So if karma is not a system of reward and punishment, then why did this old man fall into a fox body? “Just do good, don’t ask about the road ahead.” We always want to know, “Well if I do this, will I get what I want, will something good happen to me?” Understanding karma doesn’t make us a prophet of, or able to control, the future. What it reveals to us with clarity and certainty is that good actions lead to good effects. The eternal question follows, “Then why do bad things happen to good people, and why do good things happen to people who do bad things?” The Buddha said that the interdependent web of causation is very complex. When we turn our attention to it and gain insight into its nature, we begin to see into the inner workings of causation. But only a completely realized being sees into it completely, which means there’s always aspects that we’re not seeing. In a sense, it doesn’t matter. When we understand how things work we know that if we act out of our self-clinging, there’s going to be trouble. We don’t know how or when, we don’t know what form it’s going to take, but we know that the result is going to be obstructive. So just do good.


Photo by Richard Reader


The pointer says, “If you keep so much as the letter a in your mind, you’ll go to hell like an arrow shot.” To hold a single thing, a single thought, in the mind—even a notion of good and bad, right and wrong—and to fix ourselves to it, to maintain a rigid view of good and bad, creates a line between them. This is a deluded way of seeing things. When people who hold great worldly power see things this way the results can be catastrophic. Such actions cannot really be considered innocent, or even naïve, because they’re always based on certain intentions which are, in turn, based on a particular view of oneself and the world. That leads to very concrete actions. Such is the power of the line that we draw to distinguish the innocent from the evil. That’s the power of the fundamentalist mind. It becomes rigid as it can’t allow anything to cross over the line. That would be unacceptable because it complicates things, it blurs the picture. It requires us to think, to ask questions, to not know. It requires that we slow down and realize that even though we don’t know what we may be unaware of, there is something that we’re not seeing, not considering, and it may be of crucial importance.

To hold a single thing in the mind is to go to hell like an arrow. It binds us to that thing. The Buddhist precepts, the teachings on morality, tell us not to bind ourselves to anything, including notions of moral action. Don’t turn it—the precept—into a thing. There is right and wrong, there is good and evil, but it has no fixed form.

The pointer says, “one drop of fox slobber, when swallowed, cannot be spit out for thirty years.” Karma is a natural law. Whether we understand or agree with it, it’s just the way things work. Once an action is set into motion, it has a life of its own. We know there are consequences when we go to war. In addition to the immediate destruction and death all around us, it creates much more certainty that there will be another war. The consequence of what is done in a moment of anger can create karma that goes on forever, until that cycle is broken or until that stream is shifted.