Kamma is an impersonal, natural law that operates
in accordance with our actions. It is a law in itself and does not have any lawgiver.
Kamma operates in its own field without the intervention of an external, independent,
ruling agent. Kamma (in Pali Language) or karma (in Sanskrit) can be put in the
simple language of a child: do good and good will come to you now, and hereafter.
Do bad and bad will come to you now, and hereafter. In the language of the
harvest, kamma can be explained in this way: if you sow goods seeds, you will
reap good harvest. If you sow bad seeds, you will reap a bad harvest. In the language
of science, kamma is called the law of cause and effect: every cause has an effect.
name for this is the law of moral causation. Moral causation works in the moral
realm just as the physical law of action and reaction works in the physical realm.
In the Dhammapada, kamma is explained in this manner: the mind is the chief (forerunner)
of all good or bad states. If you speak and act with a good or bad mind, then
happiness or unhappiness follows you just as the wheel follows the hoof of the
ox or like your shadow, which never leaves you.
Dhmmapada Chapter 1: Yamaka
Vagga- The Twin Verses
Kamma is simply action. Within animate organisms there
is a power or force which is given different names such as instinctive tendencies,
consciousness, etc. This innate propensity forces every conscious being to move.
He moves mentally or physically. His motion is action. The repetition of actions
is habit and habit becomes his character. In Buddhism, this process is called
kamma. 'Kamma is volition,' says the Buddha. In its ultimate sense, kamma means
both good and bad, mental action or volition..
Thus kamma is not an entity
but a process, action, energy and force. Some interpret this force as "action-influence."
It is our own doings reacting on ourselves. The pain and happiness man experiences
are the results of his own deeds, words and thoughts reacting on themselves. Our
deeds, words and thoughts produce our prosperity, failure, happiness and misery.
Kamma is an impersonal, natural law operating in its own field without the intervention
of external, independent ruling agencies.
Since there is no hidden agent directing
or administering rewards and punishments, Buddhist do not rely on prayer to supernatural
forces to influence karmic results. According to the Buddha, kamma is nether predestination
nor some sort of determinism imposed on us by some mysterious, unknown powers
or forces to which we must helplessly submit ourselves. Buddhists believe that
man will reap what he has sown; we are the result of what we were, and we will
be the result of what we are. In other words, man is not one who will absolutely
remain what he was, and he will not continue to remain as what he is.
simply means that kamma is not complete determinism. The Buddha pointed out that
if everything were determined, then there would be no free will and no moral or
spiritual life. We would merely be the slaves of our past and that which has already
been decided. There would be no cultivation of moral and spiritual growth. Therefore,
the Buddha accepted neither strict determinism nor strict undeterminism.
The misinterpretations or irrational views on kamma are stated
in the Anguttara Nikaya which suggests that the wise will investigate and abandon
the following views:
1. The belief that everything is a result of acts in
2. The belief that all is the result of creation by a Supreme
3. The belief that everything arises without reason or cause.
a person becomes a murderer, a thief, or an adulterer, and, if his actions are
due to past actions, or caused by the creation a Supreme Ruler, or if that happened
be mere chance, then this person would not be held responsible for his evil action.Yet
another misconception about kamma is that it operates only for certain people
according to their faiths.
But the fate of a man in his next life does not
in the least depend on what particular religion he chooses. Whatever may be his
religion, man's fate depends entirely on his deeds by body, speech and thought.
It does not matter what religious label he himself holds, he is bound to be in
a happy world in his next life so long as he does good deeds and leads an unblemished
life. He is bound to be born to lead a wretched life if he commits evil and harbours
wicked thoughts in his mind.
Therefore, Buddhists do not proclaim that they
are the only blessed people who can go to heaven after their death. Whatever the
religion he professes, man's kammic thought alone determines his own destiny both
in this life and in the next. The teaching of kamma does not indicate a post-mortem
The Buddha did not teach this law of kamma to protect the rich and
to comfort the poor by promising illusory happiness in an after life. According
to Buddhism kamma explains the inequalities that exists among mankind. These inequalities
are due not only to heredity, enviroment and nature but also to kamma or the results
of our own actions. Indeed kamma is one of the factors which are responsible for
the success and the failure of our life.
