meido, jundo, and all,
good morning! thanks for starting a new thread about this and keep the conversation going. i'm a bit late in the conversation... a bit surprised this has become a hot topic. also surprised my casual statement has sparked some misunderstandings... i repent!
indeed this is one of those topics in the west that does not get enough traction but worthy to examine closely. buddhadharma is extremely rich and nuanced, just like sentient beings are innumerable and it requires limitless approaches to the dharma to vanquish numberless vexations and to realize buddhahood (e.g., the four great vows). teachings such as these have been ignored for many reasons (lack of english translation of scriptures; thus, lack of scriptural knowledge; us being a product of modern western proclivity to favor "siting meditation" or "meditation" [in a very limited sense] over teachings/doctrines; our tendency to reduce/essentialize the rich and profound teachings of the buddha to fit into our own views of things; our own modern materialist paradigm of "science" [even though much of what we take as "science" is just assumed hypothesis and continues to be updated/rectified with the change of time], etc). this topic is vast, and i can only humbly encourage everyone to keep an open mind for things we don't quite understand due to all of these various reasons above and begin to explore within oneself and truly explore buddhist texts and that of the lineage masters because it shows up everywhere in the canon. it's just that we have not shone a light on it (cuz the canon has not been translated fully; and in our internet age, i doubt scriptural citation show up much on the internet).
the idea that cancer is directly caused by karma is a misinterpretation of what i meant. that would be pretty naive to advance that view. what i said was that, in addition to the various causes we can think of that may have attributed to cancer (diet, lifestyle, etc) there are underlying karmic causes to all illness, like cancer, as well. one of the key buddhist technical terms for this underlying causes is 業報 karmic retribution (skt. karma-phala) the other one is 宿報 retribution for the actions in prior lifetimes (skt. pūrva-karman). there are, of course, others. i'll include here romanized sanskrit and chinese terms to show that these ideas have a long established history in buddhism.
this world and everything in it, according to buddhadharma, is an ever-changing construct of karma created by living beings--including but not limited to the people we meet, the circumstances we find ourselves in, our lifespan, our health, our social standing, the way we appear, our spiritual capacity, etc. this is not to say that everything is the result of karma, or that there are no present life retributive (現報 skt. dṛṣṭa-karma) conditions that make things the way they are--of course there are! or that there is some naive notion of a one-to-one correlation of an action and its retribution (like a bank account analogy of karma). all of the above listed karmic conditions are subject to change. we may be born with a certain stock of merit, or be healthy or sick, but the actions we take this lifetime have repercussions on the fruition, postponement, changeability, and quality of our experience. causes, conditions, and effect continue to flow--there is no fixed retributive condition, but it does
continue. the buddha described this like a shadow that follows a body. these are very basic teachings of buddhadharma, pervasive in the scriptures and writings attributed to the buddha and the lineage masters, either explicitly stated or assumed--(maybe nuanced but) never denied.
yes, the buddha, bodhidharma, huineng, dahui, hongzhi, rujing, dogen, hakuin, chinul, wonyo and the whole east asian chan/zen/seon traditions [in all genres of text, from biography to history, to koan literature] all have elaborated on karma and repentance; their interpretations vary (lots of debates) but existence of karma, how it shapes our world, and the need for purification are not denied. we often read into texts what we want to see, but the fact that this topic of karmic retribution is not popular doesn't mean it's not there. now that this topic has been brought up, i hope you all might be inspired to re-read those important texts or read up on this topic in scriptures and cull out what they have to say about karmic retribution. jundo, since you're in the lineage of dogen you might want to re-read what he has to say about confession and karmic retribution and precepts; his criticism of non-buddhist paths for ignoring the effects of karma from past lives and three times in the shobogenzo and eihei koroku.
