Is believing in Karma and believing in an active God, incompatible?
Thank you for your response to the above question. It was clear and concise and very helpful. I would like some clarification.
Is there a God, or a "prime mover" beginning the acts of karma in the first place?
I noticed Buddhism does have a list of "gods" what is there purpose if they cannot interfere with karma? Do you, for example, pray for guidance?
I have also read that when the Buddha was asked about God, he merely laughed, or said, no one really knows. This to me implies Buddhism is not an atheist belief, but agnostic, would this be accurate?
Thank you again so much for the clarity of your response.
I read that karma is based on conditionality, cause and effect, and therefore there is no autonomous creator in the form of God. Or to put it differently, if we create our own karma, a God cannot intervene. The Buddha said, "Because this was produced, that followed." So, is believing in karma and in an active God, incompatible?
Thank you for asking me.
The Buddhist concept of kamma is volitional action. Action that is done on purpose. This natural law is the law of cause and effect, or the law of retribution. It is neither moral nor immoral, but amoral. Irrespective of who you are or what you believe, this Law holds supreme. It is just like electricity or fire. If you misuse or being careless, you will be electrocuted or burnt. This is the universal truth which transcends race, nationality, culture, belief, time and space. The idea of a creator god who is all powerful and having full control over us is not in the domain of the teachings of the Buddha. Therefore, believing in kamma and in an active God is incompatible.
We are what we were, and we will be what we are. In other words, we are the results of our past kamma; and our future will depend on our present actions. We are in control of our lives here and now. In this respect, Buddhists are fearless and enjoy complete freedom in the conduct of their lives.
Before signing off, below is a very pertinent quotation:
"If you want to know what you did in the past,
Look at where you are at present.
If you want to know where you will be in the future,
Look at what you are doing at the present."
Your qn: "Is there a God, or a "prime mover" beginning the acts of karma in the first place?"
My comment: Our limited mental capacity coupled with our ignorance always lead us to want to know the beginning and the end of everything. There cannot be a beginning and an end in the order of existence. The Buddha warned that the beginning and the end are illusive ideas. If you do some studies on astronomy, you would know that the universe is endless. At a moment in time some stars expire, while others are being formed. The end of a phenomenon is actually the beginning of another. It is just like sunset and sunrise.
Having established that, the idea of a beginning will lose its mystery.
Your qn: "I notice Buddhism does have a list of "gods". What is their purpose if they cannot interfere with karma? Do you, for example, pray for guidance?"
My comment: There are two main "schools" of Buddhism. The Theravada school (which I follow) is more "orthodox". The emphasis is on the teachings of the historical Buddha. Whereas the Mahayana school has introduced several Bodhisattas (Buddhas-to-be) and Amitabha Buddha. The Chinese have a pantheon of "Buddhas, Bodhisattas and deities". Each has certain "specialties" and "powers". As for the Theravadians, we emphasize on the practice of the Buddha's teachings instead of "praying" for salvation.
The Buddha revealed that there were other planes of existence. There are the hell planes and the heavenly planes. There are the "neighbourhood heavenly planes" where beings have some power to aid humans. We refer to them as Devas or heavenly angels (for lack of a better term in the Engliah language). These Devas may help us if we radiate our good thoughts to them. However this is mainly on worldly problems. As for ultimate salvation we still have to cultivate by ourselves.
Your last question: "I have also read that when the Buddha was asked about God, he merely laughed, or said, no one really knows. This to me implies Buddhism is not an atheist belief, but agnostic, would this be accurate?"
My comment: Merriam-Webster's definition of "atheist" is "one who believes that there is no deity" and
"agnostic" as "one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god"
Base on the above definitions, Buddhism is neither. The Buddha had confirmed that there were beings in other planes. Those existing in the heavenly planes are referred to as deities or gods. They are not all-powerful but merely have greater "worldly" powers than us. They are as mortal as us. They have a very long life span but in the end will succumb to death. As such, existing in the heavenly planes is no great deal. Buddhists have a higher goal, that is not to exist in those planes which are impermanent and still imperfect, but to gain entry into a totally new dimension...Nibbana...no more rebirth into the imperfect and impermanent planes.
Hope you are happy with the comments.