Site Map
Buddha's Karma Teachings
Section › 6 Set Search Previous Next

Terms

Reservations Contents  

Buddhist Teachings
  • The way that leads to short life makes people short-lived. - Buddha
  • The way that leads to beauty makes people beautiful. - Buddha
  • One is to cultivate what is wholesome, and cater to welfare and happiness.

Karma Overview

Let karma matters
serve self-preservation.

Karma (Sanskrit karma(n), Pali: kamma) means "action" or "doing". In Buddhism, mental intent (Pali: cetana) causes karma too. Karma may be likened to a fruit (Pali, phala), result (vipaka), of what has earlier been sowed or sowed in the present moment. Karma can take time to ripen into bad or good repercussions, then. Mental and bodily acts and speech have their fruits, their consequences, is the teaching. Some are good and delightful, others are not so.

It pays to build good karma, and is detrimental to build bad karma. Bad karma may overtake you.

How do we accumulate karmic seeds? By mind-impresses from them, and also some of their effects in the outer world. To help yourself in a stream filled with karmic cross-currents - some deep and mighty, some superficial and splashy, and so on - there is mindfulness above all of it. also, building for a happy fare has its fruits in time - maybe not in this life, but hopefully in the beyond and later.

Seeds can sprout when outer conditions conform to them. The teaching is that decent, good actions lead to good karma, which leads to worldly happiness, and then there is liberating karma - which is supremely good.

Buddha advocates the practise of wholesome actions:

Refrain from unwholesome actions
Perform only wholesome ones
Purify the mind
This is the teaching of the Enlightened Ones. [Dhp v. 183]

Buddha explains that karma really is happening, it is not an illusion; that we are responsible for our actions; you co-decide or decide something in your life by what you go along with, and so on; your actions have results, good or bad depending on the quality of the intention behind the act.

Buddha asserts effort and good intent, or motivation, as crucial factors in deciding on karma. If you don't like your life and its trend, stay aware through meditation, rise above skirmishes, train yourself to get more skilled, and do good to counteract the current bad things in you and your life, and bad things in store. Prefer to rid yourself of negative karmic potential thus: Think positively. React as politely and decently as you can to others. Adjust not improperly. Make meditational progress to gain better awareness and clarity. Great mindfulness often changes karma by assisting you in sorting out various impulses to the end that you drop negative ones. Good judgement is another help. However, much good and sound judgement comes from bad experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgement. Do what you can anyway. There may be a lot to learn.

It is wrong to think that all happiness and suffering arise from previous karma; are caused by the directives of a Supreme Being; or happen at random.

Wholesome intents and efforts build for this life and/or future lives, but not necessarily speedily.

How severe the results of our actions become, appears to depend on many factors, apart from our intentions. The nature of the action is to be counted in too. For example, gossiping is less severe than killing. As for killing, do do it in self-defence with honour is very different from sadistically torturing someone to death. Killing a close relative may feel worse than killing an opponent in a heated debate. Repeated killing, killing as a habit and part of a life-style is to be taken into account too.

Currents of bad karma in a life may be counteracted by cross-currents of good and mediocre karma. So hurry to do good, at least for your own sake. It is OK. Maybe the effects of recent good deeds have not had time or opportunity to ripen into forceful effects yet, but still do good to improve your lot, keep as aware (mindful) as you can and stop negative actions.

One more facets of Buddha's teachings stand out: When doing good, do not be indiscrimiate. Help worthy persons first and foremost, advocate good causes. Try to let conditions remain sane. Do not let others rob you of the good things you deserve. As a handy reference in the matter, go for keeping Buddha's morality precepts.

Keep on improving; do it for your own sake (too). It is worthy.

Buddha said to Ananda, "Being high and noble comes from prayer and service. The person who is compassionate is born long-lived. Then the person who reads and asks about the sutra is born intelligent." [Rendition from a fragment of the The Sutra of the Causes and Effects of Actions by Buddha, from Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive]

You want long life, health, beauty, power, riches, high birth, wisdom? They do not all appear by chance and hard work. It is not someone's luck that they are healthy, or another's lack of it that he is stupid. Though it may not be clear to us now, inequalities among human beings come about because of the karma [the "giving-back"] they have made and earned individually. So if one is touched by short life, sickliness, ugliness, insignificance, poverty, low birth or stupidity and one does not like these things, there should be no need to just accept that that is the way it is. One should try to make some right kind of karma now. Knowing what karma to make and what not to make is a mark of a wise man. He is no longer drifting aimlessly and strives to get some control over main events to come in his life.

To consider karma as some kind of "giving-back" may help.

