Buddhist Theory of Kamma
Kamma is the law of moral causation. The theory of
kamma is a fundamental doctrine in Buddhism. This belief was prevalent in India
before the advent of the Buddha. Nevertheless, it was the Buddha who explained
and formulated this doctrine in the complete form in which we have it today.
is the cause of the inequality that exists among mankind?
Why should one person
be brought up in the lap of luxury, endowed with fine mental, moral and physical
qualities, and another in absolute poverty, steeped in misery?
one person be a mental prodigy, and another an idiot?
Why should one person
be born with saintly characteristics and another with criminal tendencies?
should some be linguistic, artistic, mathematically inclined, or musical from
the very cradle?
Why should others be congenitally blind, deaf, or deformed?
Why should some be blessed, and others cursed from their births?
this inequality of mankind has a cause, or it is purely accidental. No sensible
person would think of attributing this unevenness, this inequality, and this diversity
to blind chance or pure accident.
In this world nothing happens to a person
that he does not for some reason or other deserve. Usually, men of ordinary intellect
cannot comprehend the actual reason or reasons. The definite invisible cause or
causes of the visible effect is not necessarily confined to the present life,
they may be traced to a proximate or remote past birth.
According to Buddhism,
this inequality is due not only to heredity, environment, "nature and nurture",
but also to kamma. In other words, it is the result of our own past actions and
our own present doings. We ourselves are responsible for our own happiness and
misery. We create our own Heaven. We create our own Hell. We are the architects
of our own fate.
Perplexed by the seemingly inexplicable, apparent disparity
that existed among humanity, a young truth-seeker approached the Buddha and questioned
him regarding this intricate problem of inequality:
"What is the cause,
what is the reason, O Lord," questioned he, "that we find amongst mankind
the short-lived and long-lived, the healthy and the diseased, the ugly and beautiful,
those lacking influence and the powerful, the poor and the rich, the low-born
and the high-born, and the ignorant and the wise?"
The Buddha's reply
"All living beings have actions (kamma) as their own, their inheritance,
their congenital cause, their kinsman, their refuge. It is kamma that differentiates
beings into low and high states."
He then explained the cause of such
differences in accordance with the law of cause and effect.
Certainly we are
born with hereditary characteristics. At the same time we possess certain innate
abilities that science cannot adequately account for. To our parents we are indebted
for the gross sperm and ovum that form the nucleus of this so-called being. They
remain dormant within each parent until this potential germinal compound is vitalised
by the karmic energy needed for the production of the foetus. kamma is therefore
the indispensable conceptive cause of this being.
The accumulated karmic tendencies,
inherited in the course of previous lives, at times play a far greater role than
the hereditary parental cells and genes in the formation of both physical and
The Buddha, for instance, inherited, like every other
person, the reproductive cells and genes from his parents. But physically, morally
and intellectually there was none comparable to him in his long line of Royal
ancestors. In the Buddha's own words, he belonged not to the Royal lineage, but
to that of the Aryan Buddhas. He was certainly a superman, an extraordinary creation
of his own kamma.
According to the Lakkhana Sutta of Digha Nikaya, the Buddha
inherited exceptional features, such as the 32 major marks, as the result of his
past meritorious deeds. The ethical reason for acquiring each physical feature
is clearly explained in the Sutta.
It is obvious from this unique case that
karmic tendencies could not only influence our physical organism, but also nullify
the potentiality of the parental cells and genes - hence the significance of the
Buddha's enigmatic statement, - "We are the heirs of our own actions."
Dealing with this problem of variation, the Atthasalini, being a commentary
on the Abhidharma, states:
"Depending on this difference in kamma appears
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, high-born or low born,
well-built or deformed. Depending on the difference in kamma appears the difference
in worldly conditions of beings, such as gain and loss, and disgrace, blame and
praise, happiness and misery."
Thus, from a Buddhist point of view, our
present mental, moral intellectual and temperamental differences are, for the
most part, due to our own actions and tendencies, both past and present.
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 Buddhist Philosophy.
Refuting the erroneous view that "whatsoever
fortune or misfortune experienced is all due to some previous action", the
"So, then, according to this view, owing to previous action
men will become murderers, thieves, unchaste, liars, slanderers, covetous, malicious
and perverts. Thus, for those who fall back on the former deeds as the essential
reason, there is neither the desire to do, nor effort to do, nor necessity to
do this deed, or abstain from this deed."
