Kamma / Karma / Law of cause and effect
Karma (Sanskrit, also karman, Pāli: Kamma) means "action" or "doing"; whatever one does, says, or thinks is a karma. In Buddhism, the term karma is used specifically for those actions which spring from the intention (Sanskrit: cetanā, Pali: cetana) of an unenlightened being.
These bring about a fruit (Sanskrit, Pali: phala) or result (S., P.: vipāka; the two are often used together as vipākaphala), either within the present life, or in the context of a future rebirth. Other Indian religions have different views on karma. Karma is the engine which drives the wheel of the cycle of uncontrolled rebirth (S., P. saṃsāra) for each being. In the early texts it is not, however, the only causal mechanism influencing the lives of sentient beings.
As one scholar states, "the Buddhist theory of action and result (karmaphala) is fundamental to much of Buddhist doctrine, because it provides a coherent model of the functioning of the world and its beings, which in turn forms the doctrinal basis for the Buddhist explanations of the path of liberation from the world and its result, nirvāna."
In the early sutras, as found in the Pali Canon and the Agamas preserved in Chinese translation, "there is no single major systematic expostion" on the subject of karma and "an account has to be put together from the dozens of places where karma is mentioned in the texts." Nevertheless, the Buddha emphasized his doctrine of karma to the extent that he was sometimes referred to as kammavada (the holder of the view of karma) or kiriyavada (the promulgator of the consequence of karma).
In the Nibbedhika Sutta (Anguttara Nikaya 3.415) the Buddha said:
"Intention (P. cetana, S. cetanā), monks, is karma, I say. Having willed, one acts through body, speech and mind."
In the Upajjhatthana Sutta (AN 5.57), the Buddha states:
"I am the owner of my karma. I inherit my karma. I am born of my karma. I am related to my karma. I live supported by my karma. Whatever karma I create, whether good or evil, that I shall inherit."
According to Buddhist theory, every time a person acts there is some quality of intention at the base of the mind and it is that quality rather than the outward appearance of the action that determines the effect. If one appears to be benevolent but acts with greed, anger or hatred, then the fruit of those actions will bear testimony to the fundamental intention that lay behind them and will be a cause for future unhappiness. The Buddha spoke of wholesome actions (P. kusala-kamma, S. kuśala-karma) that result in happiness, and unwholesome actions (P. akusala-kamma, S. akuśala-karma) that result in unhappiness. The Buddha also elaborated that it was impossible for virtuous action to produce unfavorable results, and for nonvirtuous action to produce favorable results. However, although a good deed may produce merit which ripens into wealth, if that deed was done too casually or the intention behind it was not quite pure, that wealth so obtained sometimes cannot be enjoyed (AN.4.392-393). There are two classes of determined deeds which always produce good or bad results (fixed results, P. niyato-rasi) respectively, and a class of deeds which may produce either good or bad results (non-fixed results, P. aniyato-rasi) presumably depending on the context, although the Buddha does not elaborate (DN 3.217). Good karma is described as generating merit (P. puñña, S. puñya), whereas bad karma is described as demerit (apuñña/apuñya or pāpa).
The Buddha most often spoke of karma as the determining factor of the realm of one's subsequent rebirth--for this reason karma is often explained in tandem with rebirth and cosmology. The Cūlakammavibhanga Sutta ("The Shorter Exposition of Action," Majjhima Nikaya 3.203) is devoted to describing the various rebirths that various kinds of actions produce; negative actions such as killing lead to rebirths in the lower realms such as hell, and virtuous action such as gracious behavior under duress leads to rebirth in the human or other higher realms. Further, within human rebirths in particular, virtuous actions produce desirable qualities and good fortune such as physical beauty, influence, and so forth, whereas nonvirtuous actions lead to ugliness, poverty, and other misfortunes. The Mahākammavibhanga Sutta ("The Greater Exposition of Action," MN.3.208) is a similar exposition, with the additional stipulation that other rebirths may intervene between the time of the virtuous or nonvirtuous actions and the rebirth that they impel.
