A guide to Kamma

21st August 2015

‘Kamma’ has become an interesting theme among people around the world today. If it were not for the Supreme Buddha, the Enlightened One, there would be no way to learn about kamma in a descriptive manner. It was only the Supreme Buddha who had the perfect knowledge about kamma. He fully realised kamma and therefore he could teach the nature of kamma, how it works, how it originates, how it is eliminated and everything about it.

What is Kamma?

The word kamma literally means ‘action’, but the Buddha uses it to refer specifically to volitional or intentional action: ‘It is volition, bikkhus, that I call kamma. For having willed, one acts by body, speech, or mind.’ – Buddha

Therefore, whatever a person intentionally does, speaks and thinks, kamma (to be experienced) is accumulated all the time. So, beings pass from bright states to dark ones and from dark states to bright ones depending on their action by body, speech, and mind. The consequences of good or evil kamma are inevitable and beings are thus tied by kamma to the cycle of repeated births and deaths known as Samsara, ‘the wandering’. That is why the Supreme Buddha says:

‘Action makes the world go round,
Action makes this generation turn,
Living beings are bound by action,
Like the chariot wheel by the linchpin.’

Origination of Kamma

The Supreme Buddha points out three causes for the origination of kamma: greed, hatred and delusion. These are called the three roots of unwholesome action from which all other evil deeds, words, and thoughts arise, and the results of them would be experienced in hell, the animal realm and the realm of afflicted spirits (hungry ghosts). Also there are three wholesome roots, namely, non-greed, non-hatred, and non-delusion which may be expressed more positively as generosity, loving-kindness, and wisdom. The wholesome kamma that originates from the three wholesome roots produces rebirth in the human world, and the heavenly worlds. Accordingly, good kamma gives rise to good results whereas bad kamma brings forth bad results. That being the case, in Buddhism, man is responsible for his own misery and happiness. No other invisible power creates happiness or misery of beings but they themselves are the creators of this. Man reaps what he had sown, both in the past and in the present. What he sows now, he reaps in the present and future.
Unaware of the fact that one is suffering due to ones own action, people blindly chant and pray for an end to suffering. However, as long as karmic forces continue to exist, we have to experience its consequences with no one to relieve our suffering. The Supreme Buddha says ‘Bikkhus, I do not say that there is a termination of volitional kamma that has been done and accumulated as long as one has not experienced its results.’ Therefore, he stresses, that if you fear and detest suffering, do not commit evil deeds openly or secretly.

Diversity of Kamma

Our deeds generate kamma, and when suitable conditions come together, the kamma ripens (mature) and produces the appropriate results, bringing misery or happiness. The results of kamma we create ripens or takes effect in three ways; the results of kamma to be experienced in this very life, the next rebirth or at some subsequent occasion. Thus, one thing that is certain is that as long as we travel on in the cycle of rebirths, our stockpile of kamma is capable of ripening and yielding its due results. We have no escape from kamma so long as we make no effort to make an end to kamma without remainder. Until then beings are struck by kamma in the cycle of repeated births and deaths just as the chariot wheel is bound to the chariot by the linchpin.
Thus the Supreme Buddha teaches again and again that beings are the owners of their kamma, the heirs of their kamma; they have kamma as their origin, kamma as their relative, kamma as their resort; whatever kamma they do, good or bad, they are its heirs.
Kamma thus plays the determinant role on beings dragging themselves from birth to birth in different worlds yielding both misery and happiness in dependence on the moral quality of the original action.

How can one get rid of Kamma?

In order to get rid of kamma, initially, one should realise the fact that there are results from good and bad action. Next, one should avoid doing unwholesome deeds leading to misery and do only wholesome action that have the potential to produce a fortunate rebirth in the higher realms. The Supreme Buddha preaches ten kinds of wholesome action – three of body, four of speech, and three of mind. They are abstention from the destruction of life, abstention from taking what is not given, abstention from sexual misconduct, abstention from false speech, abstention from divisive speech, abstention from harsh speech, abstention from empty (useless/frivolous) words, non-longing, non-hatred, and right view (in ten subjects).
These ten wholesome actions lead to happiness and therefore one should not fear for putting these into practice. Buddhism also teaches another kind of wholesome action; the world-transcending or supermandane (lokuttara) wholesome action- namely, the kamma generated by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path and seven factors of Enlightenment. It is these world-transcending wholesome actions that dismantle the entire process of karmic causation and thereby leads to liberation from the round of rebirths.

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