- The Fruition of Kamma
- P. A. Payutto
Results of kamma on different
Probably the most misunderstood aspect of the whole subject of kamma is the way it
yields results, as summarized in the principle, "Good actions bring good results, bad
actions bring bad results." Is this really true? To some, it seems that in "the
real world" there are many who obtain good results from bad actions and bad results
from good actions. This kind of understanding arises from confusion between "Social
Preference" and the law of kamma. The confusion can be readily seen from the way
people misunderstand even the meaning of the words, "good actions bring good
results." Instead of understanding the meaning as "in performing good actions,
there is goodness," or "good actions bring about good results in accordance with
the law of kamma," they take the meaning to be "good actions result in good
things." Bearing this in mind, let us now consider the matter in more depth.
The subject which causes doubt is the distinction, and the
relationship between, the law of kamma and Social Preference. To clarify this point, let
us first consider the fruition of kamma on four different levels:
1. The inner, mental level: the results kamma has
within the mind itself, in the form of accumulated tendencies, both skillful and
unskillful, and the quality of the mind, its experiences of happiness, suffering, and so
2. The physical level: the effect kamma has on
character, mannerisms, bearing, behavioral tendencies. The results on this level are
derived from the first level, and their fields of relevance overlap, but here they are
considered separately in order to further clarify the way these two levels affect life
3. The level of life experiences: how kamma affects
the events of life, producing both desirable and undesirable experiences; specifically,
external events like prosperity and decline, failure and success, wealth, status,
happiness, suffering, praise and criticism. Together these are known as the lokadhamma
(worldly conditions). The results of kamma on this level can be divided into two kinds:
- those arising from nonhuman environmental causes
- those arising from causes related to other people and society.
4. The social level: the results of individual and
collective kamma on society, leading to social prosperity or decline, harmony or discord.
This would include the effects of human interaction with the environment.
Levels 1 and 2 refer to the results which affect mind and character,
which are the fields in which the law of kamma is dominant. The third level is where the
law of kamma and Social Preference meet, and it is at this point that confusion arises.
This is the problem which we will now consider. The fourth level, kamma on the social
level, will be considered in the next chapter.
When considering the meaning of the words "good actions bring
good results, bad actions bring bad results," most people tend to take note only of
the results given on the third level, those from external sources, completely ignoring
results on levels one and two. However, these first two levels are of prime importance,
not only in that they determine mental well-being, inner strength or shortcomings, and the
maturity or weakness of the faculties, but also in their potential to determine external
events. That is to say, that portion of results on the third level which comes into the
domain of the law of kamma is derived from the kamma-results on the first and second
For instance, states of mind which are results of kamma on the first
level -- interests, preferences, tendencies, methods for finding happiness or coping with
suffering -- will influence not only the way we look at things, but also the situations we
are drawn toward, reactions or decisions made, our way of life and the experiences or
results encountered. They affect the attitude we adopt towards life's experiences, which
will in turn affect the second level (behavioral tendencies). This in turn promotes the
way in which mental activities (the first level) affect external events (the third level).
The direction, style, or method taken for action, the persistence with it, the particular
obstacles in face of which we will yield and in face of which we will persist, including
the probability of success, are all influenced by character and attitude. This is not to
deny that other factors, particularly environmental and social ones, affect each other and
have an influence over us, but here we are concerned more with observing the workings of
Although events of life are largely derived from the effects of the
law of kamma from the personal (physical and mental) level, this is not always the case.
An honest and capable public servant, for example, who applied himself to his work would
be expected to advance in his career, at least more so than one who was inefficient and
inept. But sometimes this doesn't happen. This is because the events in life are not
entirely subject to the law of kamma. There are factors involved from other niyama and
value-systems, especially Social Preference. If there were only the law of kamma operating
there would be no problem, results would arise in direct correspondence with the relevant
kamma. But looking only at the influence of kamma to the exclusion of other factors, and
failing to distinguish between the natural laws and Social Preferences involved, causes
confusion, and this is precisely what causes the belief, "good actions bring bad
results, bad actions bring good results."
