Karma is the law of moral
causation. The theory of Karma is a fundamental doctrine in Buddhism. This belief was
prevalent in India before the advent of the Buddha. Nevertheless, it was the Buddha who
explained and formulated this doctrine in the complete form in which we have it today.
What is the cause of the inequality that exists among mankind?
Why should one person be brought up in the lap of luxury, endowed with fine mental, moral
and physical qualities, and another in absolute poverty, steeped in misery?
Why should one person be a mental prodigy, and another an idiot?
Why should one person be born with saintly characteristics and another with criminal
Why should some be linguistic, artistic, mathematically inclined, or musical from the very
Why should others be congenitally blind, deaf, or deformed?|
Why should some be blessed, and others cursed from their births?
Either this inequality of mankind has a cause, or it is purely
accidental. No sensible person would think of attributing this unevenness, this
inequality, and this diversity to blind chance or pure accident.
In this world nothing happens to a person that he does not for some
reason or other deserve. Usually, men of ordinary intellect cannot comprehend the actual
reason or reasons. The definite invisible cause or causes of the visible effect is not
necessarily confined to the present life, they may be traced to a proximate or remote past
According to Buddhism, this inequality is due not only to heredity,
environment, "nature and nurture", but also to Karma. In other words, it is the
result of our own past actions and our own present doings. We ourselves are responsible
for our own happiness and misery. We create our own Heaven. We create our own Hell. We are
the architects of our own fate.
Perplexed by the seemingly inexplicable, apparent disparity that
existed among humanity, a young truth-seeker approached the Buddha and questioned him
regarding this intricate problem of inequality:
"What is the cause, what is the reason, O Lord," questioned
he, "that we find amongst mankind the short-lived and long-lived, the healthy and the
diseased, the ugly and beautiful, those lacking influence and the powerful, the poor and
the rich, the low-born and the high-born, and the ignorant and the wise?"
The Buddhas reply was:
"All living beings have actions (Karma) as their own, their inheritance, their
congenital cause, their kinsman, their refuge. It is Karma that differentiates beings into
low and high states."
He then explained the cause of such differences in accordance with the
law of cause and effect.
Certainly we are born with hereditary characteristics. At the same time
we possess certain innate abilities that science cannot adequately account for. To our
parents we are indebted for the gross sperm and ovum that form the nucleus of this
so-called being. They remain dormant within each parent until this potential germinal
compound is vitalised by the karmic energy needed for the production of the foetus. Karma
is therefore the indispensable conceptive cause of this being.
The accumulated karmic tendencies, inherited in the course of previous
lives, at times play a far greater role than the hereditary parental cells and genes in
the formation of both physical and mental characteristics.
The Buddha, for instance, inherited, like every other person, the
reproductive cells and genes from his parents. But physically, morally and intellectually
there was none comparable to him in his long line of Royal ancestors. In the Buddhas
own words, he belonged not to the Royal lineage, but to that of the Aryan Buddhas. He was
certainly a superman, an extraordinary creation of his own Karma.
According to the Lakkhana Sutta of Digha Nikaya, the Buddha inherited
exceptional features, such as the 32 major marks, as the result of his past meritorious
deeds. The ethical reason for acquiring each physical feature is clearly explained in the
It is obvious from this unique case that karmic tendencies could not
only influence our physical organism, but also nullify the potentiality of the parental
cells and genes hence the significance of the Buddhas enigmatic statement, -
"We are the heirs of our own actions."
Dealing with this problem of variation, the Atthasalini, being a
commentary on the Abhidharma, states:
"Depending on this difference in Karma appears the differences in
the birth of beings, high and low, base and exalted, happy and miserable. Depending on the
difference in Karma appears the difference in the individual features of beings as
beautiful and ugly, high-born or low born, well-built or deformed. Depending on the
difference in Karma appears the difference in worldly conditions of beings, such as gain
and loss, and disgrace, blame and praise, happiness and misery."
Thus, from a Buddhist point of view, our present mental, moral
intellectual and temperamental differences are, for the most part, due to our own actions
and tendencies, both past and present.
Although Buddhism attributes this variation to Karma, as being the
chief cause among a variety, it does not, however, assert that everything is due to Karma.
The law of Karma, important as it is, is only one of the twenty-four conditions described
in Buddhist Philosophy.
Refuting the erroneous view that "whatsoever fortune or misfortune
experienced is all due to some previous action", the Buddha said:
"So, then, according to this view, owing to previous action men
will become murderers, thieves, unchaste, liars, slanderers, covetous, malicious and
perverts. Thus, for those who fall back on the former deeds as the essential reason, there
is neither the desire to do, nor effort to do, nor necessity to do this deed, or abstain
from this deed."
