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By Sue Erica Smith

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While the import of karma did not feature significantly in the content of material taught directly to the 40 DHARMA children here, teachers in the program knew its foundational importance and shaped a curriculum that built analysis of causality, that in the Buddhist paradigm is the foundation of wisdom. Karma Sloganised, fatalistic or retributive justice interpretations of karma, as used in popular hip-talk, do not equate to religious literacy or cosmopolitan understanding. Buddhist discourse offers detailed and precise explanations of karma that impel ethical decision making that warrants deeper understanding.

There is no creative entity and no endpoint of final annihilation or damnation, but a stream of successive events. The focus is on living in the world as we experience it – mindful of karma. However, the most radical tenet is anatma. This observation challenges the reflexive assumption that identity has an intrinsic core or Soul (Skt. atman), and in turn refutes extremes of nihilism (for each moment impels another) and eternalism (because there will always be change). When Gautama taught this he moved the pervading Indic understanding of cause-effect relationship, karma and rebirth, toward individual empowerment rather than fatalism or eternalism.

Children in this program were keen to learn about Buddhism, especially the symbols, but they showed keener interest in knowing how these could be used to understand how their minds work. Gautama did not offer any teaching about how the world began. He considered speculation of this kind an unhelpful diversion from engagement with the world in present and practical ways. Nevertheless, consequent to his awakened mind, he offered detailed analytical expositions of causality and interdependence that can be explored, contemplated and tested as grounds for confidence in ethical living.

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