For example, a conscientious student who applies himself to his
lessons could be expected to acquire learning. But there may be times when he is
physically exhausted or has a headache, or the weather or some accident may interrupt his
reading. Whatever the case, we can still assert that in general, the law of kamma is the
prime determining factor for the good and bad experiences of life.
Let us now look at and rectify some of the misunderstandings in
regard to the fruition of kamma by referring to the root texts. The phrase that Thai
people like to repeat, "good actions bring good results, bad actions bring bad
results," comes from the Buddha's statement,
Yadisam vapate bijam
Tadisam labhate phalam
Kalyanakari kalyanam Papakari
Which translates as:
As the seed, so the fruit.
Whoever does good, receives good,
Whoever does bad, receives bad.
This passage most clearly and succinctly expresses the Buddhist
doctrine of kamma. (Note that here the Buddha uses bijaniyama, the law of heredity, for
illustration.) Simply by clearly considering this illustration, we can allay all confusion
regarding the law of kamma and Social Preference.
That is to say, the phrase, "As the seed, so the fruit,"
explains the natural law pertaining to plants: if tamarind is planted, you get tamarind;
if grapes are planted, you get grapes; if lettuce is planted, you get lettuce. It does not
speak at all in terms of Social Preference, such as in "if tamarind is planted, you
get money," or "planting lettuce will make you rich," which are different
stages of the process.
Bijaniyama and Social Preference become related when, having planted
grapes, for example, and obtained grapes, and the time being coincident with a good price
for grapes, then your grapes are sold for a good price, and you get rich that year. But at
another time, you may plant water melons, and reap a good harvest, but that year everybody
plants water melons, supply exceeds demand, and the price of water melons goes down. You
make a loss and have to throw away a lot of water melons.
Apart from the factor of market demand, there may also be other
factors involved, economic ones determined by Social Preference. But the essential point
is the certainty of the natural law of heredity, and the distinction between that natural
law and Social Preference. They are different and yet clearly related.
People tend to look at the law of kamma and Social Preference as one
and the same thing, interpreting "good actions bring good results" as meaning
"good actions will make us rich," or "good actions will earn a
promotion," which in some cases seems quite reasonable. But things do not always go
that way. To say this is just like saying, "Plant mangoes and you'll get a lot of
money," or "They planted apples, that's why they're hard up." These things
may be true, or may not be. But this kind of thinking jumps ahead of the facts a step or
two. It is not entirely true. It may be sufficient to communicate on an everyday basis,
but if you wanted to speak accurately, you would have to analyze the pertinent factors
Factors which affect the
fruition of kamma
In the Pali there are four pairs of factors which influence the fruition of kamma on
the level of life experiences. They are given as the four advantages (sampatti)
and the four disadvantages (vipatti).
Sampatti translates roughly as attribute or attainment, and refers
to the confluence of factors to support the fruition of good kamma and obstruct the
fruition of bad kamma. The four are:
1. Gatisampatti: Favorable birthplace,
favorable environment, circumstances or career; that is, to be born into a favorable area,
locality or country; on a short term scale, to be in a favorable place.
2. Upadhisampatti: The asset, suitability
and support of the body; that is, to have a beautiful or pleasant appearance or
personality which arouses respect or favor; a strong and healthy body, etc.
3. Kalasampatti: The asset of opportunity,
aptness of time, or the support of time; that is, to be born at a time when the country
lives in peace and harmony, the government is good, people live virtuously, praise
goodness and do not support corruption; on an immediate level, to encounter opportunities
at the right time, at the right moment.
4. Payogasampatti: The attribute of
action, aptness of action, or advantage of action; that is, action which is appropriate to
the circumstance; action which is in accordance with personal skill or capability; action
which fully accords with the principles or criteria concerned; thoroughgoing, not
halfhearted, action; proper procedure or method.
Vipatti translates roughly as defect or loss, and refers to a
tendency within conditioning factors to encourage the fruition of bad kamma rather than
the good. They are:
1. Gativipatti: Unfavorable birthplace,
unfavorable environment, circumstances or career; that is, to be born into or be situated
in a sphere, locality, country or environment which is unsupportive.
