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On karma, crossed conditions, and remediation

buddhism hoodoo education karma remediation rootwork education

On karma, crossed conditions, and remediation

This is a slightly edited version of a reply to a client in a convo that touched on uncrossing work and the concept of karma. It is necessarily a vast oversimplification, but it is probably more easily accessible and definitely less of a rant than other things I have written about karma here or on Big Lucky Hoodoo.

This is coming to you from a rootworker *and* from a woman who was given the name Karma at birth lol… so despite the fact that hoodoo has no conception of karma at all, being a folk magic practice based in Christianity, I do know a little bit about the concept :)

The concept of karma in Buddhism depends on reincarnation or transmigration or rebirth as one of its fundamental tenets. I am vastly oversimplifying a complex concept with an incredibly extensive history of development, but there are a number of important implications here that I’ll just mention.

– The concept is incompatible with scriptural Christianity.

– One’s karma is not just about one’s actions in this lifetime. That means our ability to understand how our karma stands or how it’s playing out is incredibly limited from our temporal, limited human perspectives, based as they are in our current lifetime. The very situations we find ourselves in in this lifetime, indeed the personality and character that we have in this lifetime, are shaped and directed by actions we took that we no longer remember, from a different time and place, in a different lifetime. So Karma does not mean “as you sow, so shall you reap” in the way most Westerners mean it. It definitely does not mean “as you do in this lifetime, that will be done to you in this lifetime.”

– Uncrossing work cannot free you from karma. That’s not how karma works. *Karma is not a crossed condition.* The word itself in Sanskrit means “action.” You have accumulated merit (or lack of merit) based on *your actions* (which can include certain kinds of thoughts). Demerits can’t be zapped out of existence, but they can basically be overwhelmed or outweighed or balanced by meritorious actions. And intention matters. The Buddhist definition of karma could possibly most fairly be rendered as “intentional action.”

– This is not to say they must always be YOUR actions; acts of merit can be dedicated to someone else, such as an ancestor, and someone could dedicate their acts of merit to you.

– In Buddhism, you could perhaps fairly say the whole point is to ultimately arrive NOT at a state where you’ve accumulated more merit than demerit, contrary to popular belief, but at a state where you are karmically neutral. Then you no longer feed into this cycle and no longer have to suffer rebirth. You basically *no longer have karma* at that point. This is probably the biggest point on which Buddhism deviated from the earliest Hindu conception of karma, which could arguably have been boiled down to something like the familiar “good deeds get you into heaven; bad deeds send you to hell.”

Now I don’t say this to be a bratty pedant or because I like to go around telling people they’re wrong. I say this stuff because the concept of karma that Westerners have kind of absorbed as part of popular culture can be limiting, even harmful. In fact, it can be *profoundly damaging.*

For myself, I’m fairly agnostic on the matter and on exactly how it would fit in, if it even did, with concepts of the afterlife and human and nonhuman spirits and ancestors and all the rest. I think most Western non-Buddhists should just stop using the word, because most Western non-Buddhists don’t know what they’re talking about. Those who are truly committed to the concept have, I believe, an obligation to understand it fully and as accurately as possible. And to those people, I would also emphasize meritorious/virtuous action as being at the core of anything you might call “karma remediation.”

So if this is you, it’s actually good news, I would think, because while Uncrossing is not the answer, good deeds, on the other hand, can actually get you somewhere :)

In some branches of Buddhism, meditation on a certain aspect of the Buddha can purify past/existing karma. In quite a few branches of Buddhism, confessing of misdeeds and a resolve to do better going forward can purify karma. It maybe isn’t too much of a stretch to map that (loosely) on to practices like Reconciliation and Penance in the Western Christian tradition, with Penance taking the form of some kind of service or donation or deed to benefit someone else rather than any kind of self-flagellation or internally-directed suffering or anything. Suffering is definitely not the point with karma, and in fact the whole goal is to get to a point where you can leave that suffering behind.

It’s kind of hard to explain both accurately *and* succinctly. I have a relatively recent blog post that goes into just a sliver of what the Hindu and Buddhist scriptures have to say about karma if you’re interested in that (though there’s also ranting):

questions you’ve asked: bunch of folks should just stop using the word “karma,” period

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  • Brad Miller on

    I just finished reading both of your articles on karma. After all these years of knowing you, you never cease to amaze me. Your insight and straight up commentary are a breath of fresh air in this day and age of “spiritual gurus”. Keep up the good work, appreciate it!

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