Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

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Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:11 am

Some critics have blamed kamma teachings for fostering backwards and superstitious attitudes:

I vividly recall a conversation I had with a senior Thai monk when I attended the 2001 conference of the International Association of Buddhist Studies in Bangkok. I asked the Venerable, “Why doesn’t the Thai Sangha speak out against the rampant sexual slavery imposed on children in Bangkok and other Thai cities?” He immediately replied, "Oh, you must understand that these girls must have done something evil in their past lives, perhaps committing adultery. That is why they became prostitutes in this life. Of course, there is hope for them in their future lives.”

...This raises the critically important question of how Buddhism can hope to play a constructive, let alone compassionate, role in contemporary society if it cannot confront and overcome this understanding of karma? (Ven. Daizen Brian Victoria, "The Reactionary Use of Karma in Twentieth Century Japan")


My questions:

Is the senior monk's interpretation of kamma mistaken, or is this what Buddhism actually teaches (based on MN 135, etc)? In your personal opinion, is it a valid explanation for child prostitution in Thailand?

Does his statement reflect the prevailing attitude among Buddhists in Thailand or other traditionally Buddhist countries?

Since human rebirth is rare, and most of our past lives have been spent in the lower realms, does it make any coherent sense to attribute ills such as prostitution to past life miscreance such as adultery? Can we seriously believe that someone is a prostitute today because they cheated on their spouse many eons ago? Isn't this a bit superstitious?

How would you answer the author's question: "how can Buddhist play a constructive, compassionate role in contemporary society if it cannot confront and overcome this understanding of karma"?

When you encounter someone who is severely afflicted, does the idea occur to you that their affliction is "because they did something wrong in a past life"? How do you personally interpret karma as it relates to affliction?

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby Ben » Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:32 am

Hi Lazy Eye

I can't comment on Venerable's explanation and I don't wish to comment on it.
Kamma is an impersonal law relating to the operation of volitional action. Its not superstition. Through our own thoughts, words and deeds we are actually creating the nature of our own future.

The kamma of children caught in child prostitution cannot be discerned, unless one is a Buddha. Should we step in and do what we can to rescue children caught in prostition or stop kids from being traded into the sex industry? Absolutely. And I don't think engaging in such a way with society is inconsistent with the Dhamma.
Kind regards

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby Mawkish1983 » Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:39 am

Ben wrote:Should we step in and do what we can to rescue children caught in prostition or stop kids from being traded into the sex industry? Absolutely.

This is the KEY point I think. I seem to remember that our "now" is affected by a great number of complicated inter-connected events... so for us to say very flatly that the children 'deserve it' because of their past kamma or whatever is absolutely WRONG (in my opinion).

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby Ben » Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:49 am

A few years ago I was reading a history of public health in Victoria during the 19th Century where I encountered the attitude of the upper and middle classes which considered intervening on behalf of the sick and destitute as interfering in the work of god who was punishing the sinful. It was on par with not doing anything to help because those who had befallen bad times 'deserved' what they got. Thankfully, we've come a long way in our attitudes.
I think it would be a mistake to consider kamma in the same way.
Metta

Ben
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Mar 25, 2009 12:56 pm

Ben wrote:A few years ago I was reading a history of public health in Victoria during the 19th Century where I encountered the attitude of the upper and middle classes which considered intervening on behalf of the sick and destitute as interfering in the work of god who was punishing the sinful. It was on par with not doing anything to help because those who had befallen bad times 'deserved' what they got. Thankfully, we've come a long way in our attitudes.
I think it would be a mistake to consider kamma in the same way.
Metta

Ben


Ben,

That's a helpful analogy, I think. The difficult question, though, is whether this "mistaken" view of kamma actually stems from the Buddha's teaching. Isn't it simply an extension of MN 135 (we're ugly because we were bad, etc.)? If not, why?

I respect your wish not to comment on the Venerable's opinion. What I'm interested in knowing is how representative his opinion is.
LE

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby clw_uk » Wed Mar 25, 2009 1:30 pm

Greetings


How would you answer the author's question: "how can Buddhist play a constructive, compassionate role in contemporary society if it cannot confront and overcome this understanding of karma"?

When you encounter someone who is severely afflicted, does the idea occur to you that their affliction is "because they did something wrong in a past life"? How do you personally interpret karma as it relates to affliction?



