Karma, causation, and divine intervention

By Bruce R. Reichenbach
Philosophy East and West
Volume 39, no.2
April 1989
P.135-149
(C) by University of Hawaii Press.


P.135 According to the law of karma, our actions have consequences not only for our dispositions and tendencies (sa.mskaaras) , but also for the nondispositional aspects of our body (for example, our physical characteristics) and our environment. The environment is affected in such a way that in some future life it will be instrumental in rewarding or punishing us according to the merit or demerit resulting from our acts. For example, a person might be mauled by a grizzly bear either in retribution for a particular violent act he committed or because of his pool of accumulated karmic residues. One can understand how desiring to act and then acting in accord with those desires would create dispositions in the person who wills and acts; and where a continuous, substantial self is presupposed, it is reasonable to hold that these dispositions would be preserved and bear fruit in that self at some later time. But that our acts also have cosmic or environmental effects of a specific character in subsequent existences is more problematic. How, it might be wondered, can the acts we performed in some past life affect the present material and physical conditions of our environment or other agents? With the exception of certain theistic systems, about which we shall speak later, karma is held to operate in a naturalistic fashion. That is, prior events effect subsequent events without the intervention of any supernatural agent. But if karma operates naturally, is it reasonable to believe that there is any causal link between the original cause (our doing either one or many acts) and the (pleasurable or painful, advantageous or disadvantageous) effects we experience in a subsequent life? What causal chain can be established between a person's doing good actions in a previous life and the fact that the person has the pleasure of owning a Cadillac, has recovered from an attack of influenza, or has had a tree that was blown down by a windstorm miss his house? The problem is exacerbated by the contention that the law of karma is not empirically verifiable. Yet its constitutive process of cause (one's action) and effect (the pain or pleasure received) cannot be understood in any way other than empirical. Strange as it may seem, the precise connection between our actions and the events which bring us happiness and unhappiness in subsequent existences is rarely dealt with in the literature of the traditions which invoke the law of karma, Jainism being the exception. What is focused on is the effect (in terms of pain and pleasure) which the original action has on us. not the process. Yet this is not so strange, considering that the primary concern of karmically oriented philosophies is with how we can bring about our own salvation through renunciation, nonattachment, and the overcoming of ignorance. The literature attends to primary, salvific relationships. Secondary relationships, such as the relation between the original action and the environmental effects, P.136 fade into the background, to be attended to only when they illustrate the basic point that our actions will affect us in the future. Yet a description of the way actions cause environmental effects in subsequent lives is necessary if the law of karma is to provide a plausible explanation of our pleasant and painful experiences, that is, if it is to resolve the problem of evil. Indeed, the plausibility of the law of karma itself depends to a great extent upon the plausibility of the accompanying accounts of this causal relation. Two different directions have been taken to answer the question of how the original act and subsequent environmental effects are related. The commonly held view takes the relation to be natural; less frequent is the appeal to the supernatural. If they are related naturally, then either (1) there is a causal chain (either direct or mediated through a pool of karmic residues) outside of the agent, from the environmental effects immediately brought about by the original act to the environment which produces his future painful or pleasant experiences, or else (2) the connection is made through the effects made on the agent himself, which in turn produce relevant changes in the environment in subsequent lives. To put it another way, understood naturalistically, there is a causal chain between the karmic acts and the things which produce pleasure and pain which either (1) lies outside the individual person, in the environment, or (2) extends through and is mediated by the person affected. We will first examine the adequacy of these two naturalistic accounts. Should they prove inadequate, we will turn to evaluate the appeal to a supernatural causal connection. KARMIC RESIDUES IN THE ENVTRONMENT The first option (1) contains two possibilities. (a) Let us suppose that there exists outside of us a chain of causal conditions which directly links the karmic action(s) that we performed in one life with the environment that we experience painfully or pleasurably in the same or another life. When we perform a karmic action, that action has immediate effects (phalas) in the world, and these in turn (along with other conditions) have their effects, and so on. Eventually, the morally relevant environmental state is produced which affects us as the agent of the original deed. This is not to deny that there are other causal conditions relevant to bringing about the particular situation experienced. It is rather to assert positively that the moral-consequence-bearing aspect could be traced causally to our prior action(s). This