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Home Teachings General An Introduction to Kamma

An Introduction to Kamma

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Article Index
An Introduction to Kamma
The Nature of Kamma
The Power of Kamma
Classification of Kamma
What Kamma is Not
Bibliography and Notes
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BY BHIKKHU PESALA

Differences Caused by Kamma

The law of kamma is central to Buddhist thinking, so every Buddhist should have a sound knowledge of it. On the surface it seems simple — good actions give good results, bad actions give bad results — but the workings of kamma are very complex and extend over countless lives. If the workings of kamma were obvious, we would easily avoid unskillful actions and do only skilful ones.

During the time of the Buddha, a Brahman millionaire named Todeyya did not believe in giving charity. He held the view: "If you give, you become poor; so don't practice charity. After his death he was reborn as a dog in his own house. When the Buddha went to that house, the dog barked at him, and the Buddha said: "Todeyya! You showed disrespect when you were a human being, and you show disrespect again by barking at me. You will be reborn in hell." The dog thought, "The recluse Gotama knows me," and he was so upset that he went to lay down on a heap of ashes.

Seeing the dog on the heap of ashes, Subha was worried. His servants told him that the Buddha had said something to the dog, so he went to the Buddha who told him what had happened. Subha thought, "The Brahmans say that my father has been reborn as a Brahma, but Gotama says that he has been reborn as a dog. He just says whatever he likes." So he was displeased. The Buddha asked Subha if any of the family's wealth had not been disclosed by his father. Subha replied that a lot of money was missing. The Buddha told him to feed the dog well and then ask him where the money was. Subha did as the Buddha said, hoping to disprove him. The dog took him to the buried money, so Subha gained faith in the Buddha.

Subha later asked the Buddha about the differences between individuals. Why do some people live for a long time, while others are short lived? Why are some people often sick, while others are healthy? Why are some ugly, while others are beautiful? Why do some have few friends, while others have many? Why are some rich while others are poor? Why are some born in favorable circumstances while others are not? And why are some intelligent, while others are ignorant? The Buddha replied, "Brahmin youth! Beings are owners of their kamma, heirs of their kamma, have kamma as their seed, their relatives, and their refuge. It is kamma that separates beings into good and bad conditions." Subha did not understand this short answer, so the Buddha explained in greater detail.

Those who kill others and approve of killing are reborn in the four lower realms (animals, ghosts, demons, and hell) after death. When they are reborn again as human beings, their lives are short. Those who abstain from killing, and have compassion for living beings, are reborn in the celestial realms. When they are reborn again as human beings, they enjoy long lives.

The Buddha then explained about sickness and health. Some people hurt other beings; they enjoy inflicting pain. Due to that kamma, they are reborn in the four lower realms. When they are reborn again as human beings, they are often sick or accident-prone. Those who do not hurt others are reborn in celestial realms. When they are reborn again as human beings, they are healthy.

Why are some people ugly, while others are beautiful? The Buddha explained that some people become angry very easily. Due to anger, they are reborn in the four lower realms. When they are reborn again as human beings, they are ugly. Others do not get angry easily, and have goodwill towards others. They are reborn in celestial realms. When reborn as human beings, they are beautiful.

Some people are jealous. Because of jealousy, they are reborn in the four lower realms. When they are reborn again as human beings, they have few friends. Those who are not jealous are reborn in celestial realms. When they are reborn again as human beings, they have many friends.

Some people are mean, and do not want to give or share anything. Because of meanness they are reborn in the four lower realms. When they are reborn as human beings, they are poor. Those who are generous and unselfish become wealthy.

Some people are proud, and contemptuous of others. Due to this pride they are reborn in the four lower realms. When they are reborn again as human beings, they are born in lowly circumstances. Those who have humility, are reborn in celestial realms. When reborn again as human beings, they are born in fortunate circumstances.

Some people have no desire for knowledge, and do not ask questions to learn about skilful behavior. Lacking knowledge they do many wrong actions and are reborn in the four lower realms. When eventually reborn as human beings, they are ignorant. Those who are inquisitive, and ask wise questions are reborn in celestial realms. When they are reborn again as human beings, they are intelligent. So ask appropriate questions whenever you meet a learned person. Make a thorough investigation about every important matter, especially about the Dhamma.



 

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