Theravāda budistička zajednica u Srbiji

Karma – The Ripening Fruit

Karma – the Ripening Fruit *

Bhikkhu Ñāṇađivako

Samo za besplatnu distribuciju, kao dar Dhamme


With the decline of Newtonian physics and the emergence of quantum theory and relativity, the physical world-picture in the West became centered around a process-concept. Natural sciences and nineteenth century scientifically oriented philosophy were in quest of new criteria that could be better adjusted to their specific aims than the crude causal interpretation of the whole world, "with its men and gods" (as the Buddha would say) in bare analogy to "dead matter" in its macroscopic common-sense aspect. This was the end of the stiff mechanistic absolutism based on the substance-view, and the corresponding conception of causality as the universal pattern of blind determinism in nature. The dominant role of physics was about to be replaced by a prevalently biological orientation. This at least was the tendency of the new vitalistic philosophy, whose most preeminent representative was Henri Bergson.

By this essential turning, modern philosophy seemed to return to pathways that closely, though not explicitly, resembled certain specific features of Buddhism, which have arisen out of different contexts and much earlier in time. The first to advert to this analogy explicitly, in the terms of a new philosophy of culture, was Friedrich Nietzsche. The idea of his "eternal recurrence" of cosmic and historical cycles, taken over from early Greek philosophy, was not sufficient for his dynamic "transvaluation of all values." Yet the way from the early Ionian world-view to the Indian heritage in the dissolving civilizations of the Near East—out of which ultimately the Ionian Renaissance had arisen—was not very long. Thus Nietzsche discovered in the teaching of the Buddha an archetypal model for his own vitalistic attitude in philosophy. His interpretation of Buddhism became a paradoxical counterpoint accompanying Nietzsche’s antithetic position to Christianity.

Despite its rather strange position in the structure of Nietzsche’s own thought, his interpretation of Buddhism is neither vague nor unauthentic. Nietzsche found his access to Buddhism through the basic text of The Dhammapadam (probably Fausboll’s masterly Latin translation of 1855, the first in Europe). In Chapter I, 5, the Buddha is quoted as saying: "Enmities are never appeased by enmity, but they are appeased by non-enmity. This is the eternal law." In Nietzsche’s interpretation, this statement is "the moving refrain of the whole of Buddhism … and quite rightly: it is precisely these emotions ‘of resentment’ which would be thoroughly unhealthy with regard to the main dietetic objective," since Buddhism "no longer speaks of ‘struggle against sin’ but, quite in accordance with actuality, ‘the struggle against suffering.’" Suffering is in Nietzsche’s existential interpretation "a state of depression arisen on the basis of physiological conditions: against this depression Buddha takes hygienic measures." The Buddha was a "deep physiologist, whose ‘religion’ should more properly be called a ‘hygiene’ … whose effect depends on the victory over resentment: to make the soul free from it—this is the first step towards health. ‘Enmity is not ended by enmity’ … this is not a moral advice, this is an advice of physiology." [1]

As brutally partial as this interpretation may seem even to Buddhists, it nevertheless singled out an essential point whose deeper implications will remain characteristic for the development of the later philosophical thought on the main subject of the present paper.

On the other hand, at the end of the nineteenth century, and also much later, missionaries of more popular versions of Buddhism, still unaware of the essential purport of the new scientific and philosophical world-view emerging in their own cultural ambience, were praising Buddhism for its eminently rational advantages as a religion founded on the "solid scientific basis" of the universally valid "principle of causality," almost in its Newtonian meaning. For at that time the term pa.ticca-samuppaado, or "interdependent origination" of all phenomena (dhammaa), used to be interpreted in analogy to the "hard facts" of physics and physically oriented "positive" sciences. This understanding of the principle of causality seemed sufficient to account for the generally Indian teaching on karma, the basic principle of moral determinism, and for its peculiarly Buddhist version, distinguished by the Buddha’s negation of a permanent soul-principle (anattaa) in the process of becoming, visualized as a "stream" (sa.msaara) of life-experience, and corresponding most closely, as we shall see, to Bergson’s flux du vecu.