It was this important text, which states the belief that all physical
circumstances and mental attitudes spring solely from past Karma that Buddha contradicted.
If the present life is totally conditioned or wholly controlled by our past actions, then
certainly Karma is tantamount to fatalism or determinism or predestination. If this were
true, free will would be an absurdity. Life would be purely mechanistic, not much
different from a machine. Being created by an Almighty God who controls our destinies and
predetermines our future, or being produced by an irresistible Karma that completely
determines our fate and controls our lifes course, independent of any free action on
our part, is essentially the same. The only difference lies in the two words God and
Karma. One could easily be substituted for the other, because the ultimate operation of
both forces would be identical.
Such a fatalistic doctrine is not the Buddhist law of Karma.
According to Buddhism, there are five orders or processes (niyama) which
operate in the physical and mental realms.
- Utu Niyama - physical inorganic order, e.g. seasonal phenomena of winds and
rains. The unerring order of seasons, characteristic seasonal changes
and events, causes of winds and rains, nature of heat, etc., all belong to this group.
- Bija Niyama - order of germs and seeds (physical organic order), e.g. rice
produced from rice-seed, sugary taste from sugar-cane or honey, peculiar characteristics
of certain fruits, etc. The scientific theory of cells and genes and the physical
similarity of twins may be ascribed to this order.
- Karma Niyama - order of act and result, e.g., desirable and undesirable acts
produce corresponding good and bad results. As surely as water seeks its own level so does
Karma, given opportunity, produce its inevitable result, not in the form of a reward or
punishment but as an innate sequence. This sequence of deed and effect is as natural and
necessary as the way of the sun and the moon.
- Dhamma Niyama - order of the norm, e.g., the natural phenomena occurring at the
advent of a Bodhisattva in his last birth. Gravitation and other similar laws of nature.
The natural reason for being good and so forth, my be included in this group.
- Citta Niyama - order or mind or psychic law, e.g., processes of consciousness,
arising and perishing of consciousness, constituents of consciousness, power of mind,
etc., including telepathy, telaesthesia, retro-cognition, premonition, clairvoyance,
clairaudience, thought-reading and such other psychic phenomena which are inexplicable to
Every mental or physical phenomenon could be explained by these
all-embracing five orders or processes which are laws in themselves. Karma as such is only
one of these five orders. Like all other natural laws they demand no lawgiver.
Of these five, the physical inorganic order and the order of the norm
are more or less mechanistic, though they can be controlled to some extent by human
ingenuity and the power of mind. For example, fire normally burns, and extreme cold
freezes, but man has walked scatheless over fire and meditated naked on Himalayan snows;
horticulturists have worked marvels with flowers and fruits; Yogis have performed
levitation. Psychic law is equally mechanistic, but Buddhist training aims at control of
mind, which is possible by right understanding and skilful volition. Karma law operates
quite automatically and, when the Karma is powerful, man cannot interfere with its
inexorable result though he may desire to do so; but here also right understanding and
skilful volition can accomplish much and mould the future. Good Karma, persisted in, can
thwart the reaping of bad Karma, or as some Western scholars prefer to say action
influence, is certainly an intricate law whose working is fully comprehended only by
a Buddha. The Buddhist aims at the final destruction of all Karma.
WHAT IS KARMA?
The Pali term Karma literally means action or doing. Any kind of
intentional action whether mental, verbal, or physical, is regarded as Karma. It covers
all that is included in the phrase "thought, word and deed". Generally speaking,
all good and bad action constitutes Karma. In its ultimate sense Karma means all moral and
immoral volition. Involuntary, unintentional or unconscious actions, though technically
deeds, do not constitute Karma, because volition, the most important factor in determining
Karma, is absent.
The Buddha says:
"I declare, O Bhikkhus, that volition is Karma. Having willed one acts by body,
speech, and thought." (Anguttara Nikaya)
Every volitional action of individuals, save those of Buddhas and
Arahants, is called Karma. The exception made in their case is because they are delivered
from both good and evil; they have eradicated ignorance and craving, the roots of Karma.
"Destroyed are their germinal seeds (Khina bija); selfish
desires no longer grow," states the Ratana Sutta of Sutta nipata.
This does not mean that the Buddha and Arahantas are passive. They are
tirelessly active in working for the real well being and happiness of all. Their deeds
ordinarily accepted as good or moral, lack creative power as regards themselves.
Understanding things as they truly are, they have finally shattered their cosmic fetters
the chain of cause and effect.