It was this important text,
which states the belief that all physical circumstances and mental attitudes spring
solely from past kamma that Buddha contradicted. If the present life is totally
conditioned or wholly controlled by our past actions, then certainly kamma is
tantamount to fatalism or determinism or predestination. If this were true, free
will would be an absurdity. Life would be purely mechanistic, not much different
from a machine. Being created by an Almighty God who controls our destinies and
predetermines our future, or being produced by an irresistible kamma that completely
determines our fate and controls our life's course, independent of any free action
on our part, is essentially the same. The only difference lies in the two words
God and kamma. One could easily be substituted for the other, because the ultimate
operation of both forces would be identical.
Such a fatalistic doctrine is
not the Buddhist law of kamma.
According to Buddhism, there are five orders
or processes (niyama) which operate in the physical and mental realms.
1. Utu Niyama - physical inorganic order, e.g. seasonal phenomena of
winds and rains. The unerring order of seasons, characteristic seasonal changes
and events, causes of winds and rains, nature of heat, etc., all belong to this
2. Bija Niyama - order of germs and seeds (physical organic order),
e.g. rice produced from rice-seed, sugary taste from sugar-cane or honey, peculiar
characteristics of certain fruits, etc. The scientific theory of cells and genes
and the physical similarity of twins may be ascribed to this order.
Niyama - order of act and result, e.g., desirable and undesirable acts produce
corresponding good and bad results. As surely as water seeks its own level so
does kamma, given opportunity, produce its inevitable result, not in the form
of a reward or punishment but as an innate sequence. This sequence of deed and
effect is as natural and necessary as the way of the sun and the moon.
Dhamma Niyama - order of the norm, e.g., the natural phenomena occurring at the
advent of a Bodhisattva in his last birth. Gravitation and other similar laws
of nature. The natural reason for being good and so forth, my be included in this
5. Citta Niyama - order or mind or psychic law, e.g., processes of
consciousness, arising and perishing of consciousness, constituents of consciousness,
power of mind, etc., including telepathy, telaesthesia, retro-cognition, premonition,
clairvoyance, clairaudience, thought-reading and such other psychic phenomena
which are inexplicable to modern science.
Every mental or physical phenomenon
could be explained by these all-embracing five orders or processes which are laws
in themselves. kamma as such is only one of these five orders. Like all other
natural laws they demand no lawgiver.
Of these five, the physical inorganic
order and the order of the norm are more or less mechanistic, though they can
be controlled to some extent by human ingenuity and the power of mind. For example,
fire normally burns, and extreme cold freezes, but man has walked scatheless over
fire and meditated naked on Himalayan snows; horticulturists have worked marvels
with flowers and fruits; Yogis have performed levitation. Psychic law is equally
mechanistic, but Buddhist training aims at control of mind, which is possible
by right understanding and skilful volition. kamma law operates quite automatically
and, when the kamma is powerful, man cannot interfere with its inexorable result
though he may desire to do so; but here also right understanding and skilful volition
can accomplish much and mould the future. Good kamma, persisted in, can thwart
the reaping of bad kamma, or as some Western scholars prefer to say 'action influence',
is certainly an intricate law whose working is fully comprehended only by a Buddha.
The Buddhist aims at the final destruction of all kamma.
WHAT IS KARMMA?
The Pali term kamma literally means action or doing. Any kind of intentional
action whether mental, verbal, or physical, is regarded as kamma. It covers all
that is included in the phrase "thought, word and deed". Generally speaking,
all good and bad action constitutes kamma. In its ultimate sense kamma means all
moral and immoral volition. Involuntary, unintentional or unconscious actions,
though technically deeds, do not constitute kamma, because volition, the most
important factor in determining kamma, is absent.
The Buddha says:
declare, O Bhikkhus, that volition is kamma. Having willed one acts by body, speech,
and thought." (Anguttara Nikaya)
Every volitional action of individuals,
save those of Buddhas and Arahants, is called kamma. The exception made in their
case is because they are delivered from both good and evil; they have eradicated
ignorance and craving, the roots of kamma.
"Destroyed are their germinal
seeds (Khina bija); selfish desires no longer grow," states the Ratana Sutta
of Sutta nipata.
This does not mean that the Buddha and Arahantas are passive.
They are tirelessly active in working for the real well being and happiness of
all. Their deeds ordinarily accepted as good or moral, lack creative power as
regards themselves. Understanding things as they truly are, they have finally
shattered their cosmic fetters - the chain of cause and effect.
not necessarily mean past actions. It embraces both past and present deeds. Hence
in one sense, we are the result of what we were; we will be the result of what
we are. In another sense, it should be added, we are not totally the result of
what we were; we will not absolutely be the result of what we are. The present
is no doubt the offspring of the past and is the present of the future, but the
present is not always a true index of either the past or the future; so complex
is the working of kamma.