It seems that at that time, and for a long time after, nobody except Nietzsche was interested in taking note of another humble historical fact, namely, that the Buddha’s attitude to the world as a whole was emphatically negative: sabba-loke anabhirati, disgust with the whole world—not only because the world, whose overlord is Death (Maaro), is essentially anguish or suffering (dukkham), but also because the deeper reason for this existential anguish is the "nullity" (su~n~nam) of our-self-being-in-the-world, or "nihilation" as we might express it in twentieth century terms:

"…since in this very life such a being (as the Buddha) cannot be identified by you as existing in truth, in reality, is it proper for you to state that such a being is the superman, the most excellent man who has attained the highest aim, and that such a being, if he has to be designated, should be designated in other than these four terms: ‘Such a being exists after death’; or ‘he does not exist after death’; or ‘he both does and does not exist after death’; or ‘he neither does nor does not exist after death’?"

"Surely not, reverend sir."

"Good, Anuraadho. Both formerly and now, it is just suffering that I proclaim, and the ceasing of suffering." [2]


In the oldest Buddhist texts of abhidhamma ("about phenomena"), the central conception of phenomenological analysis (vibhajjavaado) was concentrated on the idea of a "stream of existence" (bhava"nga-soto), or, in a free translation, emergence of fluctuating articulation. Thus, in early Buddhism as in modern philosophy, "substance-thought" had to be replaced by "process-thought." Long before the Buddha, substance-thought was formulated in the Vedantic conception, contained, among so many other world-views, in the earliest Upanishads as the teaching of an absolute, all-encompassing being, Brahman, conceived as "changeless, all-pervading, unmoving, immovable, eternal." In negating all these attributes, the Buddha challenged Vedantic absolutism by adopting the alternative solution of resolving all "being" into flux and nullity (su~n~nataa), in negating even a permanent or static soul-principle (anattaa, or the negation of aatmaa, the Vedantic Self).

Thus the core of the Abhidhamma conception of the "stream of existence" consists in its theory of momentariness (kha.nikavaado). Its modern analogy has found its first and best formulation in the philosophy of William James, especially in his essay, Does "Consciousness"Exist?, where the "stream of consciousness" or "stream of thinking" (which, "when scrutinized, reveals itself to consist chiefly of the stream of my breathing") is elicited from his basic theory of "pure experience," defined as "the instant field of the present … this succession of an emptiness and fullness that have reference to each other and are of one flesh"— succession "in small enough pulses," which "is the essence of the phenomenon." In the same connection, as "the result of our criticism of the absolute," the metaphysical and metapsychical idea of a "central self" is reduced by James to "the conscious self of the moment." [3]

Compare this with Whitehead’s further elaboration in his metaphysical conception of "actual occasions" and "throbbing actualities" understood as "pulsations of experience," whose "drops" or "puffs of existence" guided by an internal teleology of their "concrescence" (analogous to the Buddhist sa"nkhaaraa in kammic formation) join the "stream of existence." [4]

All this was summarized by Bergson in a statement which to a Buddhist sounds like a formulation in the simplest and most authentic terms common to all schools and periods of Buddhist thought:

"There are changes, but there are underneath the change no things which change: change has no need of a support … movement does not imply a mobile." [5]

In his introduction to the French translation of Pragmatism by William James, Bergson says that "from the point of view taken by James, which is that of pure experience or of ‘radical empiricism,’ reality … flows without our being able to say whether it is in a single direction, or even whether it is always and throughout the same river flowing." [6] And in his own Introduction to Metaphysics, he says, "All reality is, therefore, tendency, if we agree to call tendency a nascent change of direction." [7]

Bergson’s approach to a biologically oriented philosophy of life was entirely different from Nietzsche’s intentions. He did not explicitly consider the cultural implications of the biological reorientation of the new philosophy of nature until the last period of his activity (The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, 1932). Bergson’s most important work, Creative Evolution, which appeared in 1907, begins with the question, "What is the precise meaning of the word ‘exist’?" The answer, at the end of the first section, is:

We are seeking only the precise meaning that our consciousness gives to this word "exist," and we find that, for a conscious being, to exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly. [8]

In such maturing and "creation of self by self, which is the more complete, the more one reasons on what one does," [9] consists the problem of freedom. In this process, each individual self-consciousness "lives and develops itself as an effect of its own hesitations until a free action is detached from it as if it were an overripe fruit." [10]

The Buddha also speaks of the guidance, or protective care, "of self by self" in the same process of "the ripening fruit of action," thus: "One oneself is the guardian of oneself. What other guardian would there be?" (Dhammapadam, 160).

"If, Aananda, there were no kamma (karma), action ripening in the sphere of sense existence, would there appear any sensual becoming?" — "Surely not, Lord."

"And wherever the action ripens, there the individual experiences the fruit of that action, be it in this life, or in the next life, or in future lives."

