Volume 21, 2014
Escaping the Inescapable: Changes in Buddhist Karma
Early Buddhist karma is an impersonal moral force that impartially and inevitably causes the consequences of actions to be visited upon the actor, especially determining their afterlife destination. The story of King Ajātasattu in the Pāli Samaññaphala Sutta, where not even the Buddha can intervene to save him, epitomizes the criterion of inescapability. Zoroastrian ethical thought runs along similar lines and may have influenced the early development of Buddhism. However, in the Mahāyāna version of the Samaññaphala Sutta, the simple act of meeting the Buddha reduces or eliminates the consequences of the King’s patricide. In other Mahāyāna texts, the results of actions are routinely avoidable through the performance of religious practices. Ultimately, Buddhists seem to abandon the idea of the inescapability of the results of actions.