It is this doctrine of kamma that the mother teaches
her child when she says "Be good and you will be happy and we will love you;
but if you are bad, you will be unhappy and we will not love you." In short,
kamma is the law of cause and effect in the ethical realm.
KAMMA AND VIPAKA
Kamma is action, and Vipaka, fruit or result, is its reaction.
every object is accompanied by a shadow, even so every volitional activity is
inevitably accompanied by its due effect. kamma is like potential seed: Vipaka
could be likened to the fruit arising from the tree - the effect or result. Anisamsa
and Adinaya are the leaves, flowers and so forth that correspond to external differences
such as health, sickness and poverty - these are inevitable consequences, which
happen at the same time. Strictly speaking, both kamma and Vipaka pertain to the
As kamma may be good or bad, so may Vipaka, - the fruit - is good or
bad. As kamma is mental so Vipaka is mental (of the mind). It is experienced as
happiness, bliss, unhappiness or misery, according to the nature of the kamma
seed. Anisamsa are the concomitant advantages - material things such as prosperity,
health and longevity. When Vipaka's concomitant material things are disadvantageous,
they are known as Adinaya, full of wretchedness, and appear as poverty, ugliness,
disease, short life-span and so forth.
As we sow, we reap somewhere and sometime,
in his life or in a future birth. What we reap today is what we have sown either
in the present or in the past.
The Samyutta Nikaya states:
to the seed that's sown,
So is the fruit you reap there from,
good will gather good,
Doer of evil, evil reaps,
Down is the seed and
thou shalt taste
The fruit thereof."
Kamma is a law in itself, which
operates in its own field without the intervention of any external, independent
Happiness and misery, which are the common lot of humanity,
are the inevitable effects of causes. From a Buddhist point of view, they are
not rewards and punishments, assigned by a supernatural, omniscient ruling power
to a soul that has done good or evil. Theists, who attempt to explain everything
in this and temporal life and in the eternal future life, ignoring a past, believe
in a 'postmortem' justice, and may regard present happiness and misery as blessings
and curses conferred on His creation by an omniscient and omnipotent Divine Ruler
who sits in heaven above controlling the destinies of the human race. Buddhism,
which emphatically denies such an Almighty, All merciful God-Creator and an arbitrarily
created immortal soul, believes in natural law and justice which cannot be suspended
by either an Almighty God or an All-compassionate Buddha. According to this natural
law, acts bear their own rewards and punishments to the individual doer whether
human justice finds out or not.
There are some who criticise thus: "So,
you Buddhists, too, administer capitalistic opium to the people, saying: "You
are born poor in this life on account of your past evil kamma. He is born rich
on account of his good kamma. So, be satisfied with your humble lot; but do good
to be rich in your next life. You are being oppressed now because of your past
evil kamma. There is your destiny. Be humble and bear your sufferings patiently.
Do good now. You can be certain of a better and happier life after death."
The Buddhist doctrine of kamma does not expound such ridiculous fatalistic
views. Nor does it vindicate a postmortem justice. The All-Merciful Buddha, who
had no ulterior selfish motives, did not teach this law of kamma to protect the
rich and comfort the poor by promising illusory happiness in an after-life.
we are born to a state created by ourselves, yet by our own self-directed efforts
there is every possibility for us to create new, favourable environments even
here and now. Not only individually, but also, collectively, we are at liberty
to create fresh kamma that leads either towards our progress or downfall in this
According to the Buddhist doctrine of kamma, one is not always
compelled by an 'iron necessity', for kamma is neither fate, nor predestination
imposed upon us by some mysterious unknown power to which we must helplessly submit
ourselves. It is one's own doing reacting on oneself, and so one has the possibility
to divert the course of one's kamma to some extent. How far one diverts it depends
Is one bound to reap all that one has sown in just proportion?
The Buddha provides an answer:
"If anyone says that a man or woman
must reap in this life according to his present deeds, in that case there is no
religious life, nor is an opportunity afforded for the entire extinction of sorrow.
But if anyone says that what a man or woman reaps in this and future lives accords
with his or her deeds present and past, in that case there is a religious life,
and an opportunity is afforded for the entire extinction of a sorrow." (Anguttara
Although it is stated in the Dhammapada that "not in the sky,
nor in mid-ocean, or entering a mountain cave is found that place on earth where
one may escape from (the consequences of) an evil deed", yet one is not bound
to pay all the past arrears of one's kamma. If such were the case emancipation
would be impossibility. Eternal recurrence would be the unfortunate result.
