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#1 RobertK



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Posted 29 November 2010 - 06:05 AM




1. The Five Universal Laws
2. The Importance of Understanding the Law of Kamma
3. What is Kamma?
4. How does the Law of Kamma Operate?
5. What is the Cause of Kamma?
6. Who is the Doer of Kamma? Who Reaps the Vipaka?
7. Where is all the Kamma?
8. Classification of Kamma
9. Is One Bound to Reap All that One Has Sown in Just
10. Lessons Learnt from Kamma
11. References
12. Explanatory Notes

Law of Kamma • 75

1. The Five Universal Laws

In Buddhism, there are 5 universal orders or laws (
iyamas) that
operate in the physical and mental realms. They are:
a) Utu iyama: the caloric or physical inorganic order, e.g.,
seasonal changes of weather, nature of heat, energy, chemical
reactions, etc.

cool.gif Bija iyama: germinal or physical organic order, e.g., rice from
rice seeds, sweet taste of sugar, different ways of plant
propagation, etc.

c) Kamma iyama: moral or cause and effect order. Moral and
immoral acts produce desirable and undesirable results.

d) Citta iyama: order of mind or psychic law, e.g., processes of
consciousness, power of mind, telepathy, mind reading,
recollection of past lives, divine eye, psychic power, etc.

e) Dhamma iyama: order of the norm, e.g., the natural
phenomena occurring at the advent of a Bodhisatta in his last
birth, gravitation and other similar laws of nature.

Every mental and physical phenomenon can be explained by these
all-embracing 5 orders that are laws in themselves. Kamma as such
is only one of these 5 orders that demand no giver, nor enforcer, as is
the case with all natural laws.

2. The Importance of Understanding the Law of Kamma

The Law of Kamma is a fundamental doctrine in Buddhism.
Although this belief was prevalent in India before the advent of the
Buddha, it was the Buddha who explained and formulated this
doctrine in its complete form, which we have today. 76 • Buddhism Course

Puzzled by the seemingly inexplicable, apparent disparity that
existed among humanity, the young Brahmin Subha approached
the Buddha and asked him to explain the reason for the cause of
inequality: "What is the cause and condition why human beings are
seen to be inferior and superior? For people are seen to be short-
lived and long-lived, sickly and healthy, ugly and beautiful, un-
influential and influential, poor and wealthy, lowborn and highborn,
stupid and wise.”

The Buddha's reply was:
"All living beings are owners of their actions (kammasaka), heirs of
their actions (kammadayada); they originate from their actions
(kammayoni), are related to their actions (kammabandhu), have
their actions as their refuge (kammapatisarana). It is action
(kamma) that distinguishes beings as inferior and superior.”
ikaya Sutta No. 135, Culakammavibhanga Sutta)

The Expositor (p 87), a commentary of the Abhidhamma elaborates:
"Depending on the difference in kamma appear the differences in
the destiny of being without legs, with two legs, four legs, many
legs, with perception, without perception, with neither perception
nor non-perception. Depending on the difference in kamma appear
the differences in the birth of beings, high and low, base and
exalted, happy and miserable. Depending on the difference in
kamma appears the difference in the individual features of beings
as beautiful and ugly, highborn or lowborn, well built or deformed.
Depending on the difference in kamma appears the difference in
worldly conditions of beings, such as gain and loss, fame and
disgrace, blame and praise, happiness and misery."

Thus, from the Buddhist standpoint, our present mental, moral
intellectual and temperamental differences are, for the most part, due
to our own actions and tendencies, both past and present. Although
Buddhism attributes this variation to kamma, as being the chief
cause among a variety, it does not, however, assert that everything is
due to kamma. The Law of Kamma, important as it is, is only one of
the twenty-four conditions described in the Patthana or Conditional
Relations, one of the treatises in the Abhidhamma. Law of Kamma • 77

3. What is Kamma?

The Pali term kamma (Sanskrit: karma) literally means action or
doing. Any kind of volitional or intentional action whether mental,
verbal or physical is regarded as kamma. It covers all that is included
in the phrase: ‘thought, word or deed’. Generally speaking, all
good and bad actions constitute kamma. In its ultimate sense, kamma
means all moral and immoral volition (kusala$ akusala cetana).