Towards the first question, it seems whoever asked it think of kamma as superstition and wants people to "overcome" it, which is not Dhamma


To the second point, we dont know what is result of kamma and whats not so one cannot say ""because they did something wrong in a past life"?" because we just dont know

How do i interpet kamma in relation to affliction? I tend not to, as i dont know if its result of kamma or not i just take it as a unhappy situation that has come to be and try to make things better for the afflicted if i can, so in reguards to the children i dont know if its past kamma or not so i would do my best to help because they are suffering

However even if it was past kamma it wouldnt make a difference, compassion is important so one should still try to help the situation even if it is past kamma, Buddhism is about removing suffering this applies in any situation, this doesnt stop if the situation "may" have been caused by past kamma


Just my two cents anyway

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby sukhamanveti » Wed Mar 25, 2009 3:16 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:
Ben wrote:A few years ago I was reading a history of public health in Victoria during the 19th Century where I encountered the attitude of the upper and middle classes which considered intervening on behalf of the sick and destitute as interfering in the work of god who was punishing the sinful. It was on par with not doing anything to help because those who had befallen bad times 'deserved' what they got. Thankfully, we've come a long way in our attitudes.
I think it would be a mistake to consider kamma in the same way.
Metta

Ben


Ben,

That's a helpful analogy, I think. The difficult question, though, is whether this "mistaken" view of kamma actually stems from the Buddha's teaching. Isn't it simply an extension of MN 135 (we're ugly because we were bad, etc.)? If not, why?

I respect your wish not to comment on the Venerable's opinion. What I'm interested in knowing is how representative his opinion is.
LE


MN 135 seems to be speaking of being reborn into certain environments or certain bodies, the way I read it (even when it speaks of poverty). I don't see anything there about kamma directly causing people to be victimized by others in this world. The Buddha believed in volition (cetana), although it seems it could be weighted by habits and inclinations, and he rejected the Ajivika doctrine of fate (niyati) in the various passages that mention the six titthiyas or heterodox teachers.

Dh 4.7 and Dh. 18.18-19 teach that we should not look for the faults in others.

AN 6.44 teaches that kamma is difficult to trace.

The real problem in the example the book gives is not belief in kamma, but a total failure of compassion. The Buddha never taught that we have the right to think, "You got what you deserved. Good luck." On the contrary, the Buddha taught universal love and compassion that is not merely internal. It led the Buddha to prevent battles, as in the case of the dispute between the Sakyas and Koliyas or the occasion in which he prevented King Ajatasattu from attacking the Vajjis. It motivated him to bathe a monk sick with dysentery (Vin. 1.301). The Metta Sutta in the Sutta Nipata says that we are to love all beings as a mother loves her only child, willing to risk her life for that child.

Ed

EDIT: What I was trying to say in the first paragraph in my own garbled way is that I don't think that kamma controls the actions of victimizers.
Sīlaṃ balaṃ appaṭimaṃ.
Sīlaṃ āvudhamuttamaṃ.
Sīlamābharaṇaṃ seṭṭhaṃ.
Sīlaṃ kavacamabbhutaṃ.


Virtue is a matchless power.
Virtue is the greatest weapon.
Virtue is the best adornment.
Virtue is a wonderful armor.

Theragatha 614


Sabbapāpassa akaraṇaṃ,
kusalassa upasampadā,
Sacittapariyodapanaṃ,
etaṃ buddhāna sāsanaṃ.


Refraining from all wrong-doing,
Undertaking the good,
Purifying the mind,
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

Dhammapada v. 183/14.5

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby gavesako » Wed Mar 25, 2009 7:12 pm

The view of kamma attributed to that Thai monk is rather typical and can be traced back to a popular text from the 14th century called Traibhumi Katha (Traiphum) which tends to interpret kamma in this way (see http://www.jstor.org/pss/1062347 ).

That the Buddha considered it important to look further than our own immediate environment and care for the wellbeing of others is borne out by this passage:

"He should not kill a living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should he incite another to kill. Do not injure any being, either strong or weak, in the world." --Dhammika Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .irel.html
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Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby Fede » Wed Mar 25, 2009 8:24 pm

I too will refrain from passing comment, but these are my views, for what they may be worth.