2. Upadhivipatti: Weakness or
defectiveness of the body; that is, to have a deformed or sickly body, of unpleasant
appearance. This includes times of bad health and illness.
3. Kalavipatti: Disadvantage or
defectiveness of time; that is, to be born into an age when there is social unrest, bad
government, a degenerate society, oppression of good people, praise of the bad, and so on.
This also includes inopportune action.
4. Payogavipatti: Weakness or
defectiveness of action; putting effort into a task or matter which is worthless, or for
which one is not capable; action which is not thoroughly carried through.
First pair: Gatisampatti: Birth
into an affluent community and a good education can procure a higher position in society
than for another who, although brighter and more diligent, is born into a poorer community
with less opportunity. Gativipatti: At a time when a Buddha is born into the
world and expounding the Dhamma, birth in a primitive jungle or as a hell-being will
obstruct any chance of hearing the teachings; learning and capability in a community where
such talents are not appreciated may yield no benefits, and even lead to rejection and
Second pair: Upadhisampatti:
Attractive features and a pleasant appearance can often be utilized to shift upwards on
the social scale. Upadhivipatti: Deformity or deficiency are likely to hinder the
honor and prestige that would normally befall a member of a socially high and wealthy
family; where two people have otherwise equal attributes, but one is attractive while the
other is unpleasant looking or sickly, the attributes of the body may be the deciding
factor for success.
Third pair: Kalasampatti: At a
time when government and society are honest and praise virtue, honesty and rectitude can
procure advancement; at a time when poetry is socially preferred, a poet is likely to
become famous and revered. Kalavipatti: At a time when society has fallen from
righteousness and the government is corrupt, honest people may actually be persecuted; at
a time when a large portion of society prefers harsh music, a musician skilled at cool and
relaxing music may receive little recognition.
Fourth pair: Payogasampatti: Even
without goodness or talent, a knack with public relations and an understanding of social
mores can help to override failings in other areas; a skill in forging documents may be
beneficially turned to the inspection of references. Payogavipatti: Talent and
abilities will inevitably be impaired by an addiction to gambling; a sprinter with the
ability to become a champion athlete might misuse his talent for running away with other
people's goods; a practically minded person with a mechanical bent might go to work in a
clerical position for which he is wholly unsuited.
The fruits of kamma on the external level are mostly worldly
conditions, which are in a state of constant flux. These worldly conditions are relatively
superficial, they are not the real essence of life. How much they influence us depends on
the extent of our attachment to them. If there is little attachment, it is possible to
maintain equilibrium in the face of hardships, or at least not be overwhelmed by them. For
this reason Buddhism encourages intelligent reflection and understanding of the truth of
this world, to have mindfulness and not be heedless: not to become intoxicated in times of
good fortune, and not to fall into depression or anxiety in times of misfortune, but to
carefully consider problems with wisdom.
Aspiration to worldly goals should be coupled with a knowledge of
personal attributes and weaknesses, and the ability to choose and organize the relevant
attributes to attain those goals through skillful means (kusala kamma). Such
actions will have a lasting and beneficial effect on life at all levels. Success sought
through unskillful means, or favorable occasions used to create unskillful kamma, will
create undesirable results according to the law of kamma. These four advantages (sampatti)
and disadvantages (vipatti) are constantly changing. When favorable times or opportunities
have passed, evil kamma will ripen. Favorable conditions should rather be utilized to
create good kamma.
In this context, we might summarize by saying that, for any given
action, where many different natural laws come into play, our prime emphasis should be
with the factors of kamma. As for the factors which come under other kinds of natural law,
after careful consideration, they can also be incorporated, as long as they are not
harmful on the level of kamma. Practicing in this way can be called "utilizing
skillful kamma and the four advantages," or "knowing how to benefit from both
the law of kamma and Social Preferences."