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 activities (avijja
paccaya samkhara) states the Buddha in the Paticca Samuppada (Dependent Origination).
Associated with ignorance is the ally craving (tanha), the other root of kamma.
Evil actions are conditioned by these two causes. All good deeds of a worldling
(putthujana), though associated with the three wholesome roots of generosity (alobha),
goodwill (adosa) and knowledge (amoha), are nevertheless regarded as kamma because
the two roots of ignorance and craving are dormant in him. The moral types of
Supramundane Path Consciousness (magga citta) are not regarded as kamma because
they tend to eradicate the two root causes.
Who is the doer of kamma?
reaps the fruit of kamma?
Does kamma mould a soul?
In answering these
subtle questions, the Venerable Buddhaghosa writes in the Visuddhi Magga:
doer is there who does the deed;
Nor is there one who feels the fruit;
parts alone roll on;
This indeed! Is right discernment."
the table we see is apparent reality. In an ultimate sense the so-called table
consists of forces and qualities.
For ordinary purposes a scientist would
use the term water, but in the laboratory he would say H20.
In this same way,
for conventional purposes, such terms as man, woman, being, self, and so forth
are used. The so-called fleeting forms consist of psychophysical phenomena, which
are constantly changing not remaining the same for two consecutive moments.
therefore, do not believe in an unchanging entity, in an actor apart from action,
in a perceiver apart from perception, in a conscious subject behind consciousness.
Who then, is the doer of kamma? Who experiences the effect?
or Will (tetana), is itself the doer, Feeling (vedana) is itself the reaper of
the fruits of actions. Apart from these pure mental states (suddhadhamma) there
is no-one to sow and no-one to reap.
CLASSIFICATION OF KAMMA
With respect to different functions, kamma is classified into four kinds:
Every birth is conditioned by a past good or bad kamma,
which predominated at the moment of death. kamma that conditions the future birth
is called Reproductive kamma. The death of a person is merely 'a temporary end
of a temporary phenomenon'. Though the present form perishes, another form which
is neither the same nor absolutely different takes its place, according to the
potential thought-vibration generated at the death moment, because the Karmic
force which propels the life-flux still survives. It is this last thought, which
is technically called Reproductive (janaka) kamma, that determines the state of
a person in his subsequent birth. This may be either a good or bad kamma.
to the Commentary, Reproductive kamma is that which produces mental aggregates
and material aggregates at the moment of conception. The initial consciousness,
which is termed the patisandhi rebirth consciousness, is conditioned by this Reproductive
(janaka) Kamma. Simultaneous with the arising of the rebirth-consciousness, there
arise the 'body-decad', 'sex-decad' and 'base-decad' (kaya-bhavavatthu dasakas).
(decad = 10 factors).
(a) The body-decad is composed of:
1. The element
of extension (pathavi).
2. The element of cohesion (apo).
3. The element
of heat (tajo).
4. The element of motion (vayo).
(b) The four derivatives
1. Colour (vanna).
2. Odour (gandha).
3. Taste (rasa).
4. Nutritive Essence (oja)
These eight (mahabhuta 4 + upadana 4 = 8) are
collectively called Avinibhoga Rupa (indivisable form or indivisable matter).
(c) Vitality (jivitindriya) and Body (kaya)
These (avinibhoga 8 + jivitindriya
1 + Kaya 1 = 10) ten are collectively called "Body-decad" = (Kaya dasaka).
Sex-decad and Base-decad also consist of the first nine, sex (bhava) and seat
of consciousness (vathu) respectively (i.e. eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body).
From this, it is evident that the sex of a person is determined at the very
conception of a being. It is conditioned by kamma and is not a fortuitous combination
of sperm and ovum cells. The Pain and Happiness one experiences in the course
of one's lifetime are the inevitable consequence of Reproductive kamma.
That which comes near the Reproductive (janaka) Kamma and
supports it. It is neither good nor bad and it assists or maintains the action
of the Reproductive (janaka) Kamma in the course of one's lifetime. Immediately
after conception till the death moment this kamma steps forward to support the
Reproductive kamma. A moral supportive (kusala upathambhaka) kamma assists in
giving health, wealth, happiness etc. to the being born with a moral Reproductive
kamma. An immoral supportive kamma, on the other hand, assists in giving pain,
sorrow, etc. to the being born with an immoral reproductive (akusala janaka) kamma,
as for instance to a beast of burden.