Buddha said, "Beings are owners of karmas, heirs of karmas, they have karmas as their progenitor, karmas as their kin, karmas as their homing-place. It is karmas that differentiate beings according to inferiority and superiority."

But not only karma shapes lives. Solid injustice in the world is a factor to reckon with too, as well as new-karma-forming accidents, and so on. Don't be fooled, for being fooled creates karmas also. Mark well that this is in keeping with some of the passages of Buddha.

Go for building good new karma by being kind and tuned in to your heart.

The minds of individuals are complex, generating a variety of karmic results within a single lifetime. Buddhist karma teaching present the present moment as being shaped both by past and by present actions, and present actions shape not only the future but also the present.

Sometimes the flow from the past is so strong that little can be done to divert it. Most often something may be done. One should put forth effort for improving one's lot. The early Buddhist concept of karma focused on the liberating potential of what the mind is doing with every moment, and saw karma as acting in multiple feedback loops.

Check your actions, before they become nasty habits and go on to watch yourself in all you are doing. It is called mindfulness, a real help. In real life, if you see that other people are suffering and you are in a position to help, it may be an opportunity to act in the way you would like them to act toward you. The fruits of that sowing may follow you later. That is called good karma. The Golden Rule of Confucianism gives vent to a similar notion: "What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others." - "Do not think a small sin will not return in your future lives. Just as falling drops of water will fill a large container, the little sins that steadfast accumulate will completely overwhelm you," is a teaching, and, "Do not think a small virtue will not return in your future lives. Just as falling drops of water will fill a large container, the little virtues that steadfast accumulate will completely overwhelm you."

Further, the worth of a family should come to the fore in skilful actions of its individual members.

What we are doing during each moment may build up good karma, often without our knowing. Good and well-directed efforts to do right may pay in the long run, if not earlier, is the Buddhist teaching in the matter.

Refrain from many small collective, accumulating sins.

TO TOP

The Great Karma Exposition by Buddha

BUDDHA'S Great Exposition of karma (Mahakarmavibhangga, and Maha-kammavibhanga Sutta in Pali) contains four scenarios:

  1. An evil-doer who goes to hell (or some other low state of birth),
  2. An evil-doer who goes to heaven,
  3. A good man who goes to heaven, and
  4. A good man who goes to hell (or a low birth).

ON ONE occasion Buddha was living at Rajagaha, in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrels' Feeding Place. Now on that occasion the venerable Samiddhi was living in a forest hut. Buddha's disciple Ananda told him: "Friend, let us go to Buddha."

Then they went together to Buddha, and Buddha told Ananda: "A misguided man interferes . . . Now, there are four kinds of persons in the world:

  1. Some person kills living beings, takes what is not given, misconducts himself in sexual desires, speaks falsehood, speaks maliciously, speaks harshly, gossips, is covetous, is ill-willed, and has wrong view. [4] On the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in the states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell.
  2. "But another kills living beings . . . and has wrong view. On the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination, in the heavenly world.
  3. "Still another abstains from killing living beings, from taking what is not given, from misconduct in sexual desires, from false speech, from malicious speech, from harsh speech, from gossip, he is not covetous, is not ill-willed, and has right view. [5] On the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination, in the heavenly world.
  4. "And someone abstains from killing living beings . . . and has right view. On the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in the states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell.

Buddha shows how wrong views can arise from mere partial understanding of truths. It has to be warned against and bulwarked against where possible. Thus, beware of putting faith in such as "evil-doers always go to hell," for many dogmas harden and becomes rigid and ugly as time passes.

Portions of teachings and dogmas may be true and verifiable; in such cases a dogmatic superstructure is unwarranted. Buddha shows that notions like "the evildoer goes to hell" are much too simple, for the minds of people are complex and they make many different kinds of karma even in one lifetime: some of it may influence the afterlife or next life for the better, and so on. Grace or mercy is a another factor, as witnessed by Tibet's patron saint Milarepa, who was very much assisted by his guru Marpa, after recoursing to black magic against kinsmen enemies.

To top

Karma, Beyond-States, and Rebirths

Buddhist Teachings

On one occasion Buddha was living at Savatthi in Jeta's Grove, Anathapindika's Park. Then Subha the student (Brahmin), Todeyya's son, went to Buddha and exchanged greetings with him.

Buddha said, "Beings are owners of karmas, heirs of karmas, they have karmas as their progenitor, karmas as their kin, karmas as their homing-place. It is karmas that differentiate beings according to inferiority and superiority."

Heed well what I shall say." . . .