Lazy_eye wrote:In your personal opinion, is it a valid explanation for child prostitution in Thailand?


One should primarily draw distinction between voluntary prostitution, based on a personal choice, and coercion into prostitution, and being obligated and forced to act in this manner.
The former is not for us to judge, criticise or condemn.
The latter most certainly is, in that coercion, obligation and force are the unskilful actions here, not the prostitution....


Since human rebirth is rare, and most of our past lives have been spent in the lower realms, does it make any coherent sense to attribute ills such as prostitution to past life miscreance such as adultery? Can we seriously believe that someone is a prostitute today because they cheated on their spouse many eons ago? Isn't this a bit superstitious?


The law of Kamma is an unconjecturable.
However, my initial point still stands. That the person's kamma has brought them to this state may be one thing.
That others are exploiting them and using them to their own personal advantage, but to the child's detriment, is another.
We have two kammas at work here (at least...!!)

How would you answer the author's question: "how can Buddhist play a constructive, compassionate role in contemporary society if it cannot confront and overcome this understanding of karma"?

First of all, because it is not a widespread and wholly unified opinion, there is less of a problem than one might think.
Secondly, because it is not a cohesive and general view, it can be ovecome.

When you encounter someone who is severely afflicted, does the idea occur to you that their affliction is "because they did something wrong in a past life"? How do you personally interpret karma as it relates to affliction?


I never think about what has brought a person to where they are now. I merely look upon their suffering and consider what I could do to help, through kindness and compassion.
"Samsara: The human condition's heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment." Elizabeth Gilbert, 'Eat, Pray, Love'.

Simplify: 17 into 1 WILL go: Mindfulness!

Quieta movere magna merces videbatur. (Sallust, c.86-c.35 BC)
Translation: Just to stir things up seemed a good reward in itself. ;)

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby kc2dpt » Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:02 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Is the senior monk's interpretation of kamma mistaken?

Yes and no.

Yes I think the teachings support the idea that a person may find she has to becomes a prostitute due to some past misdeed.

No that is no excuse for not trying to help that person. To say "This person is not deserving of help because of their past karma" is a tragic misunderstanding of the Buddha's teachings.

Karma teaches us why we came to where we are. It teaches us to be heedful of our present behavior. It does not teach us how to treat others. The first three brahmaviharas teach us how to treat others. The fourth, equanimity, teaches us that when we've done all we could to help others and it doesn't seem to help, we should take comfort in the fact that nothing in life is unfair - it is due to karma.
- Peter

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:11 pm

Greetings Lazy_eye,

Lazy_eye wrote:Is the senior monk's interpretation of kamma mistaken, or is this what Buddhism actually teaches (based on MN 135, etc)? In your personal opinion, is it a valid explanation for child prostitution in Thailand?


As far as I can tell, the kind of explanation the monk provides is not supported by the suttas or the Abhidhamma, but is completely in accord with the stories provided in the Jatakas and the Dhammapada Stories.

The question then becomes, do you believe the Jatakas and the Dhammapada Stories are historical truths representative of the Dhamma (incl. kamma), or do you believe that they are traditional moralistic stories designed not to provide an accurate representation of kamma but to encourage people to act morally, and to help them remember and apply Dhammapada and Sutta teachings in their daily lives.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby Lazy_eye » Thu Mar 26, 2009 2:27 pm

Thanks for the responses. What I mainly wanted was to get some sense of the context, and the extent to which the monk's statement did or did not reflect Buddha's teachings. And I think my questions have been answered. Appreciate the references and links.

Personally, I don't have a problem with saying that kamma played a large part in getting us into whatever situation we're in, or that specific actions we do now will lead to identifiable results in the future. What I do have trouble with is when people take the liberty of looking at someone else's situation and assigning it a specific kammic cause. The Buddha, for instance, said that murderous people will have short lives. He didn't say that all short-lived people were necessarily murderous. There's a difference, no?

Metta,
LE

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby Fede » Thu Mar 26, 2009 3:42 pm

Does that mean that by incarcerating them for life, maybe we prolong their lives unnecessarily....?

That's a question to ponder..... :thinking: :rolleye:
"Samsara: The human condition's heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment." Elizabeth Gilbert, 'Eat, Pray, Love'.

