Fundamental teachings
Understanding KARMA
as an antidote to attachment to samsara

(from In Search of the Stainless Ambrosia, Jewel Ornament of Liberation, Jewel Treasury of Advice and Transformation of Suffering)
by Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche

All sufferings of all the realms of samsara are caused by negative karma. All positive results are caused by virtuous karma. In illustration of this, the Buddha recounted the following two stories:

Story 1

When Lord Buddha was residing in Shrawasti, there lived a poor Brahmin woman who gave birth to a hunch-backed child named Gurchung. As her milk dried up very quickly, Gurchung was precariously sustained with milk from buffaloes and other animals. When he reached adolescence, his father told him, "Son, our lives are sustained by begging, so now you must search for your own sustenance." Gurchung received a bare minimum on which to survive. Meeting the Lord Buddha, he asked to be ordained as a monk. In the days that followed his ordination, the other monks fed him, but soon they too, told him that he must be responsible for his own food. Again, Gurchung barely managed to survive.

Even when he begged for food in the company of other monks, he always suffer a mishap. Either there would be no food left when it was his turn to present his bowl, or, if he was served first, the food that remained would spoil, leaving the other monks hungry. To resolve this, the Buddha order that Gurchung should henceforth stand at the end of the line of monks receiving food. One day, the buddha told Gurchung to clean the temple, where Gurchung found a large quantity of food. 'thus able to rebuild his strength, he increased his practice and attained the state of arhat. However, when he returned to the temple thereafter, he found that someone else had already cleaned it, so he once again had to beg for alms. The first day, a wealthy family invited the Buddha and his retinue for a meal, but by the time Gurchung had arrived, the food was gone. Once again, he had to go hungry. The following day Ananda, one of buddha's chief disciples, brought two begging bowls, one for himself and one for Gurchung. After eating his own portion, he set out to bring Gurchung the food he had collected for him, but he was attacked by dogs who consumed the food. The following day, ananda announced that all the offerings of food received by the monks that day would be given to Gurchung. However, the people who normally provided the food were unable to do so, leaving Gurchung to pass another day hungry. The next day, another disciple, Maulgalyayana, brought an extra begging bowl for Gurchung, but on his way, he tripped on a rock, so spilling the food which was eaten by crows. The following day Sariputra filled two begging bowls, but on his way he encountered ghosts who by their miracle powers made the food disappear. The next day Sariputra again brought Gurchung food, but every spoonful of food disappeared just as Gurchung placed it in his mouth. When Sariputra then tried feeding Gurchung by hand, Gurchung's mouth locked. Despite his miracle powers, Sariputra could not succeed in feeding Gruchung, whose mouth unlocked only after mealtime was past. Sariputra then asked Gurchung, "Of all your physical sufferings, which is most intolerable?" Gurchung replied, "I am so thirsty; please give me water." When Gurchung raised the bowl to his lips, a karmic spirit placed ashes in it. drinking this, Gurchung attained miracle powers and levitated in the air. But following this display he passed away. When the Buddha was asked why Gurchung, who had attained the state of arhat, should have died in such a manner, the Buddha replied, "Many kalpas ago, there live a wealthy family who gave alms to Brahmins and the poor. When the father died, the mother continued this generosity, but her son objected, feeling that if the mother continued the practice, their wealth would be destroyed. The son pleaded with the mother to stop such giving, but the mother refused to listen. Finally, when the son married, he locked his mother in a room without food. The mother begged for her release, saying she would leave the house, but the son decided that if she left, she would probably take with her what remained of the of the family's fortune. For seven days he kept his mother locked in the room without food until relatives, hearing the rumors, came to investigate. They found the woman nearly dead. When she asked her son for water, he gave her a glass sprinkled with ashes. Drinking the spoiled water, the mother died."

The Buddha then revealed that in a previous life, Gurchung had been this shameful son. The son then took rebirth in hell for thousands of years. When he finally took rebirth in higher realms, he continually suffered from hunger, and died shortly after drinking the water spoiled with ashes. Even having achieved the arhat state, he had to accept the negative result of his previous actions.