Buddha also said:

"Someone is a killer of living beings, murderous, bloody-handed, given to blows and violence, merciless to living beings. Due to having performed and completed such karmas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell.

If, on the dissolution of the body, after death, instead of his reappearing in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell, he comes to the human state, he is short-lived wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to short life, that is to say, to be a killer of living beings, murderous, bloody-handed, given to blows and violence, merciless to living beings.

Those who kill reap unhappy states too.

Some woman or man, having abandoned the killing of living beings, abstains from killing living beings, lays aside the rod and lays aside the knife, is considerate and merciful and dwells compassionate for the welfare of all living beings. Due to having performed and completed such karmas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination, in the heavenly world.

If, on the dissolution of the body, after death, instead of his reappearing in a happy destination, in the heavenly world, he comes to the human state, he is long-lived wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to long life, that is to say, to have abandoned the killing of living beings, to abstain from killing living beings, to lay aside the rod and lay aside the knife, to be considerate and merciful, and to dwell compassionate for the welfare of all living beings.

Some who abandon killing (so lessen it), get longer lives after death some time.

Someone is one who harms beings with his hands or with clods or with sticks or with knives. Due to having performed and completed such karmas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a state of deprivation . . . If instead he comes to the human state, he is sickly wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to sickness, that is to say, to be one who harms beings with one's hands or with clods or with sticks or with knives.

Some who harm others, get a deprived or sick life some other time, unless something intervenes.

But here some woman or man is not one who harms beings with his hands, or with clods, or with sticks, or with knives. Due to having performed and completed such karmas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination . . . If instead he comes to the human state, he is healthy wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to health, that is to say, not to be one who harms beings with his hands or with clods or with sticks or with knives.

Some who drop harming others, are born healthier sooner or later.

Someone is angry, much given to rage; even when little is said, he is furious, angry, ill-disposed, resentful, he shows ill-temper, hate and surliness. Due to having performed and completed such karmas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a state of deprivation . . . If instead he comes to the human state, he is ugly wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to ugliness, that is to say, to be furious, angry, ill-disposed, resentful, and to show ill-temper, hate and surliness.

An ill-tempered one shows up ugly and ill-disposed some other time.

Someone is not angry or much given to rage; even when much is said, he is not furious, angry, ill-disposed, resentful, nor does he show ill-temper, hate or surliness. Due to having performed and completed such karmas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination . . . If instead he comes to the human state, he is beautiful wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to beauty, that is to say, not to be angry or given to much rage; even when much is said, not to be furious, angry, ill-disposed or resentful, or to show ill-temper, hate or surliness.

Someone who is calm and recollected, gets happy and beautiful in a later life-time, if not in the present.

Someone is envious; he envies, begrudges and harbours envy about others' gains, honour, veneration, respect, salutations and offerings. Due to having performed and completed such karmas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a state of deprivation . . . If instead he comes to the human state, he is insignificant wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to insignificance, that is to say, to be envious, to envy, begrudge, and harbour envy about others' gain, honour, veneration, respect, salutations and offerings.

Envious persons get deprived and insignificant from it, at least in a future existence.

Someone is not envious, he does not envy, begrudge or harbour envy about others' gain, honour, veneration, respect, salutations and offerings. Due to having performed and completed such karmas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination . . . If instead he comes to the human state, he is influential wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to influence, that is to say, not to be envious, not to envy, begrudge or harbour envy about others' gain, honour, veneration, respect, salutations and offerings.

Who are not envious and mean-hearted, get nice births too.

Someone is not a giver of food, drink, cloth, sandals, garlands, perfumes, unguents, bed, roof and lighting to monks or Brahmins. Due to having performed and completed such karma, on the dissolution of the body, after death he reappears in a state of deprivation . . . If instead he comes to the human state, he is poor wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to poverty, that is to say, not to be a giver of food, drink, cloth, sandals, garlands, perfumes, unguents, bed, roof and lighting to monks and Brahmins.

Mean and stingy ones get deprived and poor from it in time.

Someone is a giver of food, drink, cloth, sandals, perfumes, unguents, bed, roof and lighting to monks and Brahmins. Due to having performed and completed such karma, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination . . . If instead he comes to the human state, he is rich wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to riches, that is to say, to be a giver of food, drink, cloth, sandals, garlands, perfumes, unguents, bed, roof and lighting to monks and Brahmins.

Good givers appear enriched in some later life.