Simplify: 17 into 1 WILL go: Mindfulness!

Quieta movere magna merces videbatur. (Sallust, c.86-c.35 BC)
Translation: Just to stir things up seemed a good reward in itself. ;)

I am sooooo happy - How on earth could I be otherwise?! :D


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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby kc2dpt » Thu Mar 26, 2009 4:33 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:The Buddha, for instance, said that murderous people will have short lives. He didn't say that all short-lived people were necessarily murderous. There's a difference, no?

Yes, there is a difference.
- Peter

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby cooran » Thu Mar 26, 2009 10:41 pm

Fede wrote:Does that mean that by incarcerating them for life, maybe we prolong their lives unnecessarily....?

That's a question to ponder..... :thinking: :rolleye:

Hello Fede,

It is the next or a subsequent life which may be short - that is, if the vipaka of murdering comes to fruition in that lifetime. And, it needs to be remembered, not all kammic acts necessarily come to fruition.

metta
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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby Fede » Fri Mar 27, 2009 8:49 am

You're quite right as usual Chris, thanks.... I was limiting my thinking, which obviously also narrows the view. Thanks for pointing that out....
Oh my dreadful ignorance.... I thought all Kamma (save unintentional acts) came to fruition....?
Is this what you mean?

I conjoin my good wishes to Ben's for you, by the way.
I have nooooo idea what you're 'suffering' or going through, but I wish you well.
No need or request to share.
Just good wishes, full stop.

:namaste:
"Samsara: The human condition's heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment." Elizabeth Gilbert, 'Eat, Pray, Love'.

Simplify: 17 into 1 WILL go: Mindfulness!

Quieta movere magna merces videbatur. (Sallust, c.86-c.35 BC)
Translation: Just to stir things up seemed a good reward in itself. ;)

I am sooooo happy - How on earth could I be otherwise?! :D


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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby cooran » Fri Mar 27, 2009 8:52 pm

Hello Fede,

Thanks for the good wishes, things are improving rapidly. :smile:

Regarding 'not all kamma coming to fruition' ~ as we are creating good and bad kamma in every minute by our thoughts, emotions, actions ~ we'd be trapped in Sa.msara forever if we had to experience the fruits (results) of it all.

This excerpt from the teaching by Bhikkhu Bodhi explains:

"Kamma is like a seed
First of all, not all Kamma has to ripen as a matter of necessity. Although it has the tendency to ripen, it does not ripen inevitably. Kamma is like a seed. Seeds ripen only if they meet the right conditions. But if they do not meet the right conditions they remain as seeds; if they are destroyed they can never ripen at all. Similarly, it can be said of kamma that kamma pushes for an opportunity to mature. It has a tendency to mature. If kamma finds the opportunity then it will bring its results. If it does not meet the right conditions it won't ripen. One kamma can even be destroyed by another kamma. So it is important to understand that our present way of life, our attitudes and conduct, can influence the way our past kammas mature. Some past kammas are so powerful that they have to come to fruition. We cannot escape them no matter what we do. But the greatest number of our past kammas are conditioned by the way we live now. If we live heedlessly, unwisely, we will give our past bad kammas the opportunity to ripen and this will either hinder the good kammas from producing their effects or else cancel out their good effects.
On the other hand, if we live wisely now, we will give our good kammas the opportunity to mature and bar out our bad kammas or weaken them, destroy them or prevent them from coming to fruition.

[.............................]

We Are Not Hopeless Prisoners Of Our Past
The twin teachings on kamma and rebirth have several important implications for understanding our own lives.
First they enable us to understand that we are fully responsible for what we are. We can't blame our troubles on our environment, on our heredity, on fate or on our upbringing. All these factors have made us what we are, but the reason we have met these circumstances is because of our past kamma. This might seem to be at first a pessimistic doctrine. It seems to imply that we are the prisoners of our past kammas, that we have to submit to their effects. This is a distortion.
It is true that very often we have to reap the results of our past kamma. But the important point to understand is that kamma is volitional action, and volitional action always takes place in the present, only in the present. This means at present it is possible for us to change the entire direction of our life.
If we closely examine our lives we'll see that our experience is of two types: first, experience that comes to us passively, which we receive independently of our choice; and second, experience which we create for ourselves through our choices and attitudes. The passive side of experience is largely the effect of past kamma.We generally have to face this and learn to accept it. But within those limitations there is a space, the tremendous space of the present moment, in which we can reconstruct our world with our own minds.
If we let ourselves be dominated by selfishness, hatred, ambition and dullness, then, even if we are wealthy and powerful, we'll still be living in misery and suffering and keep planting seeds for rebirth in the world of suffering. On the other hand, even if we are poor and in sad circumstances, with much pain and misfortune, if we observe pure conduct, develop a mind of generosity, kindness and understanding, then we can transform our world, we can build a world of love and peace."
http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/ebdha057.htm

