Karma, Death and Ancestors
Chinese Buddhism Today - Conservatism, Modernism, Syncretism and Enjoying Life on the Buddha’s Light Mountain - Yu-Shuang Yao
Yu-Shuang Yao [+]
Fo Guang University, Taiwan
Richard Gombrich [+]
University of Oxford / Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies
The chapter begins with the observation that Tai Xu was particularly critical of of contemporary Chinese Buddhism for devoting far too much attention to rituals for the dead and the income derived from performing those rituals, at the cost of doing the many things which would directly benefit the living. The authors then trace the history and development of the doctrine of Karma and note how all the Indian soteriologies – Brahminical/Hindu, Jain and Buddhist come to agree that since all lives are finite and a good rebirth will inevitably come to an end, the best solution – the only final one – is liberation. There then follows a discussion of the specifically Buddhist views regarding fate of the dead, the role of mortuary rites, sacrifice and ritual and the importance of the debates about the the the transfer of merit and the notion of intention. They argue that the link between karma and intention was broken in Mahāyāna teachings since, if one could acquire merit through some act of empathy, without even being aware of it, then the Buddha’s teaching that we are solely and wholly responsible for our own karma becomes less significant. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the concept of collective karma and whether it is implied in the Buddha's teachings or whether there are words for the concept in the traditional lexicons. The authors, in fact, conclude that the notion of collective karma that may be observed in aspects of contemporary Buddhism is an inheritance from Western esoteric speculations on the concept which first appeared in Helena Blavatsky's The Key to Theosophy (1889).