In Anguttara iii, 415, the Buddha says: "I declare, O Bhikkhus, that
cetana (volition) is kamma. Having willed one acts by body, speech,
and thought." (Refer to ote 1 for an explanation of cetana).

Involuntary, unintentional or unconscious actions, though
technically deeds, do not constitute kamma, because volition, the
most important factor in determining kamma, is absent. Without
volition, a deed is sterile; it produces no reaction of moral
significance. Kamma is not fate nor is it predestination, imposed on
us by some mysterious unknown power controlling our lives. It is
one’s own doing that reacts on one’s own self, and so it is possible
to divert the course of our kamma to some extent. How far one
diverts it will depend on one-self. So we have a certain amount of
free will. The past influences the present but does not dominate it for
kamma is both past and present deeds.

4. How does the Law of Kamma Operate?

Kamma is action and vipaka, fruit or result is its reaction.
Kamma is the cause and vipaka is the effect. According to the Law
of Kamma, every volitional activity is accompanied by its due effect.

The Samyutta
ikaya I, 227 states:
According to the seed that’s sown, so is the fruit ye reap therefrom.
Doer of good will gather good, Doer of evil, evil reaps.
Sown is the seed, and thou shall taste the fruit thereof. 78 • Buddhism Course

Kamma is a law in itself that operates in its own field without the
intervention of an external independent ruling agency. The Law of
Kamma acts in the following manner.

a) All immoral actions give immoral resultants. There are ten
immoral actions, namely: bodily action of killing, stealing,
sexual misconduct; verbal action of lying, slandering, harsh
speech, frivolous chatter; mental action of greed, ill-will and

cool.gif All moral actions give moral resultants. Abstention of the ten
immoral actions listed above, constitute moral action. In addition
there are also ten bases of meritorious action, namely: charity,
morality, mind culture, reverence, service, transference of
merits, rejoicing in others’ merits, teaching the Dhamma,
listening to the Dhamma and forming right views. (Chapter XI)

c) A person does moral/immoral actions and he gets moral/immoral
resultants. It is not possible for one person to perform
moral/immoral actions and another person to receive the
moral/immoral results.

d) In judging each moral or immoral action, we consider these four
‘fields of kamma’, namely: 1) as one’s own act, 2) as instigating
another, 3) as consenting to another’s instigation, and 4) as
commending the act.

5. What is the Cause of Kamma?

Ignorance (avijja) or ‘not knowing things as they truly are’ is the
chief cause of kamma. “Dependent on Ignorance arise Volitional
Activities (sankhara)” states the Buddha in Paticca Samuppada or
Dependent Origination. Associated with ignorance is its ally craving
(tanha), another root cause of kamma. Unwholesome actions are
conditioned by these two causes. Law of Kamma • 79

All good deeds of a world-ling, though associated with the three
wholesome roots of generosity, loving-kindness and knowledge are
nevertheless regarded as kamma because the two unwholesome roots
of ignorance and craving are dormant in them. No kamma is
accumulated by one who has eradicated craving and has understood
‘things as they truly are’.

Buddhas and Arahants do not accumulate fresh kamma as they have
eradicated ignorance and craving, the root causes of kamma. “They
have destroyed the germ, their desires no longer grow.” (Te khina
bija, avirulhicchanda. − Stanza 14, Ratana Sutta). Although volition
is present whenever there is bodily, verbal or mental action, in the
case of an Arahant, that volition is not accompanied by craving at
the end of each impulsive moment, and it completely disappears
without leaving any trace and without transforming it into kamma.
Hence there is no rebirth for the Arahant. However, they will still
receive the results of their past kamma.

6. Who is the Doer of Kamma? Who Reaps the Vipaka?

The answer is given in the Visuddhi Magga (Path of Purification).

o doer is there who does the deed.

or is there one who feels the fruit.”

