(wholesome or unwholesome) action; s. karma.
-- or --
correctly speaking denotes the wholesome and unwholesome volitions (kusala- and
akusala-cetanā) and their concomitant mental factors, causing rebirth
and shaping the destiny of beings.
These karmical volitions (kamma cetanā)
become manifest as wholesome or unwholesome actions by
- body (kāya-kamma)
- mind (mano-kamma)
Thus the Buddhist term
'karma' by no means signifies the result of actions, and quite certainly not the
fate of man, or perhaps even of whole nations (the so-called wholesale or
mass-karma), misconceptions which, through the influence of theosophy, have
become widely spread in the West.
"Volition (cetanā), o monks, is what I call
action (cetanāham bhikkhave kammam vadāmi), for through volition one
performs the action by body, speech or mind. . There is karma (action), o monks,
that ripens in hell.... Karma that ripens in the animal world.. Karma that
ripens in the world of men.... Karma that ripens in the heavenly world....
Threefold, however, is the fruit of karma: ripening during the life-time (dittha-dhamma-vedanīya-kamma),
ripening in the next birth (upapajja-vedanīya-kamma), ripening in later
births (aparāpariya-vedanīya kamma) ...." (A.VI.63).
The 3 conditions or roots (mūla) of unwholesome
karma (actions) are greed, hatred, delusion (lobha, dosa, moha); those of
wholesome karma are: unselfishness (alobha), hatelessness (adosa =
mettā, good-will), undeludedness (amoha = paññā, knowledge) .
"Greed, o monks, is a condition for the arising of
karma; hatred is a condition for the arising of karma; delusion is a condition
for the arising of karma ...." (A.III.109).
"The unwholesome actions are of 3 kinds, conditioned by
greed, or hate, or delusion.
"Killing ... stealing ... unlawful sexual intercourse
... lying ... slandering ... rude speech ... foolish babble, if practised,
carried on, and frequently cultivated, leads to rebirth in hell, or amongst the
animals, or amongst the ghosts" (A. III, 40). "He who kills and is
cruel goes either to hell or, if reborn as man, will be short-lived. He who
torments others will be afflicted with disease. The angry one will look ugly,
the envious one will be without influence, the stingy one will be poor, the
stubborn one will be of low descent, the indolent one will be without knowledge.
In the contrary case, man will be reborn in heaven or reborn as man, he will be
long-lived, possessed of beauty, influence, noble descent and knowledge"
(cf. M. 135).
For the above 10-fold wholesome and unwholesome course of
action, see kamma-patha. For the 5 heinous crimes with immediate result,
"Owners of their karma are the beings, heirs of their
karma, their karma is their womb from which they are born, their karma is their
friend, their refuge. Whatever karma they perform, good or bad, thereof they
will be the heirs" (M. 135).
With regard to the time of the taking place of the
karma-result (vipāka), one distinguishes, as mentioned above, 3 kinds of
- 1. karma ripening during the life-time (dittha-dhamma-vedanīya
- 2. karma ripening in the next birth (upapajja-vedanīya-kamma);
- 3. karma ripening in later births (aparāpariya-vedanīya-kamma).
The first two kinds of karma may be without karma-result (vipāka),
if the circumstances required for the taking place of the karma-result are
missing, or if, through the preponderance of counteractive karma and their being
too weak, they are unable to produce any result. In this case they are called ahosi-kamma,
lit. 'karma that has been', in other words, ineffectual karma.
The third type of karma, however, which bears fruit in later
lives, will, whenever and wherever there is an opportunity, be productive of
karma-result. Before its result has ripened, it will never become ineffective as
long as the life-process is kept going by craving and ignorance.
According to the Com., e.g. Vis.M. XIX, the 1st of the 7
karmical impulsive-moments (kamma javana; s. javana) is considered
as 'karma ripening during the life-time', the 7th moment as 'karma ripening in
the next birth', the remaining 5 moments as 'karma ripening in later births'.
With regard to their functions one distinguishes:
- 1. regenerative (or productive) karma (janaka-kamma),
- 2. supportive (or consolidating) karma (upatthambhaka-kamma),
- 3. counteractive (suppressive or frustrating) karma (upapīlaka-kamma),
- 4. destructive (or supplanting) karma (upaghātaka- or
(1) produces the 5 groups of existence (corporeality,
feeling, perception, mental formations, consciousness) at rebirth as well as
- (2) does not produce karma-results but is only able to
maintain the already produced karma-results.
- (3) counteracts or suppresses the karma-results.
- (4) destroys the influence of a weaker karma and effects only
its own result.
With regard to the priority of their result one
- 1. weighty karma (garuka-kamma),
- 2. habitual karma (ācinnaka- or bahula-kamma),
- 3. death-proximate karma (maranāsanna-kamma),
- 4. stored-up karma (katattā-kamma).
(1, 2) The weighty (garuka) and the habitual (bahula)
wholesome or unwholesome karma are ripening earlier than the light and
rarely performed karma. (3) The death-proximate (maranāsanna) karma -
i.e. the wholesome or unwholesome volition present immediately before death,
which often may be the reflex of some previously performed good or evil action (kamma),
or of a sign of it (kamma-nimitta), or of a sign of the future
existence (gati-nimitta) - produces rebirth. (4) In the absence of any of
these three actions at the moment before death, the stored-up (katattā) karma
will produce rebirth.
A real, and in the ultimate sense true, understanding of
Buddhist karma doctrine is possible only through a deep insight into the
impersonality (s. anattā) and conditionality (s. paticcasamuppāda,
paccaya) of all phenomena of existence. "Everywhere, in all the forms
of existence ... such a one is beholding merely mental and physical phenomena
kept going by their being bound up through causes and effects.
"No doer does he see behind the deeds, no recipient
apart from the karma-fruit. And with full insight he clearly understands that
the wise ones are using merely conventional terms when, with regard to the
taking place of any action, they speak of a doer, or when they speak of a
receiver of the karma-results at their arising. Therefore the ancient masters
'No doer of the deeds is found,
No one who ever reaps their fruits;
Empty phenomena roll on:
This view alone is right and true.
'And whilst the deeds and their results
Roll on, based on conditions all,
There no beginning can be seen,
Just as it is with seed and tree.' " (Vis.M. XIX)
Karma (kamma-paccaya) is one of the 24 conditions (paccaya) (App.: Kamma).
- Karma and Rebirth, by Nyanatiloka (WHEEL 9);
- Survival and Karma in Buddhist Perspective, by K.N. Jayatilleke (WHEEL
- Kamma and its Fruit (WHEEL 221/224).