"The results of kamma are unthinkable, not to be pondered upon." [11]

Here is Bergson’s explanation of the thesis:

What are we, in fact, what is our character, if not the condensation of the history that we have lived from our birth- day, even before our birth, since we bring with us prenatal dispositions? Doubtless we think with only a small part of our past, but it is with our entire past, including the original bent of our soul, that we desire, will and act. Our past, then, as a whole, is made manifest to us in its impulse … From this survival of the past it follows that consciousness cannot go through the same state twice. Our personality, which is being built up each instant with its accumulated experience, changes without ceasing…. This is why our duration is irreversible.… Thus our personality shoots, grows and ripens without ceasing. [12]

Bergson’s conception of causality and motivation departs from the classical theories of determinism and freedom of action, and approaches the Indian (not exclusively Buddhist) idea of karma in two essential points: its psychological origin and its creative character. It is based on Bergson’s critique of both mechanistic and finalistic theories in biology:

Evolution will thus prove to be something entirely different from a series of adaptations to circumstances, as mechanism claims; entirely different also from the realization of a plan of the whole, as maintained by the doctrine of finality…. Such a philosophy of life … claims to transcend both mechanism and finalism, but … it is nearer the second doctrine than the first. [13]

As for this second doctrine, Bergson maintains that "the finalistic interpretation, such as we shall propose it, could never be taken for an anticipation of the future…. How could we know beforehand a situation that is unique of its kind, that has never yet occurred and will never occur again? Of the future, only that is foreseen which is like the past or can be made up again with elements like those of the past. Such is the case with astronomical, physical and chemical facts, with all facts which form part of a system in which elements supposed to be unchanging are merely put together, in which the only changes are changes of position…. But an original situation, which imparts something of its own originality to its elements …; how can such a situation be pictured as given before it is actually produced? All that can be said is that, once produced, it will be explained by the elements that analysis will then carve out of it. Now, what is true of the production of a new species is also true of the production of a new individual and more generally, of any moment of any living form." [14]

Compare the simpler statement of the Buddha, with strict reference to the karmic, i.e. the morally relevant, act:

If anyone were to say ‘this person commits an act and he will suffer accordingly’—if that were the case, there would be no (use of leading a) life of holiness, and there would be no opportunity of putting an end to suffering. If anyone were to say ‘this person commits an act for which he deserves to suffer accordingly’—if that were the case, there would be (a use of leading) a life of holiness, and there would be an opportunity of putting an end to suffering. [15]

The vitalist attempt to re-examine the problems of causality, finality and freedom of will, from Bergson’s standpoint of "transformalism" [16] brought us to a wider epistemological problem of establishing adequate relations between science, history and philosophy—a problem extensively discussed by the later philosophies of existence:

Science can work only on what is supposed to repeat itself…. Anything that is irreducible and irreversible in the successive moments of a history eludes science. To get a notion of this irreducibility and irreversibility, we must break with scientific habits which are adapted to the fundamental requirements of thought, we must do violence to the mind, go counter to the natural bent of the intellect. But this is just the function of philosophy. [17] Modern science is the daughter of astronomy; it has come down from heaven to earth along the inclined plane of Galileo, for it is through Galileo that Newton and his successors are connected with Kepler.… Each material point became a rudimentary planet.… Modern science must be defined pre-eminently by its aspiration to take time as an independent variable. [18]

But to the artist who creates a picture by drawing it from the depths of his soul, time is no longer an accessory.… The duration of his work is part and parcel of his work. To contract or to dilate it would be to modify both the psychical evolution that fills it and the invention which is its goal. The time taken up by the invention is one with the invention itself. It is the progress of a thought which is changing in the degree and measure that it is taking form. It is a vital process, something like the ripening of an idea. [19]

Compare with this the statement of Buddhaghosa, in Atthasaalini: "By time the Sage described the mind, and by mind described the time." [20]

The "scission" of intellect from intuition [21] is explained by Bergson (and later existentialists) by the "practical nature of perception and its prolongation in intellect and science"; we could almost say, by the lack of contemplative interest in modern, technically oriented science. Thus, in a deduction which reminds us of Heidegger’s basic thesis on the scope of metaphysics, Bergson formulates the question:

But has metaphysics understood its role when it has simply trodden in the steps of physics, in the chimerical hope of going further in the same direction? Should not its own task be, on the contrary, to remount the incline that physics descends, to bring back matter to its origins, and to build up progressively a cosmology, which would be, so to speak, a reversed psychology? [22]