In any case, bearing in mind the real aim of the Buddha's teaching,
an aspiration to true goodness should not be traded for merely worldly results. Truly good
kamma arises from one or another of the three roots of skillfulness: non-greed,
non-aversion and non-delusion. These are actions based on altruism, relinquishing the
unskillful within the mind and developing benevolent thoughts towards others, creating
actions based on goodwill and compassion. Such actions are based on wisdom, a mind which
aspires to truth and enlightenment. This is the highest kind of kamma, the kamma which
leads to the cessation of kamma.
Understanding the process of fruition
Whenever the intention to perform skillful or unskillful deeds arises, that is the
beginning of movement in the mind. To use a more scientific phrase, we could say that
"volition-energy" has arisen. How this energy proceeds, which determinants
affect it and so on, are usually a mystery to people, one in which they take little
interest. They tend to devote more interest to the results which appear clearly at the end
of the cycle, especially those which materialize in the human social sphere. These are
things which are easily seen and spoken about.
Mankind has a very good knowledge of the creations of the mind on a
material plane, and how these things come about, but about the actual nature of the mind
itself, the seat of intention, and the way intention affects life and the psyche, we have
very little knowledge indeed. It is a dark and mysterious realm for most people, in spite
of the fact that we must have an intimate relationship with these things and are directly
influenced by them.
On account of this obscurity and ignorance, when confronted with
seemingly random or unexplainable events, people tend to be unable to join the scattered
threads of cause and effect, and either fail to see the relevant determining factors, or
see them incompletely. They then proceed to reject the law of kamma and put the blame on
other things. This is tantamount to rejecting the law of cause and effect, or the natural
process of interdependence. Rejecting the law of kamma and blaming other factors for the
misfortunes of life is in itself productive of more unskillful kamma. Specifically, by so
doing, any chance of improving unfavorable situations through clear understanding is
In any case, it is recognized that the process of kamma fruition is
extremely complex, it is a process that is beyond most people's comprehension. In the Pali
it is said to be acinteyya, beyond the comprehension of the normal thought
processes. The Buddha said that insisting on thinking about such things could make one go
crazy. In saying this, the Buddha was not so much forbidding any consideration of the law
of kamma, but rather pointing out that the intricacy of causes and events in nature cannot
be understood through thought alone, but only through direct, intuitive knowledge.
Thus, being acinteyya does not forbid us from touching the subject
at all. Our relationship with kamma is one of knowledge and a firm conviction in that
knowledge, based on examination of those things which we are able to know. These are the
things which are actually manifesting in the present moment, beginning with the most
immediate and extending outwards.
On the immediate level we are dealing with the thought process, or
intention, as has been described above, initially noticing how skillful thoughts benefit
the psyche and unskillful thoughts harm it. From there, the fruits of these thoughts
spread outwards to affect others and the world at large, rebounding to affect the
perpetrator in correspondingly beneficial and harmful ways.
This process of fruition can be seen on increasingly intricate
levels, influenced by innumerable external causes, until it is possible to see a
complexity far exceeding anything we had previously conceived of. Such an awareness
provides a firm conviction in the truth of the natural law of cause and effect. Once the
process is understood on an immediate level, the long term basis is also understood,
because the long term is derived from the immediate present. Without an understanding of
the process on the short term, it is impossible to understand the process on a long term
basis. Only through seeing in the present can we see the way things are.
Having a firm conviction in the natural process of cause and effect
in relation to intention or volition is to have a firm conviction in the law of kamma, or
to believe in kamma. With a firm conviction in the law of kamma, we are able to realize
aspirations through appropriate action, with a clear understanding of the cause and effect
process involved. When any goal is desired, be it in the area of personal development or
in worldly conditions, the relevant factors included in both the law of kamma and in other
niyama must be carefully considered, and the right conditions created accordingly.
For example, a skilled artist or craftsman must not consider only
his own designs and intentions to the exclusion of everything else, but also the relevant
factors from other niyama and value-systems. When planning an intricate house design, an
architect must consider the materials to be used for particular areas. If he designates a
soft wood for use where a hardwood is needed, no matter how beautiful the design may be,
that house may collapse without fulfilling the function it was intended for. To work with
the law of kamma in a skillful way, it is necessary to develop an interest in moral
rectitude and an appreciation of goodness, (kusalachanda or dhammachanda),
and a motivation to improve life and one's surroundings. A desire for quality or care in
personal actions and relationships is necessary. People who desire only worldly results,
neglecting this aspiration for goodness, tend to try to play with or cheat the law of
kamma, causing trouble not only for themselves, but for society as a whole.