Since kamma is an invisible force,
we cannot see it working with our physical eyes. To understand how kamma works,
we can compare seeds: the results of kamma are stored in the subconscious mind
in the same way as the leaves, flowers, fruits and trunk of a tree are stored
in its seed. Under favorable conditions, the fruits of kamma will be produced
just as with moisture and light, the leaves and trunk of a tree will sprout from
its tiny seed.
The working of kamma can also be compared to a bank account:
a person who is virtuous, charitable and benevolent in his present life is like
a person who is adding to his good kamma. This accrued good kamma can be used
by him to ensure a troublefree life. But he must replace what he takes or else
one day his account will be exhausted and he will be bankrupt. Then whom will
he be able to blame for his miserable state? He can blame neither others nor fate.
He alone is responsible.
Thus a good Buddhist cannot be an escapist. He has
to face life as it is and not run away from it. The kammic force cannot be controlled
by inactivity. Vigorous activity for good is indispensable for one's own happiness.
Escapism is the resort of the weak, and an escapist cannot escape the effects
of the kammic law.
The Buddha says, 'There is no place to hide in order to
escape from kammic results.' Dhammapada 127)
Our Own Experience:
the law of kamma is to realize that we ourselves are responsible for our own happiness
and our own misery. We are the architects of our kamma. Buddhism explains that
man has every possibility to mould his own kamma and thereby influence the direction
of his life. On the other hand, a man is not a complete prisoner for his own actions;
he is not a slave of his kamma. Nor is man mere machine that automatically releases
instinctive forces that enslave him. Nor is man mere a product of nature.
has within himself the strength and the ability to change his kamma. His mind
is mightier than his kamma and so the law of kamma can be made to serve him. Man
does not have to give up his hope and effort in order to surrender himself to
his own kammic force. To off-set the reaction of his bad kamma that he has accumulated
previously, he has to do more meritorious deeds and to purify his mind rather
than by praying, worshipping, performing rites or torturing his physical body
in order to overcome his karmic effects.
Therefore, man can overcome the effect
of his evil deeds if he acts wisely by leading a noble life. Man must use the
material with which he is endowed to promote his ideal. The cards in the game
of life are within us. We do not select them. They are traced to our past kamma;
but we can call as we please, do what suits us and as we play, we either gain
or lose. Kamma is equated to the action of men. This action also creates some
But each and every action carried out without any purposeful
intention, cannot become a Kusala-Kamma (skillful action) or Akusala-Kamma (unskillful
action). That is why the Buddha interprets kamma as volitional activites. That
means, whatever good and bad deeds we commit ourselves without any purposeful
intention, are not strong enough to be carried forward to our next life. However,
ignorance of the nature of the good and bad effect of the kamma is not an excuse
to justify or avoid the karmic results if they were committed intentionally.
small child or an ignorant man may commit many evil deeds. Since they commit such
deeds with intention to harm or injure, it is difficult to say that they are free
form the karmic results. If that child touches a burning iron-rod the heat element
does not spare the child without burning his fingers. The karmic energy also works
exactly in the same manner. Karmic energy is unbiased; it is like energy of gravity.
The radical transformations in the characters of Angulimala and Asoka illustrate
man's potential to gain control over his kammic force.
Angulimala was a highway
robber who murdered more than a thousand of his fellow men. Can we judge him by
his external actions? For within his lifetime, he became an Arahanta and thus
redeemed his past misdeeds. Asoka, the Indian emperor, killed thousands and thousands
to fight his wars and to expand his empire. Yet after winning the battle, he completely
reformed himself and changed his career to such an extent that today, 'Amidst
the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history,
their majesties and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Asoka shines and
shines almost alone, as a star, 'says a well-known world historian H.G. Wells
Factors Which Support Kamma:
Although Buddhism says that man can eventually
control his kammic force, it does not state that everything is due to kamma. Buddhism
does not ignore the role played by other forces of nature. According to Buddhism
there are five orders or processes of natural laws (niyama) which operate in the
physical and mental worlds:
1. Seasonal laws (utu niyama) physical inorganic
order e.g., seasonal phenomena of winds and rains, etc.
2. The biological
law (bija niyama) relating to seasonal changes etc.,
3. The kammic law (kamma
niyama) relating to moral causation or the order of act and result,
phenomena (Dhamma niyama) relating to electrical forces, movement of tides etc.,
5. Psychological laws (citta niyama) which govern the processes of consciousness.Thus
kamma is considered only as one of the five natural laws that account for the
diversity in this world.
Can Kamma Be Changed?