as for repentance or confession 懺悔 (pratideśayati or kṣamā), there are three aspects to it: humility (慚; hrī), contrition (愧; apatrāpya), and these two are connected to making vows or resolution 發願 (praṇidhāna) to change one's mistaken ways in the past that have shaped one's present condition. the buddha instituted this repentance practice as a way to expose, externalize, and relieve past wrong doings, to clear one's conscience, and to change one's ways. this practice not only has a psychological effect of relieving guilt that haunts one's heart (concealing one's errors always has a negative outcome; and no, the judeo-christian notion of "guilt" is not related to repentance at all--in fact it is a negative mental factor), but also strengthen one's ability to overcome karmic retributions/obstructions from actions done in this and past lifetimes.
the buddha explained the various types of suffering from the perspective of karma--from his own migraine headache, to his cousin devadatta's continuous attempts to assassinate him [lifetime after lifetime]; to the massacre of his own śakya clan ppl; to maudgalyāyana's brutal death; to the spiritual disposition of certain practitioners, and so on and so on. the buddha taught how to work with karma. for example, sometimes he would go help a monk himself; other times he would ask a particular disciple to go help because there is a karmic connection
there btn them (and only that disciple is able to help another disciple). there are cases where the buddha taught karma and repentance as a way to work with karma so as to help people face, accept, cure, and lessen the effect the illness. equally, the buddha was also practical; he encouraged his disciples to contemplate illness/suffering as a way to liberate themselves. what under-girded these teachings is karma and its effect, and the need to generate a sense of humility, repent, and make a resolution to change through dharma practice--the three aspects of repentance listed above. this is why in all repentance manuals these three aspects figure prominently.
karma and its effects is one of the five inconceivables (the other four listed by the buddha are the number of sentient beings; the powers of dhyāna; the powers of nāgas; the powers of the buddhas) that is simply too complicated for the limits of our linguistic and conceptual paradigm.
as for our tendency to read our modernist perspective onto buddhadharma, my own take on karma is that we now live in a world founded on a materialist paradigm. so the instruments/theories we design can only detect and prove (coarse) materialist things. for example, modern science have done much to dispel a lot of misunderstandings of the world we live in but it still has failed to understand the basic causes of disease (like cancer or even why certain ppl get migraine headaches [even though it can explain its symptoms and neuro pathways]). disease and illness is a much explored topic since very ancient times. premodern ppl had their own "sciences," but theirs are founded on an integrated psycho-materialist-spiritual paradigm. of course i'm not silly enough to advocate some kind of regression back to what some may arrogantly consider as "quasi-science" of ancient times. my point is: it's important to know that each paradigm has its limitations, assumptions, and conclusions/hypothesis. each as its merit. we have to keep an open mind. in recent years, a lot of modern medical sciences have given up on the cartesian approach toward treating disease (where body is perceived as separate from mind/brain) and drawn inspiration from ancient sciences like ayurvedic or chinese medicine for treatment. we have to come at illness from holistically, from all sides--diet, lifestyle, past injuries, up bringing, environmentally, and karmically. i know of a lady who has a tumor in her body that every time she's stressed it enlarges but whenever she practice repentance and engage in intensive retreats, it literally shrinks. it's been like that for decades. her western doctors have no idea how to explain this medically. i'm not making a big deal out of this or some kind of statement for the efficacy of repentance here.... just to point out that there are other things at play in our somatic experiences that are unexplainable in a purely materialist paradigm. so come at illness from all sides; take care of all possible conditions that may be working beyond our naked eye.
ppl frame their disease, lives, and world according the paradigms they live in. as our "science" moves forward, certain norms we subscribe to will be certainly overthrown, or nuanced, or some may be proven by ppl of future generations living in new paradigms. when the paradigms change, the instruments we design and the theoretical hypotheses change, we would be able to begin treating illness or whatever in new ways. the power of mind on somatic experiences; other dimensions of existence/realities; the effect of past on present, and present on future--our limited notion of time as linear would also be challenged. having an open mind is different than being suspicious. humility makes the difference.
can't believe i've went on for this long... i've taken too much space here already! i could provide citation to some of the things above from the canon, but would be good for others who reads traditional buddhist languages to chime in. i don't want to dominate the conversation. now to sitting...