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The Workings of Kamma


The second four categories of kamma we shall discuss are according to which type of kamma takes effect first:458

1) Weighty kamma ……………. (garuka.kamma) 3) Near-death kamma ….. (asanna·kamma)

2) Habitual kamma …………… (acinna~kamma) 4) Accomplished kamma. (katatta~kamma)

Weighty kamma is so called because it matures first of all. When there is no weighty kamma, a habitual kamma or near-death kamma matures, depending on which is the stronger at the time of death. When there is none of those two, an accomplished kamma from that very life or a previous life matures.


When weighty kamma(garuka·kamma) is unwholesome, it is reprehensible, and very unskilful kamma; when weighty kamma is wholesome, it is superior, and very skilful kamma. When there is only one weighty kamma, it will always be subsequently-effective kamma of great power. It is certain to produce a corre­spondingly powerful result in the form of a very unhappy or very happy rebirth in the next life. The result of weighty kamma cannot be avoided. And when there are several weighty kammas, the weightiest (unwholesome or wholesome) will work as subsequently-effective kamma: any other weighty kamma will be indefi­nitely-effective kamma.


The unwholesome weighty kammas are six:

1) To deprive one’s mother of life(mataramjivita voropeti)

2) To deprive one’s father of life(pitaramjivita voropeti)

3) To deprive an Arahant of Iife(Arahantamjivita voropeti)

4) With evil intent to draw a Tathagata’s blood(dutthena cittena Tathagatassa Iohitam uppadeti)

5) To make a schism in the Sangha (Sangham bhindati)

6) To hold a persistent wrong view (niyata~miccha·ditthi): that is, at the time of death to hold to a wrong view that denies the workings of kamma.

If in one life, one has accomplished one of these six kammas alone, it will always be subsequently-effective kamma. Its result is certain rebirth in hell:459 it cannot

4S8 VsM.xix.686 (and VsMT) ‘Kankha·Vitarana,ViSuddhi·Niddeso'(‘Exposition of the Doubt­Transcendence Purification’) PP.xix.1S, and AbS.v.Sl ‘Kamma’Catukkam'(‘The Kamma Tet­rad’) CMA.v.19. The explanation that follows is from VsMT. It quotes M.III.iv.6 ‘Maha­·Kamma·Vibhanga·Suttam'(‘The Great Kamma-Analysis Sutta’). There The Buddha ex­plains how the incomplete knowledge of other teachers leads to misleading statements about the workings of kamma, because they do not realize that the kamma which pro­duces the rebirth-linking consciousness is not necessarily the kamma that they have ob­served: it may be an earlier kamma. See quotation endnote 206, p.2S0.

4S9 AA.I.XVI.iii ‘Tatiya’Vaggo'(‘Third Chapter’) explains that those who have accomplished the first four (killing one’s father, killing one’s mother, killing an Arahant, with evil intent drawing a Buddha’s blood) escape from hell when their kamma has ceased, which is no later than the end of the aeon (kappa). Those who have caused a schism in the Sangha, escape from hell only at the end of the aeon (See A.X.I.iv.9 ‘Pathama-Ananda·Suttam’ (‘The First Ananda Sutta’)). The latter three kammas cannot be accomplished very early or late in the aeon, because there is at that time no Buddha’s Dispensation(Buddha·Sasana). The

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III – The Workings of Kamma


be intervened by any other kamma.460 That is why these kammas are also called unintervenable kamma(an’an/anya kamma).461 The first five types take effect as weighty kammas as soon as one has accomplished the unwholesome volitional act. But the sixth (holding a persistent wrong view) takes effect as weighty kamma only if one holds the wrong view up to the time of death (marana·kala). up to the last mental process before the decease consciousness arises.462

Not all wrong views, however, lead to rebirth in hell. One may, for example, hold the view that the self is eternal, and that according to one’s conduct one is reborn in either good or bad destinations. The view that the self is eternal is an eternity view: that is a wrong view. But the view that unwholesome kamma leads to an unhappy destination, and wholesome kamma leads to a happy destination, is a doctrine of action(kitiya’vadlj: it does not deny the workings of kamma. This is why, if one with such a view has accomplished wholesome kamma, one may be reborn in either the human world, the deva world or Brahma world.198

The persistent, strongly held wrong view that alone can lead to rebirth in hell is the view that somehow denies kamma and its result: either an annihilation view or an eternity view.


There are three types of view that in this way deny the workings of kamma and its result:463

1) Inefficacy View(akinya·ditt!liJ: it denies the workings of unwholesome and wholesome kammas.

2) Rootlessness View(ahetuka·ditt!liJ: it denies the root, a cause, of results.

3) Non-Existence View(n·attilika·ditt!liJ: it denies the result of any cause.


The inefficacy view(akinya·ditt!liJ denies the workings of unwholesome and wholesome actions, which is to deny akusala and kusala kamma. In The

outcome of holding a persistent wrong view is explained at ‘The Weightiest Unwholesome Kamma’, p.171.

460 See, for example, The Buddha’s words with regard to King Ajatasattu (who killed his father), quoted p.l72.

461 To explain what a Noble Disciple cannot do, this term appears in MA.III.ii.5 ‘Bahu’DM­tuka·Suttam’ (‘The Many Types of Element Sutta’), AA.I.xv.l :4tth§na·P5Ji’ (‘Impossible Text’), and DhSA.iii.l035 77ka’Nikkhepa’Kan¢am'(‘Threes Summarizing Section’) E.462: ‘In the triplet on wrongfulness, ‘immediate’ [here translated as ‘unintervenable’] means giving results without intervening [time]. This is an equivalent term for such acts [kamma] as matricide [here translated directly as ‘mother-killing’], etc. Indeed, when one such act is done, another act is not able, by ejecting it, to find opportunity for its own result. For even the action of one who all his lifetime gives the four requisites to the Order [Sangha] with The Buddha as the head, lodged to its full capacity in a monastery which he may have caused to be built, with golden shrines the size of Mount Meru and jewelled walls as ample as a worid-system, cannot inhibit the [subsequent] result of these kammas.’