Story 2

To show that the fruits of positive actions are just as inevitable, the Buddha then told this story: In the Buddha's life-time, a daughter was born to a humble family. She was exceptional, both for her beauty and because she was born wearing a white cotton cloth. As she grew, the cloth grew with her. When she reached marrying age, she expressed the desire to renounce samsaric life. Her parents offered to make her nun's robes, but instead she told them that she would be grateful if they would help her in her quest to meet the Buddha Shakyamuni. When she finally beheld him, she requested that he initiate her into the nunnary. The Lord Buddha welcomed her, and instantly her hair shed and her white cloth was transformed into the five traditional garments of a nun. Through her diligence in practice, she shortly afterward attained the state of arhat. Ananda, the Buddha's personal attendant, asked what kind of previous virtue allowed the woman to attain that state in this life. The Lord Buddha replied, "In a past life, Buddha Soekyab appeared in this samsaric world. Every human being showed him great respect. At this time, a monk wandered from to city to city encouraging people to make offerings to the Buddha. A very poor ladynamed Danaka, living with her husband in a shack, possessed only a piece of cotton cloth which she shared with him. Whichever one went outside would wear the cloth while the other remained naked inside the shack. One day Danaka met the wandering monk who advised her of the great merit received from making an offering. Danaka asked the monk to wait a few minutes. Returning to the shack, she said to her husband, 'Because of our previous lack of generosity, we were born into this life in poor circumstances. If we do not demonstrate generosity in this life, we will suffer the same fate in the next. Please give me permission to make an offering.' The husband gladly agreed, and danaka beckoned to the monk to come to the door of her shack. He said, 'Give what you have to give and I will say prayers for the gift'. Danaka replied, 'I have only this cloth which I am wearing.' She then went inside disrobed and passed the cloth out to the monk, knowing that she would thus have no choice but to remain in the shack and wait for death. The monk took the offering to the Buddha, who was addressing a gathering of royalty. Upon the monk's arrival, the Buddha immediately asked, 'Where is the offering of cloth?' and took the cloth in his hand. The kings misinterpreted the exchange, believing that the Buddha had grown so materialistic that he would accept even a ragged cloth. Reading their minds, the Buddha replied, 'The offering of this cloth is more perfect than any of the offering you have made.' He then revealed the details of the offering. A royal couple present took off their fine clothes and ornaments and had them sent to the poor couple so they could attend the gathering. The Buddha then gave numerous teachings which liberated many from samsara." The Buddha Sakyamunithen concluded the story by saying, "The poor woman Danaka was the previous incarnation of this white-clad bhikshuni. By offering the cloth with pure motivation, Danaka was reborn wearing the white cotton cloth for ninety-one kalpas. She never again suffered from poverty. By the merits received from listening to my teachings and from the aspiration to be free from samsaric life, the young bhikshuni has now attained the state of arhat."

The Ten Non-virtues

Karma is caused by all the varieties of samsara, it is said in the Abidharma kosha. Specially, it is set in motion by the ten virtuous and ten non-virtuous actions. The ten non-virtuous actions can be divided into three physical, four verbal and three mental non-virtuous. Physical non-virtues include taking life, stealing and sexual misconduct. Verbal non-virtues include lying, abrasive words, harsh words and senseless talk. Mental non-virtues include covetousness, harmful motivation and wrong view.

Taking life

-Taking life as a means of gratification, or to obtain wealth or to feed oneself.
-Taking life as an act of hatred by resentment or by killing an enemy.
-Taking life through ignorance, killing as a sacrifice.


-Through force
-By presenting as pure a product that has been mixed with impurities

Sexual misconduct

-Having sexual relations with one's mother, father, sister or brother
-With another person's marriage partner
-With a monk or nun


-Falsely claiming to have had visions
-Making promises one will not keep
-Lying for no particular reason

Abrasive words

-Forcefully trying to divide others
-Politely trying to divide others
-Dividing Sanghas

Harsh words

-Forcefully condemning another's faults
-Politely condemning others

Senseless talks

-Repeating non-virtuous mantras
-Telling useless stories (gossip)
-Giving teachings to those who are improper vessels


-Attachment to one's own body, qualities and wealth
-Jealousy regarding others' wealth and possessions
-Attachment to that which is not owned by others or oneself (country, locale, etc.)

Harmful motivation (desire to destroy)

-Born of hatred
-Born of jealousy and competitiveness
-Born of resentment

Wrong view

-Thinking that positive karma will not lead to happiness and negative karma will not bring suffering.
-Not believing the truth of the path, and thereby not achieving the truth of the result.
-Thinking that the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha do not exist

If all of the ten above are done repeatedly, one is reborn in a hell realm. If they are done occasionally, one is reborn as a hungry ghost. If they are done infrequently, one is reborn as an animal. Another way of expressing the above is to say that if one acts in anger, one is reborn in a hell realm; if one acts with desire, one is reborn as a hungry ghost; if one acts in ignorance, one is reborn as an animal. One could also say that if one commits negative acts against Enlightened beings, one is reborn in hell; if one commits negative acts against one's parents or some other crucial person, one is reborn as a hungry ghost; and if one commits negative acts against ordinary sentient beings, one is reborn as an animal. The root causes of non-virtuous actions are ignorance, desire and hatred. It is therefore important to eliminate these afflicting emotions.

Characteristics of Karma

The self ascription of Karma means that the results of an action are always reaped by the sower of the action and no ooe else. If this were not the case, it would mean that our actions bore no fruit, or that we were the victims of negative actions we had not committed. Neither of these is true.

The Strict result of Karma means that positive and negative actions will inevitably bring about positive and negative results, respectively. For example, the poisonous seed will produce poison, and the medicinal seed will produce medicine.

Minor Karma produces great result means that as a small seed can yield a large tree and many fruits, so can a minor action (positive or negative) positive strong results.

The inevitability of Karma means that unless karma is eliminated by an antidote, or purified, it may remain intact for thousands of kalpas until conditions finally cause it to produce its inevitable result. In the Sutras the Buddha said, "Fire may grow cold, the wind may be caught by a lasso, and the sun and moon may fall to the earth, but the result of karma is inevitable."