Everything is obscure in the idea of creation, if we think of things which are created and of a thing which creates, as we habitually do, as the understanding cannot help doing…. It is natural to our intellect, whose function is essentially practical, made to present to us things and states rather than changes and acts. But things-and-states are only views, taken by our mind, of becoming. There are no things, there are only actions. [23]

Epoché, refraining from judgments based on such "views" (Greek doxa, Sanskrit drish.ti, Pali di.t.thi), the philosophical method brought from India by Pyrrho of Elis at the time of Alexander the Great, has become in the twentieth century the fundamental method of Husserl’s "meditating philosopher" in phenomenological analysis. It is a "science of phenomena, which lies far removed from our ordinary thinking, and has not until our own day therefore shown an impulse to develop … so extraordinarily difficult … a new way of looking at things, one that contrasts at every point with the natural attitude of experience and thought," whose development is felt, however, as an "urgent need nowadays." [24]

The teaching of the Buddha was, with a still wider purpose, the expression of "the right effort" (sammaa-vaayaamo) to "swim against the stream" of such world-views, i.e. "the type of views called the thicket of views, the wilderness of views, the contortion of views, the vacillation of views, the fetter of views." [25]

In Bergson’s theory of intuition, the act of "swimming against the stream" is interpreted with his basic French term torsion:

Let us try to see, no longer with the eyes of the intellect alone, which grasps only the already made and which looks from the outside, but with the spirit, I mean with that faculty of seeing which is immanent in the faculty of acting and which springs up, somehow, by the twisting of the will on itself, when action is turned into knowledge, like heat, so to say, into light. [26]

By intuition I mean instinct that has become disinterested, self-conscious, capable of reflecting upon its object and of enlarging it indefinitely. That an effort of this kind is not impossible is proved by the existence in man of an aesthetic faculty along with the normal perception.… This intention is just what the artist tries to regain, in placing himself back within the object by a kind of sympathy, in breaking down, by an effort of intuition, the barrier that space puts up between him and his model. [27]

The ultimate metaphysical consequences implied in a theory of causation based on the biological phenomenon of the "ripening fruit" were taken into adequate consideration only in some later philosophies of existence. Yet the preparatory vitalistic stage of modern philosophy remains more important for an Indian reinterpretation of the theory of karma than can be assessed within strictly European limits, where the importance of the missing link between the vitalist and existentialist stages—the link of a new theory of causality—has not yet been fully and explicitly realized. Let us therefore conclude the survey of this cycle of ideas by returning to the lowest level on which Bergson’s vitalistic interpretation of cosmic matter had to establish a new starting point:

Let us merely recall that extension admits of degrees, that all sensation is extensive in a certain measure, and that the idea of unextended sensations, artificially localized in space, is a mere view of the mind, suggested by an unconscious metaphysic much more than by psychological observation. No doubt we make only the first steps in the direction of the extended, even when we let ourselves go as much as we can. But suppose for a moment that matter consists in this very movement pushed further, and that physics is simply psychics inverted. [28]

The conception of "a cosmology which would be a reversed psychology," or of physics understood "simply as psychics inverted," was destined to become the fulcrum for a transition from a physical to an historical orientation in other contemporary philosophies. This transition is also clearly marked in Whitehead’s later works: "Physical endurance is the process of continuously inheriting a certain identity of character transmitted through a historic route of events." [29]

Bergson expressed this emphasis in terms which brought him still closer to a specific aspect of later existentialist thought: the predominant importance of the future for (karmic) shaping of the present by the past. Though Heidegger’s critique of Bergson’s idea of the "stream of experience" was concentrated on this point, where in an initial metaphor Bergson compares a "mental state, as it advances on the road of time, continually swelling with the duration which it accumulates" with "a snowball on the snow, rolling upon itself" and thus increasing—we can read a few pages later in the opening chapter of Creative Evolution another statement, anticipating Heidegger’s objection to some extent: "Duration is the continuous progress of the past which gnaws into the future and which swells as it advances." [30]


Martin Heidegger, in his basic work, Being and Time, [31] seems to take over the meditation on "the ripening fruit" at the critical point reached by Bergson’s analysis of its wider biological scope: the karmic predicament of human existence. It can be seen from Heidegger’s numerous critical references to Bergson (though in many cases I would not agree with them) that in the meantime it had become obvious that there was more to elicit by the process philosophy than the biologically oriented thinkers of the vitalist period could realize. The philosophy of existence undertook this work in essentially different dimensions. Heidegger in particular was very careful and explicit in critically adapting new methods of independent historical thinking in the philosophy of culture introduced by Dilthey, and above all the new structure of transcendental logic laid down by his teacher Husserl, for phenomenological analysis independent of natural science. Within the scope of this new framework, similarities with Buddhist thought emerge still more strikingly, especially in the domain of the "suffering/concern" theme and the need for the notion of karma in a process-multiple causality structure.

