Ven. Thanissaor wrote:The presentation of the teaching
: Because the Buddha's listeners were already caught in the midst of the web of this/that conditionality, he had to present his message in a way that spoke to their condition. This meant that he had to be sensitive both to the linear effects of past kamma that might either prevent or support the listener's ability to benefit from the teaching, and to the listener's current attitudes and concerns. A person whose adverse past kamma prevented Awakening in this lifetime might benefit from a more elementary teaching that would put him/her in a better position to gain Awakening in a future lifetime. Another person's past kamma might open the possibility for Awakening in this lifetime, but his/her present attitude might have to be changed before he/she was willing to accept the teaching.
A second complication entailed by the principle of this/that conditionality is that it has to be known and mastered at the level of direct experience in and of itself. This mastery is thus a task that each person must do for him or herself. No one can master direct experience for anyone else. The Buddha therefore had to find a way to induce his listeners to accept his diagnosis of their sufferings and his prescription for their cure. He also had to convince them to believe in their own ability to follow the instructions and obtain the desired results. To use a traditional Buddhist analogy, the Buddha was like a doctor who had to convince his patients to administer a cure to themselves, much as a doctor has to convince his patients to follow his directions in taking medicine, getting exercise, changing their diet and lifestyle, and so forth. The Buddha had an additional difficulty, however, in that his definition of health — Unbinding — was something that none of his listeners had yet experienced for themselves. Hence the most important point of his teaching was something that his listeners would have to take on faith. Only when they had seen the results of putting the teachings into practice for themselves would faith no longer be necessary.
Thus, for every listener, faith in the Buddha's Awakening was a prerequisite for advanced growth in the teaching. Without faith in the fact of the Buddha's knowledge of Unbinding, one could not fully accept his prescription. Without faith in the regularity of the Dhamma — including conviction in the principle of kamma and the impersonality of the causal law, making the path open in principle to everyone — one could not fully have faith in one's own ability to follow the path. Of course, this faith would then be confirmed, step by step, as one followed the teaching and began gaining results, but full confirmation would come only with an experience of Awakening. Prior to that point, one's trust, bolstered only by partial results, would have to be a matter of faith
[MN 27 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
Acquiring this faith
is called "going for refuge" in the Buddha. The "refuge" here derives from the fact that one has placed trust in the truth of the Buddha's Awakening and expects that by following his teachings — in particular, the principle of skillful kamma — one protects oneself from creating further suffering for oneself or others, eventually reaching true, unconditioned happiness. This act of going for refuge is what qualifies one as a Buddhist — as opposed to someone simply interested in the Buddha's teachings — and puts one in a position to benefit fully from what the Buddha taught
.... http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... html#intro
(all emphases mine except italics)
Thus the experience of his Awakening gave a new purpose to narrative and cosmology in the Buddha's eyes: they became tools for persuading his listeners to adopt the training that would lead them to the phenomenological mode. This accounts for the ad hoc and fragmentary nature of the narratives and cosmological sketches in his teachings. They are not meant to be analyzed in a systematic way. It is a mistake to tease out their implications to see what they may say about such metaphysical questions as the existence or lack of existence of entities or identities underlying the process of kamma and rebirth
, the relationship between the laws of kamma and the laws of the physical sciences
, or the nature of the mechanism by which kamma makes its results felt over time
[see the discussion of appropriate questions in II/G http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... yoniso1-2g
]. The search for systematic answers to such issues is not only invalid or irrelevant from the Buddhist point of view, it is actually counterproductive in that it blocks one from entering the path to release.
And, we should note, none of the modes of discourse — narrative, cosmological, or phenomenological — is capable of describing or even framing proper questions about what happens after Awakening, for such issues, which lie beyond the conditions of time and the present, cannot be properly expressed by the conventions of language and analysis, which are bound by those conditions. Only a person who has mastered the skill of release has the mental skills needed to comprehend such matters [AN 4.174 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
, The Mind Like Fire Unbound
pp. 31-32]. The Buddha reserved his systematic explanations for the particular phenomenological mode to be used in viewing the process of kamma in its own terms, as it is being mastered, so that the actual problem of kamma
and its retribution (as opposed to the theoretical questions about them) will be solved. The right way to listen to the narratives and cosmological sketches, then, is to see what they imply about one's own need to master the kammic process on the level of awareness in and of itself.