According to Buddhism, there are two types of truth − conventional
truth and absolute truth. For conventional purposes, we use such
terms as man, woman, animal, being, self and so forth. In reality,
there is no unchanging entity or any being in the form of a man,
woman, animal or anything permanent that can be called a self. The
so-called fleeting form consists only of mental and material
processes that are constantly changing, not remaining the same for
two consecutive moments. This so-called being is a combination of
five Aggregates (khandas) that are the aggregates of Matter, Feeling,
Perception, Mental Formations and Consciousness. There is no doer
apart from the action, no thinker apart from the thought. Who then is
the doer of kamma? Who feels the effect? 80 • Buddhism Course

Volition or intention (cetana) is itself the doer.
Feeling (vedana) feels the fruit or effect.

Apart from these mental processes, there is none to sow and none to
reap. So kamma is not an accretion of the self or soul since there is
no permanent self or soul to begin with.

7. Where is all the Kamma Stored?

An action (kamma) once performed, is finished as far as its
performance is concerned. It is also irreversible. What remains of the
action is its potential, the inevitability of its result (vipaka). Even
within a lifetime, a person has performed a lot of actions, either
moral or immoral. So he must have accumulated a lot kamma.
Where is all this kamma stored? In answer to this question by King
Milinda, the Ven. Nagasena replied:

“Kamma is not stored somewhere in this fleeting consciousness nor
in any part of the body. But dependent on mind and body, it rests,
manifesting itself at the opportune moment, just as mangoes are not
said to be stored somewhere in the mango tree, but dependent on the
mango tree they lie, springing up in due season".

In the same way, fire is not stored in a match but under the right
conditions of friction, the match will produce fire. Kamma is an
individual potential that is transmitted from one existence to another.

8. Classification of Kamma

Kamma is classified four-fold according to its function, priority of
effect, time of taking effect and the plane where the effects take
place. Law of Kamma • 81

a) Function
There are four classes of kamma according to function. Every birth
is conditioned by past good or bad kamma, which predominates at
the moment of death. The kamma that conditions future birth is
called Reproductive kamma. Now another kamma may intervene to
assist and maintain or to weaken and obstruct the fruition of the
Reproductive kamma. Such actions are called Supportive or
Obstuctive kamma respectively.

According to the Law of Kamma, the potential energy of the
Reproductive kamma may be totally annulled by a more powerful
opposing past kamma, which seeking an opportunity may quite
unexpectedly operate, just as a counteractive force can obstruct the
path of a flying arrow and bring it to the ground. Such an action is
called Destructive kamma, which is more powerful than the other
two in that it not only obstructs but also destroys the whole force.

cool.gif Priority of Effect
First is Garuka or Weighty kamma, which produces its effect in this
life or the next for certain. Among the weighty or serious actions, the
moral ones are the Jhanas or Mental Absorptions while the immoral
ones are the five immediately effective heinous crimes, namely:
matricide, patricide, murder of an Arahant, wounding of a Buddha
and creating a schism in the Sangha or Monastic Order.

In the absence of a Weighty kamma to condition the next birth, a
Death Proximate kamma may operate. This is the action one does
or recollects immediately before the dying moment. Owing to its
significance in determining the future birth, the custom of reminding
the dying person of his good deeds and making him perform
wholesome actions still prevails in Buddhist countries.

Habitual kamma is next in priority of effect. It is the action one
constantly performs and recollects and which one has great liking.
82 • Buddhism Course

The last is Cumulative kamma that embraces all that cannot be
included in the above three. This is, as it were, the reserve fund of a
particular being.

c) Time of Taking Effect
There are moral and immoral actions that produce their effects in
this very life or in a subsequent life or in any life in the course of
one’s wandering in Samsara. These actions are Immediately
Effective, Subsequently Effective and Indefinitely Effective
kamma. When such actions that should produce their effects in this
life or subsequent lives do not operate, they are termed Ineffective.

d) Plane where Effects Take Place
The last classification is according to the plane in which the effects
take place, namely:

i) Immoral actions that ripen in the Sensual Plane (Kamaloka) of
misery, namely: hell, animal, ghost and demon realms.