3. OBSTRUCTIVE KAMMA OR COUNTERACTIVE
Which, unlike the former, tends to weaken, interrupt and retard the
fruition of the Reproductive kamma. For instance, a person born with a good Reproductive
kamma may be subject to various ailments etc., thus preventing him from enjoying
the blissful results of his good actions. An animal, on the other hand, who is
born with a bad Reproductive kamma may lead a comfortable life by getting good
food, lodging, etc., as a result of his good counteractive or obstructive (upabidaka)
kamma preventing the fruition of the evil Reproductive kamma.
According to the law of kamma the potential energy of the
Reproductive kamma could be nullified by a mere powerful opposing kamma of the
past, which, seeking an opportunity, may quite unexpectedly operate, just as a
powerful counteractive force can obstruct the path of a flying arrow and bring
it down to the ground. Such an action is called Destructive (upaghataka) kamma,
which is more effective than the previous two in that it is not only obstructive
but also destroys the whole force. This Destructive kamma also may be either good
As an instance of operation of all the four, the case of Devadatta,
who attempted to kill the Buddha and who caused a schism in the Sangha (disciples
of the Buddha) may be cited. His good Reproductive kamma brought him birth in
a royal family. His continued comfort and prosperity were due to the action of
the Supportive Kamma. The Counteractive or Obstructive kamma came into operation
when he was subject to much humiliation as a result of his being excommunicated
from the Sangha. Finally the Destructive kamma brought his life to a miserable
(B) There is another classification of kamma, according to the priority
1. WEIGHTY (GARUKA) KAMMA.
This is either weighty or serious
- may be either good or bad. It produces its results in this life or in the next
for certain. If good, it is purely mental as in the case of Jhana (ecstasy or
absorption). Otherwise it is verbal or bodily. On the Immoral side, there are
five immediate effective heinous crimes (pancanantariya kamma): Matricide, Patricide,
and the murder of an Arahant, the wounding of a Buddha and the creation of a schism
in the Sangha. Permanent Scepticism (Niyata Micchaditthi) is also termed one of
the Weighty (garuka) kammas.
If, for instance, any person were to develop
the jhana (ecstasy or absorption) and later were to commit one of these heinous
crimes, his good kamma would be obliterated by the powerful evil kamma. His subsequent
birth would be conditioned by the evil kamma in spite of his having gained the
jhana earlier. Devadatta lost his psychic power and was born in an evil state,
because he wounded the Buddha and caused a schism in the Sangha.
would have attained the first stage of Sainthood (Sotapanna) if he had not committed
patricide. In this case the powerful evil kamma acted as an obstacle to his gaining
2. PROXIMATE (ASANNA) KAMMA OR DEATH-PROXIMATE KAMMA
that which one does or remembers immediately before the moment of dying. Owing
to the great part it plays in determining the future birth, much importance is
attained to this deathbed (asanna) kamma in almost all Buddhist countries. The
customs of reminding the dying man of good deeds and making him do good acts on
his deathbed still prevails in Buddhist countries.
Sometimes a bad person
may die happily and receive a good birth if he remembers or does a good act at
the last moment. A story runs that a certain executioner who casually happened
to give some alms to the Venerable Sariputta remembered this good act at the dying
moment and was born in a state of bliss. This does not mean that although he enjoys
a good birth he will be exempt from the effects of the evil deeds which he accumulated
during his lifetime. They will have there due effect as occasions arise.
times a good person may die unhappy by suddenly remembering an evil act of his
or by harbouring some unpleasant thought, perchance compelled by unfavourable
circumstances. In the scriptures, Queen Mallika, the consort of King Kosala, remembering
a lie she had uttered, suffered for about seven days in a state of misery when
she lied to her husband to cover some misbehaviour.
These are exceptional
cases. Such reverse changes of birth account for the birth of virtuous children
to vicious parents and of vicious children to virtuous parents. As a result of
the last thought moment being conditioned by the general conduct of the person.
3. HABITUAL (ACCINA) KAMMA
It is that which on habitually performs and
recollects and for which one has a great liking. Habits whether good or bad becomes
ones second nature, tending to form the character of a person. At unguarded moments
one often lapses into one's habitual mental mindset. In the same way, at the death-moment,
unless influenced by other circumstances, one usually recalls to mind one's habitual
Cunda, a butcher, who was living in the vicinity of the Buddha's monastery,
died yelling like an animal because he was earning his living by slaughtering
King Dutthagamini of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was in the habit of giving alms
to the Bhikkhus (monks) before he took his own meals. It was his habitual kamma
that gladdened him at the dying moment and gave him birth in the Tusita heaven.
