Silananda is the Abbot of the Dhammananda Vihara, Half Moon Bay,
California and the Spiritual Director of Dhammachakka Meditation
Center, Theravada Buddhist Society of America and Tathagata
Meditation Center, having been chosen by the renowned Burmese
meditation master, the Most Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw, to teach in
America and spread the Dhamma in the West.
Sayadaw has been a Buddhist monk
since 1947. He holds two Dhammacariya (Master of Dhamma) degrees
and has taught at the Atithokdayone Pali University and was an
External Examiner at the Department of Oriental Studies,
University of Art and Sciences, Mandalay, Myanmar. Sayadaw was
the chief compiler of the comprehensive Tipitaka Pali-Burmese
Dictionary and one of the final editors of the Pali Texts,
Commentaries, and Sub-Commentaries at the Sixth Buddhist Council,
held in 1954.
Sayadaw is the author of seven
scholarly Buddhist books in Burmese language and an English
publication on the Four Foundation of Mindfulness in 1990.
Since coming to America in 1979, Sayadaw had been teaching
Vipassana (Insight) meditation, Abhidhamma (Buddist psychology),
and other aspects of Theravada Buddhism, and leading meditation
retreats throughout the counrty and in Japan, Europe and Asia.
Sayadaw is actively engaged in teaching a broad range of students
in English, Burmese, Pali and Sanskrit. Sayadaw is loved by his
students as a skilled, patient and compassionate teacher.
The subject of this lecture is the
law of kamma. Many people who are not born as Buddhists are
attracted to Buddhism by the doctrine of kamma because it explains
such phenomena as the individual differences among human beings
and also why good people suffer in this life.
I know of an Italian man. He
pondered a great deal about the inequalities and individual
differences among human beings. He was thinking about these
things, asked many people about them, but did not get a
satisfactory answer. One day, he took hold of a book on Buddhism
and read about the law of kamma. When he read about the law of
kamma, he was very satisfied with the explanations given according
to that law. He decided to study more about Buddhism and then went
to the East to receive ordination. He became a Buddhist monk and
died at the age of eighty as a Buddhist monk. He was initially
attracted to Buddhism by the doctrine of kamma.
Kamma is not moral justice. If one
takes it as moral justice, then one suggests that someone is
sitting in judgement over beings. There is no one who makes
judgements over the doings of beings; there is just the moral law
of kamma. Just as kamma is not moral judgement, so it is not
reward and punishment. According to the law of kamma, if you do
good deeds, you get good results, and if you do bad deeds, you get
However, these good and bad
results are not given by anyone and are not given as reward and
punishment. Kamma is a moral law which needs no lawgiver, a law
which operates naturally. The inequalities among human beings-the
individual differences between people-has troubled many thinkers
in the past as well as in the present.
During the time of the Buddha,
there lived a brahman named Todeyya. He was a very rich man, a
millionaire. But he did not believe in generosity, in giving. He
said, “If you give, then you become poor; so don’t give any-thing
away “ He was so stingy that he became a millionaire, and he died
a millionaire. But he was so attached to his riches that, after
death, he was reborn as a dog in his own house.
One day, the Buddha went to that
house, and the dog saw him and barked at him. The Budhha replied:
“Oh, Todeyya! You showed disrespect when you were a human being,
and now you show disrespect by barking at me. You will be reborn
in hell.” When the Buddha said that, the dog thought, “Oh, recluse
Gautama knows me,” and he was so distressed that he went to a heap
of ashes and lay down on them.
The brahman had a son named Subha,
and the dog, his father was his favourite. He had a special place
for the dog, but when he saw that the dog had gone to the heap of
ashes, Subha was alarmed. He was told that Gautama had said
something to the dog which depressed the animal. So he went to the
Buddha and asked him about it. The Buddha told him what happened.
Subha said to himself: “According to the teachings of the brahmans,
my father should have been reborn as a Brahma.
But Gautama has told me that he
was reborn as a dog. Gautama speaks heedlessly “ He went back to
the Buddha to argue with him. The Buddha asked him whether or not
there were some riches not disclosed by his father, and Subha
replied that, indeed, a great deal of money was missing and had
not been disclosed by his father. Buddha told him to feed the dog
late at night near bedtime and then ask the dog where the riches
Subha thought that if what the
Buddha said were true, he could recover the riches, and if what he
said were false, he could accuse the Buddha of falsehood. Subha
fed the dog at bedtime and asked him about the undisclosed riches.