The second part of Being and Time deals in particular with problems of human reality and temporality (Dasein und Zeitlichkeit). The possibility for human being to attain to full ripeness in an existence conditioned by man’s "being-towards-death" is discussed in the first chapter ("Dasein’s authentic potentiality—for-being-a-whole and its being-towards-death"). Chapter Five is dedicated to "temporality and historicality" as essential constituents of the human being [32] involved in this ambiguous process.

When, for instance, a fruit is unripe, it "goes toward" its ripeness. In this process of ripening, that which the fruit is not yet is by no means pieced on as something not yet present-at-hand. The fruit brings itself to ripeness, and such a bringing of itself is a characteristic of its being as a fruit. Nothing imaginable which one might contribute to it would eliminate the unripeness of the fruit, if this entity did not come to ripeness of its own accord. When we speak of the "not-yet" of the unripeness, we do not have in view something else which stands outside, and which—with utter indifference to the fruit—might be present-at-hand in it and with it. What we have in view is the fruit itself in its specific kind of being.… The ripening fruit, however, not only is not indifferent to its unripeness as something other than itself, but it is that unripeness as it ripens. The "not-yet" has already been included in the very being of the fruit, not as some random characteristic, but as something constitutive. Correspondingly, as long as any Dasein is, it too is already its "not-yet." [33]

The implicit emphasis laid on the difference from the "classical" European mechanist theory of causality is obvious enough.

The karmic process, in its Buddhist meaning, can be defined as a vicious circle of "interdependent origination" (pa.ticca-samuppaado), consisting of a chain of twelve rings (nidaanam), the first of which is avijjaa, "ignorance," or better, metaphysical nescience of a human being (defined by Heidegger as a "being-there"—Dasein) about his own emergence in the flux of existence. The last ring of the chain is "death." Heidegger’s analysis of human reality as a "being there" in the world is not less distinctly determined and delimited by the tension of the same polarity—ignorance and death:

If the term "understanding" is taken in a way which is primordially existential, it means to be projecting towards a potentiality-for-being, for the sake of which any Dasein exists. In understanding, one’s own potentiality-for-being is disclosed in such a way that one’s Dasein always knows understandingly what it is capable of. It "knows" this, however, not by having discovered some fact, but by maintaining itself in an existential possibility. The kind of ignorance which corresponds to this, does not consist in an absence or cessation of understanding, but must be regarded as a deficient mode of the projectedness of one’s potentiality-for-being. Existence can be questionable…. When one understands oneself protectively in an existential possibility, the future underlies this understanding, and it does so as a coming-towards-oneself out of that current possibility as which one’s Dasein exists. Projection is basically futural.… Temporality does not temporalize itself constantly out of the authentic future. This inconstancy, however, does not mean that temporality sometimes lacks a future, but rather that the temporalizing of the future takes various forms. [34]

This seems to explain one step further the "hesitation" of the self "until a free action is detached as an overripe fruit," as Bergson expressed the limits of freedom as release (moksha) within the scope of a karmic determinism.

With ripeness, the fruit fulfills itself. But is the death at which Dasein arrives, a fulfilment in this sense? With its death, Dasein has indeed "fulfilled its course." But in doing so, has it necessarily exhausted its specific possibilities? For the most part, Dasein ends in unfulfilment, or else by having disintegrated and been used up. Ending does not necessarily mean fulfilling oneself. It thus becomes more urgent to ask in what sense, if any, death must be conceived as the ending of Dasein. [35]

Arising out of this situation, the problem of karma, implicitly felt as an "anticipatory resoluteness" in "concrete working out of temporality" aiming at an "authentic historizing of Dasein," is further discussed as the existential problem of "Dasein’s potentiality-for-being-a-whole." [36]

Since "those possibilities of existence which have been factically disclosed are not to be gathered from death … we must ask whence, in general, Dasein can draw those possibilities upon which it factically projects itself." The answer is:

The resoluteness in which Dasein comes back to itself, discloses current factical possibilities of authentic existing, and discloses them in terms of the heritage which that resoluteness, as thrown, takes over. In one’s coming back resolutely to one’s thrownness, there is hidden a handing down to oneself of the possibilities that have come down to one, but not necessarily as having thus come down. [37]

We shall take for granted that the coincidence of the expression (underlined by me) "thus come down" with the literal meaning of the most common attribute of the Buddha—tathaagato—is another of many casual cases where a modern philosophy of essentially the same trend as our archaic one will, to some extent, come to use the same terms in expressing ideas of the same kind. What is meant here by the same trend will be explicated later. Let us first single out the specific meaning of this important term in the specific context.