462 The decease consciousness’s object is the object of that life’s life-continuum. See table ‘Sa: Death and Rebirth’, p.50.

463 These three views arise from the same basic wrong view: the view that denies kamma and its result. How they arise from the identity view is explained p.13.


The Workings of Kamma

Buddha’s time, this view was taught by one Pliral)a Kassapa.199The Buddha ex­plains how the identity view gives rise to such a wrong view:464

When there is [materiality … feeling … perception … fonnations], consciousness, bhikkhus, by dinging to [materiality … ] consciousness, by adhering to [materiality … ] consciousness, such a view as this [inefficacy view] arises:

‘If, with a razo •.•• rimmed wheel, one were to make living beings of U1is earth into one mass of flesh, into one heap of flesh, because of this there would be no evil, and no out­come of evil.

If one were to go along U1e south bank of the Ganges killing and slaughtering, mutilat­ing and making others mutilate, torturing and making others torture, because of this there would be no evil, and no outcome of evil.

If one were to go along U1e north bank of the Ganges offering gifts and making others give gifts, making offerings and making others make offerings, because of this there would be no merit, and no outcome of merit.

By offering, by taming oneself, by self-control, by speaking tI1Ith, U1ere is no merit, and no outcome of merit.’

This wrong view(micr:ha·ditthO denies the efficacy of unwholesome and whole­some actions, which is to deny the efficacy of kamma: The Buddha calls it the inefficacy view(akitiya·ditthO. Next we shall discuss the rootlessness view.


The rootlessness view(ahetuka·ditthO holds that events are determined by fate, or by circumstance, or by nature (biology), denying that events have a root or cause.46S In The Buddha’s time, it was taught by one Makkhali Gosala.199

Also here, The Buddha explains how the identity view gives rise to such a wrong view:466

When there is [materiality … feeling … perception … formations], consciousness, bhikkhus, by dinging to [materiality … ] consciousness, by adhering to [materiality … ] consciousness, such a view as this [rootlessness view] arises:

‘There is no root and there is no cause for the defilement of beings; without root and without cause beings are defiled.

There is no root and there is no cause for the purification of beings; without root and without cause beings are purified.2oo

There is no power, U1ere is no energy, there is no manly strength, there is no manly endurance.

An beings, an breathers, an creatures, all living beings, are without ability, without power, and without energy: moulded by fate, circumstance, and nature, they experience pleasure and pain in the six classes.’

The six classes of pleasure and pain taught here by Makkhali Gosala are a six­fold system of purification that he said has no cause either.

This wrong view(micr:ha·ditthO denies that events have a root or cause, which is to deny that there are causes such as kamma:467 The Buddha calls it the root­lessness view(ahetuka·ditthO. Next we shall discuss the non-existence view.

464 S.III.IILi.6 ‘Karoto’Suttam’ (‘The “Doing” Sutta’)

46S These three determinants are equivalent to the wrong views of: 1) fatalism, 2) deter­minism, 3) biological detenninism. See details in the commentary to D.i.2 ‘Siimafifia·Pha­la·Suttam’ (‘The Asceticism-Fruit Sutta’)

466 S.III.III.i.7 ‘Hetu’Suttam’ (‘The Root Sutta’)

467 In the Pa(thana (Causal Relations), The Buddha enumerates and elaborates twenty­four types of cause: kamma is the thirteenth.

III – The Workings of Kamma THE NON-ExISTENCE VIEW


The non-existence view(n·atti1ika·di!thi) holds that only materiality has true exis­tence, and denies that actions have any result. For that reason, it denies also that there is rebirth, that there are other planes of existence, and denies that there are teachers such as The Buddha who know and see these things. In The Buddha’s time, it was taught by one Ajita Kesakambali.201

Here again, The Buddha explains how the identity view gives rise to such a wrong view:468

When there is [materiality … feeling … perception … fonnations], consciousness, bhikkhus, by dinging to [materiality … ] consciousness, by adhering to [materiality … ] consciousness, such a view as this [non-existence view] arises:

‘There is no offering, there is no almsgiving, there is no sacrifice; there is no fruit or result of good and bad kamma; there is no this world, there is no other world; there is no mother, there is no father; there are no beings born spontaneously; there are not in the world any ascetics and Brahmins, rightly faring, rightly practising, who (with direct knowledge) having themselves realized this world and the other world declare it.

This person consists of the four great essentials. When one dies, earth enters and re­joins the earth-body; water enters and rejoins the wate •.•. body; fire enters and rejoins the fire-body; wind enters and rejoins the wind-body: the faculties are transformed into space. With the bier as the fifth, men carry away the corpse. As far as the cemetery is the body”02 known; the bones whiten. Sacrifices end in ashes. A stupid wisdom is this offering.203

When anyone maintains the existence-doctrine [that there is offering, there is a result of good and bad actions, etc.], it is false, idle talk. Fools and the wise with the breakup of the body are annihilated, perish and do not exist after death.’

This wrong view(miccha·ditthOThe Buddha calls the non-existence view(n·atti1ika­·ditthO. It is an annihilation view(uccheda·ditthO, and is the same as the materialist view.469 It is also called a non-existence doctrine(n·atti1i·vada), and is the opposite of the existence-doctrine(atti1i·vada), basic Right View(Samma·Dit!hO.204


Grasping such wrong views at the time of death is the weightiest of the six unwholesome weighty kammas, and results in one’s suffering in hell for aeons. As long as that kamma’s potency is still working, one will not escape from hell even at the destruction of the world system,470 At that time, (as mentioned when we discussed the ‘Gaddula’Baddha’sutta) all beings in hell are reborn in the hu­man or deva world, and there develop jhana, which results in their being reborn in the Brahma world. But the ones who are in hell because of grasping one of these wrong views are reborn in one of the woeful states that lie in the inter­stices between other world systems that are not undergoing destruction.471/205

468 S.III.III.i.5 W·AttiJi·Dinna·Suttam'(‘The There-Is-No-Offering Sutta’)

469 For the materialist view described by The Buddha in D.i.l ‘Bmhma·.Jala·Suttam'(‘The Supreme-Net Sutta’), see quotation at ‘Annihilation View’, p.12.