ii) Moral actions that ripen in the Sensual Plane (Kamaloka) of
happiness, namely the human and the six celestial realms. In
Abhidhamma, they are the eight types of wholesome
consciousness (sobhana citta) pertaining to the Sensual Sphere.
(Refer to Chapter XI, 2)

iii) Moral actions that ripen in the Form Plane (Rupaloka) of
Brahmas with form. They are the rupa$jhanas, namely: the first,
second, third and fourth jhana.

iv) Moral actions that ripen in the Formless Plane (Arupaloka) of
Brahmas possessing mind only but without form. They are the
arupa$jhanas, namely: Realm of Infinite Space, Realm of
Infinite Consciousness, Realm of Nothingness, and Realm of
Neither Perception nor Non-Perception.
Law of Kamma • 83

9. Is One Bound to Reap All That One Has Sown in Just

While the Law of Kamma states that we reap what we sow, there is
another aspect of kamma that is also very important, namely, that
kamma?results can be modified. This means that the Law of
Kamma does not operate with mechanical rigidity but allows for
modifications in the ripening of the fruit. It is this dynamic aspect of
kamma that the Buddha declared in Anguttarra I, 249 as follows:

“If anyone says that a man must reap everything according to his
deeds, in this case there is no religious life, nor is there an
opportunity afforded for the entire extinction of sorrow".

"But if anyone says that what a man reaps accords with his deeds, in
that case there is a religious life, and an opportunity is afforded for
the entire extinction of sorrow”.

These statements by the Buddha tell us that kamma is not fate or
predestination. Nor is one bound to reap all that one has sown in
just proportion. We can explain this by the simile of the billiard ball,
whose direction can be changed or even stopped by sending another
billiard ball to hit it at an appropriate angle. Like any physical event,
the mental process constituting a kammic action does not exist in
isolation. Thus its efficacy in producing a result depends not only on
its own potential but also upon the potential of other kammas. We
see for example, that a particular kamma either moral, or immoral,
may sometimes have its result strengthened by supportive kamma,
weakened by obstructive kamma, or even annulled by destructive
kamma. The occurrence of the result can also be delayed if the
condition for ripening is not complete; and that delay may again give
chance for obstructive or destructive kamma to operate.

Besides external conditions, the spiritual quality of the mind from
which the volition arises can affect the results. To one rich in moral
or spiritual qualities, a single offence may not entail the weighty
results the same offence will have for one who is poor in such
protective virtues. The Buddha compares this with the taste of water 84 • Buddhism Course

from a cup wherein a lump of salt has been added against the taste of
water from the Ganges River in which the same lump of salt has
been thrown in. Thus although Angulimala killed many people
before he met the Buddha, and his action would have landed him in
the woeful states in future existences, his attainment of Arahantship
effectively closed the door to future rebirth and suffering, although
he would still have to bear the dire consequences while he lived.

So complicated is the web of kammic conditioning that the Buddha
declared kamma-result to be one of the “four unthinkables”, that
are beyond the range of thought and should not be speculated upon.
But though the working of kamma is beyond our intellect, the
important practical message is clear: the fact that kamma&results are
modifiable frees man from the shackles of predestination and
fatalism and keeps the road to liberation constantly open before him.
Everyone has a certain amount of free will to mould one’s life or
modify one’s actions. Even the most vicious person can become a
virtuous person if he wants to change his life and makes the effort to
do so. However, everything in this world, including man himself is
subject to conditions and without the necessary conditions, nothing
can arise.

10. Lessons Learnt from Kamma

The kamma doctrine of the Buddha is a teaching of moral and
spiritual responsibility for oneself and others. The more we
understand the Law of Kamma, the more we realize how careful we
must act in thought, speech and deeds if we wish to accumulate
wholesome kamma. For when a certain thought, speech or deed is
performed regularly, there is a definite tendency to repeat the act.
Thus each act, mental or physical tends to produce its like and be in
turn produced, a condition called asevana or habitual recurrence.
Wholesome actions performed regularly tend to increase the
tendencies to goodness while unwholesome actions performed
regularly tend to do the opposite. The advice given by the Buddha in
the Dhammapada sums up the lessons to learnt from kamma. Law of Kamma • 85

