Can Karma Affect Free Choice?
Venerable Hyon Gak
Question : Can karma affect free choice? How is free choice affected by karma? – A senior citizen
Answer : We all have karma, or mind-habit. It is not a special quality or condition. When a person is attached to his thinking, he develops a habit. When he is attached to his habit, he gets karma. And if he’s attached to that karma, he gets more karma. It’s just a case of unending cause and effect. Although the person still has free choice in that cause and effect, it is affected by the karma he has created. Thus, the person creates karma and in turn, the karma affects his free choices, either severely or lightly limiting his free choices. In Buddhism, when a person really meditates, he will see that his karma is fundamentally empty, that it has no nature. But when you think your karma is real, it affects you. In meditation, when you see the substance of karma, of thinking and of the mind is fundamentally empty, then karma cannot affect you and your free choice is unhindered.
If we are attached to desire, anger or ignorance, we make karma and this karma consequently controls our free choice, like a wind blowing on a moving object.
If you just follow your karma, it controls you and many kinds of actions appear. Therefore, if you are attached to your karma, you make more karma. You have to see that your karma is essentially empty. It is like when you have a dream of a big, hungry tiger chasing after you. In the dream, you think it is real, so you run really, really fast to get away. But when you wake up, you realise you are in your room, on the bed and that the tiger is not real. When you thought the tiger was real, the tiger affected you. But the whole time, the tiger wasn’t there. It was completely empty. When you wake up and realise the tiger is a dream and see that it is empty, there is no more running. Karma is exactly like that. Any kind of karma is just a dream, created by the thinking which you are attached to. When you let go of the attachment and see that karma is empty, then you are free.