470 The destruction of the world system is discussed at ‘There Will Come a lime, Bhikkhus’, p.3ff.

471 AA.I.XVI.iii ?aliya’l4lggo'(‘Third Chapter’) explains that as the entire cosmos bums up, the beings who have been born in the interstices between world systems suffer accord­ingly. And when a new cosmos system is formed, they take rebirth again in hell.


The Workings of Kamma

If, however, one gives up that wrong view before the time of death, it does not become an unwholesome weighty kamma.2116 An example of this is the Venerable Sariputta’s nephew, Dighanakha, a wandering ascetic(paribbajaka). He held to the wrong view of annihilation, but after talking with The Buddha, he gave it up. This was one reason why he was able to become a Stream Enterer after listening to what is called ‘The Dighanakha Sutta’,472

Attaining to Stream Entry, however, is impossible if one has accomplished one of the first five unwholesome weighty kammas. They present an insurmountable obstruction to one’s attaining any type of jhana, and any type of supra mundane attainment.

An example of this is King Ajatasattu: we mentioned him earlier.473 His father was King Bimbisara, who was a Stream Enterer, and great patron of The Buddha and Sangha. To gain kingship, King Ajatasattu had his father killed. A present re­sult of this kamma was that he could not sleep. Then, one night, he went to see The Buddha, and The Buddha gave him the great teaching that is the ‘Samafifia­·Phala’sutta.474The king had all the right conditions (parami) for attaining Stream Entry like his father, but because he had killed his father, they were obstructed, and he remained a common person(puthujjana). The Buddha explained it to the bhikkhus:

Dug up, bhikkhus, is this king;47S l1Iined, bhikkhus, is this king. If, bhikkhus, this king had not deprived his father of life (a righteous man, a righteous king), then in this very seat the incorNpt, stainless Dhamma-eye would have arisen.

Through his kamma of listening with respect to a teaching by The Buddha Him­self, the king still gained great benefit: he gained the most supreme faith in The Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha that a common person can attain. His faith was so powerful that he was thereafter able to sleep. And The Buddha saw that his destined time in hell was reduced from many hundred thousand years to sixty thousand years.476

472 M.II.iii.4 ‘Digha.Nakha.SutIi1m’ 473 See ‘King AjatasatbJ’, p.142.

474 D.i.2 ‘Samafiffa·Phala·SUttam'(‘The Asceticism-Fruit Sutta’)

47S The subcommentary explains that he had dug up the wholesome roots(kusaIa’mOlana) which he attained in the past, which could have brought their results in this present exis­tence itself: see ‘Inferior/Superior; the Roots/Resultants’, p.GO.

476 For these details, see the commentary and sUbcommentary to The Asceticism-Fruit Sutta’.

III – The Workings of Kamma



As we mentioned earlier, weighty kammas are not only unwholesome; there are also wholesome weighty kammas: the eight attainments, maintained up to the time of death. The eight attainments are eight types of concentration(samadhij:477

1-4) The four fine-material sphere jhanas(n7p·avaGIC11hana)

5-8) The four immaterial sphere jhanas(an7p·avaGIC11hana)

They are exalted kamma(mahaggatiJ·kamma). But to become wholesome weighty kamma, they need to be maintained up to the time of death: the near-death process(malC1n·asanna·vilfJij must cognize the jhana object.478

The result of these weighty jhana kammas is rebirth in the Brahma world: either as a Brahma in the fine-material world(n7pa’loka) or as an immaterial being in the immaterial world(an7pa·/oka). It can take place only as the result of subsequently­effective kamma; never as the result of indefinitely-effective kamma.

Which Brahma world one is reborn into depends on which jhana one has em­phasized.479 But we need perhaps to explain what that means.

One may attain all eight jhanas, but usually one will prefer one of them. Usually one will devote one’s practice especially to that jhana. And with the desire for re­birth in that particular plane of the Brahma world, one may develop such mastery of one’s jhana as to be reborn there. Such mastery of concentration is what The Buddha calls ‘means to power'(iddhi·p8da).


He explains a means to power as concentration where the volitional formations of striving have one volitional formation that is predominant.480 And He gives four such means to power:207

1) The means to power of concentration that has formations of striving by de­sire(chanda·samadhi-ppadhana·sarikhalC1·samannilgatiJ iddhi·p8da).

2) The means to power of concentration that has formations of striving by en­ergy(viriya·samadhi·ppadhana·sarikhalC1·samannilgatiJ iddhi·p8da).

3) The means to power of concentration that has formations of striving by con­sciousnesS(citfi1·samadhi-ppadhana·sarikhalC1·samannilgatiJ iddhi-pada).

4) The means to power of concentration that has formations of striving by in­vestigation(vimamsa·samadhi·ppadhana·sarikhalC1·samannilgatiJ iddhi·p8da).

One who attains the eight jhanas, and is not the disciple of a Buddha, may de­velop the means to power: but not to the same degree as the disciple of a Bud­dha. Why? Because only the disciple of a Buddha will have penetrated to ultimate mentality-materiality, and only the disciple of a Buddha will with that as object have practised insight meditation(vipa55’ana·bhavana). Such practice does not exist

477 VsM.xix.686 ‘KiJrikha’ VtfalC1na’ VlSUddhi’Niddes”O'(‘Exposition of the Doubt-Transcend­ence Purification’) PP.xix.15. For the jhanas, see ‘Samatha Meditation’, p.80.

