KARMA AND THE POSSIBILITY OF PURIFICATION: An Ethical and Psychological Analysis of the Doctrine of Karma in Buddhism



This article attempts to define karma as both action and the effects of action. In terms of the effects or fruits of action, the effect of action upon the mind is the focus; thus, the idea of “effect” is primarily defined as psychic residue and is compared to Freud's notion of memory traces. In addition, action that produces karma is said to be accompanied by the “pulling” feeling of volition (cetanā). Some comparisons are then made between cetanā and the theories of Karen Horney in Western psychology vis à vis her view of the neurotic's compulsive, driven feelings. The article also has a more ethically oriented side. Often, the karma doctrine is believed to be the only causal factor responsible for one's present condition, and thus, a person's unfortunate circumstances: sometimes this notion leads to blaming a person for his or her misfortune. This article seeks to discover whether or not this idea truly has scriptural backing. Lastly, the article explores the issue of whether or not one must always live out the entirety of the effects of one's actions or if it is possible to purify or eliminate actions' effects before they come to fruition. For this question in particular, the article examines both Theravāda and Mahāyāna thinking.