Karma: The Eastern doctrine of sin

The sense-organs are to be known as Maya, the sense-fields resemble a dream; actor, act, and acting—they have not the least existence. – Lankavatara Sutra

Where is karma? It’s in the world of illusion. – Lester Levenson

For the past twelve years, though I’ve looked for this thing called karma, I’ve never found so much as a particle the size of a mustard seed. – Lin-chi

The greatest sin of all sins, the downfall, is the ego sense: I am an individual separate from the all. That’s the real fall into mankind. – Lester Levenson

The Upanishads

Even though the Upanishads do not offer a single comprehensive system of thought, they do develop some basic general principles. Some of these principles are samsara, karma, dharma and moksha. These principles form a metaphysical scheme which was shared . . . by most Indian religions and philosophers.

Karma literally means “action”, the idea that all actions have consequences, good or bad. Karma determines the conditions of the next life, just as our life is conditioned by our previous karma. There is no judgment or forgiveness, simply an impersonal, natural and eternal law operating in the universe. Ancient History Encyclopedia

Candrakirti’s Prasannapada:

Because of attachment to a self and possessions, beings do not overcome birth-and-death. And why? It is because one views self and not-self that one sows karmic seeds (karma-abhisamskara). Not knowing that all things are utterly empty, the foolish untaught common people seize upon self and not-self; having seized it, they abide in it. Self and not-self are the cause of craving, anger and ignorance. Craving, anger and ignorance are the cause of the threefold karma. Discriminating by their own minds what does not exist, they say: I have craving, I have anger, I am ignorant. (Conze, p. 14)

D. T. Suzuki:

When the Citta is thus considered in its specific sense, it may seem to be an abstract principle devoid of content. But, according to the Lankavatara, this is not the case: for the Citta is rich in content, and just because of this inner richness, it is able to evolve out of itself a world of infinite multitudinousness. It is, indeed, an inexhaustible reservoir of seeds (bija) which have been accumulated therein since the beginningless past. So the definition of Citta is as follows: Cittena ciyate karma. That karma is accumulated by Citta means that the latter takes in all that goes on in the mind . . . Technically stated, every deed (karma), mental and physical, leaves its seeds behind, which are deposited in the Citta, and the Citta has been hoarding them since time immemorial. It is the rich repository of all the thoughts, feelings, desires, instincts, etc., [whether or not] they have come to action. (Studies in the Lankavatara, p. 249)


The stupid also say, “I have committed a sin.” The sage says, “What sort of a thing is your sin?” All of this is conditionally arisen and has no nature of its own. If you know when it has arisen that there is no ego, who does it and who undergoes punishment? A sutra says, “Ordinary people insist on discriminating: I have craving, I feel anger. Such simpletons fall into the three evil paths.” A sutra says, “The nature of a sin is neither within nor without, nor is it between these two” (Vimalakirti). This shows that sin is unlocalized, and the unlocalized is the place of quiescence. When beings fall into hell, they create an ego from the mind. They remember and discriminate, thinking, “I have committed evils and I am punished; I have done good and likewise am rewarded.” This is evil karma. From the very beginning no such things have existed, yet perversely they remember and discriminate, thinking that they exist. This is evil karma. (Bodhidharma’s Method for Quieting the Mind)

D. T. Suzuki: (1953)

The cleansing of sin is, therefore, intellectually seeing into the truth that there is something more in what is taken for the self, and conatively in willing and doing the will of that something which transcends the self and yet which works through the self.

This is where lies the difficulty of the Mahayanist position–to be encased in what we relative-minded beings consider the self, and yet to go beyond it and to know and will what apparently does not belong to the self. This is almost trying to achieve an impossibility, and yet if we do  not achieve this there will be no peace of mind, no quietude of soul. We have to do it somehow when we once tumble over the question in the course of our religious experience. How is this to be accomplished?

That we are sinful does not mean in Buddhism that we have so many evil impulses, desires, or proclivities, which, when released, are apt to cause the ruination of oneself as well as others; the idea goes deeper and is rooted in our being itself, for it is sin to imagine and act as if individuality were a final fact. As long as we are what we are, we have no way to escape from sin, and this is at the root of all our spiritual tribulations. This is what the followers of Shin Buddhism mean when they say that all works, even when they are generally considered morally good, are contaminated, as long as they are the efforts of ‘self-power’, and hence will not lift us from the bondage of Karma. The power of Buddhata must be added over to the self or must replace it altogether if we desire emancipation. Buddhata, if it is immanent–and we cannot think it otherwise–must be awakened so that it will do its work for us who are so oppressed under the limitations of individualism. (Passivity in the Buddhist Life)

Jeanne Guyon (1648-1717):