The word tathaagato, in its widest sense in the early Pali literature, is used as a designation of "human being" in general. Its logical connection with the Buddha’s best known definition of the human being as "heir of his own actions" is obvious, even when it is used as the highest epithet of the Buddha.

What Heidegger wishes to point out is that the "heritage" of a tathaagato has not to be understood here as a passive facticity of historically "objectified" social tradition or collective behavior, which in Heidegger’s terms would be designated as "inauthentic heritage." Unlike the social study of external history, Dasein in its intimate ripening "never comes back behind its thrownness" in the "situationality" of its world. In other words, in a personal history there is no possibility of statically objective repetition of one and the same situation. This is the basic law of karmic development that both Bergson and Heidegger try to confirm on different levels of their investigations.

On this point, in Heidegger’s philosophy, "thrownness" appears as a critical term whose meaning has to be better determined, in view of the fact that it denotes an obvious Christian "cypher" for a karmically determined situation. This historical implication in basic existentialist terminology could even be interpreted by some critics as revealing an apparent deficiency of our analogy, had not Heidegger, fortunately for us, explained it, in the same context, by an "attribute" synonymous with the basic First Truth of the Buddha, dukkha, "anguish" or "worry": "Before we decide too quickly whether Dasein draws its authentic possibilities of existence from thrownness or not, we must assure ourselves that we have a full conception of thrownness as a basic attribute of care."

The translation of the German word Sorge by "care" may often diminish the full meaning of "Dasein’s character" of this fundamental "existentiale" or practical category on which Heidegger’s entire ontology is built. From our standpoint, "worry" would often seem a preferable translation. Yet Heidegger himself has left no doubt about the meaning of this term. At the end of the first part of Being and Time, whose aim it was to "exhibit Care (Sorge) as the Being of Dasein," i.e. "of that entity which in each case we ourselves are, and which we call ‘man,’" the basic "ontical" meaning of Sorge is interpreted (and illustrated by an ancient fable) as "worry" and "grief." [38]

The continuation of the inquiry shows how the karmic phenomenon has to be comprised within the scope of this central theme—how the essence of worry and grief is revealed in response to the "call of conscience." First of all Heidegger’s philosophy is no longer a philosophy of consciousness, but a philosophy of conscience. (The word "consciousness" is never used by Heidegger except in critical disputes, mainly with the Kantians.) Here conscience discloses itself as the awakening call which alone can liberate us from our lost condition (Verlorenheit) and thrownness in avijjaa (ignorance), or metaphysical "nescience." Only in giving heed to the awakening call does "Dasein understand itself with regard to its potentiality-for-being" in man’s mindfulness and resoluteness "to take over in his thrownness—right under the eyes of Death—that entity which Dasein is itself, and to take it over wholly," as his karmic load. In Heidegger’s words, "Resoluteness is defined as a projecting of oneself upon one’s own Being-guilty—a projecting which is reticent and ready for anxiety." [39] This is the ultimate moral aspect of the "hesitation in the ripening fruit" of the Bergsonian "creative activity."

The last metaphysical (or better, eschatological) question to which Heidegger’s inquiry into the phenomenon of karma, or "ripening fruit," arrives, concerns the origin of that strange experience, the primeval phenomenon of all religion: being-guilty.

[The call of conscience] is the call of care. Being guilty constitutes the being to which we give the name of "care." In uncanniness Dasein stands together with itself primordially. Uncanniness brings this entity face to face with its undisguised nullity, which belongs to the possibility of its own-most potentiality-for-being. [40] … The appeal calls back by calling forth: it calls Dasein forth to the possibility of taking over, in existing, even that thrown entity which it is. [41]

The statement underlined by me ("Der Anruf ist vorrufender Rueckruf") is the best short definition of karma that I can imagine, even if it had to be formulated by the greatest master of Zen art in Japan (an art not at all unknown to Heidegger). The next one is not less pregnant with deep oriental meaning:

We have seen that care is the basic state of Dasein. The ontological signification of the expression "care" has been expressed in the definition: ahead-of-itself-being-already-in "the world" as being-alongside entities which we encounter "within-the-world." [42]

Heidegger insists on an implicit consciousness of karma [43] in the experience of care, or worry, as Dasein’s "understanding of itself in being-guilty." [44] He equally insists on the fact that even "phenomena with which the vulgar interpretation has any familiarity point back to the primordial meaning of the call of conscience when they are understood in a way that is ontologically appropriate," and that "this interpretation, in spite of all its obviousness, is by no means accidental." [45]

And yet, the call of conscience is "a keeping silent. Only in keeping silent does the conscience call; that is to say, the call comes from the soundlessness of uncanniness, and the Dasein which it summons is called back into the stillness of itself, and called back as something that is to become still." [46] A Japanese student in Heidegger’s seminar once interpreted this course of thoughts in terms of a few Zen koans. [47] A follower of Ramana Maharshi in India could do it just as well to Heidegger’s full satisfaction.

Having, unfortunately, no better word than "destiny" wherewith to designate the full range of the category of karma (though fully conscious of the wide horizon it encompasses), Heidegger brings us ultimately to the following summary of essential questions on this subject:

But it remains all the more enigmatic in what way this event as destiny is to constitute the whole "connectedness" of Dasein from its birth to its death. How can recourse to resoluteness bring us an enlightenment? ls not each resolution just one more single "experience" in the sequence of the whole connectedness of our experience?… Why is it that the question of how the "connectedness of life" is constituted finds no adequate and satisfactory answer? Is our investigation overhasty? Does it not, in the end, hang too much on the answer, without first having tested the legitimacy of the question? [48]

Speaking of the problem of re-emergence or "recurrence" of existential situations in their essential dependence on "destiny" in Dasein’s "historizing" course, Heidegger does not even indirectly attempt to formulate any hypothesis analogous to "rebirth" (as, e.g., Nietzsche did in his own way) in Indian religious thought (punarbhava), though his sensitivity for the "enigmatic" remainder of the problem, as traced above, permits a still closer approach to this complex issue: "Dasein can be reached by the blows of destiny only because in the depth of its own being Dasein is destiny … a possibility which it has inherited and yet has chosen." [49]

In suggesting the categorial designation of "karma" for the whole range of problems concerning the organic connectedness of vital processes whose ripening results in creative activity, my intention remains far from any attempt to propose any overhasty solution or pattern that could be discovered readymade in the transcendental schematism of some specific type of Asian philosophy or religion, such as Buddhism. Though, for the purpose of the present survey, Buddhism was chosen as the tertium comparationis, it was presumed as a well-known fact that the historical origin of the categorial designation of karma in Indian philosophy is considerably older than its specific interpretation by the Buddha.


[*] Reprinted from Main Currents in Modern Thought, Vol. 29, No. 1 (1972). [Natrag]

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, par. 20 (Penguin Classics), p. 129-130, i Ecce Homo, par. 6 (my translation).[Natrag]

[2] Samyutta-nikayo, XXII, 86 i 85. Quotations from pali texts are adapted mainly from the Pali Text Society (London), editions of the Translation Series [Natrag]

[3] Quotations from Classic American Philosophers, (New York, Appleton-Century-Grofts, 1951), p. 160, 155, 161, 163 n. [Natrag]

[4] Some analogies between Whitehead and Buddhe has recently been discussed by Kenneth K. Inada, »Whitehead's 'Actual Entity' and the Buddha's Anatman« in Philosophy East and West, July 1971. Prof. Inada mentions in the beginning that Whitehead "especially in his later works makes several references to the Buddha," though his knowledge of Buddhism was rather superficial and on certain points basically wrong. Independently of such occasional direct references, Whitehead's pholosphy in its original structure "shows strains of thought remarkably similar to those of the Buddha." Some of Inada's implicit references could be of much use also for a wider comparison with Bergson from the same Asian standpoint. The article does not deal with the subject of karma. [Natrag]

[5] »The Perception of Change« in The Creative Mind (N. Y. Philosophical Library, 1946), p. 173. [Natrag]

[6] Cf. The Creative Mind, p. 250. [Natrag]

[7] Ibid, p. 222. [Natrag]

[8] H. Bergson, Creative Evolution, translated by A. Mitchell (N. Y., Modern Library, 1944), p. 310. (Quoted in the continuation as C. E.) [Natrag]

[9] Ibid, p. 9. [Natrag]

