—once the desire to kill is gone—there is no more ‘killing karma’.
So karma is not a material substance or chain-reaction that is hard-wired into the fabric of reality. What is the entity that has karma? What is the imputed identity to which such karma could adhere? If there is insoluble karma there must be an insoluble entity to whom it belongs. Buddha Shakyamuni however, explicitly stated that there was no basis for such an entity.
This is the meaning of the word dag’mèd,11 or anatman; there is no solid, permanent, separate, continuous, or defined aspect to the beingness that we are. There are only characteristics which are continually in flux. To understand this is not easy – so we need to look at the non-existence of ego from various angles.
Let us look at how it is possible to be ‘egoless’. Impermanence and change characterise our world. The ‘stuff’ of our world is constantly moving—forming, disintegrating, arising, dissolving—but nothing is ever lost – the universe is what it is. In terms of endlessness and beginninglessness, addition and subtraction become a meaningless irrelevance.
According to the Buddhist view—in all schools—the only reason that we cannot lose ego is because ego does not exist. Ego is merely a style of being, a mannerism, a habit.
I could ask,
Where is your fingernail-biting habit when you no longer bite your nails?
Where is your smoking habit when you no longer smoke?
Where is your depression habit when you are cheerful? Where is our dualism habit when we find
the presence of awareness in the dimension of whatever arises in Mind?
In terms of Buddhism, ego—if we were to use the term—would have to be a verb rather than a noun. According to Buddhism, ego is a verb trying to prove its ‘noun-ness’ – along with the ‘noun-ness’ of everything else perceived. Ego in this sense is wilful illiteracy. Being is a verb, whether nondual or dualised. When I discuss the issue of the I-dentity therefore, I’m going to use the term distracted-being. Distracted-being is a process rather than a product. It is not a thing. It is ’du-chè12 which means predisposition, or gom’dri13 which means conditioning. It is the predisposition or patterning of this conditioning that is known as lé14 or karma.