478 See also tables ‘Sa: Death and Rebirth’, p.SO, and ‘5d: The Jhana-Attainment Process’, p.176.

479 The Buddha explains the Brahma planes of rebirth, according to the jhana one has developed, in, for example, ‘Pathama·Nana·KalC1na·Suttam’ (‘The First Various-Activities Sutta’).

480 striving: the four types of striving. See quotation endnote 26, p.23.


The Workings of Kamma

outside a Buddha’s Dispensation.481 Unless one’s samatha practice is supported by such strong and powerful insight knowledge(vipass-ana·ffana), the means to power that one may develop will be only weak, and one’s psychiC powers will also be only weak. For that reason, one will be unable to specialize in one jhana, and attain rebirth on the plane of one’s desire.

Those who attain the eight jhanas outside a Buddha’s Dispensation think that one can be reborn only on the plane of one’s highest jhana: and if their jhana produces their rebirth-linking consciousness, they are reborn accordingly.


For example, when our Buddha was still a Bodhisatta, he learned the seven jhanas from a teacher called A!ara Kalama. Later he learned the eight jhanas from another teacher called Uddaka Ramaputta.208 Realizing that these attain­ments did not lead to the end of suffering, our Bodhisatta then went to the forest and tried austerities. After doing that for six years, he gave it up, took food again, and then sat under the Bodhi Tree by the Neraiijara river, and attained enlightenment.

Out of gratitude, and because He could see they possessed sufficient wisdom to attain a Path&Fruition, He decided to go and teach his two former teachers the Dhamma He had realized, but he discovered they had both passed away. A!ara Kalama had been reborn on the immaterial plane of the seventh jhana, the base of nothingneSS(aki(7t.Diiii·ayatana), and Uddaka Ramaputta had been reborn on the immaterial plane of the eighth jhana, the base of neither-perception nor non­perception (neva·saiiffa na·saiiii·ayatana).

So, even though The Buddha knew they could understand the Dhamma, He could not teach them the Dhamma. Why? Because in the immaterial world there is no materiality, and beings there have only four aggregates: feeling, perception, formations, and consciousness. They do not have the material aggregate, which means they do not have eyes or ears: A!ara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta could not see The Buddha, nor hear His Dhamma.482


The same thing happened to Ka!adevila the hermit:483 it was he who examined the new-born Prince Siddhattha, and foresaw that He would become a Buddha.

Ka!adevila mastered all eight jhanas, and the mundane psychic powers(abhi­iiffa).484 He would, for example, spend the day in the Tavatimsa deva world, be­cause it was more comfortable there than in the human world. And it was there that he heard a Buddha-to-be had been born.

481 For an example of such practice, see the ascetic Nanda’s practice under The Buddha Padumuttara, p.274.

482 In Vbh.XVIII.ii.3:4n7pa·DMlu'(‘Immaterial Element’), The Buddha explains that in the immaterial world there is no seeing or hearing: ‘Therein, what are the two bases in the immaterial element? Mind base, dhamma base [all objects cognized by only the mind].’ Hence, the commentary to M.I.iii.6Jo!1tiya·Paliyesana·Suttam'(‘The Noble-Search Sutta’) explains that A!ara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta had no ears to listen to The Buddha, nor any feet to go and see The Buddha.

483 BvA.xxvii ‘Gotilrna·Buddha·loamsa·loalJnana’ (‘Description of the Gotama-Buddha line­age’)

484 psychiC powers: see footnote 239, p.80.

III – The Workings of Kamma


When he had told King Suddhodana, and Queen Mahamaya, (our Bodhisatta’s parents) that their son would become Buddha, he wept. He wept because he was already old, and knew he would pass away before l:t1e Bodhisatta became Buddha. But if he had known about the means to training the mind, he need not have wept. He could have made sure to be reborn on one of the planes of the fine-material world, where the beings have eyes and ears.48S From the fine­material world, he would have been able to see The Buddha, and hear The Bud­dha’s Teachings. Instead, just like Uddaka Ramaputta, he was reborn on the highest immaterial plane, the base of neither-perception nor non-perception(neva­-sanna n§-sann-ayatana), because he did not know about training of l:t1e mind.


Then there was Brahma Sahampati: being a disciple of a Buddha, he knew about the means to power.209 Under Kassapa Buddha, as the bhikkhu Sahaka, he be­came a Non-Returner with all eight attainments, having specialized in l:t1e first fine-material jhana.486 So at death he was reborn in l:t1e fine-material world on the Great Brahma plane(Maha·Brahma·bhumi}, the highest of the first jhana planes. That meant he had eyes to see our Buddha, and ears to hear our Buddha’s Dhamma.487


If, however, one does not maintain one’s jhana up to l:t1e time of death, it is not weighty wholesome kamma. The Venerable Devadatta, for example, our Buddha’s cousin, learned the eight attainments, and fIVe mundane psychic pow­ers from Him.488 But when he developed the desire to lead the Sangha instead of The Buddha, he lost his jhanas. So at his death, no jhana became wholesome weighty kamma. Instead, the unwholesome weighty kamma of making a schism in the Sangha took effect, and he was reborn in the great Avici Hell.

That concludes our explanation of the unwholesome and wholesome weighty kammas(garoka·kamma): they take effect before all other kammas.

48S See quotation, footnote 487, p.175.

486 He explains this to The Buddha in ‘Sahampati-Brc1hma-SUttam: The details are from the commentary to S.I.VI.i.l ‘Brahma- Yacana-Suttam’ (‘The Brahma’s-Request Sutta’).

487 In Vbh.XVIII.ii.21?l7pa-Ol1atu'(‘Fine-Material Element’) BA.XVIII.ii.994, The Buddha explains that in the fine-material (Brahma) world there is seeing and hearing: ‘Therein, what are the six bases in the fine-material element? Eye base, sight base, ear base, sound base, mind base, dhamma base [all objects cognized by only the mind].’

488 The Venerable Devadatta accomplished also the weighty unwholesome kamma of drawing The Buddha’s blood with evil intent: see ‘The Venerable Devadatta’, p.150.


