Karmic Rewards and Retributions

Speaker: Ven. You De

Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple, Los Angeles

I. Introduction

Auspicious greeting everyone! Welcome to the new episode of FGS English Dharma Services.

My name is Venerable You De from Fo Guang Shan I.B.P.S. Dallas.

Today I would like to share with you Venerable Master Hsing Yun’s teaching: Karmic Rewards and Retributions, in his book titled Buddha-Dharma: Pure and Simple.

The law of karmic rewards and retributions is a fundamental  teaching in Buddhism. Each cause has a corresponding karmic effect, whether wholesome or not. Every action, every expression, and even every thought committed, whether good or bad, wholesome or unwholesome, will result in some form of effect and consequence.

Let me share a story with you.

II. Wholesome and Unwholesome Karma

One day, Buddha was sitting with his disciples. One of them asked him “What is Karma?”

Buddha said, “Let me tell you a story…”

A king was touring his kingdom on his elephant. Suddenly he stopped in front of a shop in the market and said to his minister, “I don’t know why, but I want to hang the owner of this shop.” The minister was shocked. But before he could ask the king why, the king had moved on.

The next day, the minister went to that shop dressed as one of the locals to see the shopkeeper. He casually asked him how his business was. [Slide 9] The shopkeeper, a sandalwood merchant, reported sadly that he had hardly any customers. People would come to his shop, smell the sandalwood and then go away. They would even praise the quality of the sandalwood but rarely buy anything. [Slide 10] His only hope was that the king would die soon. Then there would be a huge demand for sandalwood for performing his last rites. As he was the only sandalwood merchant around, he was sure the king’s death would mean a windfall.

The minister now understood why the king had stopped in front of this shop and expressed a desire to kill the shopkeeper. Perhaps, the shopkeeper’s negative thought vibration had subtly affected the king, who had, in turn, felt the same kind of negative thought arising within.

The minister, without revealing who he was or what had happened the day before, he expressed a desire to buy some sandalwood. The shopkeeper was pleased. He wrapped the sandalwood and handed it over to the minister.

When the minister returned to the palace, he went straight to the court where the king was seated and reported that the sandalwood merchant had a gift for him. The king was surprised. When he opened the package, he was pleasantly surprised by the fine golden color of the sandalwood and its agreeable fragrance. Happily, he sent some gold coins to the sandalwood merchant. Now, the king also felt sorry in his heart that he had harbored unbecoming thoughts of killing the shopkeeper.

When the shopkeeper received the gold coins from the king, he was surprised too. He began to praise the virtues of the king who had, through the gold coins, saved him from the brink of poverty. After some time, he recalled the morbid thoughts he had felt towards the king and repented for having entertained such negative thoughts for his own personal goal.

If we have a good and kind thought for another person, that positive thought will come back to us in a favorable way. But if we harbor evil thoughts, those thoughts will come back to us as retribution.

Hence, if one wakes up with the thought of helping and serving others, then one will be in heaven for one has given rise to wholesome thoughts and kind intentions. However, in the afternoon perhaps, one’s mind gives rise to afflictions, anger, and hatred after meeting unpleasant people, one has then fallen back down to hell. Every day, the mind travels between heaven and hell countless times, each time resulting in wholesome and unwholesome karma.

III. The Law of Cause and Effect

In Buddhism, the consequences of wholesome and unwholesome causes and effects stretch across the three time periods—from past to present, from present to future, and from future to beyond. This is also known as the cycle of affliction, karma, and suffering. When afflictions arise, one creates karma through one’s actions, leading to the experience of suffering. After experiencing suffering, more afflictions arise, leading to an unending cycle of consequential actions and suffering.

As the saying goes, “Wholesome actions bring wholesome results, unwholesome actions bring unwholesome results. Worry not that there are no results; it is only a matter of time.”

In ancient China, a young man went to the capital to take a civil examination. When the examiner was correcting his paper, he noticed that one of the characters was missing a dot. However, as he was about to deduct points from the exam score, a group of ants gathered at the place where the dot should be as though trying to hide the error. The examiner tried to shoo the ants away. As soon as he used his hand to brush them away, another group of ants gathered at the same place. He was surprised and asked the student if he could explain this phenomenon. 

The student then told him that once while he was studying, he noticed a group of ants searching for food, not only did he not brush them away but out of kindness, he fed them a candy. As you can see, his kindness to the ants was rewarded, cause and effect never fail.

However, many people do not understand the mechanism behind the law of cause and effect. Some may have doubts in the law of cause and effect. They may see some really nice people fallen into hard times, while some crooks are not punished and seem to have everything going for them. What they did not know is that it is the working of cause and effect. Why are some nice people in hard times? The reason is they have not exhausted their bad karma from previous lives. It is just like paying off an old debt! Then why are some sinister people enjoying a good life? The reason is they have not exhausted their good karma from previous lives. 

 It is like putting a fixed deposit in the bank; one cannot withdraw money until the given maturity date. That is because their past savings in the bank have yet to deplete. The bank cannot refuse someone’s withdrawal of funds just because they are wicked. Thus, one will always reap what they sow. No one can escape this.

If we really want to understand what is the cause of it, we do not need to turn to others. All we have to do is ask ourselves. We plant our own causes and reap our own effects.

There is an old poem to this effect:

If we want to know what are the causes in our previous lives,
We are living the consequences of those causes.
If we want to know what our future lives will be like,
All we have to do is look at what we are doing today.

So no matter if the result occurs in this life, the next life, or future life, one will surely receive the result sometime. Good people should not get frustrated if they did not see any fruits for their good acts. Sinister people should not think that they are lucky for not getting caught, for their time will come.

IV. Karmic Reward and Retribution

You ride on a horse,
while I ride on a donkey.
Looks like you are better off than me!
Turning around, I see a man pushing his cart.
Some are better off than me,
But there are others less fortunate than myself!

In this world, we should not compare ourselves with other people. If we do, we will be constantly frustrated. We should not be too calculating also. People who are overly calculating are constantly in a tug of war with others and can never find peace.

You can always find someone better off than yourself. You drive an import while I drive a domestic car. You drive a car while I only ride a motorcycle. You ride a motorcycle while I only ride a bike. But, here are lots of people who do not even own a bicycle and they have to walk. 

However, it is difficult for most people to understand the true meaning of cause and effect. For example, some people become vegetarian, chant the Buddha’s name, or do wholesome deeds to become rich. This is a misguided way of thinking as becoming vegetarian, chanting the Buddha’s name, and doing wholesome deeds do not correlate to the effect of wealth. 

Some people want to be healthy, so they fix bridges or build roads. However, this does not lead to good health, for these actions are misguided. To be healthy, one should eat nutritiously, exercise, and learn to take care of one’s body. These are the causes of good health. 

So, planting soybeans hoping to reap watermelons, or planting watermelons hoping to reap soybeans, is a distortion of the law of cause and effect.

Many people misunderstand the law of karmic rewards and retributions in terms of time and in terms of the connection between cause and effect, blaming it as defective and ambiguous. Yet, in fact, karmic rewards and retributions are far more precise than computers and scientific instruments as they never miss. Venerable Master Hsing Yun always teaches us to “do good deed, say good words, think good thoughts,” this is indeed, planting wholesome deeds in our daily life.

VII. Conclusion

I hope today’s episode gives you a clearer understanding on karmic rewards and retributions. Thank you for joining this episode. If you would like to listen to Dharma teachings, please like and subscribe to this channel. Thank you and good bye.