I saw at this time, or rather experienced the basis on which God rejects sinners from His bosom. All the cause of God’s rejection is in the will of the sinner. If that will submits, howsoever horrible he be, God purifies him in his love and receives him into his grace; but while that will rebels the rejection continues. For lack of opportunity he may not commit the sin he is inclined to commit, yet he can never be admitted into grace until the cause ceases, which is this wrong will, rebellious against divine law. If that will once submits, God then completely removes the effects of sin that stain the soul by washing away the defilements which he has contracted. (Autobiography)

“Saadi” Benzamar (Essene masters who taught Yeshua):

Rebirth? All know of it, for [verily] it is true. Only the ignorant and uninformed can fear the thought of rebirth. There are those who say that when the body goes into the ground, that all that was that being has been lost and moulders with the worms. This is not true. If a person is dead or has become no longer inhabiting a body as we know, they must then go over what they have done. They must decide which lessons that they wish to deal with and proceed in erasing the debts that they have incurred. Then they go to school. Then sometimes they decide to come back very soon. This is not always good because if you come back too soon–perhaps if it was not a very good life–you have not had the time to understand what you have done wrong and to give yourself time to correct. Therefore it is not good to jump right back into existence, as I know and others know. (Cannon, p. 119)

Karma, causation and existence

The doctrine of karma is part of the overall ontology and soteriology* of Hinduism and Buddhism. These systems describe various aspects of existence and assign names to each aspect. However existence, as they teach us, is devoid of self-nature; therefore, the many characteristics of existence and their assigned names are also devoid of self-nature. This means that although karma describes something which functions just like physical laws, which appear to operate independently of human beings, it is no more than a word used to describe mental processes. [*fancy words for the science of knowledge of being and salvation]

Karma is used in a general way to mean that one’s actions are causes which produce corresponding effects. But in order to understand causation one must understand will. That the phenomenal universe does not have a self-nature means that it does not arise or continually evolve of itself; rather, its arising and evolution is dependent on something which is its own cause. This Cause, being beyond all human conceptualization, has no name. Furthermore, the instrument by which the universe arises and evolves is itself dependent on the Cause, and this instrument is the human mind. The mind, as we know from the Judaic myth of Adam and Eve, possesses self-will. Through its will the mind resolves pure, undifferentiated awareness into energy and matter, just as a celluloid film resolves light into images on a movie screen.

The creative potential of the mind doesn’t have any notion of whether what it creates is good or bad. This creative potential is called in Buddhism the alayavijnana, which can be thought of as a universal memory of unlimited capacity and unlimited power. It has also been called a garbha, which means womb or matrix.

Because the universe is dependent upon the will of the mind, Buddhism only needed an ontology of the mind to explain the origin of the universe: this is the Twelve-fold Chain of Dependent Origination:

The Blessed One said this:

“And what, monks, is dependent origination? With ignorance as condition, volitional formations come to be; with volitional formations as condition, consciousness; with consciousness as condition, name-and-form; with name-and-form as condition, the six sense bases; with the six sense bases as condition, contact; with contact as condition, feeling; with feeling as condition, craving; with craving as condition, clinging; with clinging as condition, existence; with existence as condition, birth; with birth as condition, aging-and-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, suffering, and despair come to be. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering. This, monks, is called dependent origination.” (Samyutta Nikaya 12.1)

The Buddha defined the self as consisting of five components, or skandhas, taken from the above. Because the self cannot be apprehended like a thing, each skandha is a function. The first function is form, rupa: this is an image projected by the mind. The second function is vedana, sensations, which are experienced in the mind as pleasurable, painful, or neutral. The third function is samjna, knowledge of characteristics, or differences. The fourth function is samskara, expectations. The fifth function is vijnana, which is awareness of things through the senses, including awareness of thoughts. Altogether the five skandhas are all there is to the self. They operate continuously to create everything we perceive as self and not-self–the phenomenal realm.

Creation is preceded by expectations, samskara, which are like seeds in that they contain the potential of future events. Expectations are conditioned by past events, just as this year’s seeds are conditioned by a cycle of reproduction going back millions of years. Expectation and event can be instantaneous, or the expectation can lie latent in the mind for years–even an entire lifetime–until the right moment comes for its fulfillment. When we have an expectation, we think, “Reality is thus, and so I expect it to be thus.” Myriad expectations are the sole cause of the continuous evolution of the universe.

The world is only an illusion that we created mentally. It is not external but in reality within us, within our mind. The method of creating is by first creating what we call a mind. We create our mind, which is nothing but a composite of all our thoughts, conscious and subconscious, and the thoughts create the material world. Every little thing that happens to each and everyone of us is created in our thinking. We mentally set up a thing called time which makes it even more difficult to see things because we think now and things happen years later. But the only creator there is, is the mind, your mind. – Lester Levenson (1993, Session 1).