The Buddha denied one could avoid experiencing the result of a karmic deed once it's been committed (AN 5.292). In the Anguttara Nikaya, it is stated that karmic results are experienced either in this life (P. diṭṭadhammika) or in a future lives (P. samparāyika). The former may involve a readily observable connection between action and karmic consequence, as when a thief is captured and tortured by the authorities, but the connection need not necessarily be that obvious and in fact usually is not observable. Among the results which manifest in future lives, five heinous actions (P. ànantarika-kamma) provoke a rebirth in hell immediately subsequent to death, according to the Vinaya: matricide, patricide, killing an arhat, intentional shedding of a Buddha's blood, and causing a schism in the sangha (Vinaya 5.128).
The Buddha makes a basic distinction between past karma (P. purānakamma) which has already been incurred, and karma being created in the present (P. navakamma). Therefore in the present one both creates new karma (P. navakamma) and encounters the result of past karma (P. kammavipāka). Karma in the early canon is also threefold: Mental action (S. manaḥkarman), bodily action (S. kāyakarman) and vocal action (S. vākkarman).
The Buddha's theory of karmic action and effect did not encompass all causes (S. hetu) and results (S. vipāka). Any given action may cause all sorts of results, but the karmic results are only that subset of results which impinge upon the doer of the action as a consequence of both the moral quality of the action and the intention behind the action. In the Abhidharma they are referred to by specific names for the sake of clarity, karmic causes being the "cause of results" (S. vipāka-hetu) and the karmic results being the "resultant fruit" (S. vipāka-phala). As one scholar outlines, "the consequences envisioned by the law of karma encompass more (as well as less) than the observed natural or physical results which follow upon the performance of an action." The law of karma also applies "specifically to the moral sphere . . not concerned with the general relation between actions and their consequences, but rather with the moral quality of actions and their consequences, such as the pain and pleasure and good or bad experiences for the doer of the act." The theory of karma is not deterministic, in part because past karma is not viewed as the only causal mechanism causing the present. In the case of diseases, for instance, he gives a list of other causes which may result in disease in addition to karma (AN.5.110).
The Buddha's theory of moral behavior was not strictly deterministic; it was conditional. His description of the workings of karma is not an all-inclusive one, unlike that of the Jains. The Buddha instead gave answers to various questions to specific people in specific contexts, and it is possible to find several causal explanations of behavior in the early Buddhist texts.
In the Buddhist theory of karma, the karmic effect of a deed is not determined solely by the deed itself, but also by the nature of the person who commits the deed and by the circumstances in which it is committed.
A discourse in the Anguttara Nikaya (AN.1.249) indicates this conditionality:
A certain person has not properly cultivated his body, behavior, thought and intelligence, is inferior and insignificant and his life is short and miserable; of such a person ... even a trifling evil action done leads him to hell. In the case of a person who has proper culture of the body, behavior, thought and intelligence, who is superior and not insignificant, and who is endowed with long life, the consequences of a similar evil action are to be experienced in this very life, and sometimes may not appear at all.
The Buddha declared that the precise working of how karma comes to fruition was one of the four incomprehensibles (P. acinteyya or acinnteyyāni) for anyone without the insight of a Buddha (AN.2.80). The Buddha sees the workings of karma with his "superhuman eye." Contemporary scholar Bruce Matthews asserts that the Cūlakammavibhanga Sutta (M.3.203) indicates that karma provokes "tendencies or conditions rather than consequences as such;" presumably he counts the rebirths resulting from karma described in the sutta as "tendencies or conditions" rather than "consequences," although he does not elaborate the point.
In the Lakkhana Sutta (Digha Nikaya 30), the Buddha explains that his thirty-two special physical characteristics are the fruition of past karma.