Karma does not necessarily mean past actions. It embraces both past and
present deeds. Hence in one sense, we are the result of what we were; we will be the
result of what we are. In another sense, it should be added, we are not totally the result
of what we were; we will not absolutely be the result of what we are. The present is no
doubt the offspring of the past and is the present of the future, but the present is not
always a true index of either the past or the future; so complex is the working of Karma.
It is this doctrine of Karma that the mother teaches her child when she
says "Be good and you will be happy and we will love you; but if you are bad, you
will be unhappy and we will not love you." In short, Karma is the law of cause and
effect in the ethical realm.
KARMA AND VIPAKA
Karma is action, and Vipaka, fruit or result, is its reaction.
Just as every object is accompanied by a shadow, even so every
volitional activity is inevitably accompanied by its due effect. Karma is like potential
seed: Vipaka could be likened to the fruit arising from the tree the effect or
result. Anisamsa and Adinaya are the leaves, flowers and so forth that correspond to
external differences such as health, sickness and poverty these are inevitable
consequences, which happen at the same time. Strictly speaking, both Karma and Vipaka
pertain to the mind.
As Karma may be good or bad, so may Vipaka, - the fruit is good
or bad. As Karma is mental so Vipaka is mental (of the mind). It is experienced as
happiness, bliss, unhappiness or misery, according to the nature of the Karma seed. Anisamsa
are the concomitant advantages material things such as prosperity, health and
longevity. When Vipakas concomitant material things are disadvantageous, they are
known as Adinaya, full of wretchedness, and appear as poverty, ugliness, disease,
short life-span and so forth.
As we sow, we reap somewhere and sometime, in his life or in a future
birth. What we reap today is what we have sown either in the present or in the past.
The Samyutta Nikaya states:
"According to the seed thats sown,
So is the fruit you reap there from,
Doer of good will gather good,
Doer of evil, evil reaps,
Down is the seed and thou shalt taste
The fruit thereof."
Karma is a law in itself, which operates in its own field without the
intervention of any external, independent ruling agency.
Happiness and misery, which are the common lot of humanity, are the
inevitable effects of causes. From a Buddhist point of view, they are not rewards and
punishments, assigned by a supernatural, omniscient ruling power to a soul that has done
good or evil. Theists, who attempt to explain everything in this and temporal life and in
the eternal future life, ignoring a past, believe in a postmortem justice, and
may regard present happiness and misery as blessings and curses conferred on His creation
by an omniscient and omnipotent Divine Ruler who sits in heaven above controlling the
destinies of the human race. Buddhism, which emphatically denies such an Almighty, All
merciful God-Creator and an arbitrarily created immortal soul, believes in natural law and
justice which cannot be suspended by either an Almighty God or an All-compassionate
Buddha. According to this natural law, acts bear their own rewards and punishments to the
individual doer whether human justice finds out or not.
There are some who criticise thus: "So, you Buddhists, too,
administer capitalistic opium to the people, saying: "You are born poor in this life
on account of your past evil karma. He is born rich on account of his good Karma. So, be
satisfied with your humble lot; but do good to be rich in your next life. You are being
oppressed now because of your past evil Karma. There is your destiny. Be humble and bear
your sufferings patiently. Do good now. You can be certain of a better and happier life
The Buddhist doctrine of Karma does not expound such ridiculous
fatalistic views. Nor does it vindicate a postmortem justice. The All-Merciful Buddha, who
had no ulterior selfish motives, did not teach this law of Karma to protect the rich and
comfort the poor by promising illusory happiness in an after-life.
While we are born to a state created by ourselves, yet by our own
self-directed efforts there is every possibility for us to create new, favourable
environments even here and now. Not only individually, but also, collectively, we are at
liberty to create fresh Karma that leads either towards our progress or downfall in this
According to the Buddhist doctrine of Karma, one is not always
compelled by an iron necessity, for Karma is neither fate, nor predestination
imposed upon us by some mysterious unknown power to which we must helplessly submit
ourselves. It is ones own doing reacting on oneself, and so one has the possibility
to divert the course of ones Karma to some extent. How far one diverts it depends on
Is one bound to reap all that one has sown in just proportion?
The Buddha provides an answer:
"If anyone says that a man or woman must reap in this life according to his
present deeds, in that case there is no religious life, nor is an opportunity afforded for
the entire extinction of sorrow. But if anyone says that what a man or woman reaps in this
and future lives accords with his or her deeds present and past, in that case there is a
religious life, and an opportunity is afforded for the entire extinction of a
sorrow." (Anguttara Nikaya)
Although it is stated in the Dhammapada that "not in the sky, nor
in mid-ocean, or entering a mountain cave is found that place on earth where one may
escape from (the consequences of) an evil deed", yet one is not bound to pay all the
past arrears of ones Karma. If such were the case emancipation would be
impossibility. Eternal recurrence would be the unfortunate result.
WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF KARMA?
Ignorance (avijja), or not knowing things as they truly are,
is the chief cause of Karma. Dependent on ignorance arise activities (avijja paccaya
samkhara) states the Buddha in the Paticca Samuppada (Dependent
Associated with ignorance is the ally craving (tanha), the
other root of Karma. Evil actions are conditioned by these two causes. All good deeds of a
worldling (putthujana), though associated with the three wholesome roots of
generosity (alobha), goodwill (adosa) and knowledge (amoha),
are nevertheless regarded as Karma because the two roots of ignorance and craving are
dormant in him. The moral types of Supramundane Path Consciousness (magga citta)
are not regarded as Karma because they tend to eradicate the two root causes.
Who is the doer of Karma?
Who reaps the fruit of Karma?
Does Karma mould a soul?
In answering these subtle questions, the Venerable Buddhaghosa writes
in the Visuddhi Magga:
"No doer is there who does the deed;
Nor is there one who feels the fruit;
Constituent parts alone roll on;
This indeed! Is right discernment."
For instance, the table we see is apparent reality. In an ultimate
sense the so-called table consists of forces and qualities.
For ordinary purposes a scientist would use the term water, but in the
laboratory he would say H 2 0.
In this same way, for conventional purposes, such terms as man, woman,
being, self, and so forth are used. The so-called fleeting forms consist of psychophysical
phenomena, which are constantly changing not remaining the same for two consecutive
Buddhists, therefore, do not believe in an unchanging entity, in an
actor apart from action, in a perceiver apart from perception, in a conscious subject
Who then, is the doer of Karma? Who experiences the effect?
Volition, or Will (tetana), is itself the doer, Feeling (vedana)
is itself the reaper of the fruits of actions. Apart from these pure mental states (suddhadhamma)
there is no-one to sow and no-one to reap.
CLASSIFICATION OF KARMA
(A) With respect to different functions,
Karma is classified into four kinds:
1. REPRODUCTIVE KARMA
Every birth is conditioned by a past good or bad karma, which predominated at the
moment of death. Karma that conditions the future birth is called Reproductive Karma. The
death of a person is merely a temporary end of a temporary phenomenon. Though
the present form perishes, another form which is neither the same nor absolutely different
takes its place, according to the potential thought-vibration generated at the death
moment, because the Karmic force which propels the life-flux still survives. It is this
last thought, which is technically called Reproductive (janaka) Karma, that
determines the state of a person in his subsequent birth. This may be either a good or bad
According to the Commentary, Reproductive Karma is that which produces mental
aggregates and material aggregates at the moment of conception. The initial consciousness,
which is termed the patisandhi rebirth consciousness, is conditioned by this
Reproductive (janaka) Karma. Simultaneous with the arising of the
rebirth-consciousness, there arise the body-decad, sex-decad and
base-decad (kaya-bhavavatthu dasakas). (decad = 10 factors).
(a) The body-decad is composed of:
- The element of extension (pathavi).
- The element of cohesion (apo).
- The element of heat (tajo).
- The element of motion (vayo).
(b) The four derivatives (upadana rupa):
- Colour (vanna).
- Odour (gandha).
- Taste (rasa).
- Nutritive Essence (oja)
These eight (mahabhuta 4 + upadana 4 = 8) are collectively called Avinibhoga
Rupa (indivisable form or indivisable matter).
(c) Vitality (jivitindriya) and Body (kaya)
These (avinibhoga 8 + jivitindriya 1 + Kaya 1 = 10) ten are
collectively called "Body-decad" = (Kaya dasaka).
Sex-decad and Base-decad also consist of the first nine, sex (bhava) and seat
of consciousness (vathu) respectively (i.e. eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body).
From this, it is evident that the sex of a person is determined at the very conception
of a being. It is conditioned by Karma and is not a fortuitous combination of sperm and
ovum cells. The Pain and Happiness one experiences in the course of ones lifetime
are the inevitable consequence of Reproductive Kamma.