Karma and self-will

The word karma signifies action. Any time one decides to perform an action, one has decided to not let things be, but has formed an intention to cause something to happen; therefore, karma is self-will. Self-will is motivated by craving, or as Lester says, the attempt to satisfy desire:1

Desire initiates the whole cycle. Way back in the beginning, it started with a thought of lack. Then there was a desire to fulfill the lack. The desire caused thought, the thought caused action. Since the action does not fulfill the desire, the desire and action are increased, keeping it going until we are spinning in an endless cycle. All our present thinking is initiated by something from the past. Our total feelings now are all from the thoughts and actions of the past. So, all thinking is now motivated by something that has already happened. Action and reaction go on and on that way and we are caught. – Lester Levenson (Keys, Session 28: “Karma”)

There is a popular belief that karma punishes or rewards, but in reality punishment and reward arise from one’s own thoughts. Criminals often make it easy for the police to capture them, but even those who are never caught are certain to devise some other means of punishing themselves. The reason why we reward and punish ourselves is simple. Behavior based on selfish desires brings with it a bad feeling called domanassa. The bad feeling engenders aversion (patigha) towards oneself: this feeling is humiliation or shame. When one feels ashamed, one expects ill fortune, and expectation being volition, one has in effect summoned ill fortune. In the same way, selfless behavior brings a good feeling called somanassa. The good feeling is experienced as well-being or wholeness, and by the same laws, good fortune is summoned.

The truth of expectation being the cause of events is illustrated by people who, in defiance of probability, win the lottery multiple times  (e.g., Melhig Melhig, Richard Lustig, and Wayne Lyle). The following story about Lyle’s wins appeared in The Globe and Mail (Nov. 23, 2001):

Defying odds of one in 2.5 billion, a 48-year-old bachelor in British Columbia has won a lottery prize worth $2.2-million two years after winning a $1-million jackpot. Wayne Lyle said yesterday he expected to win something when he bought a ticket for the B.C. Cancer Foundation lifestyle lottery. He always wins something, he said. But he never dreamed he would win the big prize again.


Karma and rebirth

Birth seems to be like a lottery: some beings are born into wealth and some are born into poverty. However the conditions of one’s birth are always those destined to provide one with the most suitable opportunity for spiritual growth.

Dolores Cannon was a hypnotherapist who induced thousands of people to return to past lives. In her book Jesus and the Essenes (1992) she tells how over many months she took one subject back through a score of lives, until the subject was experiencing the life of an Essene, born in Qumran in the first century B.C. This person, “Saadi” Benzamar, turned out to be one of the masters of Yeshua and his cousin, Yohanan. He instructed them in religious law from the time they were eight until they were fourteen, and again when they were seventeen. When Cannon asked Benzamar about scriptures that said that people could go to “frightening places” when they died, he said,

“Then [if this should happen] this is something that this person has died expecting to see. For there is nothing there but what you create yourself. And in so believing, so it shall be, for thoughts and beliefs are very strong.” (p. 117)

Cannon again asked about hell during another session, at a time when Yeshua was very young and had been taken out of Judea. Before leaving, Joseph and Mary had first gone to Qumran, and the Essenes knew everything about him.

S: It is said that he shall spread the word and he shall take the suffering of the world upon his shoulders. And through his suffering we shall be saved.
D: We shall be saved from what?
S. From ourselves. With the way that it is now, the way that it stands, one must always, through un-striving gain the step up the ladder, as it were; whereas with divine intercession and asking for assistance or blessing, you may take the steps up the ladder easier.
D: Does this have to do with rebirth?
S: Of rebirth, yes. Of reaching the perfection of the soul, yes. For it says that a man must again be born. This is in some of the prophecies.
D: In order to attain perfection?
S: To attain heaven.
D: Some people say that when you’re saved, it means you are saved from your sins and you will not go to hell.
S: (Interrupting) There is no hell other than that which you create yourself. It is the image that you project, that you foresee. This has always been known, that the suffering that occurs, for the most part, is here. So that when you die, what you suffer is through your own need or desire to suffer.
D: They say that God will send you to hell to punish you.
S: No one punishes you but yourself! You are your own judge. Does it not say, Judge not others, lest ye yourself be judged? It says, judge not others, it does not say [no] self-judging. You are your own self’s judge. (pp. 209-210)

Thus it is clear that Yeshua and all of his disciples knew the truth of reincarnation, and this being the case, so did the first founders of the Catholic Church.2