Fruits of kamma on a long term
basis -- Heaven and Hell
Some scholars feel that in order to convince the layman of the law of kamma and to
encourage morality, he must first be convinced of the fruition of kamma on the long term
basis, from past lives and into future lives. As a result of this, they see the need to
verify the existence of an afterlife, or at least to present some convincing evidence to
support it. Some scholars have attempted to explain the principle of kamma and afterlife
by referring to modern scientific laws, such as The Law of Conservation of Energy,
applying it to the workings of the mind and intention. Others refer to the theories of
modern psychology and data concerning recollection of past lives. Some even go so far as
to use mediums and seances to support their claims. These attempts at scientific
verification will not be detailed here, because they are beyond the scope of this book.
Those interested are advised to look into the matter for themselves from any of the
numerous books available on the subject. As far as the present book goes, only a few
reflections on the matter will be given.
The desirability of demonstrating the truth of future lives and the
fruits of kamma on a long term basis would seem to have some validity. If people really
did believe these things, it is possible that they would be more inclined to shun bad
actions and cultivate good ones. It would thus seem unnecessary to oppose the continued
study of and experimentation with such matters, as long as it lies within the bounds of
reason. (Otherwise, such investigations, instead of casting light on the mysterious, may
turn observable truths into inexplicable mysteries!) If there is honest and reasoned
experimentation, at the very least some scientific gain is to be expected.
On the other hand, scholars who are delving into such matters should
not become so engrossed in their research that they are blinded by it, seeing its
importance above all else and overlooking the importance of the present moment. This
becomes an extreme or unbalanced view.
Overemphasis on rebirth into heaven realms and hell realms ignores
the good which should be aspired to in the present. Our original intention to encourage
moral conscience at all times, including future lives, and an unshakable faith in the law
of kamma, will result instead in an aspiration only for future results, which becomes a
kind of greed. Good actions are performed for the sake of profit. Overemphasis on past and
future lives ignores the importance of the qualities of moral rectitude and desire for
goodness, which in turn becomes a denial of, or even an insult to, the human potential to
practice and develop truth and righteousness for their own sakes.
Even though there are some grounds to the idea that verification of
an afterlife might influence people to lead more virtuous lives, still there is no reason
why people should have to wait to be satisfied on this point before they will agree to
lead more moral lives. It is impossible to tell when the big "if" of this
scientific research will be answered: when will this research be completed?
If we consider the matter strictly according to the meaning of the
word "verification," as being a clear demonstration, then the word is invalid in
this instance. It is impossible for one person to resolve another's doubts about rebirth.
Rebirth is something which only those who see for themselves can really be sure about.
This "verification" that is spoken of is merely an assemblage of related facts
and case histories for analysis or speculation. The real essence of the matter remains
acinteyya, unfathomable. No matter how many facts are amassed to support the issue, for
most it will remain a matter of faith or belief. As long as it is still a matter of
belief, there will always be those who disbelieve, and there will always be the
possibility of doubt within those who believe. Only when certain of the fetters have been
abandoned on the attainment of Stream Entry is it possible to be beyond doubt.
To sum up, searching for data and personal histories to support the
issue of life after death has some benefit, and such doings should not be discouraged, but
to say that ethical practice must depend on their verification is neither true nor
Summary: verifying future
Are there really past and future lives, heaven and hell? This is not only a fascinating
question, but also, to some, a disquieting one, because it is an unknown quantity.
Therefore I would like to include a small summary of the matter.
1. According to the teachings of Buddhism as preserved in the
scriptures, these things do exist.
2. There is no end to verifying them, because they cannot be proven
one way or another. You either believe in them or you don't. Neither those who believe,
nor those who disbelieve, nor those who are trying to prove or disprove, really know where
life comes from or where it goes to, either their own or others'. All are in darkness, not
only about the distant past, but even toward their present birth, their present lives, and
the future, even one day away.