The dog got up and took him to the place where the riches were
hidden. Subha dug up the treasure and recovered it.
Subha then went to the Buddha and
asked him why people are different from each other why some have
long lives, while others have short lives. He also asked why some
people are sickly and prone to disease, while others are healthy;
why some are ugly, while others are beautiful; why some have few
friends, while others have many; why some are rich, while others
are poor; why some are born in favourable circumstances, while
others are not; and why some are born with much intelligence,
while others are dull-witted.
The Buddha answered his Questions:
“Oh, young man! Beings are owners of their deed, heirs of their
deeds, have deeds as their parents, their kin, their refuge. Deeds
divide beings in lowness and excellence.” Buddha gave this very
short answer, but Subha did not understand. So Buddha elaborated
upon the law of kamma.
Some beings like to kill other
beings and get in the habit of killing. ’After death, these people
are reborn in four lower, woeful states - animal world, ghost
world, demon world, and hell. But if they are reborn as human
beings, their lives are short. Those who do not kill beings, who
have com-passion for them, may be reborn in the deva (celestial
being) world. If they are reborn as human beings, they have long
The Buddha then explained about
sickness and health. Some people cause injury to other beings;
they like to inflict injury on others. On account of that, they
are reborn in four woeful states. But if they are reborn as human
beings, they are sickly and prone to disease. Those who do not
cause injury to others are reborn as devas, or if they are reborn
as human beings, they are endowed with good health.
Why are some people ugly, while
others are beautiful? The Buddha explained that some people become
angry very easily and owing to this anger, they are reborn in four
woeful states. But if they are reborn as human beings, they are
ugly. (Anger makes you look ugly so when you are angry look at
yourself in the mirror and see how beautiful or ugly you are.)
But some people have no anger, do
not become angry easily and have thoughts of loving kindness, or
metta, towards people. These people are reborn as devas, or if
they are reborn as human beings, they are beautiful. So if you
want to be beautiful, at least in the next life, check your anger
- don't get angry! Why do some people have no friends, while
others have many? Some people are jealous, and on account of that
jealousy they are reborn in the four woeful states. But if they
are reborn as human beings, they have few or no friends.
Those who are not jealous are
reborn as devas, or if they are reborn as human beings, they have
many good friends. We can say, according to the law of kamma, that
those who cannot have friends were jealous in a past life. Why are
some people rich, while others are poor? Some people are stingy;
they do not want to give anything. By being stingy, by not being
generous, they may be reborn in four woeful states. But if they
are reborn as human beings, they are poor. Those who are giving
and generous become rich people. So if you want to become rich,
The Buddha also explained why some
people are born into good circumstances, while others are born
into unfortunate circumstances. Some people are very proud, look
down on other people, and have little respect for others. On
account of this false pride, such people are reborn in four woeful
states, but if they are reborn as human beings, they are born into
unfortunate circumstances. Those who have no false pride, who have
humility, are reborn as devas, unless they are reborn as human
beings, in which case they are born in favourable circumstances.
Why are some people dull-witted,
while others are intelligent! Buddha explained that some people
have no desire for knowledge, no desire to ask questions, no
desire to know about the nature of things. With no knowledge of
right conduct, these unknowing people perform wrong actions and
thus may be reborn in four woeful states. If they are reborn as
human beings, they are dull-witted. Those who desire knowledge,
who ask questions about the nature of the things, are reborn in
the deva world.
But if they are reborn as
human beings, they are intelligent. So if you want to be
intelligent in the next life, don’t hesitate to ask questions. I
don't need to tell you to ask questions, especially you American
people. You ask many questions and it is a good thing.
The Buddha gave these answers to
Subha’s Questions. From the law of kamma, we can infer about a
person’s past lives. Buddha said that beings are owners of their
deeds, owners of their kamma. Kamma alone is their property;
nothing else is Kamma is a very important subject in Buddhism.
What is Kamma?
What is Kamma? Buddha said: “Oh
monks, it is volition that I call Kamma.” The popular meaning of
kamma is action or doing, but as a technical term, kamma means
volition or will. When you do something, there is volition behind
it, and that volition, that mental effort, is called kamma. Buddha
explained that, having willed one then act through body, speech
and mind. Whatever you do there is some kind of kamma, mental
effort, will and volition. Volition is one of the fifty-two mental
states which arise together with consciousness.