III – The Workings of Kamma


Notes to table 5d ‘111e lhiina-Attainment Process’

· The object of the fine-material jhana attainment is always a concept(paffffalti) , for example, the counterpart sign(pa{ibhaga’nimitta) of mindfulness-of-breathing (anapana’ssati), or one of the kasil)as.489 With some objects only the first jhana can be attained, with others all four jhanas, taking the same object.

The four immaterial jhanas are all the fourth fourfold-jhana (fifth fivefold), and depend on previous attainment of the fourth jhana, taking a material kasil)a object. Each subsequent immaterial jhana takes then a different object, dependent on the previous jhana:49o

~ 1st immaterial jhana: the boundless space left after removal of the bound­less kasil)a object, which is the space concept(akasa-paffffalti). The Buddha calls this jhana the base of boundless space(akasanaffc·ayatana).

~ 2nd immaterial jhana: the consciousness of the first immaterial jhana, which had boundless space as object, and is an exalted consciousness(mahaggata·dtta): it is a kamma, an ultimate phenomenon(palilmattf7a·dhamma). The Buddha calls this jhana the base of boundless consciousness(viffiianaffc·ayatana).

~ 3rd immaterial jhana: the absence of the consciousness that had boundless space as its object (and which was itself the object of l:t1e base of boundless consciousness): it is l:t1e concept of not being(n·atlf1i.bhava·paffffalti). The Buddha calls this jhana called the base of nothingness(akiffcaffff·ayatana).

~ 41:t1 immaterial jhana: the consciousness of the third immaterial jhana, which has nothingness as object, and is an exalted consciousness: it is kamma, an ultimate phenomenon. The Buddha calls this jhana called the base of neither­perception nor non-perception(neva·saffiia·n·as-affff·ayatana).

· One consciousness lasts one consciousness moment(dlta·kKf1ana), with three stages: arising (upp§tfa) 1′, standing(lhiti) I, dissolution(bhaIiga),J,.

· Before and after a mental process, arises a number of life-continuum consci­ousnesses.491

· Cognition follows a fixed procedure, according to l:t1e natural law of the mind (dtta·niyama). Thus, l:t1e procedure of the fine-material jhana process is:

~ A mind-door adverting consciousness: it cognizes the jhana-object.

~ Three preparatory impulsions cognizing the same object:

i) Preparation- ii) Access- iii) Conformity Consciousness

Their application, sustainment, happiness, joy, and one-pointedness are stronger than normal sensual-sphere consciousnesses. Thus l:t1ey prepare l:t1e way for absorption, are in the access of jhana, and conform to the con­sciousness preceding them, and the succeeding Change of Lineage. (In one of keen faculties, the preparation consciousness does not arise: there are only three preparatory impulsions.)

~ Change of Lineage Knowledge: it is a fourth impulsion, which marks l:t1e transi­tion from consciousness of the limited lineage(pafitta·gotta) of sensual-sphere consciousness to the exalted Iineage(mah·aggata·gotta), of fine-materia 1- or immaterial-sphere jhana consciousness.

489 See ‘Appendix 1: The Forty Meditation Subjects’, p.3S9.

490 VsM.x.289-290 l<1ivppa·Niddes-o'(‘Exposilion of the Immaterial’) PP.x.58-59 & AbS.v.71 Wambana·.sarigaho'(‘Appendage [appendant object] Compendium’) CMA.iii.18

491 Ufe-continuum consciousness: for details, see footnote 30S, p.l0S, and table ‘Sa:

Death and Rebirth’, p.SO.


The Workings of Kamma

~ Countless absorption impulsion-consciousnesses (formations(sarikhalO)) cog­nizing the same object; each cognition reinforcing the next.492 The number of absorption impulsions depends on how long the jhana attainment lasts, which depends on the yogi’s practice and skill: it may last only some frac­tions of a second, it may last an hour, it may last several days. The yogi who has developed the five masteries of jhana determines beforehand how long the jhana attainment will last. But when the beginner first attains jhana, there arises only one jhana consciousness.

· In a five-door-, and mind-door process of the sensual sphere, the impulsions are all the same, but in a jhana-attainment process (which is of the fine-mat­erial- or immaterial sphere) the impulsions are different. The first four are all sensual-sphere consciousnesses, whereas only the fifth is the actual jhana consciousnesses. It is not only one, but many thousand million, and they are all the same. If one is in the same jhana for a longer period (several hours, up to a week), the number of fifth impulsions is uncountable.

· The yogi enters the jhana attainment in accordance with the way the mind is conveyed(yathiibhinihalOvasena). the yogi decides which jhana to attain.

· The wholesome kamma of a jhana attainment becomes a wholesome weighty kamma when it is maintained up to the near-death mental process.

· This same procedure is followed when one enters into the supra mundane Frui­tion Attainment. 493


Even though these types of resultant consciousness are the result of wholesome kamma, they are in the Pali never called wholesome-resultants(kusala·vipaka), since that term refers only to the unrooted wholesome resultants: see table, p.62.

FUNCTION: these nine types of consciousness may function as one life’s life-continuum con­sciousnesses: the first one is the rebirth-linking consciousness{pafisandhi·citta) and the last one is the decease consciousness(aili·citta). Such types of consciousness are also called process-separate consciousnesses(vithi·rnutfa·citta).

OBJECT see notes to table Sd ‘The Jhiina-Attainment Process’. For the kamma, kamma sign, or destination sign, and the process-separate consciousnesses, see notes to table Sa ‘Death and Rebirth’, p.50.

492 For the mental phenomena of the absorption process, see ‘Mental Phenomena of the Mind-Door Process’, p.148. And of the jhiina-attainment consciousness, see table ‘3c:

Mental Phenomena of Exalted Consciousness’, p.83f. 493 See table ‘Se: The Path Process’, p.336.