3. On the subject of verification: it can be said that "sights
must be seen with the eye, sounds must be heard with the ear, flavors must be tasted with
the tongue" and so on. It would be impossible to see a visual object using organs
other than the eye, even if you used ten ears and ten tongues to do so. Similarly,
perceiving visual or audible objects (such as ultraviolet light waves or supersonic sound
waves) with instruments of disparate or incompatible wave length is impossible. Some
things are visible to a cat, but even ten human eyes cannot see them. Some things,
although audible to a bat, are inaudible to even ten human ears. In this context, death
and birth are experiences of life, or to be more precise, events of the mind, and must be
researched by life or the mind. Any research should therefore be carried out in one of the
(a) In order to verify the truth of these things in the mind, it is said that the mind
must first be in the state of concentrated calm, or samadhi. However, if this
method seems impractical or inconvenient, or is considered too prone to self-deception,
then the next method is
(b) to verify with this present life itself. None of us have ever died. The only thorough
test is that achieved with one's own death ... but few seem inclined to try this method.
(c) If there is no real testing as mentioned above, all that remains is to show a number
of case histories and collected data, such as accounts of recollections of previous lives,
or to use analogies from other fields, such as sounds perceptible only to certain
instruments, to show that these things do have some credibility. However, the issue
remains on the level of belief.
Regardless of belief or disbelief, or however people try to prove
these things to one another, the unavoidable fact, from which all future life must stem,
is life in the present moment. Given this, it follows that this is where we should be
directing our attention. In Buddhism, which is considered to be a practical religion, the
real point of interest is our practical relationship towards this present life. How are we
going to conduct our lives as they unfold right now? How are we going to make our present
life a good one, and at the same time, in the event that there is a future life, ensure
that it will be good? In the light of these points, we might consider the following:
- In the original Pali, that is, in the Discourses (Suttas), there is very little mention
of previous and future lives, heaven and hell. In most cases they are merely given a
mention. This indicates that not much importance or relevance is attributed to them in
comparison to the conduct of life in the present world, or the practices of morality,
meditation and wisdom.
- When, in the Pali, rebirth in heaven or hell is included in the fruits of good and evil
kamma, it is usually after mentioning all the fruits of kamma occurring in the present
life. These may be given as four, five or up to ten in number, with the final phrase:
"At death, on the breaking up of the body, he goes to the nether worlds, a woeful
state, hell," or "At death, on the breaking up of the body, he goes to a
pleasant bourn, heaven."
There are two observations to be made in this respect:
Firstly, the fruits of kamma in the present life are given priority
and are described in detail. Results in an afterlife seem to be thrown in at the end to
"round off the discussion," so to speak.
Secondly, the Buddha's explanation of the good and bad results of
kamma was always as a demonstration of the truth that these things proceed according to
causes. That is, the results (of kamma) follow automatically from their causes. Simply to
know this fact is to install confidence in the fruits of actions.
As long as those who do not believe in an afterlife still do not
know for a fact that there is no afterlife, or heaven and hell, they will be unable to
completely refute the doubts lurking deeply within their minds. When such people have
spent the energy of their youth and old age is advancing, they tend to experience fear of
the future, which, if they have not led a virtuous life, can be very distressing.
Therefore, to be completely certain, even those who do not believe in these things should
develop goodness. Then, whether there is or is not an afterlife, they can be at peace.
As for those who believe, they should ensure that their belief is
based on an understanding of the truth of cause and effect. That is, they should see
results in a future life as ensuing from the quality of the mind developed in the present
one, giving emphasis to the creation of good kamma in the present. This kind of emphasis
will ensure that any relationship with a future life will be one of confidence, based on
the present moment. Aspirations for a future life will thus encourage care with the
conduct of the present moment, bearing in mind the principle: "Regardless of how you
relate to the next life, don't give it more importance than the present one." This
way, the mistake of performing good deeds as a kind of investment made for profit is
Any belief in a future life should help to alleviate or completely
do away with any dependence on higher powers or things occult. Belief in a future life
means belief in the efficacy of one?s own actions (kamma). Dependence on any external
power will only hinder progress in life and personal development. Those who have allowed
themselves to slide into such dependencies should strive to extract themselves from them
and become more self-reliant.