scenario, though logically possible, is implausible. Were the temporal gap between cause and effect restricted to a slice of our present existence, one might reasonably claim that such a connection could be made, though it would become less likely as the time between the original act and the later effect increased. But when the time between the karmic action and the morally relevant consequence is spread over several, if not hundreds of, incarnation, that a direct causal connection could be present in nonconscious, P.137 matenal, or physical conditions, and that this causal connection would operate not only on the appropriate moral agent but also to a degree determined by impersonal cosmic justice, is beyond reasonable belief. Yet all three conditions--direct causal relation, action on the agent of the original karmic action(s), and appropriate compensation--are necessary for the implementation of the law of karma. It would appear that a different explanation of the causal relation is necessary for the doctrine of karma to be plausible. (b) The second possibility under the first option is that the original karmic act contributes to a pool of karmic residues. These residues, consisting of invisible moral forces, potencies, or qualities, exist in things outside of us which, by virtue of these moral forces, have the ability to cause events in the world. But this option not only faces the same difficulties which option (a) faced, it encounters the difficulty of explaining how these accumulated forces are created in the first place, in what manner they continue to exist in the universe, and how they effect, in whole or in part, events at some later date. That is, not only is the causal process nonverifiable, but the invisible karmic potencies which are responsible for causing the event (at least in part) are indescribable and nonverifiable. KARMIC RESIDUES IN THE AGENT According to the second naturalistic explanation (2), karma operates causally through the agent of the original action. The performance of the original action causes effects of a certain kind in the agent, and these effects in turn bring about changes in the agent's environment at the appropriate time. The nature and character of these effects is explained differently within the various traditions. In this and the following section I want to piece together in detail how different traditions explain these effects. Following that, I will explore how these effects allegedly condition our environment in karmically relevant ways. According to the Miimaa^msaakas, a karmic act produces effects in the form of potencies (apuurva) .(1) Since these potencies are characterized as dharma and adharma (merit and demerit), the very moral quality of the action is preserved in the form of a potency within the doer of the act. They can be accumulated in units of higher and lower order and exist unseen (ud.r.s.ta) within the aatman until the proper time for fruition, when they causally condition the environment to produce the proper experience for the agent. A similar view was advocated by the Vai`se.sikas. According to them, among the effects that karmic action creates are special qualities called ad.r.s.tas. Ad.r.s.ta refers to invisible qualities of merit and demerit which are capable of producing effects. In the nonmoral sphere, ad.r.s.ta was invoked to account for events which could not be explained by physical processes already known. For example, it was invoked to explain the ability Of magnets to move things, P.138 the circulation of sap in trees and plants, the fact that fire rises rather than descends as other things do, and the movement of atoms, including the mind (manas).(2) In the moral sphere, it referred to the qualities of merit and demerit, which are produced by actions. These special, invisible qualities, which are attached to the self or aatman, function as causal conditions, such that, like any other causal condition, their presence or absence helps to determine whether an effect will occur or occur in a particular way. Specifically, they condition our desires and aversions, which in turn drive us to further karmic actions.(3) The Jainas, on the other hand, treat the causal sequence more materialistically. They hold that there are two kinds of karmas. Spiritual karma consists of our passions, privations, and the perversions of our self's capacities. This karma constitutes the bondage of the self. Material karma is a substantive, material force; it is matter in a subtle form which is omnipresent in the world. This is the karma which causes and in turn is caused or attracted by our bondage. Our actions arise from our passions. These actions and passions, in turn, attract material karma. It is attracted as if by a magnet and affixed to the jiiva, infecting, it with liberation-retarding matter. The passions which cause bondage (for example, anger, pride, deceit, and greed) are called sticky substances (ka`saayas) because they act like glue in making matter particles stick to the self. According to the varying strengths of the passions, atoms with different units of intensity are attracted. The stronger the intensity, the greater the bondage and the farther one is from liberation. The material karma acts directly on and changes the immaterial jiiva, causing passions and obstructing its knowledge, thus deluding it. These changes are variously described as a coloration (white, black, or a mixture of white and black) or an actual weighing down of the jiiva. However, subtle karmic matter is believed not merely to affect the jiiva. but to penetrate it, accumulate, and build up a special body called kaarma.na-`sariira, which transmigrates with the self and does not leave it until its final emancipation.