There is a further distinction between worldly, wholesome karma that leads to samsāric happiness (like birth in higher realms), and path-consciousness which leads to enlightenment and nirvana. Therefore, there is samsāric good karma, which leads to worldly happiness, and there is liberating karma—which is supremely good, as it ends suffering forever. Once one has attained liberation one does not generate any further karma, and the corresponding states of mind are called in Pali Kiriya. Nonetheless, the Buddha advocated the practice 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).
In Buddhism, the term karma refers only to samsāric actions, the workings of which are modeled by the twelve nidanas of dependent origination, not actions committed by Arhats and Buddhas.
In Buddhism, karma is not pre-determinism, fatalism or accidentalism, as all these ideas lead to inaction and destroy motivation and human effort. These ideas undermine the important concept that a human being can change for the better no matter what his or her past was, and they are designated as "wrong views" in Buddhism. The Buddha identified three:
1. Pubbekatahetuvada: The belief that all happiness and suffering, including all future happiness and suffering, arise from previous karma, and human beings can exercise no volition to affect future results (Past-action determinism).
2. Issaranimmanahetuvada: The belief that all happiness and suffering are caused by the directives of a Supreme Being (Theistic determinism).
3. Ahetu-appaccaya-vaada: The belief that all happiness and suffering are random, having no cause (Indeterminism or Accidentalism).
Karma is continually ripening, but it is also continually being generated by present actions, therefore it is possible to exercise free will to shape future karma. P.A. Payutto writes, "the Buddha asserts effort and motivation as the crucial factors in deciding the ethical value of these various teachings on kamma."
As the earliest Buddhist philosophical schools developed with the rise of Abhidharma Buddhism, various interpretations developed regarding more refined points of karma. All were confronted with a central issue, as one scholar summarizes:
When [the Buddhist] understanding of karma is correlated to the Buddhist doctrine of universal impermanence and No-Self, a serious problem arises as to where this trace is stored and what the trace left is. The problem is aggravated when the trace remains latent over a long period, perhaps over a period of many existences. The crucial problem presented to all schools of Buddhist philosophy was where the trace is stored and how it can remain in the ever-changing stream of phenomena which build up the individual and what the nature of this trace is.
As the Buddha had not offered elaboration in the early sutras that addresses this, the various schools proposed various similar yet distinct solutions. As one scholar writes, "In certain cases it is apparent that concern with karma doctrine or vocabulary explanatory thereof played a distinctly causal role in sectarian evolution. In other cases it is safer to say that the concern for an intelligible karma vocabulary was one among many complex factors that helped give decisive shape and substance to already distinct or emerging sectarian positions."
One scholar summarizes the various orientations as follows:
Different sects gave different names to their theoretical candidates for the "carrier of the Karma" . . The following schools are associated with the following entities: Sammitīya—the avipranāśa or 'indestructible', a dharma of the citta-viprayukta class. Sarvāstivādin/Vaibhāṣika tradition—prāpti and aprāpti or adhesion and non-adhesion, and the avijñapti·rūpa or form that does not indicate. Sautrāntika tradition—the bīja or seed, the ekarasa-skandha or aggregate of unique essence, the mulāntika-skandha or proximate root aggregate and the paramārtha-pudgala. Yogācāra/Vijñānavādin tradition—the ālaya-vijñāna or store house' consciousness. Again, the central question that these entities seem to have been constructed to answer is that of how the karmic force inheres in the psychophysical stream without thereby coloring or pervading each discrete moment of that stream. What accounts for the "idling" or non-active aspect of defilement when a given thought is of a virtuous or morally indeterminate nature?
In the Theravāda Abhidhamma and commentarial traditions, karma is taken up at length. The Abhidhamma Sangaha of Anuruddhācariya offers a treatment of the topic, with an exhaustive treatment in book five (5.3.7).
