MCTB The Karma Models
Karma models involve the promise that somehow realization eliminates, exhausts, cancels out or moderates the forces of causality that would cause bad things to happen to the realized being. Karma involves action and its consequences, and in its simplest form is essentially the statement that causes lead to effects in a lawful way. The subject is imponderable, as the forces and factors involved are so vast and complex that no mind can fully comprehend them. That said, many models and Buddhist ideals subtly or overtly present models of awakening that promise some sort of relief or freedom from adversity.
However, if we look to the life of the Buddha, who by definition is as enlightened as it gets in Buddhism, lots of bad things happened to him, at least according to the texts. He had chronic headaches and back pain, got illnesses, was attacked by bandits, people tried to kill him, his own order broke into warring factions, people harassed him, and so forth and so on. Thus, it is clear that even the Buddha was not free from the laws of karma, and so it would seem naive to assume that we were also.
However, the karma models raise an interesting question, that of the timing of the fulfillment of the promises of enlightenment and what this has to do with death. The Theravada claims that the moment of complete freedom from suffering is at the death of an arahat or Buddha, as it is only then that there is no more coming into further birth and there is the complete cessation of the senses that cause pain and discomfort. The Tibetans would disagree, focusing on the perpetual life or continued series of rebirths of a Buddha or Bodhisattva throughout time to help awaken other beings. These conflicts bring us to other models, but in fact are paradoxes created by misperception.
However, the karma models are not entirely junk. By seeing each thought, state and emotion as it is, there is an increased ability simply to watch these arise and vanish on their own, thus allowing for the causal force of them not to wash through to the future without some moderation of intelligence and wisdom. In this way, past causes, habits, tendencies and the like can be mitigated through clear seeing, and the actions we take based on these that create future causes can be done with more awareness, clarity, and a broader, more inclusive perspective. This is not the same thing as eliminating all “negative” karma, but it is practical, realistic and verifiable, and thus represents the grain of truth found in the Karma Models.