(4) The self in bondage, it is held, actually possesses a material form. There is, then, a cycle: passions attract material karma, which is transformed by the self into a subtle, karmic body, which in turn causes passions, and so on. The soul's activities and passions are held to attract karmic matter just as a magnet attracts filings or a lamp draws oil into its wick. But what is there about activities and passions which gives them such a power, and what, specifically, is this power? (It should be noted that the power is not merely one of attraction, but of attraction of matter appropriately and justly proportionate to the moral quality of the activity or passion.) Further, how does karmic matter in the subtle body cause the passions and delude the self? Karmic matter, it is said, infects or circumscribes the self; forms a crust on or covers the self; mixes with the self as milk mixes with water or fire with iron; P.139 obscures, obstructs, and distorts the self's knowledge, intuition, bliss, freedom, and energy, and pollutes and destroys the purity of the soul.(5) Peering behind the analogies, we see it is clear that some of the specific activities of karmic matter can be understood causally: for example, how the karmic body might make awakening from sleep difficult, cause pleasant and unpleasant feelings in us, or be a factor in producing our body. But how it deludes knowldege or causes anger, pride, deceit, or greed, or "obstructs the inclination for making gifts and charities" is more difficult to see. Perhaps one could understand how matter could cause greed, for when we see others' material goods, we covet them for ourselves. But this kind of commonsense explanation will not suffice here, for karmic matter is invisible and works more in the sense of an efficient cause. Perhaps the cearest way to understand this is to see the karmic body as limiting the moral energies of the self. Without the unlimited energies it would have in its pure state, the self cannot adequately control its passions and activities. Consequently, it is more easily aroused, enticed, and deceived by what it encounters in its environment. It angers more easily, is greedier, displays less concern for the truth, and acts out of pride. Whatever the true causal account, for our purposes it is important to note that, for the Jainas, karmic residues are passed on and preserved in the agent as both spiritual and material karma. As spiritual, they are the passions and privations, actual and potential, which exist in the person. Since "the soul, at any instant of its worldly existence, is the integrated whole of the dispositions, actual and potential,"(6) karma is stored in the dispositions to manifest these passions. Even as dispositions they continue to be affected by the material karma which they attract. As material, karmic residues are attracted to and preserved in the person until removed or eliminated. Indeed, they constitute a special, subtle body which accompanies the self and continues to affect it by limiting its moral energy, until its liberation. KARMA AND CAUSATION IN BUDDHISM The Buddhist analysis depends upon its own unique theory of the nature of reality and causation. Reality is analyzed, not in terms of static substances, but in terms of events (dharmas). Events do not exist without a cause and are in turn causes of other events. That is, events are functionally dependent upon other events. Causation is also the relationship which provides the continuity between events. How does this apply to the problem at hand regarding how karma is passed on? Two of the elements (skandhas) which go to make up what is termed the person are dispositions and consciousness (as awareness, acts of the mind, or thoughts). Dispositions are important in explaining an individual's behavior, particularly because they eventually give rise to desires. And since they condition consciousness, they in part account for a person's psychophysical P.140 personality. Our current dispositions and consciousness are caused by prior dispositions and consciousness, and these in turn cause subsequent dispositions and consciousness. Since we act out of our dispositions and consciousness, they become the vehicle through which karma is causally transmitted. But how are karmic residues causally transmitted, particularly if there are no persistent substances, only events? The Buddha asserted that all events are causally conditioned, but at the same time refused to become embroiled in the metaphysical controversies which surrounded contemporary discussions of causation.(7) His was, as David Kalupahana often reminds us, an empirical theory of causation, and the law of karma extends beyond empirical verification. Thus, in effect, how karmic residues in one event affect subsequent events is one of the great mysteries. However, usually the matter is not left here, for simply to describe this fundamental relation as inexplicable raises the question of the intelligibility of the karmic thesis. The various Buddhist schools developed theories to explain the transmission. Being willing to offer analyses of the process created particular problems for scholastic or AAbhidharma Buddhists, for whom events are momentary and, since production takes time, lack transitive force.(8) The cause and effect are not contemporaneous with each other, but are momentary events connected sequentially. Thus, how can an event which has ended and disappeared bring about an effect? And how can an event whose only nonarising, decaying, or ceasing moment is static have causal efficacy? Further, since nothing but momentary or transitory events exist, there are no permanent, subsistent entities and hence no selves to convey dispositions, consciousness, or karmic residues.