2. SUPPORTIVE KARMA
That which comes near the Reproductive (janaka) Kamma and
supports it. It is neither good nor bad and it assists or maintains the action of the
Reproductive (janaka) Karma in the course of ones lifetime. Immediately after
conception till the death moment this Karma steps forward to support the Reproductive
Karma. A moral supportive (kusala upathambhaka) Karma assists in giving health,
wealth, happiness etc. to the being born with a moral Reproductive Karma. An immoral
supportive Karma, on the other hand, assists in giving pain, sorrow, etc. to the being
born with an immoral reproductive (akusala janaka) Karma, as for instance to a
beast of burden.
3. OBSTRUCTIVE KARMA OR COUNTERACTIVE KARMA
Which, unlike the former, tends to weaken, interrupt and retard the
fruition of the Reproductive Karma. For instance, a person born with a good Reproductive
Karma may be subject to various ailments etc., thus preventing him from enjoying the
blissful results of his good actions. An animal, on the other hand, who is born with a bad
Reproductive Karma may lead a comfortable life by getting good food, lodging, etc., as a
result of his good counteractive or obstructive (upabidaka) Karma preventing the
fruition of the evil Reproductive Karma.
4. DESTRUCTIVE (UPAGHATAKA) KARMA
According to the law of Karma the potential energy of the Reproductive Karma could be
nullified by a mere powerful opposing Karma of the past, which, seeking an opportunity,
may quite unexpectedly operate, just as a powerful counteractive force can obstruct the
path of a flying arrow and bring it down to the ground. Such an action is called
Destructive (upaghataka) Karma, which is more effective than the previous two in
that it is not only obstructive but also destroys the whole force. This Destructive Karma
also may be either good or bad.
As an instance of operation of all the four, the case of Devadatta, who attempted to
kill the Buddha and who caused a schism in the Sangha (disciples of the Buddha) may be
cited. His good Reproductive Karma brought him birth in a royal family. His continued
comfort and prosperity were due to the action of the Supportive Karma. The Counteractive
or Obstructive Karma came into operation when he was subject to much humiliation as a
result of his being excommunicated from the Sangha. Finally the Destructive Karma brought
his life to a miserable end.
(B) There is another classification of
Karma, according to the priority of effect:
WEIGHTY (GARUKA) KARMA.
This is either weighty or serious may be either good or bad. It
produces its results in this life or in the next for certain. If good, it is purely mental
as in the case of Jhana (ecstasy or absorption). Otherwise it is verbal or bodily. On the
Immoral side, there are five immediate effective heinous crimes (pancanantariya karma):
Matricide, Patricide, and the murder of an Arahant, the wounding of a Buddha and the
creation of a schism in the Sangha. Permanent Scepticism (Niyata Micchaditthi) is
also termed one of the Weighty (garuka) Karmas.
If, for instance, any person were to develop the jhana
(ecstasy or absorption) and later were to commit one of these heinous crimes, his good
Karma would be obliterated by the powerful evil Karma. His subsequent birth would be
conditioned by the evil Karma in spite of his having gained the jhana earlier.
Devadatta lost his psychic power and was born in an evil state, because he wounded the
Buddha and caused a schism in the Sangha.
King Ajatasattu would have attained the first stage of Sainthood (Sotapanna)
if he had not committed patricide. In this case the powerful evil Karma acted as an
obstacle to his gaining Sainthood.
PROXIMATE (ASANNA) KARMA OR DEATH-PROXIMATE KARMA
This is that which one does or remembers immediately before the moment
of dying. Owing to the great part it plays in determining the future birth, much
importance is attained to this deathbed (asanna) Karma in almost all Buddhist
countries. The customs of reminding the dying man of good deeds and making him do good
acts on his deathbed still prevails in Buddhist countries.
Sometimes a bad person may die happily and receive a good birth if he
remembers or does a good act at the last moment. A story runs that a certain executioner
who casually happened to give some alms to the Venerable Sariputta remembered this good
act at the dying moment and was born in a state of bliss. This does not mean that although
he enjoys a good birth he will be exempt from the effects of the evil deeds which he
accumulated during his lifetime. They will have there due effect as occasions arise.
At times a good person may die unhappy by suddenly remembering an evil
act of his or by harbouring some unpleasant thought, perchance compelled by unfavourable
circumstances. In the scriptures, Queen Mallika, the consort of King Kosala, remembering a
lie she had uttered, suffered for about seven days in a state of misery when she lied to
her husband to cover some misbehaviour.
These are exceptional cases. Such reverse changes of birth account for
the birth of virtuous children to vicious parents and of vicious children to virtuous
parents. As a result of the last thought moment being conditioned by the general conduct
of the person.
HABITUAL (ACCINA) KARMA
It is that which on habitually performs and recollects and for which
one has a great liking. Habits whether good or bad becomes ones second nature, tending to
form the character of a person. At unguarded moments one often lapses into ones
habitual mental mindset. In the same way, at the death-moment, unless influenced by other
circumstances, one usually recalls to mind ones habitual deeds.
Cunda, a butcher, who was living in the vicinity of the Buddhas
monastery, died yelling like an animal because he was earning his living by slaughtering
King Dutthagamini of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was in the habit of giving alms
to the Bhikkhus (monks) before he took his own meals. It was his habitual Karma that
gladdened him at the dying moment and gave him birth in the Tusita heaven.
RESERVE OR CUMULATIVE (KATATTA) KARMA
This literally means because done. All actions that are not included in the
aforementioned and those actions soon forgotten belong to this category. This is, as it
were the reserve fund of a particular being.
(C) There is another classification of
Karma according to the time in which effects are worked out:
Immediately Effective (ditthadhammavedaniya) Karma.
Subsequently Effective (uppapajjavedaniya) Karma.
Indefinitely Effective (aparapariyavedaniya) Karma.
Defunct or Ineffective (ahosi) Karma.
Immediately Effective Karma is that which is experienced in this present life.
According to the Abhidhamma one does both good and evil during the javana process
(thought-impulsion), which usually lasts for seven thought-moments. The effect of the
first thought-moment, being the weakest, one may reap in this life itself. This is called
the Immediately Effective Karma.
If it does not operate in this life, it is called Defunct or Ineffective
The next weakest is the seventh thought-moment. Its effect one may reap in the
subsequence birth. This is called Subsequently Effective Karma.
This, too, is called Defunct or Ineffective Karma if it does not operate in the second
birth. The effect of the intermediate thought-moments may take place at any time until one
attains Nibbana. This type of Karma is known as Indefinitely Effective Karma.
No one, not even the Buddhas and Arahantas, is exempt from this class of Karma which
one may experience in the course of ones wandering in Samsara. There is no
special class of Karma known as Defunct or Ineffective, but when such actions that should
produce their effects in this life or in a subsequent life do not operate, they are termed
Defunct or Ineffective Karma.
(D) The last classification of Karma is
according to the plane in which the effect takes place, namely:
Evil Actions (akusala kamma) which may ripen in the sentient planes (kammaloka).
(Six celestial planes plus one human plane plus four woeful planes = eleven kamaloka
planes.) Here are only four woeful kamalokas.
Good Actions (kusala kamma) which may ripen in the sentient planes except for
the four woeful planes.
Good Actions (kusala kamma) which may ripen in the Realm of Form (rupa
brahamalokas). There are four Arupa Brahma Lokas.
QUESTIONS ON THE THEORY OF KARMA
Question: Do the Karmas of parents determine or affect the
Karmas of their children?
Answer: Physically, the Karma of children is generally
determined by the Karma of their parents. Thus, healthy parents usually have healthy
offspring, and unhealthy parents have unhealthy children. On the effect or how the Karma
of their children is determined: the childs Karma is a thing apart of itself
it forms the childs individuality, the sum-total of its merits and demerits
accumulated in innumerable past existences. For example, the Karma of the Buddha-to-be,
Prince Siddhattha was certainly not influenced by the joint Karma of his parents, King
Suddhodana and Queen Maya. The glorious and powerful Karma of our Buddha-to-be transcended
the Karma of his parents which jointly were more potent than his own.
Question: If the Karma of parents do not influence
those of their children, how would the fact be explained that parents who suffer from
certain virulent diseases are apt to transmit these evils to their offsprings?
Answer: Where a child inherit such a disease it is due
to the force of the parents characteristics because of the force of the
latters Utu (conditions favourable to germination). Take, for example, two seeds
from a sapling; plant one in inferior, dry soil; and the other in rich, moist soil. The
result is that the first seed will sprout into a sickly sapling and soon show symptoms of
disease and decay; while the other seed will thrive and flourish and grow up to be a tall
and healthy tree.
It will be observed that the pair of seeds taken from the same stock
grows up differently according to the soil into which they are put. A childs past
Karma may be compared to the seed: the physical disposition of the mother to the soil; and
that of the father to the moisture, which fertilised the soil. Roughly speaking, to
illustrate our subject, we will say that, representing the saplings germination,
growth, and existence as a unit, the seed is responsible for one-tenth of them, the soil
for six-tenths, and the moisture for the remainder, three-tenths. Thus, although the power
of germination exists potentially in the seed (the child), its growth is powerfully
determined and quickened by the soil (the mother) and the moisture (the father).
Therefore, even as the conditions of the soil and moisture must be
taken as largely responsible factors in the growth and condition of the tree. So must the
influences of the parents (or progenitors, as in the case of the animal world) be taken
into account in respect to the conception and growth of their offspring.
The parents share in the Karma determining the physical factors
of their issue is as follows: If they are human beings, then their offspring will be a
human being. If they are cattle then their issue must be of their species. If the human
being is Chinese, then their offspring must be of their race. Thus, the offspring are
invariably of the same genera and species, etc., as those of the progenitors. It will be
seen from the above that, although a childs Karma is very powerful in itself, if
cannot remain wholly uninfluenced by those of it parents. It is apt to inherit the
physical characteristic of its parents. Yet, it may occur that the childs Karma,
being superlatively powerful, the influence of the parents joint Karma cannot
overshadow it. Of course, it need hardly be pointed out that the evil influences of
parents can also be counteracted by the application of medical science.
All beings born of sexual cohabitation are the resultant effects of
- The old Karma of past existence;
- The seminal fluid of the mother, and
- The seminal fluid of the father.
The physical dispositions of the parents may, or may not, be equal in
force. One may counteract the other to a lesser or greater extent. The childs Karma
and physical characteristics, such as race, colour, etc., will be the produce of the three
Question: On the death of a sentient being, is there a
soul that wanders about at will?
Answer: When a sentient being leaves one existence, it
is reborn either as a human being, a celestial being, (Deva or Brahama), and inferior
animal, or a denizen of one of the regions of hell. The sceptics and the ignorant people
held that there are intermediate stages antrabhava between these;
and that there are being who are neither of the human, the celestial, the Deva or the
Brahma worlds nor of any one of the stages of exist recognised in the scriptures
but are in an intermediate stage. Some assert that these transitional stages are possessed
of the Five Khandhas ( Five Aggregates: they are Matter (rupa); Feeling (vedana);
Perception (sanna); 4. Mental-activities (sankhara); and Consciousness
Some assert that these beings are detached souls or spirits
with no material encasement, and some again, that they are possessed of the faculty of
seeing like Devas, and further, that they have power of changing at will, at short
intervals, from one to any of the existence mentioned above. Others again hold the
fantastic and erroneous theory that these beings can, and so, fancy themselves to be in
other than the existence they are actually in. Thus, to take for example one such of these
suppositious beings. He is a poor person and yet he fancies himself to be rich. He
may be in hell and yet he fancies himself to be in the land of the Devas, and so
on. This belief in intermediate stages between existences is false, and is condemned in
the Buddhist teachings. A human being in this life who, by his Karma is destined to be a
human being in the next, will be reborn as such; one who by his Karma is destined to be a
Deva in the next will be appear in the land of the Devas; and one whose future life is to
be in Hell, will be found in one of the regions of hell in the next existence.
The idea of an entity or soul or spirit going,
coming, changing or transmigrating from one existence
to another is an idea entertained by the ignorance and materialistic, and is certainly not
justified by the Dhammas that there is no such thing as going, 'coming,
changing, etc., as between existences. The conception, which is in accordance
with the Dhamma, may perhaps be illustrated by the picture thrown out by a cinema
projector, or the sound of emitted by the gramophone, and their relation to the film or
the sound-box and records respectively. For example, a human being dies and is reborn in
the land of Devas. Though these two existences are different, yet the link or continuity
between the two at death is unbroken in point of time. The same is true in the case of a
man whose further existence is to be in hell. The distance between Hell and the abode of
man appears to be great. Yet, in point of time, the continuity of passage from
the one existence to the other is unbroken, and no intervening matter or space can
interrupt the trend of a mans Karma from the world of human beings to the regions of
Hell. The passage from one existence to another is instantaneous, and the
transition is infinitely quicker than the blink of an eyelid or a lightening-flash.
Karma determines the realm of rebirth and the state of existence in
that realm of all transient being (in the cycle of existences, which have to be traversed
till the attainment, at last, of Nibbana).
The results of Karma are manifold, and may be effected in many ways.
Religious offerings (dana) may obtain for a man the privilege of rebirth as a
human being, or as a deva, in one of the six deva worlds according to the degree of the
merit of the deeds performed, and so with the observance of religious duties (sila).
The jhanas or states of absorption, are found in the Brahma world or Brahmalokas up to the
summit, the twentieth Brahma world: And so with bad deeds, the perpetrators of which are
to be found , grade by grade, down to the lowest depths of Hell. Thus are Karma, past,
present and future were, are, and will ever be the sum total of our deeds, good,
indifferent or bad. As was seen from the foregoing, our Karma determines the changes of
"Evil spirits" are, therefore, not beings in an intermediate
or transitional stages of existence, but are really very inferior beings, and they belong
to one of the following five realms of existence:
1. World of Men: 2. The Lowest plane of deva-world; 3. The region of
hell; 4. Animals below men, and 5. Petas (ghosts).