When you do something, such as
make an offering to the Buddha, there is volition which prompts
you to give, and that volition is called kamma. Thus, kamma is the
cause, not the effect. Some people say that kamma means the cause,
the deeds, and also the effects. But in Theravada Buddhism, kamma
never means the effect or the result. Kamma means only the cause.
Kamma belongs to the mental
aggregates. There are five aggregates: materiality, feeling,
perception, mental formations, and consciousness. Volition belongs
to the aggregate of formations. The aggregate of formations is
mental, and just as other mental states, it lasts only a very
short moment. It comes into being, stays only a little bit of
time, and then passes away But volition is different from other
mental states in that it has the ability to leave some potential.
When it dies, it does not disappear altogether. It leaves
something, some power or potential to give results, when
circumstances favour those results to appear.
One does kamma here and now, but
the results may be in this life the next life, or in some life
after the next life. Kamma or volition has potential to give
results, and this potential is a tremendous force. Kamma does not
end with the demise of the present life; it goes on and on. But we
cannot say that kamma is stored somewhere in our body or
consciousness because everything is impermanent and must be
continually changing. Kamma is likewise impermanent and so
disappears, but it leaves a potential in the continuity of beings
so that, when circumstances are favourable for results to appear,
those results appear.
Once again, kamma is not stored
anywhere, but when it disappears, it leaves a potential for
results. Similarly, a tree can be said to have the potential to
give fruits. There are no fruits in the trees at first, but when
the opportune times arises, fruits appear.
Another illustration we can use is
that of the old Buddhist simile of the sun, cow dung, and gem (gem
is like a magnifying glass). When there is sun, and when you put a
magnifying glass on the dried cow dung, you get fire. One cannot
say that the new fire was stored in the cow dung, or in the sun,
or in the magnifying glass. But when these things come together,
we have a fire. The circumstances were favourable for the fire to
appear. Likewise, the results of kamma.
Kamma and its results are not the
same thing. It is not the case that kamma gradually matures into
results. One kind of Hindu philosophy teaches that the result is
alread in the kamma in unmanifested form, and the kamma matures
itself into the result. So cause and effect are essentially the
same in that philosophy. But Buddhism does not accept that.
Buddhism teaches that kamma and result are void of one another,
although no results exist without kamma.
The results depend on kamma
entirely but the results do not exist within kamma, nor does kamma
persist within the results. Kamma and results belong to different
times. The results are born wholly depending on kamma done in the
past, and when circumstances combine in a way that is favourable
for the results to appear (like sun, dung and gem), results will
The technical name for results of
kamma is vipaka, which we call the fruit of kamma. Kamma or
volition from the past leaves a potential for the fruits or vipaka
to arise in the present. But the past kamma does not influence
present volition. A person’s reaction to past results will either
produce good or bad results for the future, depending on the
nature of the volition. If they react with what we call wise
attention (yoniso manasikãra), the result or fruit will be good in
the future. But if they react with unwise attention (ayoniso
manasikara), the results or fruit of such volition will be bad in
So you cannot do much about the
fruits of past kamma, but you can react to those fruits with wise
attention and thus have good results in the future. Wise attention
will allow you to do good kamma, while unwise attention will cause
you to do bad kamma. The future results or fruit will depend on
your volition (kamma), in the present.
Not everything, however, is due to
kamma. Sometimes we are wont to say that everything is due to
kamma, that “it is your kamma and you have to bear this and that
because of it.” Although kamma is a law governing the whole
universe, it is only one of the laws. Other natural and psychic
laws also govern the life of beings.
In addition, we must distinguish
between the results of past kamma and present kamma. Present kamma
is not the result of past kamma. The result of past kamma is
resultant consciousness known as vipaka. The resultant
consciousness is the result of past kamma, but that resultant
consciousness does not influence the performance of the kusala
(wholesome) or akusala (unwholesome) acts of the present. Kusala
or akusala kamma is not the result of past kamma; rather you are
accumulating fresh kamma in the present life, and that will give
results in the future.
and Bad Kamma
Kamma is classified into different
groups and different kinds. One of the classifications of kamma is
into good kamma and bad kamma. There are ten good kammas, ten good
volitions or deeds. They are good because they appear with good
mental states, good mental components, and they give good results.
The first good kamma is
generosity, or giving. We have to practice generosity because by
giving what we have to others, we acquire kusala, also known as,
merit. This kusala kamma will give results in future lives.