III – The Workings of Kamma



Next in order of effect is habitual kamma(adO(7a·k3mma): unwholesome or whole­some kamma that is done habitually, frequently, and continuously. Habitual kamma matures before unusual kamma(abahula·k3mma).494 And of several habitual kammas, the most habitual unwholesome or wholesome kamma matures first.


As examples of habitual unwholesome kamma we may refer to the Venerable Mahamoggallana. He was chief disciple in psychic powers(abhififfa). At one time, he was living together with the Venerable LakkhaQa on the Vulture-Peak Mountain (Gijjha·Kiif;J Pabbata).49S And once,210 as they were descending the mountain, the Venerable Mahamoggallana smiled. His companion asked him why he smiled, and he said please to ask this only in The Buddha’s presence. So, in The Buddha’s presence, the Venerable LakkhaQa asked him again. The Venerable Mahamoggal­lana explained that he had seen a skeleton moving through the air. Vultures, crows, and hawks were attacking it, and tearing it apart, and it was giving out cries of pain. He had smiled because he thought it was amazing that such a be­ing could exist. Then The Buddha turned to the bhikkhus and explained:

With the [divine] eye developed indeed, bhikkhus, disciples dwell; with [the higher] knowledge developed indeed, bhikkhus, disciples dwell, by which the disciple speaks of such a thing, knows it, and sees it, and can witness it.

In the past for me, bhikkhus, there was sight of that being,496 although I did not speak of it. Had I spoken of it, others would not have believed me. If they had not believed me, that would for a long time be to their detriment and suffering.

That being, bhikkhus, in this very Rijagaha was a butcher. He having suffered that kamma’s result for many years, for many hundred years, for many thousand years, for many hundred thousand years in hell, owing to that same kamma’s power, such an indi­vidual existence has acquired and is experiencing.

Here, the butcher’s livelihood was to kill cattle. That was his habit: habitual kamma. Owing to that kamma, he suffered for a long time in hell. But when he passed away from hell, his near-death mental process took as object a heap of meatless cattle bones. So, owing to the same kamma(k3mma·.sabhagaMya), or the same object(aramma(7a·.sabhiigaMya), he was reborn as a ghost in the form of a skeleton. In his next existence, he still suffered torment for his habitual kamma as a butcher.

The Venerable Mahamoggallana reported seeing also more such beings, and again The Buddha confirmed seeing them Himself. In each case, it was beings who suffered because of habitual unwholesome kamma:

· A cattle-butcher suffered in hell for many hundred th0usand years.497 He was reborn as a ghost in the form of a piece of meat crying out in pain as it was being torn at by vultures, crows, and hawks.

494 Also called ‘accomplished kamma'(katatta·kamma).

49S Vin.par.i.4’l:atuttha.par.v’ikam'(‘The Fourth Defeat’), and S.II.VIII.i.l:11tthi·Sultam'(‘The Skeleton Sutta’). The commentaries explain that the Venerable LakkhalJa was one of the thousand former matted-hair fire-ascetics who attained Arahantship with The Buddha’s teaching of the ‘The “Burning” Sutta’ (mentioned at ‘Happy Uruvela Kassapa’, p.280ff).

496 The Commentaries explain that The Buddha saw this on the night of His enlightenment: when He developed the divine eye(dibba’cakkhu): mentioned also endnote 158, p.243.


The Workings of Kamma

· A woman who committed adultery suffered in hell for many hundred thousand years.498 She was reborn as a ghost in the form of a flayed woman crying out in pain, as she was being torn at by vultures, crows, and hawks .

· A bad bhikkhu, who in The Buddha Kassapa’s Dispensation received the four requisites from the faithful,- had been without restraint in body and speech, and had practised wrong livelihood, enjoying himself as he pleased: he suf­fered in hell for many hundred thousand years. Then he was reborn as a ghost in the form of a bhikkhu crying out in pain because his outer robe, bowl, girdle, and body were burning and blazing.


A happier example is the example of the householder Dhammika.211 As a habit throughout his life, he made offerings to The Buddha and Sangha. At the time of death, the destination sign(gati nimitta) of that wholesome habitual kamma appear­ed as devas of the six deva planes in shining chariots come to take him away. soo Having aspired to it beforehand, he chose to go to the Tusita deva plane. SOl


Next in order of effect is near-death kamma(asanna·kamma): an unusual kamma that at the time of death is recollected very vividly. An unusual kamma is itself not strong enough to overpower a habitual kamma. But if at death, one recollects the unusual kamma very vividly, the act of vivid recollection may give it enough strength to overpower the habitual kamma. Then can the unusual kamma pro­duce its result, and one is reborn accordingly.



A good example of this process is Queen Mallika, queen to King Kosala. S02 She was a devout Buddhist, and every day in the palace she gave almsfood to five hundred bhikkhus: that was her habitual kamma. But at death, she was unable to control her mind, and recollected very vividly one unusual unwholesome kamma she had done. For that reason, she was reborn in hell. Nevertheless, the unusual unwholesome kamma was not very severe, meaning it was quite weak, and after seven days it was overpowered by her habitual kamma: she escaped from hell and was reborn in the deva world.

We may thus understand that it is very dangerous to dwell on one’s unwhole­some deeds at the time of death. That is why it is custom for those with faith in The Buddha to remind a dying person of his good deeds, or to urge him to arouse

497 S.II.VIII.i.2 ‘Pesi’Suttam'(‘The “Piece” Sutta’)

498 S.II.VIII.ii.3 ‘Ni·Cchav·Itthi·Suttam'(‘The Skinless-Woman Sutta’) 499 S.II.VIII.ii.7 ‘Papa’Bhikkhu’Suttam'(‘The Bad-Bhikkhu Sutta’)

soo destination sign: see table ‘Sa: Death and Rebirth’, p.50.

SOl The commentary explains that he chose Tusita heaven, because it is the plane of exi­stence for the last life for all Bodhisattas, before they go down to the human world to be­come an Enlightened One.

