> I'm not really concerned about the "right" interpretation of karma--I'm concerned
> about how belief systems as social constructs determine tendencies in society
Unfortunately, interpretation taints the perception of the belief system and the tendencies of the societies also.
Let me try:
"Iha samsare bahu dukhare" -- from Bhaja Govindam.
"All life is misery and suffering. What we perceive as joyous within life, is really fleeting and ephemeral"
Both Buddhism and Hinduism use this point as a primary tenet of their teachings. So, effectively, the teachings prepare us to confront and live within the midst of death, disease and misery, so, the advice is to treat your present life at any given point as a gift.
Also, karma is a cautionary tale, and a *call for action*, it is not, I repeat, not to be interpreted as lack of action. Quick Explanation: Since you are told that karmic actions determines the consequences (in the upcoming births), it is only logical for a smart man, to ensure that every moment of your life is to be lived as a life of temperance, moderation and loving, compassionate service -- therefore, no karma, therefore no more births, hence moksha (eternal salvation)! However, a monk/sanyasi is a "renunciate" -- meant to lead a life of humilty (seeking alms), solitude and contemplation -- definitely not to rush into action and be superman, unless compassion overwhelms him and compels him to (The Shaolin monks in China and Swami Vivekananda come to mind). They are to be introverted in all their acts and their approach to the World, , not extroverted. A stand-up comic asking a monk to save the diseased displays an ignorance of many fundamental ideas of the underlying religion. It does make for great stand-up comedy though -- but not any form of enlightenment!
> I don't think Buddhism has been all that productive, although I'd say Hinduism
> and Confucianism have had worse repercussions.
Very sorry. I just don't agree at all. But you are allowed your opinion.
As a sidenote: From the commercisalisation thread (@Felix):
My understanding of marketing has boiled down to this: Marketing is selling unhappiness, basically trying to make people unhappy in the state they currently are. Their goal is to induce the maximum unhappiness in the people they target, maximizing misery/dollar spent. The more misery you spread, the better a marketer you are.
ETA: The above point also flows into the argument of calling other ways of life to question.
Until the age of (European) empires came about, all of Asia ran life as per their own schedules, as per their own ways and customs. Anyway, what has happened is that there has been a lot of negative interpretations of existing ways of life, from the viewpoint of outsiders who don't understand any of these in the first place. Small example: the ant and grasshopper story might be good parable for a temperate zone, but for a tropical country with all round planting and growing season, it is a useless parable. But, what happened was, any native that was living in the present moment was termed "like a grasshopper, not an ant". These POVs are still being used for learning and teaching.
In one word, there has been wholesale meddling with other cultures, other ways of life and other civilisations in the misguided times of ,the age of empires ("Manifest Destiny").
And to top it all, while the European powers were meddling with Asia, they were also shipping their own to "penal colonies" all over the World. ...................,
Just forget about it. This is not going anywhere. I am done.
ETA: Enjoy this book: