KAMMA - CAUSE AND EFFECT
- Lakbima Online' News
Buddhist thoughts on the Law of cause and effect
Dr. Bokanoruwe Dewananda Thero
Sri Lanka Buddhist Temple
Na Anthalikke na Samuddamajjhe
Na Pabbatanam Vivaram pavissa
Na vijjathi so jagatippadeso
Yatthathi to Mucceyya Papakammam.
The sphere of the Law of cause and effect is unimaginable. However, we should not give up on our thinking of the cause and effects of our actions. The term kamma means ‘to do or to act’. Other religious traditions or religions like, Hinduism and Jainism also talk about kamma.
‘Chetanaham Bhikkave Kamman Vadami’ “Oh! Venerable monks: I declare that volitional thoughts are kamma.” We must consider that there is no karmic action when a thought does not arise in the mind owing to kamma based on thought or volition according to Buddha.
Other religious traditions consider all the acts that we perform intentionally or unintentionally as kamma”, just like our hands might be burnt when we put them in the fire knowingly or unknowingly. No one can stay in the world without committing an evil action. Normally, when we do some act unintentionally, evil reactions might occur. For example while walking, we might kill many ants but we do not have any sense of killing in our mind while walking. Venerable Chakkupala’s story is a very relevant example in connection with the matter. Farmers also might kill many living creatures when they plough the fields for their cultivation. Their main intention is tilling but not killing, so it is not considered as kamma in Buddhist theory of the law of cause and effect. The killing of living creatures occurs naturally sometimes while we do some daily activities but it does not pave any thought of killing. These are not consciously premeditated.
According to a simile, the feeling of fire is less powerful than thoughtful actions. This is because the burning sensation that we feel when we put our hands in fire unknowingly is deeper than when we put our hands in the fire knowingly.
From the Buddhist point of view, the law of volitional thoughts and the effects do not necessarily match the activated kamma on an exact one to on basis. Let’s suppose that a doctor is performing a medical treatment with a compassionate heart and a good mind when something goes terribly wrong. Do you think he accumulates bad kamma as a result? Of course not. It is not bad kamma at all. He did not intend to harm or hurt his patient. His only thought was to make the patient free of suffering. Similarly an action that we perform with vicious thought need not produce any corresponding result either. Therefore whether a kammic act is good or bad depends on the intention. Kamma that is performed unintentionally is not included in the law of cause and effect in Buddhism.
Now let’s consider an important fact of Kamma. It is easy to explain this point through an illustration. A hunter goes to the forest with a gun intending to kill some animals; nevertheless he comes home without killing. Even though, he did not kill he went to the forest to kill. That was his intention. Though he had this intention he failed to kill and at most only frightened the animals. So he had not committed a panathipatha evil act. But he generated ill will as he was acting with an evil mind. So the karmic effect is based not on killing but on ill will.
We should examine the working of the mind to understand the law of volition action when we reflect on Kamma in accordance with the Buddhist concept.
Kammaassakarako nathi- Vipakassa ca vedako
Suddha dhamma pavaththani-Evetham sammadassanam
There is neither doer of the act nor receiver of the consequences of the acts when we consider Kamma from the point of view of truth in an ultimate sense. A being is a combination of five aggregations which come to be in rapid succession. The five aggregates simply existed according to the vissuddhimagga narration there is no place in the human body where the actions can be stored. This is the right view of Kamma, good or bad fruitions of actions are activated at the right time just as air blows when the necessary factors are presented. The working of Kamma is divided in to four categories based on the time of fruition. They are:
01. Dittadhamma vedaniya kamma (the act that gives results in this very life [world])
02. upapajja vedaniya kamma (the act that gives its own fruitions following the next birth)
03. aparapariya vedaniya kamma (the effect of an act that continues throughout the Samsaric process waiting for an opportunity to manifest itself)
04. ahosi kamma ( the act that ends without giving any results because of other heavy wholesome kamma)
Now let us discuss Dittadhamma vedaniya kamma in great detail. Here the term Dittadhamma denotes “present existence”. What is vedaniya? It denotes “feeling” or “sensation”. So this term refers to the action that causes fruition in this very life itself. The impulsive mind’s thoughts out of seven impulsive minds that originate in the fourth process of cognition (Citta vihi) are called Dittadhamma vedaniya kamma as they give result in this very year itself.
Once there was a Brahmin named Culakasalaka. He offered the piece of cloth that he owned to Buddha, as he was very happy with the sermon. King Kosala who witnessed the event rewarded him by giving him many presents and conferred a title on him.
This is an example of the law in Buddhism; we may gain fruitions of both good and unwholesome kamma in this very life.
The term upapajja vedaniya means the results that we will experience in the hereafter. The term aparapariya vedaniya means ever following successive lives. The results of this action follow the doer of the kamma in successive lives.
When those three kinds of kamma do not give results, it is called ahosi kamma, an act of thought that has no longer any potential force.
Thus an action is divided into four categories in accordance with the powerfulness of the kamma and its potential according to the intensity of the mind that operated at the moment the kamma was performed. But not all actions done by people bear fruit. We constantly create many kinds of actions, some of them are meritorious and some of them are unmeritorious. Nevertheless, we cannot consider some of them as either good or evil. Some people have wrong views with regard to the kamma theory. They think that everything that happens depends on kamma. No, this is not true at all. It is wrong and is a misunderstanding. Buddhism does not teach us about the law of cause and effect in such a way.
When we have done certain kamma, we must naturally face its results and no one can escape from them. It is said in Dhammapada thus:
Na anthalikke na samuddamajjhe-Na pabbathanam vivaram pavissa
Na vijjati so jagatipadeso-yaththathitho munnceyya papakamma
‘not the sky, nor the mid oceans, nor in a mountain cave, is found that a place on earth where abiding one may escape from the (the consequences) of one’s evil deed.
Good begets good and bad begets bad. Good kamma gives us good results and bad kamma gives us bad results. But all actions do not grant its own results.
Buddhists should not give up all necessary activities thinking all inevitable things are dependant on kamma. We must make the effort to achieve material and spiritual achievement and not surrender to kamma fatalistically.
Yatne krute yadi na siddayati kotra dosah
If you are trying to get something done, even though you do not get some result from your tireless effort, no one will blame you as you had sincerely made an effort.
Our Lord Buddha said that we can avoid the results of our actions by behaving wisely and heedfully. There are four ways in which kammic effects can fail to operate. They are:
1. kala vipaththi - time failures
2. desa vipaththi - geographic failures
3. gati vipatththi - failures passing to another existence
4. payoga vipaththi - failures due to inapplicability
When the conditions for these failures are present, the results of one’s action can be avoided and changed.
Therefore, we should not think that everything would take place because of kamma. We have to consider that action and the results are only one order of the universal law. There are five orders in Buddhism. They are:
1. utu niyama - seasonal regulatory orders
2. bija niyama - the regulatory order of generating elements
3. kamma niyama - the regulatory order of kamma (cause and effects)
4. dhamma niyama - the regulatory order of the Dhamma
5. cita niyama - the regulatory order of citta(physic laws)
All environmental changes occur in accordance with utu niyama [seasonal regulatory order]. Flowers bloom in the environment in accordance with utu niyama. Fruits are produced according to the seeds that are planted. This is called bija niyama, the regulatory order of generating elements.
We experience the consequences according to our own acts. This is called kamma niyama the regulatory order of Kamma [cause and effects]. Earthquakes and other natural phenomena occur according to the dhamma niyama the regulatory order of Dhamma. Origination of the mind occurs in accordance with the cita niyama, the regulatory order of citta. Not everything depends on God or Kamma. We get good or bad consequences according to our own good or bad deeds not by unseen forces or power of unseen beings or all mighty God’s will.