Q.517 Karma and morality

Q: In psychology, there is a popular idea called ‘value judgements;’ it says that all assessments of whether things are good or evil are relative to the condition of one’s mind. The standard for good and bad is constantly changing and relative; good and evil is just a construct. Can this concept be reconciled with the idea of karma, that (to my understanding) can be boiled down to, moral action = positive outcome/happiness, immoral action = negative outcome/suffering. Does an action that constitutes as moral in my eyes, but immoral from another perspective still result in good karma? Isn’t it a bit selfish to assume that the causality of the world revolves around our human construct of morality?

I’d like to hear your perspective on this.

A: Not sure what you mean by ‘causality of the world revolves around our human construct of morality’. Karma operates on a personal basis. Each jIva is reborn according to their past karma. This means both in the ‘appropriate body’ and in the ‘appropriate circumstances’ to enable them to ‘redeem’ their past karma, if you like. So the particular moral outlook of the society into which they are born is relevant, irrespective of how that perspective might change over time or in different societies.

But note that this is more of the initial-interim teaching of Advaita. Since, ultimately, there is no creation and no jIva-s, there is no such thing as karma either.

I don’t disagree with what you say about value judgements but it doesn’t really enter into karma yoga. The way we should act is in response to what is in front of us, without any personal motivation, without thinking about what society might say about how we should act, and without ‘taking anything’ from the result. I.e. whether the outcome is as we might have liked or not is not part of the equation. We ‘dedicate’ action and outcome to God and drop everything after the action is complete.

You might argue that how we respond to what is in front of us is going to be determined by our past environment and genetic factors and that must be true. Can we not ‘choose’ to go against these? That would involve free-will; and that is something else that I don’t believe in!

You should stop worrying about all of these empirical aspects! They are the chains that bind you to saMsAra and will not take you anywhere useful.

3 thoughts on “Q.517 Karma and morality

  1. [Dennis says] You should stop worrying about all of these empirical aspects!

    Dennis, doesn’t that require free-will? It seems you’re determined to give counsel, but unless it’s already determined that the questioner cease worrying, it appears that he/she is determined to ‘worry’ in which case there’s not a damn thing any of us can do about it, however determined we are to try.

  2. Ha ha!

    No, actually it doesn’t require free-will. It is a deterministic result of all my life-experiences, reading etc. that I don’t believe in it. Consequently, I have no choice but to comment on it in this way. And it is quite possible that, as a result of reading my answer, the questioner’s attitude will tip and he really will stop worrying about such matters. No free-will involved at all.

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  3. I think Dennis’ words and the quote below it are in the same spirit.

    “And it is quite possible that, as a result of reading my answer, the questioner’s attitude will tip and he really will stop worrying about such matters.”

    and –

    ““The Ordainer controls the fate of souls in accordance with their past deeds. Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, try how hard you may. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, do what you may to stop it. This is certain. The best course, therefore, is to remain silent.”

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