Karma is often referred to as ‘the Law of Cause and Effect’. I think that this idea came from British colonial interest in Buddhism, which tended to see karma as a branch of the British High Court. Laws can be broken or changed however, and fortunately ‘the Law of Karma’ can also be changed. If ‘the Law of Karma’ could not be broken there could be no enlightenment – or enlightenment would have to be causal. The ‘law’ of karma belongs to the world of dualism which—like ego, distracted being, or the famous ‘I’—is illusory. The ‘legal system’ of karma has no jurisdiction in terms of nonduality. When we realise beginningless enlightenment, the law enforcement agencies of karma evaporate. They boil away into space – because they were our unenlightenment.
Dzogchen long-dé15 is sometimes called
the Long-rab jam-gyu dré-la.16 This means
the vast space which transcends causality.
This vast space of being is unrestricted by causality.
This means that when you realise the nondual state, the ‘karmic boys in blue’ are not going to tap
you on the shoulder and say,
We realise that your perception is now completely uncontrived – but we
still have a warrant out on you for gross insensitivity in a public place.
You will not therefore be hauled off to gaol, and from there to a court, and from thence to a place of execution
where you will be forced to endure hourly showers of perfumed flower petals or any similar horror.
Perception and response are inherently, and simultaneously, crime and punishment.
Any concept of being extradited for ‘sentences unserved’ and ‘crimes unpunished’ makes no sense in terms of dharma. What I’m going to say may be shocking to some. It may offend anyone with a sense of spiritual law and order. I apologise in advance for any moral outrage incurred – but I have to begin by saying that we are all our own punishment. Each one of us—just as we are—is the worst punishment we could ever fear. We are also the best reward we could ever hope to achieve. We may well need to look at ‘law’, so that we can understand its function. The existence of laws within a society means that there is little or no awareness in that society. The existence of laws means that such a society has no confidence in awareness or personal responsibility. The need of law signifies that we cannot trust or rely on awareness – because law is instituted as a substitute for awareness and personal responsibility.
Where there is awareness and personal responsibility – there is no need for law. Where there is awareness and personal responsibility – there is no need for rules. Where there is awareness and personal responsibility – there is no need for moral or ethical values.
Where there is a lack of awareness and personal responsibility, we rely on laws, rules, ethics, and morality. Where there is no awareness and personal responsibility, law serves a function. But law undermines personal responsibility and obscures awareness. We have societies then, where laws and rules are implemented and enforced. This can either be for the benefit of people, or to their detriment. Even the greatest defender of law and order would have to admit that totalitarian regimes impose laws that are harmful.
So when do laws function well according to prevailing circumstances, and when do they become an intolerable imposition? Law has to be understood as a flexible modality. There is nothing ultimate about any law enacted for the governance of human beings. Is it an ultimate crime—for example—to steal food to feed your hungry children when the regime that impoverished you allows you no means to earn a living wage?
Dharma would judge the act according to the motivation, rather than to the outer shape of the action. Laws are obviously arbitrary – and it depends entirely on the prevailing circumstances whether they make sense or not. This arbitrariness is inevitable with any fixed measure, because no law, rule, or moral standard can possibly apply in all circumstances. Laws, ethics, and morality are expedient per se. The implementation of morality and ethics only ever approximates to awareness and personal responsibility.