Ideally, we should try to advance to the stage of avoiding bad
actions and developing the good, irrespective of belief or disbelief. This means to
perform good deeds without the need for a result in some future life, and to avoid evil
actions even if you don't believe in such things. This can be achieved by:
(1) developing an appreciation for moral rectitude, an aspiration for goodness, and a
desire for the best in all situations.
(2) developing an appreciation for the subtle happiness of inner peace through
meditation practice, and making that in itself an instrument for preventing the arising of
evil states of mind and for encouraging the good. This is because it is necessary to avoid
bad actions and cultivate the good in order to experience this inner peace. In addition,
inner peace is an important aid in resisting the attraction of sensual desire, thus
preventing the creation of the more extreme forms of bad kamma. However, concerning the
state of inner peace, as long as it is on the worldly level, it is advisable to be wary of
getting so caught up in it as to cease to progress in one's practice by allowing it to
become an object of attachment.
(3) training the mind to conduct life with wisdom, knowing the truth of the world and
life, or knowing the truth of conditions. This enables us to have some degree of freedom
from material things or sense pleasures, thus reducing the likelihood of committing bad
kamma on their account. We develop a sensitivity to the lives and feelings of others,
understanding their pleasures, pains and desires, so that there is a desire to help rather
than to take advantage of them. This is the life style of one who has reached, or is
practicing towards, the transcendent truth and transcendent Right View. Failing this, we
can live by the faith which is the forerunner of that wisdom, the unshakable conviction in
a life guided by liberating wisdom as the finest and most excellent kind of life. This
kind of an appreciation will serve as a foundation for the development of such a life.
These three principles of practice are connected and support each
other. In particular, point number (1), chanda (zeal) is necessary in performing any kind
of good action, so is also essential in points (2) concentration and (3) wisdom.
When accompanied by practice in accordance with these three
principles, any belief in fruition of kamma in a future life will serve to encourage and
strengthen the avoidance of bad actions and development of the good. Such belief will not
in itself be so critical that without expectation of good results in a future life, there
will no longer be any incentive to do good deeds.
If it is not possible to practice these three principles, then
belief in a future life can be used to encourage a more moral life, which is better than
letting people live their lives obsessed with the search for sensual gratification, which
only serves to increase exploitation on both the individual and social levels. In
addition, belief in a future life is considered to be mundane Right View and thus is one
step on the way to developing a good life.
Kamma fruition in the Cula
Having established an initial understanding, let us now look at one of the Buddha's
classic teachings dealing with the fruition of kamma, extending from the present into a
"See here, young man. Beings are the owners of their kamma, heirs to their kamma,
born of their kamma, have kamma as their lineage, have kamma as their support. Kamma it is
which distinguishes beings into fine and coarse states."
1.a. A woman or a man is given to killing living beings, is ruthless, kills living
beings constantly and is lacking in goodwill or compassion. At death, on account of that
kamma, developed and nurtured within, that person goes to a woeful bourn, the nether
worlds, to hell. Or, if not reborn in hell, but in the human world, he or she will be
b. A woman or man shuns killing and is possessed of goodwill and compassion. At death,
on account of that kamma, developed and nurtured within, that person goes to a good bourn,
to a heaven realm. Or, if not reborn in heaven, but as a human being, he or she will be
blessed with longevity.
2.a. A woman or man is given to harming other beings by the hand and the weapon. At
death, on account of that kamma, developed and nurtured within, that person goes to a
woeful bourn, the nether worlds, to hell. Or, if not reborn in hell, but as a human being,
he or she will be sickly.
b. A woman or man shuns harming other beings. At death, on account of that kamma,
developed and nurtured within, that person arrives at a good bourn, a heaven realm. Or, if
not reborn in heaven, but as a human being, he or she will be one with few illnesses.
