Karma and Dharma—Is there room for grace?

This is a direct response to John’s post on Karma and Dharma.

Karma, as John notes, is one of those “easy” Buddhist concepts—and, outside of Buddhism, often misused. There are analogous references to it in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.* Things like “The fathers have eaten sour grapes and their children’s teeth are set on edge.” (Jeremiah 31:29-30 and Ezekiel 18:2) and “But just as all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the bad things, until he has destroyed you from this good land that the Lord your God has given you.” (Joshua 23:15) But there are also challenges to that idea of “what goes around, comes around.” The book of Ecclesiastes is an existential meditation on the world not making the sense we think it should, and the book of Job is the classic, pretty much unresolved/unresolvable, meditation on the inherent unfairness of life. (The Jews and the Christians don’t have a concept of reincarnation, so any analogy to karma is kind of stuck either in this lifetime, or is passed through generations, which, it occurs to me points to what is for me a surprising individualism in Buddhism.)

Dharma could find its analogue in the Jewish law or, more essentially, in the covenant that God makes with the Hebrew people. It is that covenant that defines their being in the world and the expectations laid on them and on their God. I’ll admit, however, that this comparison is a bit of a stretch.

The thing, however, that sticks out for me in the reflections on Karma and Dharma is that I keep longing for Grace. Grace is a term that Christians throw around far too lightly, and it is far more scandalous than we allow it to be. Our instincts say that justice means balancing the scales (and the command “an eye for an eye” is meant to be just that kind of balancing retribution) and that evildoers must get their comeuppance. Grace, however, means that love is always waiting for us, that forgiveness is always possible, that nothing cannot be redeemed. To proclaim this in a world of senseless suffering is scandalous and those who are paying attention should always hear the word with some skepticism. For Christians, this grace proclaimed by a God who knows suffering, by a God who chose suffering, who chose to experience a finite, physical human life, and who paid the consequences of attempting to enact love in a specific time and place. Grace does not mean that we are not accountable; grace does not mean that we do not have to face our sin or denounce injustice; grace does not mean that we don’t have to do any work. Grace simply means that the door is always open, the light is always on, our supper is always ready and, as a profound theological treatise* says, it’s still warm.Maurice Sendak - Where The Wild Things Are-22

**Where the Wile Things Are, Maurice Sendak.

About stacyandjohn

She is an Episcopal priest. He is a Theravadin Buddhist trying to be a playwright. They blog together, on their religions, their relationship, other religions, and about breaching the chasm between Niravanas and Heaven.
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