This introductory chapter provides a definition of karma, and describes how Ouyi Zhixu—a Chinese Buddhist monk—understands and interprets it. Karma is typically understood as a mechanistic cause and effect relationship between previous or present actions and future consequences. Ouyi occasionally speaks of karma in retributive terms, but more often portrays karma as organic and malleable. He uses divination as a karmic diagnostic technique, but he does not resign himself to his karmic fate. Instead of viewing karma as inevitable and inescapable, Ouyi tries to change his karma by performing repentance rituals to eliminate his karma; by pronouncing vows to bind him to a good karmic future; and by engaging in burning, blood writing, and other ascetic acts as a means of marking that future commitment. Moreover, Ouyi views his body as a site for revealing and redressing past karma; just as bodily illness signals retribution for previous wrongdoings, bodily asceticism enables him to correct his past karma.
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