(9) Yet they contend that karmic acts and accumulated karma are the causal conditions which in part determine or condition all subsequent human experience. How is this to be explained? The Vaibhaa.sikas, a school of the Sarvaastivaadins, attempted to provide an explanation by postulating the existence of an unseen product of a volition (avij~napti). Every physical, verbal or mental act must have a result. Often the results are visible, but frequently they are not. This is particularly the case with respect to the production of moral qualities and dispositions in the agent. Hence, they postulated an invisible result to explain cases where no result was observed. Some held that this result was neither mental nor physical; others held that it was physical when it resulted from physical or verbal acts, and mental when it resulted from mental acts; still others (the Yogaacaarins) affirmed that it was material, dependent on the four fundamental elements (earth, water, fire, and air). In any case, it resided in the agent where it functioned as an invisible cause of future events. It was able to cause events at a later time because events are eternal in their ideal being. Both the past and the future exist; only their mode of existence varies. What makes events in the past, present, and future differ is not their existence, but their temporal mode. Accordingly, the avij~napti, existing through these various modes, can P.141 cause effects at times later than its creation. Thus they postulated an existent which, although its mode changes, its substance does not. Others, for example the Sautraantikas, rejected the thesis that all events (past, present. and future) exist. Past acts do not exist and cannot directly cause future events. They also rejected the postulation of an unseen entity enduring through various temporal modes. Rather, karmic acts are causally efficacious because they "perfume" the bundles of skandhas, creating in them invisible potencies or traces (vaasanaas), which later will bear karmic fruit. These potencies exist in and through the five skandhas, as seeds waiting to produce their fruit. The seed, then, is an analogy, a fruitful fiction, to help explain the transmission of karmic residues. But how is the analogy of the seed to enlighten us as to the nature of the transfer of karma or karmic efficacy? The answer is not always clear. Indeed, it often appears that, as with the concept of avij~napti, a kind of substantialist thinking is being, used to provide an explanation for that which is allegedly nonsubstantial, for the seed is at least commonly perceived as a substance, enduring until it ripens. Indeed, the Sautraantikas approached the substantialist thinking they rejected in others when they introduced a kind of substratum which supported these ongoing potencies. Yet surely the concept of a seed understood as a substance existing over time cannot be used by the nonsubstantialist Buddhist thinker to explain karmic causation. To avoid substantialist language and yet retain the significance of the seed analogy is difficult. The seed represents our potencies, dispositions. and consciousness, which are causally conditioned by previous events. It, as functionally dependent upon and occasioned by prior, skandhic conditions, lies in and works through the complex of skandhas, to mature and bear fruit in the proper circumstances. This, of course, does not explain how dispositions and the other skandhas are conditioned to exist, for an analysis of causation in terms of functional dependence is circular. Causation is defined as a functional relationship of dependence between events. But what kind of dependence is this? Clearly, it must be a causal one. But then, contrary to what might appear, we have not been provided with an analysis of causation. Rather, causation is a primitive concept in terms of which other analyses are understood. In effect. on the Buddhist account, since causation is a primitive or basic relational concept, no further explanation of the causal conditioning of human dispositions and tendencies is possible. This can be seen in another way. To be real is to be a cause. But when it is noted by the AAbhidharmists that what is real is momentary and consequently inactive (since being momentary it lacks the time necessary to do anything), the response is that its causal activity or efficiency is its very existence. Causation is identical with reality. Causation, then, must be a primitive or basic relational concept, not further analyzable into anything more fundamental. P.142 There is, of course, no problem in treating causation as primitive. What creates the difficulty is coupling this causal perspective with a metaphysic which denies the existence of persisting substances. Though Buddhists are clear that karmic residues continue to exist in individuals as dispositions and consciousness, how this can occur given an event metaphysic is left unexplained, except that these are conditioned by prior dispositions and consciousness, The problem is that it is difficult to understand how events (and this is compounded if they are momentary) can condition other events in any way which involves their production. To summarize these last two sections, we have seen that there is a variety of interpretations concerning the manner in which karmic residues are transmitted from the original act to subsequent experiences of the agent. What all these views have in common is that causation is a feature of (phenomenal) reality, that karmic residues are transmitted through the agent, that the medium of transmission is invisible, and that justice in the form of retribution and reward is preserved in the very passage of karmic residues from the original act to subsequent states of affairs. Where they differ concerns the nature of the karmic quality. For all except Jainism (for whom the moral quality is also embodied in the physical), the causation under consideration is the passing on of a moral, psychic, or dispositional quality rather than a physical quality. It is either an invisible moral potency or quality of merit and demerit, a disposition or tendency which either exists in a persistent self or is causally conditioned by prior elements of the person, a subtle material quality, or a combination of these. THE ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL GOOD AND EVIL Were we to understand the workings of karma strictly subjectively, we could stop here. Our acts create dispositions or accumulations of merit and demerit that cause us to act in ways which bring us pleasure and pain, to interpret our experiences in terms of pleasure and pain, or to be vulnerable to certain things in the environment (such as diseases) which affect our body or mind and thus bring pleasure and pain. These accumulations or dispositions affect our experiences and their interpretations until we eliminate them, as the metaphor goes, burning out both the seed (using up the accumulated karma) and its roots (destroying the dispositions and not creating new ones). This is accomplished when we achieve a proper understanding of the self, act no longer out of desire for any fruits, have equanimity toward all events, or cease mental modifications. That this is a reasonable explanation of karma interpreted subjectively does not mean that it is without difficulty, however. The major difficulty is to be found in assuring that the produced dispositions, whether behavioral or bodily, and the resultant pain and pleasure are justly appropriate to the karmic P.143 act. We have no scale which correlates the amount of pleasure and pain to be received with the moral quality of the act performed. And even were we provided with one, it would be difficult if not impossible to carry out the relevant calculations. Pleasure and pain are notoriously difficult to quantify accurately. But subjectively transmitted karma, the appeal to dispositions or special moral qualities, is only the first step in explaining how the law of karma operates naturalistically. Karma also affects ourselves as embodied and the environment which mediates or is an instrument of karmic justice. Karmic residues, whether found as unique moral qualities (ad.r.s.ta), as invisible material bodies (kaarma.na-`sariira), as dispositions (sa.mskaaras), or as karmic seeds (karmabiija), condition events in the environment which bring pain and pleasure to the agent. That is, they are in part responsible for certain events occurring as they do or things being as they are. What, then, is the relationship between this moral, materiall or dispositional quality which exists in the person and the material environment? The response is that this subtle karmic influence, at the appropriate time, disposes us to act or itself acts on the environment to produce the appropriate state which causally contributes to punishing or rewarding us for our prior action(s). For example, "The creative power of ethically relevant actions is as axiomatic to the Buddhists, as it is strange to us. The environment in which beings have to live is to a great extent, especially in regard to its pleasantness or unpleasantness, determined by their deeds (karma). The various hells, for instance, are produced by the deeds of the creatures who are reborn there. We have waterless deserts in our world because of our small merit. The world of things is really nothing more than a kind of reflex of peoples' deeds."(10) There is, it is held, a symbiotic relationship between human actions and the environment. And this is to be seen in terms of a causal chain. Our actions produce moral qualities or condition tendencies or dispositions to act. These bear fruit later in actions. These actions, in turn, create or causally condition events in our environment. These events in turn affect us, bringing us pleasure or pain according to our karmic merit or demerit. Thus, our food and bad experiences and the ensuing pain and pleasure have been brought upon us by our own deeds. But how do human actions condition the environment? We noted above that some Buddhists attempted to provide an explanation by postulating the existence of an unseen product of a volition (avij~napti), which resides in agents, where it functions as an invisible cause which emanates from persons to affect their environment. But the postulation of this unseen result helps us no better to explain how we can be a causal condition of our environment than the postulation of phlogiston helps us to understand how things burn. Clearly the avij~napti is a theoretical construct rather than something for which there is empirical evidence. Indeed, this was precisely the Yogaacaarins' con- P.144 tention against the Sarvaastivaadins; the former held that, due to its nonempirical character, it was only the product of creative imagination. Now it is true to say that my actions can affect my environment, and that my environment, in turn, has a bearing on my happiness. For example, in a fit of rage I might destroy a work of art, an act which, when I return to my senses, I greatly regret; or again, by our greedy timbering of the Amazon we are rapidly creating an inhospitable desert. But although we might affirm this connection for some of our experiences, it is difficult to see how our actions can have the cosmic implications necessary to account for all natural evils. How can our sa.mskaaras or ad.r.s.ta have the causal efficacy to occasion natural evils such as earthquakes, tornadoes, bubonic plaguest genetic deficiencies, and the like?