From these points it should become clear why kamma, as an article of faith
, is a necessary factor in the path of Buddhist practice
. The teaching on kamma
, in its narrative and cosmological forms, provides the context for the practice, giving it direction and urgency. Because the cosmos is governed by the laws of kamma
, those laws provide the only mechanism by which happiness can be found. But because good and bad kamma, consisting of good and bad intentions, simply perpetuate the ups and downs of experience in the cosmos, a way must be found out of the mechanism of kamma by mastering it in a way that allows it to disband in an attentive state of non-intention. And, because there is no telling what sudden surprises the results of one's past kamma may still hold in store, one should try to develop that mastery as quickly as possible.
In its phenomenological mode, the teaching on kamma
accounts for the focus and the terms of analysis used in the practice. It also accounts for the mental qualities needed to attain and maintain that level of focus and analysis. In terms of focus, the principle of scale invariance at work in the complexities of kamm
a means that their essential processes can be mastered by focusing total attention on them right at the mind in the immediate present. This focus accounts for the practice of frames-of-reference meditation [II/B http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ml#part2-b
], in which attention is directed at present phenomena in and of themselves. These phenomena are then analyzed in terms of the four noble truths, the phenomenological terms in which appropriate attention and discernment direct and observe the experience of developing the qualities of skillful action
The most immediate skillful kamma
that can be observed on this level is the mastery of the very same mental qualities that are supporting this refined level of focus and analysis: mindfulness, concentration, and discernment, together with the more basic qualities on which they are based. Thus, these mental qualities act not only as supports to the focus and analysis, but also as their object. Ultimately, discernment becomes so refined that the focus and analysis take as their object the act of focusing and analyzing, in and of themselves. The cycle of action then short-circuits as it reaches culmination, and Unbinding occurs. These elements of focus, analysis, and mental qualities, together with the dynamic of their development to a point of culmination, are covered by the teachings on the Wings to Awakening discussed in detail in Parts II and III. Thus the Wings can be viewed as a direct expression of the role of skillful kamma
in the path to release.
It is entirely possible that a person with no firm conviction in the principle of kamma
can follow parts of the Buddhist path, including mindfulness and concentration practices, and gain positive results from them. For instance, one can pursue mindfulness practice for the sense of balance, equanimity, and peace it gives to one's daily life, or for the sake of bringing the mind to the present for the purpose of spontaneity and "going with the flow." The full practice of the path, however, is a skillful diverting of the flow of the mind from its habitual kammic streams to the stream of Unbinding
. As the Buddha said, this practice requires a willingness to "develop and abandon" to an extreme degree [AN 4.28 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
]. The developing requires a supreme effort aimed at full and conscious mastery of mindfulness, concentration, and discernment to the point of non-fashioning and on to release. A lack of conviction in the principle of kamma would undercut the patience and commitment, the desire, persistence, intent, and refined powers of discrimination [II/D http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ml#part2-d
] needed to pursue concentration and discernment to the most heightened levels, beyond what is needed for a general sense of peace or spontaneity. The abandoning
involves uprooting the most deeply buried forms of clinging and attachment that keep one bound to the cycle of rebirth. Some of these forms of clinging — such as views and theories about self-identity — are so entrenched in the narrative and cosmological modes in which most people function that only firm conviction in the benefits to be had by abandoning them will be able to pry them loose. This is why the Buddha insisted repeatedly — and we will have occasion to return to this theme at several points in this book [II/E http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... l#part2-e;
III/A http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ml#part3-a
] — that conviction in the fact of his Awakening necessarily involves conviction in the principle of kamma, and that both forms of conviction are needed for the full mastery of the kamma of heightened skillfulness leading to release
The Canon contains many well-known passages where the Buddha asks his listeners not to accept his teachings simply on faith
, but these remarks were directed to people just beginning the practice. Such people need only accept the general principles of skillful action
on a trial basis, focusing on the input of their actions into the causal system at the present moment, and exploring the connection between skillful intentions
and favorable results. The more complex issues of kamma come into play at this level only in forcing one to be patient with the practice. Many times skillful intentions do not produce their favorable results immediately, aside from the sense of well-being — sometimes clearly perceptible, sometimes barely — that comes with acting skillfully
. Were it not for this delay, the principle of kamma
would be self-evident, no one would dare act on unskillful intentions, and there would be no need to take the principle on faith. As we noted in the Introduction, the complexity of this/that conditionality is the major cause for the confusion and lack of skill with which most people live their lives. The ability to master this process takes time.
As one progresses further on the path, however — and as the process of developing skillfulness in and of itself
comes more and more to take center stage in one's awareness — the actual results of developing skillfulness should give greater and greater reason for conviction in the principle of kamma
. Except in cases where people fall into the trap of heedlessness or complacency, these results can spur and inspire one to hold to the principle of kamma
with the increasing levels of firmness, focus, and refinement needed for Awakening. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ml#part1-b
(all emphases mine except italics)