I have often seen the Anguttara Nikaya 4.77 being quoted as in this post against pondering on the precise workings of karma. My question: is there a misunderstanding of the Buddha’s words thus misconstruing his intentions.
My understanding on the Buddha’s caution on karma (in AN 4.77) is that we should not try to figure out its exact/precise/detailed workings if 1) we don’t have the tools (i.e. divine eye faculty or recollection of past lives) and 2) we don’t have the discernment or wisdom to see anicca and anatta in the process. The danger is that we may draw the wrong conclusion as was the case with certain mentioned recluse in Brahmajala sutta. But the Buddha did not prevent anyone from having a deep understanding of paticca-samuppada (dependent-arising or conditionality) which is the basis of karma. And through the insights on conditionality, have a deeper understanding of karma; why it works in general.
I believe a deeper understanding of karma is within our abilities as ordinary humans as we have the ability to observe, recall and analyse conditions and events in our lives. For example, if I am staring at the ceiling at 2 a.m. in the morning, unable to sleep and I tried to recall what I did to cause this, I may then remember giving in to temptation and drinking a nice cup of coffee after dinner. So, there was an unskillful craving involving certain pleasure and a bad consequence. This is observing karma-in-action and anyone can do it. Incidentally, I have friends who claimed to be able to drink coffee or tea just before hitting the bed and still sleep like a log. One common theme is that they don’t experience the caffeine-high like I do. Although I always find it strange why people drink coffee if they don’t get any pleasures from it.
Whether we talk about karma or the other four niyamas, conditionality is their foundation. Millions of scientists, researchers and engineers all over the world are working hard daily, trying to tease out the conditioned causes that govern the phenomena of the world we lived in, from climate change to superconductivity. They are trying to harness their understanding to improve the lot of humanity. We should also deepen our understanding of karma for our own long-lasting well-being and happiness. If one is not in samsara, they need not bother with the rule of the game i.e. karma. But what choice do we have? Surely, the Buddha understand this and would want us to have a better grasp of karma to improve our own lives.
Suppose we assume the Buddha intended for us to investigate the workings of karma through proper verification by keen observation, analysis and even experimenting on ourselves and not by mere speculation. Furthermore, if we assume this is possible because not all karmic fruits are from our or others’ past lives, many are the results of this life. Would we be doing an injustice to the Buddha by quoting him out-of-context with AN 4.77? Also, wouldn’t discouraging investigations into the workings of karma be totally inconsistent with the entire teachings of the Buddha?
If we postulate the above is correct, how can we quote AN 4.77 in the right context without giving the wrong impression that the Buddha discouraged investigating and understanding the workings of karma?