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
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 tendencies?
Why should some be linguistic, artistic, mathematically inclined,
or musical from the very cradle?
Why should others be congenitally blind, deaf, or deformed?|
Why should some be blessed, and others cursed from their births?
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 birth.
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.
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:
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?"
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
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.
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.
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.
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 Sutta.
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."
this problem of variation, the Atthasalini, being a commentary on
the Abhidharma, states:
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
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.
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.
erroneous view that "whatsoever fortune or misfortune experienced
is all due to some previous action", the Buddha said:
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
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.
Buddhism, there are five orders or processes (niyama) which
operate in the physical and mental realms.
- 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.
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.
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
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,
may be included in this group.
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 modern
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.
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.
O Bhikkhus, that volition is Karma. Having willed one acts by
body, speech, and thought." (Anguttara Nikaya)
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 after death."
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 very life.
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
Is one bound
to reap all that one has sown in just proportion?
provides an answer:
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)
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.
is the cause of Karma?
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 Origination).
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?
these subtle questions, the Venerable Buddhaghosa writes in the
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."
the table we see is apparent reality. In an ultimate sense the so-called
table consists of forces and qualities.
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 moments.
therefore, do not believe in an unchanging entity, in an actor apart
from action, in a perceiver apart from perception, in a conscious
subject behind consciousness.
Who then, is
the doer of Karma? Who experiences the effect?
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.
respect to different functions, Karma is classified into four kinds:
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 Karma.
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):
(mahabhuta 4 + upadana 4 = 8) are collectively
called Avinibhoga Rupa (indivisable form or indivisable
(jivitindriya) and Body (kaya)
8 + jivitindriya 1 + Kaya 1 = 10) ten are collectively
called "Body-decad" = (Kaya dasaka).
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).
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.
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.
KARMA OR COUNTERACTIVE KARMA
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.
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.
There is another classification of Karma, according to the priority
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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
butcher, who was living in the vicinity of the Buddhas monastery,
died yelling like an animal because he was earning his living
by slaughtering pigs.
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
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.
There is another classification of Karma according
to the time in which effects are worked out:
Effective (ditthadhammavedaniya) Karma.
Effective (uppapajjavedaniya) Karma.
Effective (aparapariyavedaniya) Karma.
or Ineffective (ahosi) Karma.
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
weakest is the seventh thought-moment. Its effect one may reap
in the subsequence birth. This is called Subsequently Effective
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.
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.
on the Theory of Karma
Do the Karmas of parents determine or affect the Karmas of their
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 Siddhartha 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.
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?
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).
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.
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.
born of sexual cohabitation are the resultant effects of three forces:
- The old
Karma of past existence;
- The seminal
fluid of the mother, and
- The seminal
fluid of the father.
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 forces.
On the death of a sentient being, is there a soul that
wanders about at will?
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 (vinnana).
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.
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).
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 our existences.
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.
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?
Certainly, this is not an uncommon occurrence, and is in accordance
with the tenets of Buddhism in respect to Karma.
(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
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
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.
Buddha, the Arahantas and Ariyas attain this gift which is known
as pubbenivasa abhnna (Supernatural Power remembering previous
Which are the five Abhinna? Are they attainable only by the Buddha?
The five Abhinna (Supernatural Powers): Pali - abhi,
excellent, nana, wisdom) are:
= Creative power;
Dibbasola = Divine Ear;
Cetopariya nana = Knowledge of others thoughts;
Pubbenivasanussati = Knowledge of ones past existence;
Dibbacakkhu = The Divine eye.
are attainable 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
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.
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 Karma.
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.
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.