Number 2 and 5 are very near the world of human beings. As their
condition is unhappy, and they are popularly considered evil spirits. It is not true that
all who die in this world are reborn as evil spirits; nor is it true that beings who die
sudden or violent deaths are apt to be reborn in the lowest plane of the world of devas.
Question: Is there such a thing as a human being who
is reborn and who is able to speak accurately of his or her past existence?
Answer: Certainly, this is not an uncommon occurrence,
and is in accordance with the tenets of Buddhism in respect to Karma.
The following (who form, an overwhelming majority of human beings) are
generally unable to remember there past existences when reborn as human beings: Children
who die young. Those who die old and senile. Those who are addicted to the drug or drink
habit. Those whose mothers, during their conception, have been sickly or have had to toil
laboriously, or have been reckless or imprudent during pregnancy. The children in the
womb, being stunned and started, lose all knowledge of their past existence.
The following are possessed of a knowledge of their past existences,
viz: Those who are not reborn (in the human world) but proceed to the world of the devas,
of Brahmas, or to the regions of Hell, remember their past existences.
Those who die suddenly deaths from accidents, while in sound health,
may also be possessed of this faculty in the next existence, provided that their mothers,
in whose womb they are conceived, are healthy. Again, those who live steady, meritorious
lives and who in their past existences have striven to attain, often attain it.
Lastly the Buddha, the Arahantas and Ariyas attain this gift which is
known as pubbenivasa abhnna (Supernatural Power remembering previous existences).
Question: Which are the five Abhinna? Are they
attainable only by the Buddha?
Answer: The five Abhinna (Supernatural Powers): Pali -
abhi, excellent, nana, wisdom) are:
Iddhividha = Creative power;
Dibbasola = Divine Ear;
Cetopariya nana = Knowledge of others thoughts;
Pubbenivasanussati = Knowledge of ones past existence;
Dibbacakkhu = The Divine eye.
The Abhinna are attainalbe not only by the Buddha, but also by Arantas
and Ariyas, by ordinary mortals who practise according to the Scriptures (as was the case
with hermits etc, who flourished before the time of the Buddha and who were able to fly
through the air and traverse different worlds).
In the Buddhist Scriptures, we find, clearly shown, the means of
attaining the five Abhinna. And even nowadays, if these means are carefully and
perseveringly pursued, it would be possible to attain these. That we do not see any person
endowed with the five Abhinna today is due to the lack of strenuous physical and mental
exertion towards their attainment.
NATURE OF KARMA
In the working of Karma there are maleficent and beneficent forces and
conditions to counteract and support this self-operating law. Birth (gati) time
or condition (kala) substratum of rebirth or showing attachment to rebirth (upadhi)
and effort (payoga) act as such powerful aids and hindrances to the fruition of
Though we are neither the absolutely the servants nor the masters of
our Karma, it is evident from these counteractive and supportive factors that the fruition
of Karma is influenced to some extent by external circumstances, surroundings,
personality, individual striving, and so forth.
It is this doctrine of Karma that gives consolation, hope, reliance and
moral courage to a Buddhist. When the unexpected happens, and he meets with difficulties,
failures, and misfortune, the Buddhist realises that he is reaping what he has sown, and
he is wiping off a past debt. Instead of resigning himself, leaving everything to Karma,
he makes a strenuous effort to pull the weeds and sow useful seeds in their place, for the
future is in his own hands.
He who believes in Karma does not condemn even the most corrupt, for
they, too, have their chance to reform themselves at any moment. Though bound to suffer in
woeful states, they have hope of attaining eternal Peace. By their own doings they have
created their own Hells, and by their own doings they can create their own Heavens, too.
A Buddhist who is fully convinced of the law of Karma does not pray to
another to be saved but confidently relies on him for his own emancipation. Instead of
making any self-surrender, or calling on any supernatural agency, he relies on his own
will power, and works incessantly for the well-being and happiness of all. This belief in
Karma validates his effort and kindles his enthusiasm, because it teaches individual
To the ordinary Buddhist, Karma serves as a deterrent, while to an
intellectual, it serves as in incentive to do good. He or she becomes kind, tolerant, and
considerate. This law of Karma explains the problem of suffering, the mastery of so-called
fate and predestination of other religions and about all the inequality of mankind.