4. RESERVE OR CUMULATIVE (KATATTA) KAMMA
This literally means 'because
done'. All actions that are not included in the aforementioned and those actions
soon forgotten belong to this category. This is, as it were the reserve fund of
a particular being.
(C) There is another classification of kamma according
to the time in which effects are worked out:
1. Immediately Effective (ditthadhammavedaniya)
2. Subsequently Effective (uppapajjavedaniya) kamma.
Effective (aparapariyavedaniya) kamma.
4. Defunct or Ineffective (ahosi) kamma.
Immediately Effective kamma is that which is experienced in this present life.
According to the Abhidhamma one does both good and evil during the javana process
(thought-impulsion), which usually lasts for seven thought-moments. The effect
of the first thought-moment, being the weakest, one may reap in this life itself.
This is called the Immediately Effective kamma.
If it does not operate in
this life, it is called 'Defunct or Ineffective' kamma.
The next weakest is
the seventh thought-moment. Its effect one may reap in the subsequence birth.
This is called 'Subsequently Effective' kamma.
This, too, is called Defunct
or Ineffective kamma if it does not operate in the second birth. The effect of
the intermediate thought-moments may take place at any time until one attains
Nibbana. This type of kamma is known as 'Indefinitely Effective' kamma.
one, not even the Buddhas and Arahantas, is exempt from this class of kamma which
one may experience in the course of one's wandering in Samsara. There is no special
class of kamma known as Defunct or Ineffective, but when such actions that should
produce their effects in this life or in a subsequent life do not operate, they
are termed Defunct or Ineffective kamma.
(D) The last classification of
kamma is according to the plane in which the effect takes place, namely:
Evil Actions (akusala kamma) which may ripen in the sentient planes (kammaloka).
(Six celestial planes plus one human plane plus four woeful planes = eleven kamaloka
planes.) Here are only four woeful kamalokas.
2. Good Actions (kusala kamma)
which may ripen in the sentient planes except for the four woeful planes.
Good Actions (kusala kamma) which may ripen in the Realm of Form (rupa brahamalokas).
There are four Arupa Brahma Lokas.
QUESTIONS ON THE THEORY OF KAMMA
Do the kammas of parents determine or affect the kammas of their children?
Physically, the kamma of children is generally determined by the kamma of their
parents. Thus, healthy parents usually have healthy offspring, and unhealthy parents
have unhealthy children. On the effect or how the kamma of their children is determined:
the child's kamma is a thing apart of itself - it forms the child's individuality,
the sum-total of its merits and demerits accumulated in innumerable past existences.
For example, the kamma of the Buddha-to-be, Prince Siddhattha was certainly not
influenced by the joint kamma of his parents, King Suddhodana and Queen Maya.
The glorious and powerful kamma of our Buddha-to-be transcended the kamma of his
parents which jointly were more potent than his own.
Question: If the kamma
of parents do not influence those of their children, how would the fact be explained
that parents who suffer from certain virulent diseases are apt to transmit these
evils to their offsprings?
Answer: Where a child inherit such a disease it
is due to the force of the parents' characteristics because of the force of the
latter's Utu (conditions favourable to germination). Take, for example, two seeds
from a sapling; plant one in inferior, dry soil; and the other in rich, moist
soil. The result is that the first seed will sprout into a sickly sapling and
soon show symptoms of disease and decay; while the other seed will thrive and
flourish and grow up to be a tall and healthy tree.
It will be observed that
the pair of seeds taken from the same stock grows up differently according to
the soil into which they are put. A child's past kamma may be compared to the
seed: the physical disposition of the mother to the soil; and that of the father
to the moisture, which fertilised the soil. Roughly speaking, to illustrate our
subject, we will say that, representing the sapling's germination, growth, and
existence as a unit, the seed is responsible for one-tenth of them, the soil for
six-tenths, and the moisture for the remainder, three-tenths. Thus, although the
power of germination exists potentially in the seed (the child), its growth is
powerfully determined and quickened by the soil (the mother) and the moisture
Therefore, even as the conditions of the soil and moisture must
be taken as largely responsible factors in the growth and condition of the tree.
So must the influences of the parents (or progenitors, as in the case of the animal
world) be taken into account in respect to the conception and growth of their
The parents' share in the kamma determining the physical factors
of their issue is as follows: If they are human beings, then their offspring will
be a human being. If they are cattle then their issue must be of their species.