Buddhism teaches that the cause of rebirth is the ego-soul’s attachment to existence: “Throughout beginningless time the ignorant have been transmigrating along the paths, enveloped in their attachment to existence” (Lankavatara Sutra, Sagathakam). Furthermore, according to a sixth-century master there is no such thing as a karmic error in the matter of rebirth:

The sutra says: “Though there is neither the self nor the person, virtue and evil are not thrown out. ” It is said: “Those who maintain the five precepts obtain a human body. Those who maintain the ten virtues are assured of rebirth in a heaven. Those who uphold the 250 precepts, examine emptiness, and cultivate the path will attain the fruit of the arhat.” If one commits a great many wrongs, commits errors and ultimate evils, and is covetous, hostile, and indulgent, he will obtain only the three evil rebirths. This will be his destiny Thus, the principles are free of any discrepancies, just as a sound and its echo are in accordance, or the real thing and its reflection are as they should be. – Dhyana Master Chih (Broughton, p. 50)

But how exactly does karma accumulated in one life condition the next? When he said the following words in 1965, Lester Levenson could have been quoting from a book Dolores Cannon would write twenty-eight years in the future (Between Life and Death, 1993):

What we go through is determined by what we have gone through. This is the law of compensation or karma. In-between physical bodies, we choose a certain part of what we have been through to go through the next time around; we set up similar situations, hoping that this next time we will transcend them. You always get another opportunity–ad infinitum. (Session 28: “Karma”)

But although it may seem that we are condemned to keep repeating our mistakes forever, we can put a stop to it simply by choosing to let go of desire, as Lester explains:

You can mentally undo karma by mentally undoing desire. Karma is caused by desires that remain in the subconscious mind. Dropping desire drops all thoughts of it. If you take desire out of the subconscious mind, the seeds of karma are no more there. This is the fastest, the very best way of undoing karma. If you let go of things mentally, you let go of them forever. Then you don’t have to experience them.

When you are fully realized, you’ll look at the world and you’ll see only a singular oneness in everything and everyone. And you’ll see that it is all nothing but your very own Self. And the Self is only the Self. So, what happens to the world is that you see it as it really is; you look at it as the rope instead of seeing it as the snake. Then you are out of karma and there is no more karma. (1993, Session 28: “Karma”)

Bodhidharma was teaching the same lesson in the sixth century:

Because the Dharma can give fearlessness, it is a source of great peace. It is like someone who commits a capital crime and is to be beheaded, but then his king grants him a pardon and he no longer fears dying. It is the same way with beings. They commit the ten evils and the five deadly sins and must fall into a hell, but the Dharma King issues a pardon of great quiescence, and they are freed of all of their sins. (Bodhidharma’s Method for Quieting the Mind)

Karma as sin

The Judeo-Christian equivalent of karma is sinful thoughts or deeds. When samskara, expectations, are conditioned by karma, they form karma-abhisamskara–karmic seeds. Because these come from self-will, they are considered to be defilements. Jeanne Guyon used the same terms used in Buddhism when she wrote, “God then completely removes the effects of sin that stain the soul by washing away the defilements . . .” This is very important to understand, because in Buddhism one must transcend samskara in order to enter nirvana, just as in Christianity the soul must be cleansed of the defilements of sin in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

If one understands samskara as expectations formed by patterns of thought established over millennia, the way to transcend them becomes clear: it is by recognizing that those thoughts that constantly arise in the mind, the voice in the head, are no more than the expression of longstanding thought-patterns, no more than habits. They have no more of a self-nature than plants in springtime, which sprout from the seeds released by plants in the autumn in a continuous process that stretches back to the beginning of time.3

The ego doesn’t like to hear that it doesn’t have free will. But the ego itself is a product of karma. – Lester Levenson

Buddhists transcend the self through renunciation and detachment from both the self and the world, which is accomplished by seeing that both are illusions. When the final awakening comes, one attains identity with the Supreme Self, and all karmic expectations adhering to the self vanish. In the same way, when Christians attain sanctification, or union with God, all of the stains of sin adhering to the soul vanish.

Perhaps now the wisdom of the Buddha’s teaching can be better understood, so I will again cite the Twelvefold Chain of Dependent Origination:

Name and Form
The Six Sense-Objects
Aging, Death, Suffering

Original sin and the legacy of shame

In Judaism the original sin was when Adam disobeyed God and ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The arising of self-will is seen to be at the root of mankind’s suffering and mortality. However no one seems to understand why God warned Adam not to commit that particular deed: “The day that you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you will die.” Most people assume that “good and evil” refers to right and wrong, but the Hebrew words actually mean good and ill; that is, the knowledge that some things are desirable and other things are to be feared. But one only desires and fears things if one “knows” herself as separate and mortal, and “knows” things as existing outside of herself; therefore, it was Adam’s knowledge of himself as mortal which condemned him to mortality. As I have explained above, the Buddhist term samjna means the knowledge of differences: attaching oneself to ideas of benign or malignant, of good or ill. This knowledge is the poisonous fruit which traps us in a mortal body.