Generosity also helps us practice detachment. For example, I may
be attached to this tape recorder. If I give it away to another
person, I not only give up the machine, but I also give up
attachment to it. I get rid of attachment, known as Iobha, and
when your mind is free from lobha, it is liberated, clear, and
tranquil. Thus, people are encouraged to practice giving (dana) as
often as possible.
The second good kamma is morality.
Morality means taking precepts and keeping them. For lay
Buddhists, five precepts are the minimum requirement: not to kill,
not to steal, not to indulge in sexual misconduct, not to lie, and
not to take intoxicants. On retreats, we add three more precepts
for a total of eight. The additional three are abstention from
eating after noon, from music and adornments, and from high and
luxurious beds and seats. Morality known as sila, is the
foundation of samadhi, or meditation.
The third good kamma is
meditation, mental culture. This is the best kamma you can do in
this life: to practice vipassana meditation. The fourth good kamma
is reverence, giving respect to others, especially to older
people. In the East, it is taken for granted that younger people
give respect to older people. In this way, the relationship
between parents and children, and teachers and students, are
governed by rules of reverence.
The fifth good kamma is service,
to do something good for someone, such as helping a lady cross the
street or helping her carry some heavy things. Another type of
service is giving service to the Buddha, to the Dhamma, and to the
Sangha. When you are cleaning or renovating the monastery, that is
very good service.
The sixth good kamma is the
sharing of merit. When you have acquired some merit, you must
share this merit with other beings. Sharing of merit is itself
merit, and we share merit with all beings. Sharing of merit does
not mean that we give a portion of our merit to other beings. It
means that we let them get a chance to acQuire merit themselves.
Once a man asked Pacceka Buddha whether the merit decreases if a
person shares it with other people.
The Pacceka Buddha told him: “If
you have a candle, and if you light another candle from the
lighted one, the light of the first candle does not decrease when
it lights the other one. Actually it becomes brighter with the
help of the newly lit candle. In the same way when you share
merit, your merit does not decrease but actually increases because
you get new merit.”
The seventh good kamma is
rejoicing at another’s merit. This means saying, “Sadhu, Sadhu,
Sadhu,” which means “well done” when others do meritorious deeds.
When other people share merit with you, you say “Sadhu, Sadhu,
Sadhu.” This means that you rejoice at their merit, and by
rejoicing at their merit, you get merit yourself.
The eighth good kamma is listening
to the Dhamma. This is good merit, a good deed. By listening to
the Dhamma, you will come to know the Dhamma, and when you come to
know the Dhamma, you can avoid doing unwholesome acts and do
wholesome acts instead.
And related to the eighth good
kamma is the ninth, speaking on the Dhamma, giving talks on the
Dhamma. So we are both doing good kamma right now. The tenth and
last good kamma is called the straightening of one’s view. This
means that one has the knowledge that kamma is entirely one’s own
property that we alone the owner of our deeds, and that no one
else is responsible for our actions, our kamma. Thus we have
these ten good kammas. Actually, they can be categorized into
three: generosity, morality, and meditation.
1. Paying respect and service are
included in morality (sila);
2. Sharing of merit and rejoicing
at another’s merit are included in generosity (dana); and
3. Listening to the Dhamma,
talking on the Dhamma, and straightening of one’s views can be
classifed under meditation, or mental culture (bhávaná).
Let us now look at the bad kammas.
Bad kammas are those deeds which give bad results, deeds which go
with unwholesome mental states.
The first of these bad kammas is
killing, the killing of beings.
The second is stealing, taking
what is not given.
The third is sexual misconduct.
Fourth is telling lies.
Fifth is slandering, backbiting.
Sixth is harsh language. Harsh
speech, words of abuse-all bad kamma.
Seventh is frivolous talk,
fruitless talk which has no value or meaning.
Number eight is covetousness,
which is wanting to possess another per-son’s property.
In Pali, we call this visama
lobha, which means distorted greed. This is not the greed you have
for your own property. Covetousness here means that you want to
possess another person’s property, and this is a very bad form of
The ninth form of bad kamma is ill
will, or dosa. That is wanting to hurt people, wanting to cause
injury to others.
Finally, we come to the tenth bad
kamma, which is wrong view. Wrong view is having the belief that
things are permanent, satisfactory, and in possession of a soul or
self. These are the ten bad kammas which give bad results and
which we must’ avoid if we do not want those results.
