Time and again, the Buddha transformed old religious ideas and practices by saying that if properly understood, they were about ethics. However, he often did this with such subtlety that it is not surprising if his manoeuvres were not always understood by his followers. The most important instance of this is his doctrine of karma, said Richard Francis Gombrich, professor and Buddhist scholar from Oxford University, on Thursday while delivering a talk on “What the Buddha Thought” at the University of Hyderabad.
Elaborating further, Gombrich said that Karma is about moral causation.
“First and foremost, it is a teaching of responsibility and so it has to be compatible with free will. But, even the exercise of free will is by no means a random process. What we sow determines what we reap. Karma is not the only cause of our pleasure and pain. Our karma determines general conditions such as where we are born. When it comes to new karma, we can choose, but only within limits, the most important of which we have ourselves established through our former choices. Those choices are necessary but not sufficient conditions for our subsequent acts of choices”, stated Gombrich.
Ending his lecture, Gombrich stated that he saw the doctrine of karma as the pivotal point of the Buddha’s teaching, and the one to which almost all his thought relates.
Richard Francis Gombrich is a renowned Indologist and a scholar of Sanskrit, Pali and Buddhist studies. He was the Boden professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. His first major contribution in the field of Buddhist studies was an anthropological study of contemporary Sinhalese Buddhism entitled “Precept and Practice: Traditional Buddhism in the Rural Highlands of Ceylon”(1971). In recognition of this path-breaking work, he was honoured by the president of Sri Lanka in 1994.