Buddhist Coping: the Relationship Between Belief in Karma and General Outcomes from Stress
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
FERRIS, D. R. (2008). Buddhist Coping: the Relationship Between Belief in Karma and General Outcomes from Stress. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 11. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Buddhist Coping: the Relationship Between Belief in Karma and General Outcomes from Stress

Sponsored by: RUSSELL PHILLIPS (rphillips2@gmail.com)
Religious coping and the belief in karma have been examined in many groups, except Buddhists. The present study developed a quantitative measure of Buddhist coping presented to 550 Buddhists in the United States. Factor Analysis uncovered 14 types of Buddhist coping, including the belief in karma. Belief in comprehensive karma uniquely predicted outcomes from stress, over and above general religious and demographic variables. Individuals who believed in comprehensive karma reported better outcomes from the stressful event. Implications of the study are investigated.

Researchers have established significant connections between spiritual factors and mental health by creating consistent and valid measures of religious coping across many religious populations (Pargament, Koenig, & Perez, 2000). However, a scale has not been developed for Buddhists, a significant religion in the US, with followers estimated between 1.4 and 2.8 million (Smith, 2002). A crucial aspect of Buddhist coping is the belief in karma, in which an individual’s past deeds shape his or her current life, and present actions shape the individual’s future. Karma can provide a way to make meaning from a stressor, or to help an individual determine how much or how little control they have in a situation (Pargament, Poloma, Tarakeshwar, 2001). Individuals might be hopeful that virtuous conduct in the current life will alleviate harmful outcomes and lead to a better future. For instance, in a study of 41 disabled accident victims in India, those who attributed the event to karma were farther along in their psychological recovery from the accident (Dalal and Pande, 1988). Beliefs in karma have also been related to poorer outcomes. In a sample of 1,969 US survivors of violent trauma, those who believed in karma had poorer mental health than those who did not believe in karma (Davidson, Connor, and Lee, 2004). It is theorized such individuals are feeling punished or that their destiny is unavoidable because of their previous actions (Pargament et al., 2001). The current study will try to differentiate between the various views of karma. It is expected that both the punishing and fatalistic views of karma will be correlated with harmful outcomes, and that the active view of karma will be linked to beneficial outcomes.


There were 550 individuals who identified themselves as practicing Buddhists, 43% of which were men. The average age of participants was 45 years (SD=13.6). The majority of participants were European-American (86%), with the largest minority group 7% Asian-American. Forty percent of the sample reported they practiced Vajrayana Buddhism, 28% practiced Mahayana, 24% Theravada, and 6% reported other (a combination of sects, or no religious sect). Participants practiced Buddhism for an average of 12 years (SD= 10.6). Participants were moderately spiritual, averaging a 3.4 (SD= .72) on a 4-point scale of spirituality. Participants from the U.S. comprised 87% of the sample, the remaining 13% not from the US had spent an average of 17 years (SD=15.2) in this country.

A Buddhist coping measure was created for this study, consisting of 95 items across 18 subscales (5-8 items per subscale). Three of the subscales dealt with karma. Punishing karma is characterized by defining a stressor as punishment for past actions (example item: “Understand I must suffer for my past actions”). Active karma is defined as focusing on the belief that your actions are in your control (example item: “Consider how I can change my karma in relation to this event”). Fatalistic karma is defined as focusing on lack of control over consequences of past actions (example item: “I felt helpless in changing the current situation due to my karmic past”). Each of these subscales had five items. Participants in the present study were asked to consider a stressful life event they were currently experiencing, and answer how much they were presently using each item to deal with that stressor on a four point rating scale, from 1, “Not at All,” to 4, “A Great Deal.” To measure adjustment to the life stressor, participants completed the General Outcomes Scale, which has demonstrated good reliability and validity (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). This scale contains five items (e.g., “I felt better about myself after dealing with my stressor”), rated on a five-point Likert scale from 1 (“strongly disagree”) to 5 (“strongly agree”).