(11) Vai`se.sikas attempt to make this claim plausible by suggesting that the self or aatman is omnipresent and eternal. As omnipresent, its activity is not restricted by the particular body to which it is connected. It can act on all things. As eternal, its action can cover spans of time and incarnations, Since ad.r.s.ta is a quality of the self, by means of this quality the self can causally affect all of nature, and thus bring about earthquakes, fires, diseases, and the like. "An illustration of this is given in Uddyotakara's Nyaayavaarttika [4.1.47]: if somebody waters a tree, the success of his action, that is, the process of fertilization and growth, may be influenced by the karma of the person who at a later time will eat the fruits of the tree; it becomes the function of the tree, directed by the karmic potential of a soul which may or may not be that of the person who watered the tree, to provide an opportunity of retributive experience, of enjoyment."(12) As such, the dispositions or moral qualities of the person directly affect things in the environment and function as a causal condition of their acting, both in general and on the agent. The gap between self and environment is overcome. The viability of this solution depends on the adequacy of Vai`se.sika's description of the self as pure substance, omnipresent and eternal. As pure substance, it underlies cognitive qualities, but possesses no essential psychological or physical properties. Thus, which qualities the individual self has at any given time, including consciousness, is a contingent matter. But if it has no essential qualities except omnipresence and eternality, how can there be a pluralit of such substances? Are we not reduced to a monism it rejects in Advaita Vedaanta? Beyond the particular problems elucidated, the underlying and fundamental question concerns the claim that moral calculations can be preserved naturally. If one appeals to distinctive moral qualities, are there such things in the universe? How do karmic actions create them? And how do they affect the environment so as to produce precisely the appropriate experiences for the agent? If one appeals to dispositions and tendencies, to potencies and seeds, or to subtle material bodies, how are merits and demerits not only P.145 preserved in them, but transferred to the environment and returned in appropriate and just proportions of happiness or unhappiness? For example, how can the postulation of the avij~napti assure that the external situation it conditions will cause the appropriate and just experience for the agent? In short, the naturalistic explanation of the implementation of precise moral calculations through the intermediating agency of the environment is inadequate. THEISTIC EXPLANATIONS Because of the difficulty of accounting for the action of the law of karma naturally, some have argued that a god of some sort is a necessary component of any system which advocates the law of karma. There must be some sort of theistic administrator or supervisor for karma, For example, `Sa.nkara argues that the original karmic actions themselves cannot bring about the proper results at some future time; neither can supersensuous, nonintelligent qualities like apuurva or ad.r.s.ta by themselves mediate the appropriate, justly deserved pleasure and pain. The fruits, then, must be administered through the action of a conscious agent, namely, God (II`svara).(13) In a similar vein, Nyaaya uses this as one of its arguments for the existence of God. Our karmic acts result in merits and demerits. Since unconscious things generally do not move except when caused by an agent (the ax moves only when swung by an agent), and since the law of karma is an unintelligent and unconscious law, there must be a conscious God who knows the merits and demerits which persons have earned by their actions, and who functions as an instrumental cause in helping individuals reap their appropriate fruits. Though immobile, he affects the person's environment, even to its atoms, and for the reincarnate produces the appropriate rebirth body, all in order that the person might have the karmically appropriate experiences.(14) Thus, the law of karma is a functioning law of God's action in the world, The critical issue now becomes how to characterize the law of karma as applied to God. Is the law merely descriptive of God`s activity, portraying how in general God brings about effects, that is, in a rewarding and retributive manner and generally according to a constant regularity? If so, then the law must be understood as merely contingent, one which can be transgressed by God as he wills according to his purpose to liberate us from the rebirth cycle. Or is the law normative and hence necessary, so that God's operations in the world must accord with its dictates? If so, God cannot alter it by his will or actions, but stands merely as the implementer of an irrefragable law of karma. A great deal rides on how one characterizes the relation of God to the law of karma. Not only are questions raised about the way God relates to the world, but the very character of the law of karma as necessary or contingent is at issue. P.146 THE LAW OF KARMA AND GRACE This issue can be clarified by asking whether there is room for grace and forgiveness in a theistic system which invokes the law of karma. The answer depends upon how the law of karma is viewed. On the one hand, if the law of karma is held to be inviolable or necessary, there would be no room for individual acts