[10] Essai sur les Données Immédiates de la Consience, 68th ed. (Presses Universitaires de France) p. 132. [Natrag]

[11] Anguttara Nikayo, III, 76, 33, IV, 77. Cf. translation by Nyanaponika Thera (Kandy, The Wheel Publicatiion No. 155-158), p. 51, 23, 92. [Natrag]

[12] C. E., p. 8. Sartre has reformulated this problem on a deeper existential level, in his Being and Nothingness, translated by H. R. Barnes (N. Y., The Citadel Press, 1966), p. 114f.: "There is no absolute beginning which without ever having past would become past. Since the For-itself, qua For-itself, has to be its past, it comes into the world with a past. These few remarks may permit us to view in a somewhat different light the problem of birth… There is a metaphysical problem concerning birth in that I can be anxious to know how I happen to have been born from rhat particular embryo…" Bergson's emphasis is also always on the concreteness and uniqueness of each creative act, even on the lowest biological level. [Natrag]

[13] Ibid, p. 113, 57. [Natrag]

[14] Ibid, p. 59, 33. [Natrag]

[15] Anguttara-nikayo, III, 99. Sartre's analysis of "human reality" as "a project of being" brings him to the conclusion: "We can ascertain more exactly what is the being of the self: it is value". (Being and Nothingness, p. 92). [Natrag]

[16] Cf. C. E., pp. 27-35. [Natrag]

[17] Ibid, p. 34f. Italicizing in this and following quotations are partly mine. [Natrag]

[18] Ibid, p. 364. [Natrag]

[19] Ibid, p. 370. [Natrag]

[20] Compare the discussion of »The Problem of Time« from this standpoint in Chapter V of Nyanaponika Thera's Abhidhamma Studies (Kandy, Buddhist Publication Society,  1965) pp.  104ff. [Natrag]

[21] C. E., p. 380. [Natrag]

[22] Ibid, p. 227f. [Natrag]

[23] Ibid, p. 270. [Natrag]

[24] E. Husserl, Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology, translated by W. R. Boyce Gibson (N. Y. Macmillan, 1931) p. 41-43.[Natrag]

[25] Mađđhima-nikayo, 2, Sabbasava-suttam. [Natrag]

[26] C. E., p. 273. [Natrag]

[27] Ibid, p. 194. [Natrag]

[28] Ibid, p. 221. [Natrag]

[29] Science and the Modern World, p. 156. [Natrag]

[30] C. E., p. 4, 7. [Natrag]

[31] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, translated by J. Macquartfie andi E. Rafoinson (N. Y. Harper and Row, 1962). Quoted in the following notes as B. T. [Natrag]

[32] Heidegger's desugnation of human being as Dasein ("being here" i.e. in the world, which is always "one's own") has been interpreted by Sartre, in Being and Nothingness, as "human reality", a term which will be occasionally use din the continuation. [Natrag]

[33] B. T. p. 243. (Marginal German page numbers used here and following.) [Natrag]

[34] Ibid, p. 336.[Natrag]

[35] Ibid, p. 244.[Natrag]

[36] Ibid, p. 309.[Natrag]

[37] Ibid, p. 383. [Natrag]

[38] Cf. Ibid, pp. 196-200. [Natrag]

[39] Ibid, p. 382. [Natrag]

[40] Cf. Nagarjuna's statement in Madhyamaka-karika, 24, 14: “For him who admits nullity all appears to be possible. Foe him who does not admits nullity nothing appears to be possible." [Natrag]

[41] B. T., p. 286f. [Natrag]

[42] Ibid, p. 249. [Natrag]

[43] As we shall se in continuation, for lack of a better word in European tradition, Heidegger uses the word “destiny” (Schicksal) in the meaning which comes closer to karma. Schopenhauer, who was aware of the specific meaning of this category in Indian philosophy (in Vedanta and Buddhism) could not find better term in European languages, and made efforts to adjust the meaning of "destiny" to the basic Indian idea of karma. An analogous effort if often made by Heidegger. [Natrag]

[44] B. T., p. 292. [Natrag]

[45] Ibid, p. 294. [Natrag]

[46] Ibid, p. 296. [Natrag]

[47] Tsujimura Koichi (University of Kyoto), in 1957. I have published the translation of his seminar paper on “The Nothing in Zen” in my Yugoslav book on Oriental Philosophy (cf. C. Veljacic, Filozofija istočnih naroda, Vol II, Zagreb, 1958). [Natrag]

[48] B. T., p. 387. [Natrag]

[49] Ibid, p. 384. [Natrag]