is a tremendous variety among the living beings existing in the world. People
and animals are of different sorts. What is it that causes us to take rebirth
in a particular form? Does it happen through coincidence, through accident, by
chance without any reason or is there some principle behind it? What is it that
determines the form of rebirth we take?
Buddha answers these questions, with
the Pali term "kamma". Kamma is the factor which determines the specific
form of rebirth, what kind of a person we are, at the outset of our life, and
it is kamma again that determines a good number of the experiences that we undergo
in the course of our life.
The word "kamma" means literally action,
deed or doing. But in Buddhism it means specifically volitional action.
"Monks it is volition that I call kamma. For having willed,
one then acts by body, speech or mind". What really lies behind all action,
the essence of all action, is volition, the power of the will. It is this volition
expressing itself as action of body, speech and mind that the Buddha calls kamma.
This means that unintentional action is not kamma. If we accidently step on
some ants while walking down the street, that is not the kamma of taking life,
for there was no intention to kill. If we speak some statement believing it to
be true and it turns out to be false, this is not the kamma of lying, for there
is no intention of deceiving.
Kamma manifests itself in three ways, through
three "doors" of action. These are body, speech and mind. When we act
physically the body serves as the instrument for volition. This is bodily kamma.
When we speak, expressing our thoughts and intentions, that is verbal kamma, which
can be performed either directly through speech or else indirectly through writing
or other means of communications. When we think, plan, desire inwardly, without
any outer action, that is mental kamma. What lies behind all these forms of actions
is the mind and the chief mental factor which causes the action is the volition.