Edward Conze (1975) mentions the sin of self-will, writing: “Yes and no are not reflections of actual fact, but of the attitudes of self-willed individuals.” In a discussion of “signs” (laksana or lakshana–also called marks or characteristics), Conze says that bad actions follow the recognition of things as different from ourselves and different from each other:

Further, all signs should be avoided. We have to do with a sign (nimitta) wherever the impression of a stimulus is either taken as an indication that there is something there — as in perception — or as a reason for doing something about something. The taking up of a sign is regarded as the salient feature of perception. Innocuous as it may seem, perception as such is an obstacle to salvation in that it is both erroneous and misleading. It is erroneous because the world as perceived is largely a fabrication of our desire for adaptation to it [or our desire for it to adapt to us], and covers up the vision of what is really there, i.e. Nirvana, or the succession of ceaselessly changing momentary dharmas. It is misleading because, as the commentators put it, we first recognize a set of data as a man or a woman, and then base bad actions on that recognition. The sign is defilement, and the Absolute is called the signless (animitta). It is, indeed, unrecognizable when met. (p. 11)

Adam and Eve felt ashamed the moment they became aware of themselves as human:

“And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” “And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked?” (Genesis 3, King James)

The fact that Adam and Eve covered their private parts indicates that they felt ashamed of their sexuality. But sexuality represents two things unrelated to the sexual act, which are mortality and incompleteness: mortality because sexuality is involved in birth, and incompleteness because man and woman lack what the other has.

Sin and salvation

Suzuki (1953) has said that the Mahayana School was in essence a rebellion against the individualism of existing Buddhist schools, which believed that since karma was attached to one being, only that being could free himself of it. There were also some who believed that all fruits of karma had to be suffered, as if one were paying off debts. The Mahayana school argued that if we are all one, then everyone “feels that all the sins of the world are resting on my own shoulders.”

As far as history goes, Buddhism started with the individualistic interpretation of Karma, and when it reached its culminating point of development in the rise of Mahayana, the doctrine came to be cosmically understood. But not in the vague, abstract, philosophical way as was before referred to but concretely and spiritually in this wise: the net of the universe spreads out both in time and space from the centre known as ‘my self’, where I feel that all the sins of the world are resting on my own shoulders. To atone for them I am determined to subject myself to a system of moral and spiritual training which I consider will cleanse me of all impurities, and by cleansing me cleanse also the whole world of all its demerits. This is the Mahayana position. (Passivity in the Buddhist Life)

It isn’t only because we are one that the liberation of a bodhisattva helps all beings: bodhisattvas could donate some of their merit to help others, just as if it were money put into an alms box. More important, though, is the fact that buddhas acquired a nirmanakaya, or transformation body. In this form there is no limit to the help a buddha can give to sentient beings.

The Christian Church was founded on a similar belief–that there is something inherently sinful about being a human being. This is the premise that made it necessary for Yeshua to be a deity and for everyone who desired salvation to worship him. If we had only our own sins to be concerned about we could purify ourselves, but it takes a deity to cleanse one of an inherent state of sin. And faith in Yeshua, like faith in Amida Buddha, can indeed free one of the impurity of sin, but only if it is accompanied by a willingness to surrender the self. It is for this reason that Catholic saints have said that even the most sinful are forgiven the moment they submit their will to God: they know that sin lies not in the deed but in clinging to self-will.

Once in this very place I said God likes forgiving big sins more than small ones; the bigger they are, the more gladly and quickly He forgives them. – Eckhart (Sermon Forty).

Yohanan the Baptist (a cousin of Yeshua) was said to have preached that confession of sins was half of the battle toward liberation. Eckhart encouraged people to both go to confession and to believe that they were forgiven (Walshe, Volume III, p. 44). Eckhart also said that because everything that happens is God’s will, we must therefore not wish that we had never sinned: in other words, one must not regret the past and wish to change it. He begins Sermon Fifty Seven thus: “Whoever hears me is not ashamed–if he is ashamed of anything, he is ashamed of being ashamed.” Eckhart understood the importance of letting go of shame, because to regret the past and feel shameful about oneself is to cling to pride of self.