Researchers received approval for the study from the MWSU Institutional Review Board. Participants were recruited by six undergraduate research assistants, who contacted individuals either by Facebook or e-mail. Individuals were contacted on Facebook through Buddhist groups. Individuals were contacted by e-mail through the directory on Buddhanet.net, requesting that they inform members of their sangha about the study. Participants were provided a webaddress to the online survey, created through surveymonkey. Besides the above measures, the survey contained demographic questions and other standardized measures of adjustment. Participants who completed the survey were given the opportunity to participate in three $50 lottery drawings by providing their e-mail address on a second surveymonkey website.

A Principal Components Analysis was conducted with a Promax rotation because the factors were expected to correlate (Pett, Lackey, & Sullivan, 2003). Given the high number of cases that had at least one Buddhist coping item missing, cases were excluded by replacing missing values with the mean item score. Participants who skipped five or more of the 95 Buddhist coping items were eliminated (9 cases were dropped). The Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin statistic for sampling adequacy was adequate at .928, and Bartlett’s Test of Sphericity was significant (÷2 = 25046.5, p < .01). The scree test revealed a cutoff of 3 factors, and the K-G rule would leave a total of 21 factors with eigenvalues over 1. Given the limitations of these two tests, statisticians have noted the importance of using theory to determine where to cut off the factor structure (Pett, Lackey, & Sullivan, 2003). The first 14 factors were interpretable when using the factor loadings minimum standard for oblique rotations of 0.45 and therefore kept. One item cross-loaded on the first 14 factors, and was eliminated. The final seven factors with eigenvalues over 1.0 were uninterpretable (i.e., multiple cross-loadings with previous factors, high load items with no particular pattern), or similar theoretically to the first 14 factors. Factor 5 of the factor analysis contained seven items related to karma with factor loadings greater than 0.45 – four items from punishing karma, and three from the active karma subscales. This factor was named comprehensive karma because these items all seem to deal with the individual`s acknowledgement of past, present, and future actions. The term comprehensive karma also implies a person gaining meaning through the belief in karma. It differs from fatalistic karma by its emphasis on a person’s active meaning making, not passive acceptance of their situation. Factor 8 of the factor analysis contained all five fatalistic karma items with factor loadings greater than 0.45 (five of the fifteen karma items in the survey). Table 1 lists the factor loadings for the karma items. Five hundred forty-eight of the 550 participants completed the comprehensive karma items, with a mean of 15.8 (SD = 4.5) for the total subscale score and 2.3 for each individual item, falling between ratings of ‘Sometimes’ and ‘Quite a Bit.’ All 550 participants completed the fatalistic karma items, with a mean of 6.9 (SD = 2.4) for the total subscale score and 1.4 for each individual item, falling between ratings of ‘Not at All’ and ‘Sometimes.’ Descriptive statistics for all major variables can be found in Table 2. Hierarchical regressions were conducted to determine the ability of karma to predict general outcomes from a stressful event over and above demographic and general religious variables (see Table 3 for results). To correct for Type 1 error, a Bonferroni correction was conducted, meaning for ÄR2 to be significant, p had to be less than .008 (.05/6). This was because there were originally six dependent variables- general outcomes and five other measures of adjustment to life stress. However, this study will only focus on the results of general outcomes from the stressor. Karma predicted general outcomes from a stressful life event (ÄR2 = .023, p < .008) over and above demographic and general religious measures. The ability of Buddhist coping to predict general outcomes appeared due to comprehensive karma (â=.17, p < .008) and not fatalistic karma (â= -.03, p > .008). These results indicate that participants who reported utilizing comprehensive karma to deal with a stressor reported better outcomes from the stressful event.

The purpose of this study was to develop a reliable and valid measure of Buddhist coping, expressly to examine if the belief in karma was a distinctive form of religious coping, and if this belief aided Buddhists in coping with stress. Comprehensive karma items did constitute their own factor in a factor analysis, and demonstrated evidence of sufficient internal reliability. Belief in comprehensive karma did predict outcomes from stress, after general religious variables and demographic variables were controlled for. Individuals who spent more time focusing on comprehensive karma when facing a specific stressor reported better outcomes from stress. Belief in fatalistic karma was not an accurate predictor of outcomes from stress.One limitation of this study is its correlational nature, which does not allow for the determination of causal relationships. The present study also implemented only self-report instruments; therefore a mono-method bias could be present, in which the measures correlate because they are of a comparable format, and not because the two variables truly relate.Nonetheless, the present study significantly contributes to the research on religious coping, developing a reliable and valid measure of spiritual coping for Buddhists. A future longitudinal study in this area could reveal the temporal sequence of the relationship between Buddhist coping and outcomes, indicating that such forms of religious coping might lead to adjustment to stress. This study’s findings could be implemented during therapy sessions with Buddhist patients dealing with stressful life events, and encouraging these patients to apply more comprehensive karmic beliefs to the stressful event, rather than fatalistic karmic beliefs.