He also told the following story in proof that one cannot escape the fruit of one's actions: There was a king called Pawajin who had 84,000 queens, 1,000 princes and 500 princesses. At that time the Bodhisattva Metok Dadze was staying in a dense forest practicing meditation and giving teachings. One day, he announced with profound understanding and great awareness that the time was ripe for him to travel from city to city giving teachings for the benefit of all sentient beings. The other Bodhisattvas warned him, "Lama Metok Dadze, your physical and spiritual beauty will incur the jealousy of kings. You will be in grave danger." He replied, "If I think only of my own safety, I cannot protect the teachings of the Buddhas of the Three Times. All Buddhas achieved Enlightenment through great actions in which they sacrificed the protection of self. One can only protect the teachings when one renounces attachment to form, sound, taste, smell and touch. The merit received from keeping one precept diligently for twenty-four hours, at a time when the Dharma is in decline, greatly exceeds the merit received by the devoted being who offer food, drink, the precious umbrella and light to the millions of Buddhas for kalpas as unlimited as the sands of the river Ganges." Lama Metok Dadze then traveled to many towns, giving teachings which established 90 million sentient beings in unsurpassable Enlightenment. Then he journeyed to the palace of King Pawajin, where he gave teachings for seven days during which he also fasted. On the seventh day 1,086 queens instantly attained the state of non-returning Enlightenment after merely glancing at the monk. Young girls also gathered to make offerings and receive teachings. Blinded by his jealousy of the beautiful form of the Bhikshu, King Pawajin believed the Lama was preaching a misguided path for his subjects. He therefore ordered his one thousand princes to take Lama Metok Dadze's life, but they refused. Finally Gache, the kingdom's butcher, consented to do the deed. The King ordered Gache to sever the lama's hands, legs, ears and nose with a sharp sword, as well as to cut out the monk's eyes so that he might never again look on the King's consorts with desire. When the order had been completed, hundreds of thousands of light rays radiated from the monk's body in the ten directions, and then returned to his body. Instead of blood, milk gushed from his veins. From the severed limbs the eight auspicious symbols and thirty-two special marks appeared. At this display, the King and his retinue were filled with misgiving. After seven days they returned to find that the monk's body had not discolored in death. They concluded that Lama Metok Dadze had been a very special Bodhisattva who had attained the non-returning state of Enlightenment. King Pawajin cried out. "I have committed every negative karma; I will be reborn in hell." Instantly, eight thousand gods appeared in the sky and affirmed the king's fears. Filled with remorse, King Pawajin said, "bodhisattva Metok Radze, listen to me. Please wake up like a full moon. Teacher, free from all aggression and anger, please wake up like a shining sun. You have practiced patience for a long time. Where is your great compassion and perseverances. Wake up and say something, Great Loving and Kind One." Having said this, King Pawajin placed the Lama's body in a coffin and annointed it with medicine, sandalwood, juniper and incense. The body was cremated and a stupa was built with the remains. For ninety-five million years King Pawajin made daily offerings and practiced purification by the four powers-the power to effect atonement, the power to practice good as an antidote to evil, the power to desist from evil, the power of reliance. 'when the King died, he was reborn in hell, experiencing infinite suffering. After one million kalpas, his eyes were gouged and his hands and legs were severed. King Pawajin's fate demonstrated the inevitability of karma. The buddha Sakyamuni concluded the story by explaining to his attendant anada that he was King Pawajin in a former life and that Lama metok Dadze was later reborn as Buddha padme lame, the previous incarnation of the unparalleled Gampopa.

Thus it is important to understand and watch over the causes of karma, trying to eliminate them rather than fighting the result.

The Ten Virtues

When we renounce the ten non-virtuous actions, they are transformed into the ten virtuous actions. Entering into the path, the ten virtuous actions are

-Protecting life (physical)
-Widespread giving (physical)
-Maintaining ethics (physical)
-Speaking truth (verbal)
-Speaking harmoniously by mediating among divided groups (verbal)
-Speaking lovingly and peacefully and speaking meaningfully (verbal)
-Cultivating admiration, satisfaction and contentment (mental)
-Becoming helpful, loving and compassionate (mental)
-Cultivating correct views (mental)

The root causes of the above are a lack of ignorance, desire or hatred. Therefore, it is important to strengthen these qualities of mind in order to achieve happiness for oneself and others. One who practices the ten virtuous actions is reborn as a human or in a god realm; one who practices all of the above and in addition renounces samsara achieves the arhat state; one who practices all of the above and cultivated Bodhicitta achieve Buddhahood.

There are three types of beings:

-Beings with small capacity - these work only for the pleasures of samsara
-Beings with medium capacity - these work for individual growth and renounce samsara
-Beings with great capacity - these renounce samsara and practice Bodhicitta for all sentient beings

The results of virtue and non-virtue are like the shadows of flying birds.
We may not see them now, but they will appear at the time of death.
Make effort to abandon non-virtue and to accomplish wholesome deeds.
This is my heart's advice.
(from the Jewel Treasury of Advice)