If the human being is Chinese, then their offspring must be of their race. Thus,
the offspring are invariably of the same genera and species, etc., as those of
the progenitors. It will be seen from the above that, although a child's kamma
is very powerful in itself, if cannot remain wholly uninfluenced by those of it
parents. It is apt to inherit the physical characteristic of its parents. Yet,
it may occur that the child's kamma, being superlatively powerful, the influence
of the parent's joint kamma cannot overshadow it. Of course, it need hardly be
pointed out that the evil influences of parents can also be counteracted by the
application of medical science.
All beings born of sexual cohabitation are
the resultant effects of three forces:
1. The old kamma of past existence;
2. The seminal fluid of the mother, and
3. The seminal fluid of the father.
The physical dispositions of the parents may, or may not, be equal in force.
One may counteract the other to a lesser or greater extent. The child's kamma
and physical characteristics, such as race, colour, etc., will be the produce
of the three forces.
Question: On the death of a sentient being, is there
a 'soul' that wanders about at will?
Answer: When a sentient being leaves
one existence, it is reborn either as a human being, a celestial being, (Deva
or Brahama), and inferior animal, or a denizen of one of the regions of hell.
The sceptics and the ignorant people held that there are intermediate stages -
antrabhava - between these; and that there are being who are neither of the human,
the celestial, the Deva or the Brahma worlds nor of any one of the stages of exist
recognised in the scriptures - but are in an intermediate stage. Some assert that
these transitional stages are possessed of the Five Khandhas ( Five Aggregates:
they are Matter (rupa); Feeling (vedana); Perception (sanna); 4. Mental-activities
(sankhara); and Consciousness (vinnana).
Some assert that these beings are
detached 'souls' or spirits with no material encasement, and some again, that
they are possessed of the faculty of seeing like Devas, and further, that they
have power of changing at will, at short intervals, from one to any of the existence
mentioned above. Others again hold the fantastic and erroneous theory that these
beings can, and so, fancy themselves to be in other than the existence they are
actually in. Thus, to take for example one such of these suppositious beings.
He is a poor person - and yet he fancies himself to be rich. He may be in hell
- and yet he fancies himself to be in the land of the Devas, and so on. This belief
in intermediate stages between existences is false, and is condemned in the Buddhist
teachings. A human being in this life who, by his kamma is destined to be a human
being in the next, will be reborn as such; one who by his kamma is destined to
be a Deva in the next will be appear in the land of the Devas; and one whose future
life is to be in Hell, will be found in one of the regions of hell in the next
The idea of an entity or soul or spirit 'going', 'coming', 'changing'
or 'transmigrating' from one existence to another is an idea entertained by the
ignorance and materialistic, and is certainly not justified by the Dhammas that
there is no such thing as 'going', 'coming', 'changing', etc., as between existences.
The conception, which is in accordance with the Dhamma, may perhaps be illustrated
by the picture thrown out by a cinema projector, or the sound of emitted by the
gramophone, and their relation to the film or the sound-box and records respectively.
For example, a human being dies and is reborn in the land of Devas. Though these
two existences are different, yet the link or continuity between the two at death
is unbroken in point of time. The same is true in the case of a man whose further
existence is to be in hell. The distance between Hell and the abode of man appears
to be great. Yet, in point of time, the continuity of 'passage' from the one existence
to the other is unbroken, and no intervening matter or space can interrupt the
trend of a man's kamma from the world of human beings to the regions of Hell.
The 'passage' from one existence to another is instantaneous, and the transition
is infinitely quicker than the blink of an eyelid or a lightening-flash.
determines the realm of rebirth and the state of existence in that realm of all
transient being (in the cycle of existences, which have to be traversed till the
attainment, at last, of Nibbana).
The results of kamma are manifold, and may
be effected in many ways. Religious offerings (dana) may obtain for a man the
privilege of rebirth as a human being, or as a deva, in one of the six deva worlds
according to the degree of the merit of the deeds performed, and so with the observance
of religious duties (sila). The jhanas or states of absorption, are found in the
Brahma world or Brahmalokas up to the summit, the twentieth Brahma world: And
so with bad deeds, the perpetrators of which are to be found , grade by grade,
down to the lowest depths of Hell. Thus are kamma, past, present and future were,
are, and will ever be the sum total of our deeds, good, indifferent or bad. As
was seen from the foregoing, our kamma determines the changes of our existences.