Refraining from these kammas is
said to be good kamma; refraining from killing, stealing, and all
the other bad kammas is actually good kamma. We must have
knowledge of the law of kamma, the knowledge that kamma is
entirely one’s responsibility. This is very important in Buddhism
and is part of the good kamma we call the straightening of view.
Knowledge of kamma is conducive to
tranquillity, which is one of the seven factors of enlightenment.
In order to experience tranquillity, one has to do many things,
and reflecting upon kamma as one’s own is one of them. Sometimes
you are agitated and restless because you do not have what you
want, or you have what you do not want. In such a situation,
reflecting upon kamma will help you to be rid of restlessness and
thereby gain tranquillity because you cannot do anything to change
kamma from the past. You have to put up with what you deserve as
the result of past volitions, past kamma.
Reflecting upon kamma is a good
way of getting rid of resentment. Sometimes when you practice
loving-kindness meditation, you ironically begin to feel
resentment because you are being asked to send thoughts of loving
kindness tò someone who is, perhaps, hateful to you. One way to
get rid of the resentment is to reflect upon kamma as your own:
“I am reborn here as the result of
my own kamma, and the other person is reborn here for the same
reason, and there is nothing I can do about it. But by being
resentful towards the person, I am accomplishing new akusala
kamma, which will give me bad results in the four woeful states.”
By so reflecting upon kamma, one
can get rid of resentment. Knowledge of kamma also promotes
self-reliance. Since kamma is your own, you are the architect of
your life. You must rely on yourself, not on others, to get good
results; you must do good kamma yourself. Since beings get results
according to their kamma, no one can help another in getting those
In addition to teaching
self-reliance, knowledge of kamma teaches a sense of individual
responsibility. We are responsible for ourselves, and whatever we
have or have made in this life, we alone are responsible for it.
When we meet with good circumstances, it is a result of what we
have done in the past. In the same way, when we find ourselves in
unfavourable circumstances, we are responsible.
So if you want to get good
results, then you need only do good kamma in this life. In this
way, knowledge of kamma gives consolation and hope because we can
rely on ourselves to shape our future lives by doing good kamma
here. Thus kamma is not fate or destiny, for we can avoid the
results of bad kamma by doing good kamma in this life. We do not
have to be afraid of anyone who sits in judgement over us or of
anyone who can send us to hell.
According to Buddhism, no one can
send us to hell but ourselves, but we can send ourselves to the
deva world. Knowledge of and belief in the law of kamma is a
basic requirement for a Buddhist. Tanungpulu Sayadaw has stressed
this point. With this belief and knowledge, one does meritorious
deeds, and these meritorious deeds are the best meritorious deeds
if they are done with knowledge of kamma and its results in mind.
If you invoke the knowledge of
kamma when you do meritorious deeds, then your deeds are said to
have three wholesome roots, which are non-attachment, non-anger
and non-delusion. When your meritorious deeds are accompanied by
three wholesome roots, they will give results in future lives, and
you will be reborn as a person endowed with those roots. Those
born with the three wholesome roots are able to attain jhana or
Nibbana in their present life. Thus it is very important to have
knowledge of kamma in us at the time of doing meritorious deeds.
Understanding of The Law of Kamma
I would like to give the reader
the definitions of some terms I will be using in this part of the
lecture. These definitions can also be found in Buddhist
Dictionary’ by Nyanatiloka.
By citta, I mean consciousness.
There are 89 types of consciousness (or 121 by a different
reckoning). By cetasika, I refer to mental factors or mental
concomitants which are bound up with the simultaneously arising
consciousness (citta) and conditioned by its presence. Another
term, rupa means form, matter or corporeality. The Abhidhamma
describes all phenomena in these three aspects: citta, cetasikas,
Of these three aspects, the mental
factors comprise feeling, perception, and 50 mental formations;
altogether 52 mental concomitants.
Another term I will use is cetana.
Cetana, which means volition or will, is one of the seven
cetasikas inseparably bound up with all consciousness. These seven
cetasikas are sensorial or mental impression (phassa), feeling
(vedana), perception (sanna), volition (cetana), concentration (ekaggata),
vitality (jivita), and advertence (manasikara).