Lester: When we don’t judge ourselves we move much faster.
Question: When we don’t judge ourselves?
Lester: Right. When we don’t judge ourselves. Whatever comes up, [say] “So what?” To get this far in your limitations, you have [experienced the complete range] of everything bad. It’ll come up, but it’s from past experiencing. Also, when you wake up you’ll discover that you never ever were apart from your real Self, which is whole, perfect, complete, unlimited; that all these experiences were images in your mind, just like a night dream: you imagine everything that’s going on. But while you’re in a night dream, it’s real to you. (Realization through dropping the unconscious)

The Buddhist masters have said the same thing. Padmasambhava taught the following:

Accepting with equal indifference whatever comes: riches or poverty, praise or contempt; giving up discrimination between virtue and vice, honourable and shameful, good and evil. Feeling neither grief nor shame for one may have done, and feeling neither elation nor pride on account of what one has accomplished. (Stages of the mystic path).

This is a restatement of the Mahanidessa:

The eightfold conceit is pride engendered by gains, shame engendered by losses, pride engendered by fame, shame engendered by ill repute, pride engendered by praise, shame engendered by blame, pride engendered by pleasure, and shame engendered by pain. (Nidd. i. 80)

Once again, it is not one’s actions that one should be concerned about, but holding on to the self. Liberation lies in transcending the very idea of a self, and this is accomplished by seeing that the self and its deeds never really were.

The Bodhisattva Field of Merit said, “To speak of meritorious deeds, wrongful deeds, and non-karmaic deeds is dualistic. The true nature of all three kinds of deeds is empty. And if it is empty, then there are no meritorious deeds, no wrongful deeds, and no non-karmaic deeds. One who allows no thought of distinction to arise with regard to these three types of deeds may thereby enter the gate of nondualism.”  (Wisdom Library).

Spiritual advancement through successive lives

The Lankavatara Sutra says is that one’s attainment is never lost. This raises a difficult question about three of Dolores Cannon’s subjects. These remembered having known Yeshua during his lifetime, and they were spiritually advanced when they knew him. Yet in their current incarnations they were in ignorance; instead of advancing they seemed to have regressed. There are also a few problems with the memories of Benzamar, Yeshua’s Essene master; these were not with things he knew personally but with historical events, which sometimes seemed to have been pulled from the New Testament.

These two questions are resolved in a later book, Between Death and Life (1996). As it turns out, Cannon’s hypnosis sessions were directed by some otherworldly intelligence from the start. Whether that intelligence was, as it claimed, a collective of beings in another realm, or whether it was the intelligence of Cannon and her subjects themselves, filtered through their own conditioning, we will never know. But the information cannot be disregarded. In one session her subject tells her, “It is indeed possible to cross-reference others’ [life memories] simultaneously and receive impressions of the experiences lived by another individual. This is not as uncommon as it may seem.” She then asks, “In other words, when we are exploring what appears to be a past life experience, we could be investigating somebody else’s?” The subject responds, “Or perhaps your own.”

Cannon learned that it is common for souls to be imprinted with the memories of lives lived by others if they needed those memories to accomplish certain tasks. This imprinting happens before the soul enters the body, but it can also happen during one’s life. Of course, one remains unconscious of these additional life-memories, just as one is unconscious of one’s own past lives. Cannon comments:

Many people believe that all this is conditioned by the environment; that a baby’s mind is totally fresh and all information is learned and absorbed as it grows and lives its life. Apparently we rely more on our subconscious memories than we realize. It seems to be like a computer bank from which we constantly draw comparisons in our daily lives.

Another aspect of imprinting, which would explain Benzamar’s New Testament memories, is that the lives are filtered by the person who borrows them to fit with that person’s existing beliefs. A subject tells Cannon:

We would say that human experience is like a filter and colors these perceptions which pass through it. So if an experience in the Cleopatra incarnation was found objectionable to the [mind] of the person it would either be deleted or changed . . . (1996, p. 208).

Because the subject Cannon regressed was a member of an evangelical sect, it seems the subject occasionally filled in gaps in Benzamare’s knowledge with events taken from the New Testament. (These may include the star of Bethlehem, the three wise men, Herod’s census and the figure of Judas Iscariot. If Iscariot really existed, Yeshua could have saved him by handing himself over to the authorities.)

Cannon also learned of cases where souls voluntarily exchanged places in a body in the middle of a lifetime: one soul left and the other entered; this was called a walk-in. Because the second soul was imprinted with the memories from that life she was not aware that she had just entered the body, but believed she had been that person from birth.