"Evil spirits" are, therefore, not beings in an intermediate or
transitional stages of existence, but are really very inferior beings, and they
belong to one of the following five realms of existence:
1. World of Men:
2. The Lowest plane of deva-world; 3. The region of hell; 4. Animals below men,
and 5. Petas (ghosts).
Number 2 and 5 are very near the world of human beings.
As their condition is unhappy, and they are popularly considered evil spirits.
It is not true that all who die in this world are reborn as evil spirits; nor
is it true that beings who die sudden or violent deaths are apt to be reborn in
the lowest plane of the world of devas.
Question: Is there such a thing as
a human being who is reborn and who is able to speak accurately of his or her
Answer: Certainly, this is not an uncommon occurrence, and
is in accordance with the tenets of Buddhism in respect to kamma.
(who form, an overwhelming majority of human beings) are generally unable to remember
there past existences when reborn as human beings: Children who die young. Those
who die old and senile. Those who are addicted to the drug or drink habit. Those
whose mothers, during their conception, have been sickly or have had to toil laboriously,
or have been reckless or imprudent during pregnancy. The children in the womb,
being stunned and started, lose all knowledge of their past existence.
following are possessed of a knowledge of their past existences, viz: Those who
are not reborn (in the human world) but proceed to the world of the devas, of
Brahmas, or to the regions of Hell, remember their past existences.
who die suddenly deaths from accidents, while in sound health, may also be possessed
of this faculty in the next existence, provided that their mothers, in whose womb
they are conceived, are healthy. Again, those who live steady, meritorious lives
and who in their past existences have striven to attain, often attain it.
the Buddha, the Arahantas and Ariyas attain this gift which is known as pubbenivasa
abhinna (Supernatural Power remembering previous existences).
are the five Abhinna? Are they attainable only by the Buddha?
five Abhinna (Supernatural Powers): Pali - abhi, excellent, nana, wisdom) are:
Iddhividha = Creative power;
Dibbasola = Divine Ear;
= Knowledge of others' thoughts;
Pubbenivasanussati = Knowledge of one's past
Dibbacakkhu = The Divine eye.
The Abhinna are attainalbe not
only by the Buddha, but also by Arantas and Ariyas, by ordinary mortals who practise
according to the Scriptures (as was the case with hermits etc, who flourished
before the time of the Buddha and who were able to fly through the air and traverse
In the Buddhist Scriptures, we find, clearly shown, the
means of attaining the five Abhinna. And even nowadays, if these means are carefully
and perseveringly pursued, it would be possible to attain these. That we do not
see any person endowed with the five Abhinna today is due to the lack of strenuous
physical and mental exertion towards their attainment.
NATURE OF KAMMA
In the working of kamma there are maleficent and beneficent forces and conditions
to counteract and support this self-operating law. Birth (gati) time or condition
(kala) substratum of rebirth or showing attachment to rebirth (upadhi) and effort
(payoga) act as such powerful aids and hindrances to the fruition of kamma.
we are neither the absolutely the servants nor the masters of our kamma, it is
evident from these counteractive and supportive factors that the fruition of kamma
is influenced to some extent by external circumstances, surroundings, personality,
individual striving, and so forth.
It is this doctrine of kamma that gives
consolation, hope, reliance and moral courage to a Buddhist. When the unexpected
happens, and he meets with difficulties, failures, and misfortune, the Buddhist
realises that he is reaping what he has sown, and he is wiping off a past debt.
Instead of resigning himself, leaving everything to kamma, he makes a strenuous
effort to pull the weeds and sow useful seeds in their place, for the future is
in his own hands.
He who believes in kamma does not condemn even the most
corrupt, for they, too, have their chance to reform themselves at any moment.
Though bound to suffer in woeful states, they have hope of attaining eternal Peace.
By their own doings they have created their own Hells, and by their own doings
they can create their own Heavens, too.
A Buddhist who is fully convinced
of the law of kamma does not pray to another to be saved but confidently relies
on him for his own emancipation. Instead of making any self-surrender, or calling
on any supernatural agency, he relies on his own will power, and works incessantly
for the well-being and happiness of all. This belief in kamma validates his effort
and kindles his enthusiasm, because it teaches individual responsibility.
the ordinary Buddhist, kamma serves as a deterrent, while to an intellectual,
it serves as in incentive to do good. He or she becomes kind, tolerant, and considerate.
This law of kamma explains the problem of suffering, the mastery of so-called
fate and predestination of other religions and about all the inequality of mankind.