Dalal, A.K. & Pande, N. (1988). Psychological recovery of accident victims with temporary and permanent disability. International Journal of Psychology, 23, 25-40.Davidson, J.R.T., Connor, K.M., & Lee, L. (2005). Beliefs in karma and reincarnation among survivors of violent trauma. Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology, 40, 120-125.Lazarus, R.S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer.Pargament, K.I, Poloma, M.M., & Tarakeshwar, N. (2001). Methods of coping from the religions of the world: The bar mitzvah, karma, and spiritual healing. In C.R. Snyder (Ed.), Coping With Stress (pp. 259-283). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Pargament, K.I., Koenig, H.G., & Perez, L.M., (2000). The many methods of religious coping: Development and initial validation of the RCOPE. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 56, 519-543.Phillips, R.E. III, Colvin, S.D., Abarr, A.N., Dunn, M.W., & Reed, A.S. (under review). A qualitative study of Buddhist forms of religious coping. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Smith, T.W. (2002). Religious diversity in America: The emergence of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and others. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41, (3), 577-585.

 Table 1Factor Loadings from Factor Analysis for Karma______________________________________________________________________________Karma Item 								  Exploratory Factor Loadinga______________________________________________________________________________Factor 5: Active Karma and Punishing Karma Items

1. Understand I must suffer for my past actions. 0.7923. Consider how I can change my karma in relation to this event 0.52329. Believe the event is payback for my past actions. 0.84035. Recognized that my actions from this event would impact others because of the lawof karma 0.48348. Recognized that my intended actions would have future ramifications for me. 0.47969. I believe my bad actions in the past will come back to affect me negatively in this situation. 0.64081. Realized this is the price I have to pay for my previous actions. 0.754

Factor 8: Fatalistic Karma Items

13. I felt helpless in changing the current situation due to my karmic past. 0.76220. Felt powerless because karma had caused the event. 0.77540. Felt there was nothing I could do to avoid my karmic fate. 0.78068. Realized I am not in control because what has happened in the past is affecting mycurrent situation. 0.55179. Wondered if there was nothing I could do because my past actions led to my currentdifficulties. 0.588______________________________________________________________________________aFactor loading from exploratory factor analysis, principal components analysis with promax rotation.

 Table 2Descriptive Statistics for Major Variables______________________________________________________________________________Variable								           Alpha	M	SD	Range______________________________________________________________________________Age								           N/A		45.0	13.6	18-75How Spiritual Are You					           N/A		 3.4	  0.7	  1-4Years Practicing Buddhism					           N/A		12.4	10.6	  1-59Comprehensive Karma					          .829          15.8	 4.5	  7-28Fatalistic Karma						          .788		6.9	2.4 	 5-20General Outcomes						         .805		20.3	3.5	 7-25______________________________________________________________________________  

 Table 3

Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting General Outcomes from the Stressful Event

Variable B SEB â

Step 1: Demographic Variables

Gender 0.67 0.32 0.09

Age -0.00 0.01 -0.01

Immigrant/US Native 0.54 0.47 0.05

Step 2: Global Religious Measures

Years Practicing Buddhism -.0.02 0.02 -0.05

Spirituality 0.69* 0.22* 0.14*

Step 3:

Comprehensive Karma 0.13* 0.04* 0.17*

Fatalistic Karma -0.04 0.07 -0.03

Note. R2 = .018 for Step 1; ÄR2 = .028 for Step 2 (p < .008); ÄR2 = .023 for Step 3 (p < .008).

*p< .008

Submitted 4/24/2008 12:49:44 PM
Last Edited 4/24/2008 1:13:01 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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