Thursday, January 19, 2006


I mentioned in a post below that I would have to do some serious meditation to improve my karma after being loaned a kick ass amp.

Jackson responded that you can't pay back karma with meditation, but that you pay into it with deeds.

As all of my fellow Zen enthusiasts know, this is partly true.

For me, my deeds are my deeds, and they're usually the simple result of cause and effect. Situations often make it impossible to base one's actions solely on the effect they will have on one's karma.

Merely doing more "good" deeds will only improve my karma if my intentions are pure. So my point was that through serious meditation I could improve my state of mind, my intentions, and by extension my karma.


"Indeed, karmic causation depends more on our intentions than on our mere actions. If you do a good deed by accident, you don't create as much good karma as if you do it intentionally, mainly because the action does not reflect a meritorious or wholesome process in your mind-stream. Similarly, if you harm someone by accident, you don't engender the same negative karma as if you do it on purpose.
Buddhist texts attribute this to the fact that karma has four parts: the intention or impulse; the actual action, thought/attitude or words; the accomplishing of the action, thought or deed; and rejoicing in the completion of that activity. If any of these parts are missing, the karma is considered incomplete and the results less profound and powerful."

So fully half of the karmic force is not dependent on the action itself, but rather the intention and the rejoicing in the completion of that action.

It's interesting to me that rejoicing in the action is so important - you really need to know that you've done good and you need to be joyful for it. If you do something cynically (but with the intent to "improve your karma") you've missed the point - and the karma.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program, ie boobies.


At 2:42 PM, Blogger Jackson said...

I suppose what I need to work on is the follow through, or rejoicing.

I choose to go to the store for beer and cigarettes knowing that the action will benefit those around me. I go to the store for beer and cigarettes. I return from the store and then the rejoicing begins, basking in the glow of those who rely on my provided bounty!

At 1:36 PM, Blogger Dave Cavalier said...

I've been thinking about your comment on my virus post about "true" altruism. You provide a very stringent definition (which is appropriate from a scientific standpoint), but I wonder if any of the human altruism we see can ever fit that stringent definition.

Do we ever help others with no benefit to us? I suspect that even in the purest of hearts, one motivation to do good is the knowledge that doing good makes us feel good about ourselves. There's nothing wrong with it, but that feeling of confidence that you have acted correctly is a real self-interest. The part about rejoicing in good works as a part of adding to karma got me thinking about that.

At 3:51 PM, Blogger Chrispy said...

Very good points, Dave.

This is one of those things that sparks lots of interesting talk amongst people who study the evolution of behavior (Behavioral Ecologists, which is what I was gearing up to be at school).

The "true altruism" definition is very stringent, and there is really no behavior in the (non human) animal kingdom that fits it (pardon the pun).

I think the knowledge that you've done good does confer a selection advantage, which exactly parallels its karmic advantage (part of why I find Buddhism so fascinating - the links between Buddhist teaching and Biology, Theoretical Physics, etc. are amazing). It's kind of like positive thinking or visualization helping someone fight a sickness or win a race. Obviously something happens to your brain chemistry when you feel good about yourself, and there's no reason this wouldn't be subject to selection like everything else.

I don't think the idea of good behavior leading to feeling good leading to a selective advantage is limited to humans, by the way. I definitely think other primates would benefit, and I wonder about animals - like dogs - who have evolved in the company of humans and who may well feel good about themselves when they do something nice for you...

At 5:02 PM, Blogger Tony Alva said...

What about acts of bravery, such as taken a bullet for a loved one or stranger? Is that not an act of pure altruism considering the fact that death (no benifit to the one commiting the act of bravery) is possible?

At 5:33 PM, Blogger Dave Cavalier said...

Chris -

We should talk about meditation some time. I don't really mention it much, but Yasha, my guitar teacher, and I meditate at almost every lesson.

At 5:35 PM, Blogger Dave Cavalier said...

Tony -

That's a really interesting example. I guess the question is whether we become so overwhelmed by the feeling of doing good that we become too irrational to evaluate the consequence.

At 5:37 PM, Blogger Dave Cavalier said...

Is karma distributed in packets, like energy?

At 11:13 AM, Blogger Chrispy said...

Dave's talking about Karma Quanta!


Taking a bullet for your child actually fits into the "no real atruism" point perfectly. Your child shares 1/2 of your DNA, and since so much effort goes into raising a child (and because you may never have another one), there is an incredibly strong selection pressure to save them from harm.

As far as helping out a stranger, I would argue that human behavior has evolved over a long period of time when humans were essentially tribal, living in small groups where most were related. The urge to put yourself at risk to save another human would also be selected for if these humans are related to you (which most of the humans your ancestors came in regular contact with were). I think this manifests itself, sometimes, in helping those who aren't related to you.

I also think there is a tendency for humans (and other animals) to downplay their own mortality. I think there is a selective advantage here too, to some extent... there would be a balance between living too conservatively or too dangerously. In the heat of the moment, helping someone else, I think many humans disregard the danger to themselves.

There is also no question that individual moments trump selective pressures, and a lifetime of conditioning could absolutely cause a person to act in ways that are not evolutionarily advantageous. But over the long run (the thousands and millions of years we're talking about when we're talking evolution) these behaviors are selected against, simply because humans who risk their lives more often will probably not leave as many children.

It's actually very simple, when you think about it. Behaviors that allow you to pass on your genes are selected for, since selection = genes being passed on.

At 1:41 PM, Blogger Dave Cavalier said...

It's a known fact that karmions exhibit a half-integer spin, in accordance with Pauli's Exclusion Principle.

At 1:57 PM, Blogger Chrispy said...

Dave, I think you out-geeked me on that one.

Karmion - the smallest unit of Karma?


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