It is a fact that people acquire false memories–whether it is from learning about an event, or from someone purposely causing them to believe something. If we can’t be sure whether the experiences we remember were ours, either in this life or previous lives, who are we? Ridley Scott’s movie “The Blade Runner” (an adaptation of the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) has two characters who discover that they are man-made androids, that their childhood memories have been programmed into their brains. Human beings are more fortunate, however, because when we come to know what we are not, we suddenly know what we are

The unreliability of memories, even without walk-ins, confirms the unreality of the defilements, or expectations, which Buddhism calls karma-abhisamskara. Of the five components of the self–form, feelings, knowledge of differences, expectations and consciousness–it is expectations which keep us in the cycle of death and rebirth. But if the past deeds we remember could have been performed by anyone, then the expectations engendered by those deeds may not even be ours. Lester Levenson (1993) wisely said, “Karma and reincarnation are part of the illusion and have no part in the Reality. Past lives should not be gone into as it is playing with the unreality, making it seem more real.”  (Session 28: “Karma”)

The key to liberation: unlearning everything you know about the world

Genesis teaches that the beginning of bondage is the knowledge of ourselves as separate ego-souls and our attachment to the good or bad characteristics of things. This lesson, given at the very beginning of the Hebrew scriptures, is also given at the beginning of “Inscribed on the Believing Mind”:

The Perfect Way is not difficult
save that it excludes picking and choosing
Once you are freed from hating and loving
that which is hidden will become clear and bright

As a young seeker of the truth, Robert Pirsig was studying Hinduism in India. When a professor said that everything was illusion, Pirsig challenged him by asking if the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was also an illusion. The professor told him that yes, that was an illusion, and Pirsig quit his studies and went home. He later had an experience of enlightenment, but since he was not yet ready to let go of his ego, he contrived to have his entire memory erased.

Lester Levenson was ready, and he let go of all judgment just before attaining enlightenment in 1952. He has said that even Hitler thought he was doing the right thing, showing that there was nothing Lester wasn’t willing to renounce in order to gain his freedom.

The Wise and the Fool are Vanity

And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly.
Then I saw that wisdom excels folly, as far as light excels darkness.
The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness; and I myself perceived also that one fate happens to them all.
Then said I in my heart, As it happens to the fool, so it happens even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity.
For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool forever; seeing that that which now is shall all be forgotten
in the days to come. And how does the wise man die? As the fool. (Eccl. 2:12)

Buddhism and Hinduism don’t just teach us not to view things as good and bad, but to stop viewing people and things as distinct from one other, to stop believing that people and things have a self-nature. This is not nihilism, because we are in reality one Self, which turns out to be the true nature of everything.

On all sides That has hands and feet;
On all sides eyes, heads and faces;
On all sides in the world it hears;
All things it embraces.  (Watts, p. 34)

From the point of view of the one Self, everything is perfect. Beings appear to suffer, but when suffering is too great to bear the soul separates from the body. Then, when the appropriate moment arrives, it enters another body. This continues, lifetime after lifetime, until one forms the decision to put an end to it.

Suffering alone exists, none who suffer;
The deed there is, but no doer thereof;
Nirvana is, but no one seeking it;
The Path there is, but none who travel it. (Watts, p. 56)

* * *

1. From craving arise unwholesome states of mind. These states are called klesha or klesa, translated as passions or afflictions. In Chinese afflictions are called fan nao because they vex (fan) and torment (nao) the mind. (Wisdom Library)

2. The first Catholic theologian, Origen, lived in Alexandria, which for generations had been visited by Buddhist missionaries from India. The Jewish wisdom tradition was influential in Alexandria; nearby there was a commune of Therapeutics, who like their Essene brethren believed in reincarnation. (See https://www.near-death.com/reincarnation/history/church-history.html#a06)

3. There are seven to ten types of thought-patterns, called anusaya, which means tendencies or obsessions, although they have variously been called fetters, hindrances and unwholesome states or passions. To understand them is to let go of them, and that means liberation from the bondage of the mind.

* * *

Blakney, Raymond B. (1941). Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation. New York: Harper & Row.

Cannon, Dolores (1992). Jesus and the Essenes: Fresh insights into Christ’s Ministry and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Bath: Gateway Books

Cannon, Dolores (1994). They Walked With Jesus. Huntsville, Arkansas: Ozark Mountain Publishing.

Cannon, Dolores (1996). Between Death and Life: Conversations with a Spirit. Bath: Gateway Books.

Conze, Edward (1975). The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom. University of California Press.

David-Neel, Alexandra (1931). Magic and Mystery in Tibet, Penguin Books Ltd.

Erich Fromm, D. T. Suzuki, et al (1960). Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis. New York: Harper Colophon Books.