Kamma is often influenced
by circumstances: beneficent and malevolent forces act to counter and to support
this self-operating law. These other forces that either aid or hinder this kamma
are birth, time or conditions, appearances, and effort. A favorable birth (gati
sampatti) or an unfavorable birth (vipatti) can develop or hinder the fruition
For instance, if a person is born to a noble family or in state
of happiness, his fortunate birth will provide an easy opportunity for his good
kamma to operate. An unintelligent person who, by some good kamma, born in a royal
family, will, on account of his noble percentage be honored by the people. If
the same person were to have less fortunate birth, he would not be similarly treated.
Good appearance (upadhi sampatti) and poor appearance (upadhi sampatti) are
two other factors that hinder or favour the working of kamma. If by some good
kamma, a person obtains a good birth, but is born deformed by some bad kamma,
then he will not be able to fully enjoy the beneficial results of his good kamma.
Even a legitimate heir to a throne may not perhaps be raised to that high
position of he happens to be physically or mentally deformed. Beauty, on the other
hand, will be an asset to the possessor. A good-looking son of poor parents may
attract the attention of others and may be able to distinguish himself through
Also, we can find cases of people from poor, obscure family
backgrounds who rise to fame and popularity as film actors or actresses or beauty
queens. Time and occasion are other factors that influence the working of kamma.
In the time of famine or during the time of war, all people without exception
are forced to suffer the same fate. Here the unfavorable conditions open up possibilities
for evil kamma to operate, The favorable conditions, on the other hand, will prevent
the operation of bad kamma.
Effort or intelligence is perhaps the most important
of all the factors that affect the working of kamma. Without effort, both worldly
and spiritual progess is impossible. If a person makes no effort to cure himself
of a disease or to save himself from his difficulties, or to strive with diligence
for his progress, then his evil kamma will find a suitable opportunity to produce
its due effects.
However, if he endeavors to surmount his difficulties, his
good kamma will come to help him. When shipwrecked in a deep sea, the Budhisatta
during one of his previous births, made an effort to save himself and his old
mother, while the others prayed to the gods and left their fate in the hands of
these gods. The result was the Budhisatta escaped while the others drowned.
the working of kamma is aided or obstructed by birth, beauty and ugliness, time
and personal effort or intelligence. However, man can overcome immediate karmic
effects by adopting certain methods. Yet, he is not free from such karmic effects
if he remains within this Samsara - cycle of birth and death. Whenever opportunities
arise the same karmic effects that he overcame, can affect him again. This is
the uncertainly of worldly life.
Even the Buddha and Arahantas were affected
by certain kammas, although they were in their final birth. The time factor is
another important aspect of the karmic energy for people to experience the good
and bad effects. People experience certain karmic effects only within this lifetime
while certain karmic effects become effective immediately hereafter in the next
And certain other karmic effects follow the doers as long as they remain
in this wheel of existence until they stop their rebirth after attaining Nibbana.
The main reason for this difference is owing to mental impulsion (Javana Citta)
of the people at the time when a thought arises in the mind to do good or bad.Impartial
Energy:Those who do not believe that there is an energy known as kamma should
understand that this karmic energy is not a byproduct of any particular religion
although Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism acknowledge and explain the nature of
This is an existing universal law which has no religious label.
All those who violate this law, have to face the consequences irrespective of
their religious beliefs, and those who live in accordance with this law experience
peace and happiness in their life. Therefore, this karmic law is unbiased to each
and every person, whether they believe it or not; whether, they have a religion
or not. It is like any other existing universal law.
Please remember that
kamma is not the exclusive property of Buddhism. If we understand kamma as a force
or a form of energy, then we can discern no beginning. To ask where is the beginning
of kamma is like asking where is the beginning of electricity. Kamma like electricity
does not begin. It comes into being under certain conditions.
we say that the origin of kamma is volition but this is as much conventional as
saying that the origin of a river is a mountain top. Like the waves of the ocean
that flow into one another, one unit of consciousness into another and this merging
of one thought consciousness into another is called the working of kamma. In short,
every living being, according to Buddhism, is an electric current of life that
operates on the automatic switch of kamma.
Kamma being a form of energy is
not found anywhere in this fleeting consciousness or body. Just as mangoes are
not stored anywhere in the mango tree but, dependent on certain conditions, they
spring into being, so does kamma. Kamma is like wind or fire. It is not stored
up anywhere in the Universe but comes into being under certain conditions.