Finally, I will explain one more
term. Although I am using the Pali form of the word, kamma, you
probably already know the Sanskrit form of the word, which is
karma. In Pali, the conjunct consonants are assimilated or
simplified, and so “r” and “m” become “mm”. But both words mean
exactly the same thing.
What is Kamma? Kamma is explained
as an action or deed. Basically, kamma means work or job or action
or deed, but in the Buddhist sense, kamma is defined as that by
which actions are done or that through which actions are done. The
actions themselves are not called kamma.
When we do something, there arises
in our mind a type of consciousness, and that type of
consciousness is accompanied by what we call volition, cetana and
that cetana is called Kamma. Buddha explicitly said:
“Volition (cetana) I call Kamma.
Through volition, one performs action by body by speech, or by
Whatever action we do, there
arises in our minds a type of consciousness, either wholesome or
unwholesome, and that type of consciousness is accompanied by
volition, by cetana, and that cetana is what we call kamma.
So kamma is the volition in our
minds, the volition associated with wholesome and unwholesome
cittas. Volition (cetana) accompanies every types of
consciousness; it is one of the seven cetasikas bound up with all
89 or 121 types of consciousness. But by kamma, we mean the cetana
which accompanies only the wholesome and unwholesome types of
consciousness. So cetana accompanying the wholesome or unwholesome
cittas is called kamma.
You may be familiar with the
twelve links of the Dependent Origination, and there you will find
the term sankhara, which means mental formations. Mental
formations really means kamma here, and it is this kamma which
produces results in this life or in future lives.
Thus we have the chain: on
ignorance depend on kamma-formations; on kamma-formations depends
consciousness; on consciousness depends mind and matter; on mind
and matter depend six sense bases; on six sense bases depends
contact; on contact depends feeling; on feeling depends craving;
on craving depends clinging; on clinging depends the process of
becoming; on the process of becoming depends rebirth; and on
rebirth depend old age and death.
Before going further, I would like
to mention that kamma is not the result of action, but the cause,
although in common usage we use the word in the sense of meaning
results. Kamma is also not fate or predestination, although in
some senses it seems to be. Kamma is not fate in the sense of
being something imposed on us by an external agent; but it is a
significant determinant of our life and future lives.
One more thing that should not be
applied to the doctrine of kamma is the idea of mass kamma or
collective kamma. There is no operation of a collective kamma
affecting a group of people. There may be, however a group of
people who do something together and who get the results of their
individual kamma together In that case, the results of each
individual kamma is operating.
The law of kamma is a law of cause
and effect which states that where there is cause, there is
effect; no effect comes into being without a cause. We might also
describe kamma as a law of action and reaction: when there is
action, there is reaction.
The workings of kamma are a
natural law, like law of gravitation. Nobody can interfere with
this law, not even the Buddha. We have an old story of how Buddha
could not save his relatives from being killed; He could not
prevent them from being subject to the effects of their kamma.
The first factor in the Noble Eightfold path is Right
Understanding. One of the basic requirements of Right
Understanding is an understanding of the law of kamma.
Is everything due to kamma? In the
Buddhist Dictionary Venerable Nyanatiloka writes: “Totally wrong
is the belief that, according to Buddhism, everything is the
result of previous action.” Any kammically wholesome or
unwholesome volitional action is not the result of former action
because it is the action itself; that is, volition is not
influenced by the results of past kamma. There are several
categories of cittas, of consciousness.
One of the types of cittas is
called resultant. Resultant consciousness is the result of kamma,
but other types of consciousness are not the result of kamma. So
not everything is due to kamma.
For example, we see something
desirable, and that seeing consciousness is caused by kamma. But
our reaction to that seeing or to that object is not caused by
kamma. Our reaction is a new kamma that we perform. Seeing a
desirable object is a result of good kamma; seeing an undesirable
objects the result of bad kamma. If we see a beautiful rose, that
is the result of good kamma. The rose is not the result of kamma -
it is just a natural object. But the consciousness that sees this
rose is the result of good kamma.
Then comes your reaction. If you
have attachment to the rose, then your reaction is unwholesome (akusala);
if your reaction is to see the true nature of the rose -that it is
impermanent, without a soul, and subject to the laws of rise and
fall -then your reaction is not to get attached to it, which is
wholesome (kusala). That reaction is either kusala or akusala and
will give results in the future.