metta
Chris
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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby DarkDream » Sat Mar 28, 2009 11:18 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:The difficult question, though, is whether this "mistaken" view of kamma actually stems from the Buddha's teaching. Isn't it simply an extension of MN 135 (we're ugly because we were bad, etc.)? If not, why?

I respect your wish not to comment on the Venerable's opinion. What I'm interested in knowing is how representative his opinion is.


Lazy eye, I think the MN 135 has been misinterpreted over the centuries. Please see this article on it here, http://www.westernbuddhistreview.com/vol4/kamma_in_context.html and my blog post here http://dreamwhitehorses.blogspot.com/2009/02/revisiting-culakammavibhanga-sutta.html. The point is that the teaching has been taken out of context and the Buddha, I believe at least, was not saying that actions will lead to a certain post-mortem existence.

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby DarkDream » Sun Mar 29, 2009 12:00 am

This view of kamma is not at all surprising. The idea of kamma does by necessity lead to a view like this even though there is evidence in the suttas that is against this.

The point is that kamma and rebirth from a purely conceptual point of view is by necessity deterministic. The classical view of kamma and rebirth to work this "reward" or "punishment" must necessarily happen in the next world (heaven and hell) or on earth (bad form for a being or good form). If the reward or punishment were to happen in this world then there would no longer need to be reward or punishment in heaven or hell or a next life and thus karmic determined rebirth falls apart. Karama is always taught that it is inescapable -- no one can avoid its effects.

The point is that it must be deterministic to work. But there are difficulties in this, for example, is getting old due to our past kamma or is just the law of the universe? If everything is deterministic, would one work towards enlightenment? Due to these difficulties, the suttas do provide exceptions to these problems.

Yet how does one pick and choose which things are caused by kamma and what is not? For example, if one believes they are born rich, or has a long life due to past kamma, how can one deny a child being raped is *not* due to past kamma? Where does one draw the line?

For the Tibetan Buddhists for example, everything is caused by kamma. Some Tibetan lama's say that the situation in Tibet is due due the past actions of the Tibetan people. See this blog on this: http://www.thinkbuddha.org/article/341/karma-retribution-and-the-actress

As I pointed out in my blog http://dreamwhitehorses.blogspot.com/2008/12/crassness-of-cula-kammavibhanga-sutta.html the cosmological view of kamma can lead to the following:

(1) Blame the attitude victim. It is the victim's fault and not the actual perpetrator.
(2) The perpetrator is not to be blamed as that person is just carrying out the cosmic kammic retribution.
(3) There is no need to stop any attrocities as the ultimate cosmic karmic balance will work itself out.

To me this is an absolutely horrific belief system. To blame a child for being enslaved is atrocious. I do not believe any civilized society or institution can have such beliefs, yet karma and rebirth, as this example shows, can lead to it.

What maybe many of the people on the board want to omit is that these type of beliefs or more prevelant than would like to be admitted. This is the dark side or underbelly of Buddhism that, in my opinion, must be eradicated. The best way I can think is to simply jetision the whole archaic, naive belief system or post-mortem rebirth.

--DarkDream

This to me is the greatest reason to get rid of the post-mortem view of karma and rebirth. Any such

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tiltbillings
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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Mar 29, 2009 12:15 am

The idea of kamma does by necessity lead to a view like this even though there is evidence in the suttas that is against this. . . . The point is that it must be deterministic to work.


By necessity? How come I do not hold to such an inaccurate view of kamma? How come many others here do not hold to such a view? How come many, many others elsewhere do not hold to such a view? How come the Buddha did not teach such a view? If "by necessity", how come?
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson


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