of divine grace and forgiveness. Each cause would have its appropriate effect, each individual would get the fruits of his actions, according to the principle of just desserts. In fact, appeal is often made to the inviolability of the law of karma to show the superiority of karmic systems over grace systems, for in a system which allows God to intervene at his own initiative to dispense grace to those whom he would, unfairness and injustice are introduced into the world order. The law of karma, on the other hand, is held to support fairness and justice. What sort of a world is to be created? What is to be the destiny of each creature in it? What direction is history to take? These matters are not planned and decided by God in advance.... The force of Karma determins the direction of things to come.... There is nothing arbitrary about it. God creates a world which will give to every individual what he deserves and give him also scope to escape from the working of the law of Karma, fulfill his destiny and become free.... He creates with the help of the law of Karma.... If we do not accept the law, the whole responsibility for evil and suffering in the world is God's.(15) On the other hand, if forgiveness and grace are possible, then the law of karma is violable or contingent. That is, a person might possibly receive less or more than the strict compensation which he ought to receive for his deeds. This is important, it is argued, for if God cannot intervene in human affairs according to his will and contrary to the rigid dictate of the law of karma, what value is there to religious observances and especially to petitionary prayer? But then one major reason for the introduction of the law of karma disappears, for the purported strength of the law is that it resolves the problem of human pain and suffering by holding that what we suffer is the just desserts of our former lives. If God can and does intervene graciously at times on our behalf, the connection between our previous acts and our present condition is partially severed, and one now has to ask why God intervenes as he does and why he does not intervene more often to reduce the enormous pain and suffering present in the world. In short, the problem of producing an adequate account of human suffering and pleasure is reintroduced. Indeed, the problem of evil is now moved to a new level. No longer are we explaining why humans suffer or experience pleasure. We now want to know why God brings about or allows our suffering. And since the law of karma depends upon God's will and action, it does not provide an answer to this question. P.147 The point of the dilemma, then, is that if the law of karma is inviolable or necessary, it functions to resolve the problem it was introduced to solve, namely, the problem of evil. But then divinity can play little role in the religious life. If the law of karma is violable or contingent, worship of divinity has its place, but the law of karma no longer solves the problem of evil. Is there a way out of this dilemma? One possibility involves making a careful distinction in the concept of grace. God's grace must not be understood as affecting the merit or demerit earned per se. Neither does he give a person less or more than his karma merits, nor does he forgive accumulated karma. Rather, his grace comes through the removal of impediments to attaining proper insight into one's nature and through the one-pointed mind necessary to achieve liberation.(16) God facilitates liberation by speeding up the karmaeliminating process. But nothing is removed or facilitated which the devotee does not merit. That is why he does not release all persons from sa.msaara. The recipient of grace must meet certain conditions to receive God's grace. He must have purified himself from all evil tendencies, impurities, and desires, and have perfectly surrendered himself to God, and so deserve and be willing to receive it. It might be objected that the dilemma has not been escaped, but merely moved to a different level. The question no longer concerns the original accumulation of karma, which both sides grant must be accounted for, but now concerns the additional conditions preparatory for divine intervention. With respect to these conditions, is divine intervention to facilitate the liberative process by removing impediments an act of grace or not? If the devotee worships God, purifies and surrenders himself in the appropriate way, and requests aid, could God refuse? If the devotee merits this intervention, then God cannot refuse and the intervention is not an act of grace. Where the preparatory acts of the person are sufficient for divine intervention, there is no grace. If the devotee does not merit this intervention, that is, if his preparatory acts are necessary but not sufficient, then God's intervention is gracious, but then the question arises as to why God does not intervene for others as well who do not merit it. The problem of evil re-emerges on another level. The other possible response to the dilemma is that grace is not directed specifically to one person, but generally distributed. Divine grace is likened to the sun which shines on all equally. Only those who are properly, karmically, and spiritually ready, like the mature plant, can receive and use it.