Whatever you come cross in this
life is the result of kamma in the past, but your reaction to it
is not the result. Your reaction is a new kamma. Who is the doer
of kamma? Who enjoys or experiences the results of kamma? This is
very difficult to explain because Buddhism does not accept a
person or being or Atman (in Pali: atta meaning self or soul)
inside the person. Yet we say that if you do good deed, you get
good results in the future, and so on.
The way to explain this seeming
paradox is to say that Buddhism accepts both identity and
diversity There is continuity but not identical mind and matter
existing for a long time. At every moment, new mind and matter
arise and disappear. So there is something like continuity but
what is not identical to what existed before; nothing from this
moment is taken over to the next moment.
Thus, in the ultimate analysis,
there is no doer of kamma and no experiencer of results because
there is no doer over and above the doing, no experiencer of the
results over and above the’ occurrence of the result. Apart from
the action, we see no one we call an agent of the action. In
conventional language, of course, we have to say that beings get
results of good kamma or bad kamma, but the term “being” is just a
mode of usage used for convenience.
Classification of Kamma
Kamma can be classified according
to function, priority of result, time of taking place of result,
and place in which result takes place.
The first division is according to
1. Reproductive kamma,
2. Supportive kamma,
3. Obstructive kamma, and
4. Destructive kamma.
Reproductive kamma means kamma
which produces results.
Supportive kamma does not produce
results but supports the results of another kamma.
Obstructive kamma is something
like supportive kamma - but in the opposite sense: it can
interfere with the result of other kamma.
Destructive kamma is one that
destroys the result of other kamma. All of these kammas may be
good or bad, kusala or akusala.
With respect to priority of
result, we have:
3. Habitual, and
4. Reserve kamma.
Weighty kamma is very serious
kamma. Weighty akusala kamma would be some act such as killing
your father or mother; on the wholesome or kusala side, it is the
attainment of jhana (higher states of meditative consciousness).
If you kill your parents, you are sure to be reborn in the lowest
of the hells; if you die with Jhana State of meditation intact,
you will be reborn in the Brahma world.
Proximate kamma is that done at
the moment of death. Habitual kamma is the kamma which one does
habitually in life, such as practicing meditation everyday or
performing some akusala action everyday. Reserve kamma is that
which will give results when the other three are not present.
Now, when there is weighty and
proximate kamma, then weighty kamma will give results in the next
life. When there is proximate and habitual, the proximate will
give results. If there is habitual and reserve, the habitual will
give results. Proximate kamma is very important because the kamma
done at the last moments before death determines the immediate
There is a story of an evil man
who hunted animals all his life. For killing so many beings, he
was going to be reborn in a woeful state. But his son was an
Arahant and helped him in the last moments before death to attain
a better rebirth.
With respect to the time of taking
place, we have kamma which gives results in:
1. the present life,
2. the next life, and
3. some lifetime after that.
In this category we have another
kamma called defunct kamma, kamma which has passed its time of
giving results. But the kamma which gives results in lives after
the present life and in lives after the next life can never become
defunct as long as there is continuity of rebirth and death. The
kammas which gives results in the present life and in the next
life never can become defunct if they do not give results during
respective periods, due to unfavourable periods, due to
But the kamma giving results in
lives in lives after the next life never becomes defunct as long
as one dos not escape from the always sentiment beings. That is
why animals have a chance to be reborn as human beings, even
though most of what they do in the animal did in the past may have
a chance to give results, and so the animal can escape from being
an animal or from being in a worse woeful state.
The final classification of kamma
is by place where results can occur. Kamma gives results in the
various sphere, and the formless sphere. For example, unwholesome
kamma gives results in the four woeful states and in human beings
and even in some celestial beings. Wholesome kamma pertaining to
the sense sphere gives in every kind of existence.
What are the results of kamma?
Only two things are the result of kamma. One is cittas and
cetasikas; the other is rupa, material properties.
The resultant types of
consciousness and the cetasikas going along with them are the
results of kamma. Some, but not all, material properties in our
bodies are also caused by kamma. Thus, when we say what the
results of kamma are, we mean this: the material properties caused
A rose is not the result of kamma;
it is simply there, depending on natural causes. But the seeing of
it or the experiencing of it-the seeing consciousness by which you
see the rose-is caused by kamma. And the eye or rather the
eye-sensitivity with which you see is also the result of kamma.
Your reaction to the rose is not result of kamma. In this way
there is the result of kamma and a new kamma and then there will
be the result of this new kamma again later In this way, cause and
effect go on and on and on.