3.a. A woman or man is of ill temper, is quick to hatred, offended at the slightest
criticism, harbors hatred and displays anger. At death, on account of that kamma,
developed and nurtured within, that person goes to a woeful bourn, the nether worlds, to
hell. Or, if not born in hell, but as a human being, he or she will be ugly.
b. A woman or a man is not easily angered. At death, on account of that kamma,
developed and nurtured within, that person goes to a pleasant bourn, a heaven realm. Or,
if not reborn in heaven, but as a human being, he or she will be of pleasant appearance.
4.a. A woman or man has a jealous mind. When others receive awards, honor and respect,
he or she is ill at ease and resentful. At death, on account of that kamma, developed and
nurtured within, that person goes to a woeful bourn, the nether worlds, to hell. Or, if
not reborn in hell, but as a human being, he or she will be one of little influence.
b. A woman or a man is one who harbors no jealousy. At death, on account of that kamma,
developed and nurtured within, that person goes to a good bourn, to a heaven realm. Or, if
not reborn in heaven, but as a human being, he or she will be powerful and influential.
5.a. A woman or man is not one who gives, does not share out food, water and clothing.
At death, on account of that kamma, developed and nurtured within, that person goes to a
woeful bourn, the nether worlds, to hell. Or, if not reborn in hell, but as a human being,
he or she will be poor.
b. A woman or a man is one who practices giving, who shares out food, water and
clothing. At death, on account of that kamma, developed and nurtured within, that person
goes to a good bourn, to a heaven realm. Or, if not reborn in heaven, but as a human
being, he or she will be wealthy.
6.a. A woman or man is stubborn and unyielding, proud, arrogant and disrespectful to
those who should be respected. At death, on account of that kamma, developed and nurtured
within, that person goes to a woeful bourn, the nether worlds, to hell. Or, if not reborn
in hell, but as a human being, he or she will be born into a low family.
b. A woman or man is not stubborn or unyielding, not proud, but pays respect and takes
an interest in those who should be respected. At death, on account of that kamma,
developed and nurtured within, that person goes to a good bourn, to a heaven realm. Or, if
not reborn in heaven, but as a human being, he or she will be born into a high family.
7.a. A woman or man neither visits nor questions ascetics and Brahmins about what is
good, what is evil, what is harmful, what is not harmful, what should be done and what
should not be done; which actions lead to suffering, which actions will lead to lasting
happiness. At death, on account of that kamma, developed and nurtured within, that person
goes to a woeful bourn, the nether worlds, to hell. Or, if not reborn in hell, but as a
human being, he or she will be of little intelligence.
b. A woman or man seeks out and questions ascetics and Brahmins about what is good ...
At death, on account of that kamma, developed and nurtured within, that person goes to a
good bourn, to a heaven realm. Or, if not reborn in heaven, but as a human being, he or
she will be intelligent.
In this Sutta, although fruition in a future life is spoken of, yet
it is the actions of the present moment, particularly those which have become regular,
which are emphasized. Regular actions nurture the qualities of the mind which help to form
personality and character. These are the forces which bring about results in direct
relation to the causes. Rewards of such actions are not fantastic, such as in doing one
single good deed, an act of giving, for example, and receiving some boundless reward
fulfilling all wishes and desires. If this sort of attitude prevails it only causes people
to do good deeds as an investment, like saving money in a bank and sitting around waiting
for the interest to grow; or like playing the lottery, putting down a tiny investment and
hoping for a huge reward. As a result people pay no attention to their daily behavior and
take no interest in conducting a good life as explained in this Sutta.
Summarizing, the essence of the Cula Kammavibhanga Sutta still rests
on the fact that any deliberation about results in a future life should be based on a firm
conviction in the kamma, that is, the quality of the mind and of conduct, which is being
made in the present moment. The results of actions on a long term basis are derived from
and related to these causes.
A basic principle in this regard might be summarized as follows: The
correct attitude to results of kamma in future lives must be one which promotes and
strengthens a predilection for moral conduct and wisdom development. Any belief in
kamma-results which does not strengthen this predilection for goodness, but instead serves
to strengthen greed and desire, should be recognized as a mistaken kind of belief which
should be corrected.