Roles of Karma and Dharma in Buddhism

by James Stuart
Following dharma helps adherents follow the path of the Buddha.

Following dharma helps adherents follow the path of the Buddha.

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Dharma and karma provide the the basis for Buddhist morality, but also influence the religion's concept of justice. They form a cosmic path that guides the soul through reincarnation and toward the ultimate goal of enlightenment. This is possible because the two concepts are connected, with dharma teaching individuals to live in harmony with the world, allowing them to accrue positive karma and experience favorable events in this and the next life.

Harmony

The concept of dharma, or dhamma, posits that the natural state of the world is one of harmony, and humans should do everything in their power to preserve it. Acts that would disrupt natural harmony, such as war or theft, are immoral because they cause discord. Dharma, however, also teaches followers to search for natural and logical ways of alleviating suffering. For example, hunger is a natural state but is also a form of suffering. Since Buddhism teaches to avoid suffering, the natural solution of sating one's hunger with food is manifestation of dharma.

Morality

When people follow dharma and maintain natural harmony, they accrue good karma and will experience something positive in return. Karma is a cosmic force that accompanies both good and bad action. If individuals fail to observe dharma and act in their own self-interest, they accrue bad karma, which necessitates negative events in the future. Since Buddhism lacks a single supreme God, the notion of dharma supplies a form of morality for Buddhists, and karma ensures that following its moral path is according to self-interest.

Attributes

Dharma is a kind of self-evident truth in Buddhism. It is the natural state of all things, and adherents come to know it through study of Buddhist scripture and meditation. Dharma unifies the Buddhist principle of the Four Noble Truths, which teach: the existence of suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering and the path to its cessation. Karma, on the other hand, is a natural causal force. It pervades the cosmos and guides the soul through its many lives. It teaches that every action has a consequence and every decision has an outcome.

Reincarnation

Buddhism teaches that this life is one of many, but every life differs. Immoral individuals will accumulate negative karma and experience rebirth as a lower life form such as a dog or a mouse. They may also fall victim to negative events from decisions they made in a past life, as karma attaches itself to a person's body rather than his soul. Dharma helps people avoid these fates; by adhering to its principle of natural harmony, an individual not only ensures a favorable rebirth but also moves toward the Buddhist goal of nirvana -- a state of joy in which individuals are finally free of the cycle of life and death.

About the Author

James Stuart began his professional writing career in 2010. He traveled through Asia, Europe, and North America, and has recently returned from Japan, where he worked as a freelance editor for several English language publications. He looks forward to using his travel experience in his writing. Stuart holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and philosophy from the University of Toronto.

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