Someone is obdurate and haughty; he does not pay homage to whom he should pay homage, or rise up for whom he should rise up, or give a seat to whom he should give a seat, or make way for whom he should make way, or worship him who should be worshipped, or respect him who should be respected, or revere him who should be revered, or honour him who should be honoured. Due to having performed and completed such karmas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a state of deprivation . . . If instead he comes to the human state, he is low-born wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to low birth, that is to say, to be obdurate and haughty, not to pay homage to whom he should pay homage, nor rise up for . . . , nor give a seat to . . . , nor make way for . . . , nor worship . . . , nor respect . . . , nor revere . . . , nor honour him who should be honoured.

Haughty ones get low-born (low births) in time.

Someone is not obdurate or haughty; he pays homage to whom he should pay homage, rises up for whom he should rise up, gives a seat to whom he should give a seat, makes way for whom he should make way, worships him who should be worshipped, respects him who should be respected, reveres him who should be revered, honours him who should be honoured. Due to having performed and completed such karmas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination . . . If instead he comes to the human state, he is high-born wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to high birth, that is to say, not to be obdurate or haughty, to pay homage to whom he should pay homage, to rise up for . . . , to give a seat to . . . , to make way for . . . , to worship . . . respect . . . revere . . . honour him who should be honoured.

The non-haughty ones who behaves properly, are in for higher births later.

Somebody, when visiting a monk or Brahmin, does not ask: 'What is wholesome, venerable sir? What is unwholesome? What is blameable? What is blameless? What should be cultivated? What should not be cultivated? What, by my doing it, will be long for my harm and suffering? Or what, by my doing it, will be long for my welfare and happiness?' Due to having performed and completed such karmas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a state of deprivation . . . If instead he comes to the human state, he will be stupid wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to stupidity, that is to say, when visiting a monk or Brahmin, not to ask: 'What is wholesome? . . . Or what, by my doing it, will be long for my welfare and happiness?'

One is to cultivate what is wholesome and cater to welfare and happiness.

One is not to cultivate what is to blame: what brings harm and suffering - for that leads to stupidity.

Somebody, when visiting a monk or Brahmin, asks: 'What is wholesome, venerable sir? . . . Or what, by my doing it, will be long for my welfare and happiness?' Due to having performed and completed such karmas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination . . . If instead he comes to the human state, he is wise wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to wisdom, that is to say, when visiting a monk or Brahmin, to ask: 'What is wholesome, venerable sir? . . . Or what, by my doing it, will be long for my welfare and happiness?'

By cultivating what is wholesome, happiness is reaped, and sagacity.

Get wisdom by living a happy, wholesome life - which is wise in itself too.

So the way that leads to short life makes people short-lived, the way that leads to long life makes people long-lived; the way that leads to sickness makes people sick, the way that leads to health makes people healthy; the way that leads to ugliness makes people ugly, the way that leads to beauty makes people beautiful, the way that leads to insignificance makes people insignificant, the way that leads to influence makes people influential; the way that leads to poverty makes people poor, the way that leads to riches makes people rich; the way that leads to low birth makes people low-born, the way that leads to high birth makes people high-born; the way that leads to stupidity makes people stupid, the way that leads to wisdom makes people wise.

Beings are owners of karmas, student, heirs of karmas, they have karmas as their progenitor, karmas as their kin, karmas as their homing-place. It is karmas that differentiate beings according to inferiority and superiority," said Buddha.

[Majjhima Nikaya 135 The Shorter Exposition of Karma (Cula-kammavibhanga Sutta), slightly modified.]

To top

Karma and Rebirths

Belief is one thing, action another.

Buddha classifies karma into four groups:

  1. Dark with a dark result,
  2. Bright with a bright result,
  3. Dark and bright with a dark and bright result,
  4. Neither dark nor bright with a neither dark nor bright result.

Dark (bad) karma does not give a bright (happy) result, nor does bright (good) karma lead to dark (miserable) result in itself. Karma can be mixed, where an action is done with a variety of motives, some good, some evil. And that kind of karma also exists which gives up attachment to and interest in the other three and so leads beyond the range of karma.

On one occasion Buddha was living in the Koliyan country. Then Punna, an ox-duty ascetic, and also Seniya a naked dog duty ascetic, went to Buddha.

Buddha said after much entreaty: "Well, someone develops the dog duty fully and unstintingly, he develops the dog-habit fully and unstintingly, he develops the dog mind fully and unstintingly, he develops dog behaviour fully and unstintingly. Having done that, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in the company of dogs. But if his view is such as this: 'By this virtue or duty or asceticism or religious life I shall become a (great) god or some (lesser) god,' that is wrong view in his case.