Guyon, J. M. B. de la Mot (1875). A Short Method of Prayer. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low & Searle. https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/spiritualformation/texts/guyon_shortmethodofprayer.pdf

Jeanne Marie Bouvier de La Motte Guyon. The Autobiography of Madame Guyon.
Chicago: Moody Press. https://archive.org/stream/theautobiography22269gut/pg22269.txt

Levenson, Lester (1993). Keys to the Ultimate Freedom: Thoughts and Talks on Personal Transformation. Phoenix, Arizona: Sedona Institute. ISBN 0-915721-03-1

Levenson, Lester (2003). No Attachments, No Aversions: The Autobiography of a Master. Sherman Oaks, California: Lawrence Crane Enterprises, Inc.

Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro (1953). Essays in Zen Buddhism (Second Series). London: Rider and Company.

Suzuki, D. T. (1957) Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist. London and New York: Routledge Classics. https://terebess.hu/zen/mesterek/d-t-suzuki-mysticism-christian-and-buddhist.pdf

M. O’C. Walshe (1987). Meister Eckhart: Sermons & Treatises Volume II. UK: Element Books Limited.

Watts, Alan (1957). The Way of Zen. New York: Vintage Books.

Meister Eckhart:

And among all creatures He does not love one more than another: for as each is wide enough to receive, in the same measure He pours Himself into it. If my soul were as capacious and as roomy as the angel of the Seraphim, who has nothing in him, God would pour Himself out into me as perfectly as into the angel of the Seraphim. It is just as if you were to make a sphere, with the perimeter covered with dots, and with a point in the centre: from this point all the dots would be equally near or far. Then for one dot to get nearer to it, it would have to be displaced, for the middle point remains constantly at the centre. So it is with divine being: it is not questing around but abiding altogether in itself. In order to receive from it, a creature must of necessity be moved out of itself.  (Walshe, Vol. II, p. 280)


My birthplace? I am born of figoku (hell);
I am a stray dog
Carrying its tail between its legs;
I pass through this world of woes,
Saying ‘Namu-amida-butsu’.

I am not to go to figoku,
figoku is right here,
We are living right in figoku,
figoku is no other place than this.
– Saichi (Suzuki, 1957, pp. 151-181)

If there were no wretchedness,
My life would be wickedness itself;
How fortunate I am that I was given wretchedness
‘Namu-amida-butsu, Namu-amida-butsu!’

They understand who have had sorrows,
But those who had them not can never understand:
There is nothing so excruciating as sighs –
The sighs that refuse to be disposed of.
But they are removed by Amida,
And all I can say now is ‘Namu-amida-butsu, Namu-amidabutsu!’

That such a sinful man as Saichi,
whose sinfulness knows no bounds
has been transformed into a Buddha!
How grateful for the grace, and how happy!
‘Namu-amida-butsu, Namu-amida-butsu!’
– Saichi (Suzuki, 1957, pp. 151-181)


All sentient beings are born according to their Karma: good people are born in the heavens, the wicked in the hells, and those who practise the paths of righteousness realize Nirvana. By disciplining himself in the six virtues of perfection, a man is able to benefit his fellow-beings in various ways, and this is sure in turn to bring blessings upon him, not only in this but also in the next life. Karma may be of two sorts: inner or mental, which is called cetana, and physical, expressing itself in speech and bodily movement. This is technically known as Karma “after having intended.”

Karma may also be regarded as with or without “intimation”. An act with intimation is one the purpose of which is perceptible by others, while an act without intimation is not at all expressed in physical movements; it follows that when a strong act with intimation is performed it awakens the tendency in the mind of the actor to perform again deeds, either good or bad, of a similar nature.

It is like a seed from which a young plant shoots out and bears fruit by the principle of continuity; apart from the seed there is no continuity; and because of this continuity there is fruition. The seed comes first and then the fruit; between them there is neither discontinuity nor constancy. Since the awakening of a first motive, there follows an uninterrupted series of mental activities, and from this there is fruition. Without the first stirring of the mind, there will be no stream of thoughts expressing themselves in action. Thus there is a continuity of Karma and its fruit. Therefore, when the ten deeds of goodness and purity are performed, the doer is sure to enjoy happiness in this life and be born after death among celestial beings.

There is something in Karma that is never lost even after its performance; this something, called avipranasa, is like a deed of contract, and Karma, an act, is comparable to debt. A man may use up what he has borrowed, but owing to the document he has some day to pay the debt back to the creditor. This “unlosable” is always left behind even after Karma and is not destroyed by philosophical intuition. If it were thus destructible, Karma would never come to fruition. The only power that counteracts this “unlosable” is moral discipline. Every Karma once committed continues to work out its consequence by means of the “unlosable” until its course is thwarted by the attainment of Arhatship or by death, or when it has finally borne its fruit. This law of Karma applies equally to good and bad deeds. Mulamadhyamakakarikas, Chapter XVII (Suzuki, 1953, Passivity in the Buddhist Life)

3 thoughts on “Karma: The Eastern doctrine of sin

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