The Law of Karma and the Chinese Occupation of Tibet


During our audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama last week we had the opportunity to ask him some questions, one of which was a request to explain the Chinese occupation of Tibet in terms of the law of cause and effect of karma. Basically, did the Tibetans deserve to be run out of their homeland due to bad karma from the past?

The Dalai Lama responded that the current Tibetans had likely accumulated large amounts of negative karma in previous lives. They weren’t necessarily Tibetans, or even humans or residents of this universe, but they had each individually built up bad karma. However, given that Buddhism proposes that we have all lived infinite lives, we have all also accumulated an infinite amount of positive and negative karma, so this explanation alone doesn’t go far in explaining the Chinese occupation.

In order the fully understand the issue, one needs a better understanding of karma than is usually provided by Western pop culture and common usage. Karma is generally likened to the aphorism, “what goes around comes around,” suggesting that if you do something bad now, it is guaranteed to come back to harm you in the future. However, “you reap what you sow” serves as a better encapsulation of the way in which karma works. Every thought, word, and action that an individual produces leaves a karmic imprint on his or her subtlest level of consciousness, the part of the individual that travels from one life to the next. These karmic imprints act as seeds, ready to flourish and bring positive or negative events into the life of the individual depending on the type of karma produced. However, in order for these seeds of karma to bloom, the conditions must be right. Karmic seeds can lie dormant for thousands of lifetimes if the conditions never become ripe.

In the case of the Tibetans, the Dalai Lama noted that generations of Tibetans prior to 1959 had been neglectful of matters in the external world. The nationalist and expansionist policies of the PRC should have tipped Tibetans off and driven them to be more proactive in protecting their interests. However, their negligence created the appropriate conditions for the seeds of negative karma to flourish, leading to the Tibetans being forced into exile. Responsibility neither falls squarely on the Tibetans for generating negative karma in their past lives nor on the previous generations of Tibetans that failed to take action, but is spread out due to the dynamic cause and effect law of karma which recognizes both that individual action and external circumstances contribute to the occurrence of any event.

Photo credit to Corinne

3 responses »

  1. Pingback: Did the Buddha Have Free Will? « Questing for the Mindnut

  2. The statement that we have all accumulated infinite amounts of positive and negative karma makes no sense in Buddhist terms, because if that were true there would be no specific or individual karma determining each subsequent rebirth. In fact, in Buddhist terms infinite amounts of positive and negative karma have been experienced in the past, but these also disappear as soon as they “ripen,” thus leaving an uneven residue of specific positive and negative karmas that remain “unripened” in any given case and therefore determine the specificities of each subsequent rebirth. Therefore your objection to the statement of the Dalai lama is not correct. To say that environment creates a further limiting condition is also based on a misunderstanding, viz., that environment differs from karma, whereas environment is nothing other than the return of karma itself to the subject in the form of experience.

  3. Thank you for helping to clear up that first point regarding “infinite” karma. However, I’m still a bit confused as to how to reconcile your second objection. You commented that designating environment as a limited factor is erroneous because environment is simply a manifestation of karma itself, but I don’t quite see how that accounts for the mechanism by which karma ripens. If environment is nothing more than a ripening of karma (which I agree is the case), then what determines what karma will ripen? It seems that external circumstances must play some role in creating the circumstances for specific karmic residue to come into play, yet wouldn’t that simply be saying that karma requires karma to ripen? That seems to directly lead into a self-recursive feedback loop, which is perhaps the very nature of sentient beings acting in samsara.

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