(17) Thus the criticism that God gives it to some and withholds it from others is groundless. Grace is simply there for the meritorious to take; it is another external condition which the saint can appropriate to further his own salvation. But this, too, diminishes the religious significance of God; he retreats into the background as more or less the generic cause of the world, the administrator of karma, and the creator of this external, general condition. In short, the dilem- P.148 ma remains, so that the theistic account of the implementation of karma likewise is frought with difficulty. To summarize, we first explored naturalistic accounts of the workings of karma. However, the problems of explaining the causal operations of the law of karma and of accounting for the precise moral calculations it requires led to the appeal to a theistic administrator. But the theistic view has its own problems, not of causation, but of the status of the law of karma. If the law of karma is inviolable, there seems to be no room for the divine grace and forgiveness essential to a religious system. If there is room for personal grace and forgiveness, the law of karma is not inviolable, but the ability of the law of karma to provide a reasonable and compelling explanation of human pain and pleasure is lost. In short, both naturalistic and supernaturalistic accounts occasion difficulties, so that much work remains to explain how the law of karma operates for those who want to hold that the law of karma is plausible. NOTES 1. For a detailed description, see Wilhelm Halbfass, "Karma, Apuurva, and 'Natural' Causes: Observations on the Growth and Limits of the Theory of Sa.msaara," in Wendy D. O'Flaherty, ed., Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), pp. 273-284. 2. Kanada, Vai`se.sika Suutra, V, 2, 7 and 13, and 17. 3. Kanada. VI, 2, 11-15, see Halbfass, "Karma," pp. 284-290. 4. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, vol. 1 (New York: Macmillan and Co., 1923), p. 319. 5. The examples are taken from Nathmal Tatia, Studies in Jaina Philosophy (Banaras: Jain Cultural Research Society. 1951), chap. 4. 6. Tatia, Studies, p. 252. 7. "Because of the epistemological standpoint he adopted, the Buddha was able to formulate an empiricist theory of causality without getting involved in either of these [Saa^mkhya and Sarvaastivaada vs. Vai`se.sika and Sautraantika] metaphysical doctrines." The former emphasized the identity of cause and effect, while the latter held to their difference (David Kalupahana, Buddhist Philosophy: A Historical Analysis (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1976), p. 29). 8. Edward Conze (Buddhist Thought in India (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1967), p. 149) argues that the concept of productivity is absent in Buddhaghosa's analysis of causation. "There is no real production; there is only interdependence." On the other hand, David Kalupahana (Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism (Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii, 1975), pp. 73. 75 and 81-S2) contends that causation as production is found in the Sarvaastivaadins, the Sautraantikas, and the later Theravaadins. The former held that the static moment during which an event existed had causal efficacy, whereas the latter two assigned causal efficacy to the preceding event (dharma). 9. Some speak of a consciousness which carries over from one set of skandhas to another (Kalupahana. Buddhist Philosophy, p. 32). But this seems contrary to Buddhist metaphysics, where there is nothing permanent to carry over between events. Others speak of the consciousness which arises as functionally dependent upon prior consciousness. For example. Buddhaghosa speaks of a rebirth-linking consciousness. This is not a consciousness which is carried over from one birth to another, but newly arises in the reborn, though as causally conditioned. (See James P. McDermott, "Karma and Rebirth in Early Buddhism," in Wendy D. O'Flaherty, ed., Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, pp. 169-170.) But the Buddha also denied that P.149 things newly arise. This reflects the tension in the Buddhist attempt to find a middle ground between eternalism and annihilationism. 10. Edward Conze, Buddhism: Its Essence and Development (Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1951), p. 156. 11. Perhaps the recognition of this is part of the reason some Buddhists deny that all pleasure and pain result from past karmic deeds, or affirm that karma is subjective and hence does not cause material conditions, only the pleasure and pain that we experience. (For a discussion of this in the Kathaavatthu and Milindapa~nha, see James McDermott, "The Kathaavatthu Kamma Debates," Journal of the American Oriental Society 95 (1975): 426-428, and "Kamman in the Milindapa~nha, " Journal of the American Oriental Society 97 (1977): 465-466). To hold to the first contention, the Buddhist must sacrifice the thesis that the law of karma completely suffices to explain good and evil, for if some goods and evils do not result from past karmic deeds, then either they are the product of chance (which the Milindapa~nha seems to accept, but which the law of karma was introduced to deny)-or else they occur for some other reason (which is not contradictory, but considerably weakens the karmic thesis and the reason for accepting it by destroying its universality) . The second contention is problematic in that it is hard to see how karma could account for our experiences without causally influencing that which produces them (namely, the environment and other agents). 12. Halbfass, "Karma," p. 290. 13. `Sa^nkara, Brahmasuutrabhaa.sya, III, 2, 38, and 41. 14. Uddyotakara, Nyaayavaarttika, IV, 1, 21. 15. G. R. Malkani, "Some Criticisms of the Karmic Law by Prof. Warren Steinkraus Answered," The Philosophical Quarterly (India) 38 (October 1956): 159. 16. Pata~njali, Yoga-suutra I, 29. 17. Kewal Krishna Anand, Indian Philosophy (Delhi: Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan, 1982? ), pp. 342-343. See also `Sa^nkara, II, 1, 34.