Of particular interest is the Kathāvatthu, which "alone of the works of the Pali canon is directly concerned with conflicting views within the Buddhist community. . . A number of the controverted points discussed in the Kathāvatthu relate either directly or indirectly to the notion of kamma." This involved debate with the Pudgalavādin school, which postulated the provisional existence of the person (S. pudgala, P. puggala) to account for the ripening of karmic effects over time. The Kathāvatthu also records debate by the Theravādins with the Andhakas (who may have been Mahāsāṃghikas) regarding whether or not old age and death are the result (vipāka) of karma. The Theravāda maintained that they are not—not, apparently because there is no causal relation between the two, but because they wished to reserve the term vipāka strictly for mental results--"subjective phenomena arising through the effects of kamma."
The Visuddhimagga states that "the kamma that is the condition for the fruit does not pass on there (to where the fruit is)."
In the canonical Theravāda view of kamma, "the belief that deeds done or ideas seized at the moment of death are particularly significant."
As scholar Peter Harvey notes, "one curious feature of the Abhidamma view of the perceptual process is that the discernments related to the five physical sense organs are always said to be fruitions of karma." However, in agreement with scholar L.S. Cousins he agrees that the most "plausible" explanation "is that karma affects discernment by determining which of the many phenomena in a person's sensory range are actually noticed . . in the same room, for example, one person naturally tends to notice certain things which give rise to pleasure, while another tends to notice things which give rise to some displeasure."
As karma is not the only causal agent, the Theravādin commentarial tradition classifed causal mechanisms taught in the early texts in five categories, known as Niyama Dhammas:
* Kamma Niyama — Consequences of one's actions
* Utu Niyama — Seasonal changes and climate
* Biija Niyama — Laws of heredity
* Citta Niyama — Will of mind
* Dhamma Niyama — Nature's tendency to produce a perfect type
The Theravāda Abhidhamma also categories karma in other ways:
With regard to function
* Reproductive karma (janaka-kamma) - karma which produces the mental and material aggregates at the moment of conception, conditioning the rebirth-consciousness (patisandhi vinnana).
* Supportive karma (upatthambhaka kamma) - karma ripening in one's lifetime which is of the same favorable or unfavorable quality as the reproductive karma which impelled the rebirth in question. That is to say, in the case of an animal with an unpleasant life, the karma creating unpleasant conditions would be considered supportive of the reproductive karma which impelled what is considered an unfavorable rebirth.
* Obstructive or counteractive karma (upapidaka kamma) - the reverse of the former. In the example of the animal, an animal with a pleasant life would be said to have obstructive rather than supportive karma in relation to his reproductive karma.
* Destructive karma (upaghātaka kamma) - karma powerful enough to conteract the reproductive karma entirely, by ending the life in question.
With regard to potency
* Weighty kamma (garuka kamma) — that which produces its results in this life or in the next for certain, namely, the five heinous crimes (ānantarika-kamma)
* Proximate kamma (āsanna kamma) — that which one does or remembers immediately before the dying moment
* Habitual kamma (ācinna kamma) — that which one habitually performs and recollects and for which one has a great liking
* Reserve kamma (kaṭattā kamma) — refers to all actions that are done once and soon forgotten
With regard to temporal precedence
* Immediately effective kamma (diţţhadhammavedaniya kamma) - in the present lifetime
* Subsequently effective kamma (upapajjavedaniya kamma) - in the immediately following lifetime
* Indefinitely effective kamma (aṗarāpariyavedaniya kamma) - in lifetimes two or more in the future
* Defunct kamma (ahosi kamma) - kamma whose effects have ripened already
With regard to the realm-setting of the effect
* Unwholesome (akusala) kamma pertaining to the desire realm (kamavacara)
* Wholesome (kusala) kamma pertaining to the desire realm (kamavacara)
* Wholesome kamma pertaining to the form realm (rupavacara)
* Wholesome kamma pertaining to the formless realm (arupavacara)