The law of kamma states that
beings get what they deserve, but that does not mean that we are
not to help people. that we are not to relieve people from
suffering. As much as we can, we must do whatever we can to
relieve suffering, but if we cannot eliminate suffering any more,
we must understand the cause of the suffering as kamma and
Compassion or karuna, we may cross
over the anger and hatred at the people doing the experiments.
When we practice karuna, we have to be careful not to relieve
people from suffering. As much as we can, we must do whatever we
can to relieve suffering, but if we cannot eliminate suffering any
more, we must understand the cause of the suffering as kamma and
Compassion or karuna is a good
Quality to cultivate, but while cultivating karuna, we may cross
over into anger For example, some people want to help the animals
being used in laboratories for experiments. While helping those
animals, some are also cultivating anger and hatred at the people
doing the experiments. When we practice karuna, we have to be
careful not to cultivate unwholesome states. If we have hatred, we
are not practicing karuna any longer.
I would like to complete this part
of the lecture with an illustration of a thought process and the
place of in it. This is the mango simile, and I will number each
of the process.
A certain man with his head
covered went to sleep at the foot of a fruiting mango tree (0).
Then a ripe mango loosened from the stalk fell to the ground,
grazing his ear (1,2,3). Awakened by that sound (4), he opened his
eyes and looked (S). Stretching out his hand, he took the fruit
(6), squeezed it (7), smelt it (8), ate it with enjoyment (9-15),
and swallowed it (16-17). Then he went to sleep (0).
There are seventeen thought
moments or cittas when an object is presented to the mind through
one of the five sense doors, as in the case of this mango simile.
We have the life continuum (bhavanga) (0,1,2,3), a type of
under-current or inactive consciousness, and we have a series of
the following types of thought consciousness sense-door adverting
(4); seeing (S); receiving (6); investigating (7); determining
(8); apperception or impulsion (9 - 15); registering (16 - 17);
and then bhavanga again (0).
The thought-moments in which kamma
is performed are seven moments of apperception or impulsion, known
in Pali as javana. In these moments, one experiences the object
fulý and they are the moments when one creates kamma. In the first
of these seven thought moments, one acquires kamma which, getting
favourable circumstances, gives results in the present life.
In seventh and last thought moment
of javana, one acquires kamma which gives results in the next
life. In the five thought moments in between, one acquires kamma
which gives results in the lives after the present and next life,
that is, from the third lifetime onward reckoning the present life
as the first.
If the first javana does not give
results in this life, it becomes defunct; if the seventh javana
does not give results in the next life, it becomes defunct. But
the five javanas between the first and seventh can give results
through every lifetime until one dies as an arahant. Therefore the
seven moments of javana - when you do kusala or akusala kamma -
are the 35 most important moments in the thought process of the
Abhidhamma. In those moments, how we react to the object (either
in a wholesome or unwholesome manner), produces results which we
will have to be responsible for in the future.
Question and Answer
Q: Is the intention of sharing
merit to inspire others to gain merit for themselves?
Yes. When you are glad at the
meritorious deeds of other people, that gladness itself is a
meritorious deed. This sharing of meritorious deeds is most
effective for persons who have departed. For example, a person
dies and is reborn as a hungry ghost, a peta. If other people,
relatives, do meritorious deeds and share them with the ghost (by
saying: "let the ghost come here and rejoice at our meritorious
deeds”), then the ghost, by hearing that and rejoicing at those
deeds, can get good results immediately. The peta gets results
immediately but we in this life do not get results so soon,
There is a story of the relatives
of the King Bimbisara of India who became a disciple of Buddha and
attained the first stage of sainthood. In his past life, he had
many relatives who did an evil deed. Some people were preparing to
offer some food to the sangha headed by Buddha, and Bimbisara’s
relatives helped themselves dishonestly to some of it.
On account of that, they were
reborn as hungry ghosts who could not get enough shelter and
nourishment. Bimbisara offered food to the Buddha. and the hungry
ghost expected Bimbisara to share merit with them. But Bimbisara
did not know about sharing merit, and the ghost got nothing. This
angered them, and they showed fearful appearances to the king
during the night. He told the Buddha about this the next morning,
and the Buddha advised Bimbisara to share merit with his relatives
when doing meritorious deeds. Bimbisara followed the advice and
specifically dedicated his share of merit to them.
They said. “Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu,” and they got
good results immediately
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