Now there are two destinations for one with wrong view, I say: hell or the animal womb. So, Punna, if his dog duty is perfected, it will lead him to the company of dogs; if it is not, it will lead him to hell."

When this was said, the naked dog-duty ascetic wept and shed tears.

Buddha went on,

"Someone develops the ox duty fully and unstintingly, he develops the ox habit fully and unstintingly, he develops the ox mind fully and unstintingly, he develops the ox behaviour fully and unstintingly. Having done that, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in the company of oxen. But if his view is such as this: 'By this virtue or duty or asceticism or religious like I shall become a (great) god or some (lesser) god,' that is wrong view in his case.

Now there are two destinations for one with wrong view, I say: hell or the animal womb. So, Seniya, if his ox duty is perfected, it will lead him to the company of oxen; if it is not, it will lead him to hell."

When this was said, the ox-duty ascetic wept and shed tears.

The Blessed One [also] said this:

There are four kinds of karma here: There is dark karma with dark ripening, there is bright karma with bright ripening, there is dark-and-bright karma with dark-and-bright ripening, and there is karma that is not dark and not bright with neither-dark-nor-bright ripening that conduces to the exhaustion of karma.

  • Dark karma with dark ripening: Someone produces a (karmic) bodily process (bound up) with affliction,[2] he produces a (karmic) verbal process (bound up) with affliction, he produces a (karmic) mental process (bound up) with affliction. By so doing, he reappears in a world with affliction. When that happens, afflicting contacts[3] touch him. Being touched by these, he feels afflicting feelings entirely painful as in the case of beings in hell. Thus a being's reappearance is due to a being: he reappears owing to the karmas he has performed. When he has reappeared, contacts touch him. Thus I say are beings heirs of their karmas. This is called dark karma with dark ripening.

  • Bright karma with bright ripening: Someone produces a (karmic) bodily process not (bound up) with affliction, he produces a (karmic) verbal process not (bound up) with affliction, he produces a (karmic) mental process not (bound up) with affliction. By doing so, he reappears in a world without affliction. When that happens, unafflicting contacts touch him. Being touched by these, he feels unafflicting feelings entirely pleasant as in the case of the Subhakinha, the gods of Refulgent Glory. Thus a being's reappearance is due to a being: he reappears owing to the karmas he has performed. When he has reappeared, contacts touch him. Thus I say are beings heirs of their karmas. This is called bright karma with bright ripening.

  • Dark-and-bright karma with dark-and-bright ripening: Here someone produces a (karmic) bodily process both (bound up) with affliction and not (bound up) with affliction . . . verbal process . . . mental process both (bound up) with affliction and not (bound up) with affliction. By doing so, he reappears in a world both with and without affliction. When that happens, both afflicting and unafflicting contacts touch him. Being touched by these, he feels afflicting and unafflicting feelings with mingled pleasure and pain as in the case of human beings and some gods and some inhabitants of the states of deprivation. Thus a being's reappearance is due to a being: he reappears owing to the karmas he has performed. When he has reappeared, contacts touch him. Thus I say are beings heirs of their karmas. This is called dark-and-bright karma with dark-and-bright ripening.

  • Neither-dark-nor-bright karma with neither-dark-nor-bright ripening that leads to the exhaustion of karma: As to these (three kinds of karma), any volition in abandoning the kind of karma that is dark with dark ripening, any volition in abandoning the kind of karma that is bright with bright ripening, and any volition in abandoning the kind of karma that is dark-and bright with dark-and-bright ripening: this is called neither-dark-nor-bright karma with neither-dark-nor-bright ripening.

"These are the four kinds of karma proclaimed by me after realizing myself with direct knowledge."

When this was said, the ox-duty ascetic said to Buddha: "Magnificent, Master Gotama reveals the hidden, holding up a lamp in the darkness."

Buddha also said,

"One who belonged formerly to another sect and wants the going forth and the full admission in this Dharma [teaching] and Discipline lives on probation for four months."

The naked dog duty ascetic received the full admission, and soon he had direct knowledge, including: "What had to be done has been done."

[Extracts from the Majjhima Nikaya 57 The Dog-duty Ascetic (Kukkuravatika Sutta), slightly abridged by TK]

Contents


Buddha's karma teachings, Literature  

The discourses are found in full at the Access to Insight site. It is edited by John Bullitt] - Some discourses are re-edited here with graceous permission. - Tormod Kinnes

Buddha's karma teachings, To top Archive section Set Next

Buddha's karma teachings, Buddhist lore USER'S GUIDE: [Link]
© 2005–2016, Tormod Kinnes, MPhil. [Email]  ᴥ  Disclaimer: [Link]