S02 For other examples of people who recollect an unwholesome kamma, and thereby have an unhappy rebirth, see ‘The Envious Venerable Tissa’, p.277, and ‘The Jealous Ven­erable Jambuka’, p.305.

III – The Workings of Kamma


good thoughts in the final moments of his life. Even a person of bad character (who has accomplished unwholesome habitual kamma) should just before dying try to recollect a wholesome kamma, or try to accomplish a wholesome kamma, for then may she or he be reborn according to that kamma instead.



A good example is Tambadathika, the king’s executioner.so3 For fifty-fIVe years, he beheaded criminals, but in his old age he could no longer behead a man with a single blow, and was made to retire. On the day he retired, he offered the Ven­erable Sariputta some sweet milk-porridge with fresh ghee. Afterwards, the Ven­erable Sariputta gave him the progressive instruction(anupubbi·katf7a) in four stages:S04

· Instruction on offering(dana·katf7a).

· Instruction on morality(S/7a·katf7a).

· Instruction on the heavens(sagga·katf7a): that is the results of offering and mo­rality.

· Instruction on the danger, depravity, and defilement of sensual pleasure (kamanam iidinavam okaram samkilesam), and the advantage of renunciation(nek­khamme iinisamsam pakasesi).

Then, when the Venerable Sariputta could see that Tambadathika’s mind was calm, ready, and full of faith, he instructed him in the most superior Dhamma teaching of Buddhas(Buddhanam siimukkarilsika Dhamma’desanii):

~~ ~~~~~~uuuuu .. · .. ·u·.· .. · .. · .. u(~~= I ;~ ~~eC=tion .••••.•••••••••••••••••••••••. (~=

Tambadathika listened with wise attention (yoniso manasikara). And owing to suffi­cient past practice of knowledge and conduct(vi.iiii·Q1raoa), sos he was able now to attain the Formations-Equanimity Knowledge(Sarikhar·Upekkhii·Niioa), S06 very close to the Stream-Entry Path Knowledge(Sot·A;oatti-Magga). Then he accompanied the Venerable Sariputta some of the way, and returned home. But on his way home, a demon in the guise of a cow gored him to death.so7 At the time of death, he re­collected the two wholesome kammas with great vividness: offering milk-porridge to the Venerable Sariputta, and listening to Dhamma. That became his near-death kamma, and he was reborn in the Tusita deva world.


Now, please do not misunderstand this example. Please do not think that one can accomplish many unwholesome kammas throughout one’s life, and then just recall a wholesome kamma at death in order to gain a happy rebirth. Tambada-

S03 DhPA.viii.l ‘lambadii.tf7ika·eora·Ghiilaka·Vatthu'(‘The Case of Tambadathika the Bandit­Executioner’). See also ‘Tambada\l1ika the Executioner’, p.209.

S04 progressive instruction: see footnote 375, p.135.

sos See ‘Knowledge and Conduct’, p.13S.

S06 very close to the Stream-Entry Path Knowledge: The Buddha explains that he attained the Conformity Knowledge{J1nu/oma·Na!7<1). It takes the same object as the Formations-Equan­imity Knowledge (for the Conformity Knowledge, see table ‘5e: The Path Process’, p.336). S07 This demon killed him because of past unwholesome kamma he had accomplished. See ‘The Avenging Courtesan’, p.270.


The Workings of Kamma

thika attained ltIe Formations-Equanimity Knowledge by listening to a Dhamma talk: that requires strong and powerful parami. Such a case is quite exceptional, for The Buddha makes it clear that only a very, very, very small number of ordi­nary people(puthujjana) are reborn as human beings after dealtl.so8

Please remember that it is very difficult to control one’s mind at death. For ex­ample, if one is killed in a catastrophe like an earthquake or a tsunami, or if one is killed in a war or an accident, or if one is attacked by someone, then fear will inevitably arise. It is very difficult to control one’s mind when there is much fear: fear is hatred-rooted, and if one dies with a hatred-rooted consciousness, one will be reborn either in the ghost world, the animal world, or hell. Also if one dies of a terrible disease wiltl much pain, it is difficult to control one’s mind. And if one has been given heavy drugs by the doctor, how is one going to control one’s mind? Even if one dies under peaceful circumstances, it can be difficult to control one’s mind, because the mind changes so quickly. And if one has never practised sense-restraint, or if one has not meditated properly, if one has always engaged in sensual pleasures, then how is one going to be able to control one’s mind?

Say one reflects on the beauty of one’s children, the beauty of one’s husband or wife, the beauty of one’s house or garden, or the beauty of a flower, and other such ltIings: that is rooted in greed and delusion. It is a perverted percep­tion(salffi8·vipallasa), SOg based on unwise attention. If one has habitually looked upon such objects with such unwise attention, it will be very difficult at death suddenly to reflect upon ltIem with wise attention. One may also never have re­flected on dealtl. Then, on one’s deathbed, one may worry about dying and be unhappy: that is rooted in hatred and delusion. One may also never have prac­tised contentment and patience, and frequently be discontent and impatient on one’s dealtlbed: ltIat is also rooted in hatred and delusion. One may also die harbouring a grudge against someone, or one may die wiltl remorse for some­thing bad one has done, or something good one has failed to do: that is also rooted in hatred and delusion. One may be confused about what happens after dealtl: that is rooted in delusion. If one dies wiltl such consciousness (rooted in greed and delusion, hatred and delusion, or delusion alone),slo one cannot avoid being reborn in a woeful state.511

That is why The Buddha, His disciples, and others who teach the workings of kamma, encourage people to practise the three merit-work bases: to help people avoid being reborn in a woeful state. SI2 But if one’s merit-work is inferior, or it is

S08 See quotation, endnote 15, p.21. SOg See ‘The Four Perversions’, p.326.

SIO This refers solely to the delusion-rooted consciousness associated with scepticism (vidkia:hi): not the one associated with restlessness(uddhaall). For the two types of delu­sion-rooted consciousness, see table ‘2c: Mental Phenomena of Delusion-Rooted Consci­ousness’, p.48.