Do not disregard evil lightly, saying: “It will not come nigh unto
me”; by the falling of drops even a water jar is filled; likewise the
fool, gathering little by little, fills himself with evil. (Verse 121)

Do not disregard merit, saying: “It will not come nigh unto me”; by
the falling of drops even a water jar is filled; likewise the wise man,
gathering little by little, fills himself with good. (Verse 122)

According to Venerable Ledi Sayadaw, by the declaration: “All
living beings are owners of their actions, heirs of their actions; they
originate from their actions, are related to their actions, have their
actions as their refuge”, the Buddha also meant that the wholesome
and unwholesome actions performed once by a being during his
lifetime, may ripen even after a lapse of thousands of existences or
world cycles. The wholesome kammas that yield good results and
unwholesome kammas that yield bad results always accompany the
life-continuum of a being. Therefore one should always love and
esteem good conduct more than one’s own life by performing
meritorious actions. On the other hand one should always shun evil
conduct more than the danger of death and refrain from evil deeds.

11. References

1) The Buddhist Doctrine of Kamma and Rebirth by Venerable
Narada Maha Thera. Reprinted by Selangor Buddhist Vipassana
Meditation Society, Petaling Jaya Malaysia, 1994.
2) What Kamma Is. Sayadaw U Thittila, Department of Religious
Affairs, Yangon, Myanmar, 1992.
3) The Expositor (Attthasalini) − Buddhaghosa’s Commentary on
the Dhammasangani. Translated by Pe Maung Tin and Mrs.
Rhys Davids, Pali Texts Society, London 1976.
4) The Manual of Right Views in the Manuals of Buddhism by
Mahathera Ledi Sayadaw, Aggamahapandita, D. Litt. Translated
into English by the Editors of the Light of the Dhamma,
Ministry of Religious Affairs, Yangon, Myanmar. 86 • Buddhism Course

12. Explanatory otes

ote 1: There are fifty kinds of concomitants in Sankharakkhandha
(Group of mental formations), and the relation between cetana and the
remaining forty-nine concomitants may be explained by the following
example: Suppose in a harbour there are forty-nine barges fully loaded with
goods, and there is only one big steamer, which has to tow these forty-nine
barges from one riverine port to another. Now the spectators on the bank of
the river may say: “This steamer has towed such and such a barge and gone
to the mid-stream and will call at such and such a port.” Similarly, cetana
sometimes drags lobha out and unfailingly drives it towards the object of
greed. Sometimes it drags dosa out and unfailingly drives it towards the
object of hatred. The cases of the remaining forty-nine concomitants of
Sankharakkhandha may be considered likewise."

Cetana is also compared to a class monitor or a general. A class monitor
prepares and studies his lessons and at the same time causes the junior
pupils to prepare their lessons and study them. A general also fights the
battle himself and causes his soldiers to fight simultaneously.

In his Ahara Dipani (Manual of Nutriment) Venerable Mahathera Ledi
Sayadaw elaborately expounded the immense power of cetana as follows:
"The dhamma which incessantly urges or causes the mind and its
associate concomitants to become restless and chase various kinds of
objects is called cetana. Try to discern that mind is restless and ever
fleeting. When one encounters an object of lobha (greed), it is cetana,
which drags that lobha out and invariably directs it towards the object of
greed. It also urges or causes one to enjoy sensuous pleasures. Similar
processes take place in the cases of dosa (hatred) and moha (delusion).”

"Worldlings naturally possess very little cetana in respect of saddha (faith).
panna (wisdom), dana (almsgiving), sila (morality), and bhavana (mental
concentration). As regards them it urges, drives or causes the mind in a
weak manner and not very quickly. There has to be a lot of external means
or support, such as reflecting on the dangers of arising in hells to arouse
urgency or samvega, and of the advantages of performing wholesome
volitional actions for cetana to urge or drive the mind towards them,
because mind delights in evil (Dhammapada 116). When cetana has to
cause a person to go to a place where he desires to go very much, it acts
very quickly; but if it has to cause him to go to a place where he does not
like to go, it acts very slowly.”