Sl1 In S.IV.I.xviii.8l4dilta·Ritiyaya·Suttam'(‘The Fire-Theme Sutta’), The Buddha explains that it were better for one to have one’s eye faculty extirpated by a buming, glowing iron spike than for one to grasp the sign of a sight’s features, because if one were to die while enjoying such a sign, one may be reborn either in hell or the animal world. He says the same for the remaining five faculties. And He explains that the educated Noble Disciple instead practises vipassana on the six faculties and their objects and consciousness.

Sl2 For a sutta reference, see endnote 124, p.239.

III – The Workings of Kamma


a wrong practice, maybe based on wrong view, then it will not be of much help, will it?


Let us then discuss the last type of kamma to mature: accomplished kamma (katatta·kamma). It is simply kamma that has been completed, any of the twenty courses of kamma that we discussed earlier. Let us just mention them again briefly:s13


Such unwholesome or wholesome kamma one may have done in this life, in the previous life, or in the infinite past. It brings about rebirth, when the previous three types of kamma either do not exist or fail to arise. Accomplished unwhole­some kamma brings about rebirth in the animal world, in the ghost world or in hell, and accomplished wholesome kamma brings about rebirth in the human world or the deva worlds.

That concludes our explanation of the order in which kamma takes effect: first weighty kamma, then habitual kamma, then near-death kamma, and last accom­plished kamma.

S13 For a detailed analysis of these ten courses of unwholesome/wholesome kamma, see ‘The Courses of Kamma’, p.117ff.


The Workings of Kamma


The third four categories of kamma we shall discuss are according to kamma’s

function(kkra). When kamma matures, it may take one of four functions:s14

1) Productive kamma(janaka·kamma)

2) Reinforcing kamma(upatti1ambhaka·kamma)

3) Frustrating kamma(upap(7aka·kamma)

4) Interceptive kamma(upaghataka·kamma)

As we discussed earlier, an unwholesome or wholesome kamma is properly ac­complished only with the fulfilment of certain factors: that includes the either unwholesome or wholesome volition to accomplish the kamma. It is called the conclusive volition (sannittMna cetana). The volitions that come before and after the conclusive volition are then called the preceding&succeeding volitions(pubb’apalC1­·cetana).515

Only the conclusive volition functions as rebirth-producing productive kamma, whereas the preceding&succeeding volitions function as reinforcing-, frustrating-, and interceptive kamma, as well as other productive kamma.


The function of productive kamma(janaka’kamma) is to produce the five aggre­gatess16(mentality-materiality),517 at rebirth(pafisandhlj, and in that life’s conti­nuance(pavatti). S18 Productive kamma is unwholesome or wholesome.

Productive kamma produces rebirth only if its result arises immediately after the decease consciousness in the previous life. S19 Rebirth is the simultaneous arising of three things:s2o

1) The rebirth-linking consciousness(pafisandhi·dtta): that is the consciousness aggregate.

S14 VsM.xix.687 (and VsMTI ‘Katikhli·Vitarana·Visuddhi·Niddeso'(‘Exposition of the Doubt­Transcendence Purification’) PP.xix.16, and AbS.v.SO ‘Kamma’Catukkam'(The Kamma Tet­rad’) CMA.v.18. The explanations are derived from AA/AT.III.I.ivA ‘Nidlina’Suttam'(The Causation Sutta’); quoted endnote 237, p.252).

SlS For the conclusive volition, see also ‘A Course of Unwholesome Kamma’ <p.126>. It is also called the decisive volition(sannitfMpaka·cetana). see footnote 137 <pA7>. For the pre­ceding&succeeding volitions, see under ‘Inferior/Superior’ <p.58>.

S16 The Most Venerable Pa-Auk Tawya Sayadaw is here referring to beings in the sensual­and fine-material world. Beings in the immaterial world comprise only the four mentality aggregates (no materiality aggregate), and impercipient beings only the materiality aggre­gate (no mentality aggregates) (VsM.xvii.638 ‘Paiiffli·BhiJmi·Niddesa’ (‘Exposition of the Wisdom-Ground’) PP.xvii.192).

S17 five aggregates: materiality-, feeling-, perception-, formations-, and consciousness aggregate. The material aggregate may be seen also as merely materiality, and the four mental aggregates may also be seen as merely mentality: mentality-materiality.

S18 Included in the materiality aggregate is kamma-caused temperature-born materiality (see footnote 292, p.99): for example, certain mansions in the deva-world (see e.g. ‘The KalJlJamunda Devi’, p.186), the instruments of torture in the hells (see e.g. ‘Unwholesome Habitual Kamma’, p.179), and the wheel-treasure of a Wheel-Turning King (e.g. M.III.iii.9 ‘Blila·Pan{iita·Suttam'(‘The FooI&Sage Sutta’)).

S19 For details, see table ‘Sa: Death and Rebirth’, p.SO.

S20 VsM.xvii.638 ‘Paiiffli·BhiJmi·Niddesa’ (‘Exposition of the Wisdom-Ground’) PP.xvii.188-196

III – The Workings of Kamma


2) The rebirth-linking mental factDrs(pa{isandhi·cetasika):S21 that is the mental fac­tors of the rebirth-linking consciousness; the feeling-, perception-, and for­mations aggregate.

3) The material body of the new being, the materiality aggregate, which is the kamma-born types of materiality(kammaia·n7pa).

At a human being’s conception, there arises only body-, heart-, and sex decad-kalapas. After conception (during gestation) arise the remaining types of materiality, including eye-, ear-, nose-, and tongue materiality, which are also kamma-born.s22

The five aggregates produced at rebirth are the result of any of the ten un­wholesome or wholesome courses of kamma(kamma·palt7a). We discussed them earlier: killing or abstaining from killing, theft or abstaining from theft, engaging in sexual misconduct or abstaining from it, etc. S23

Apart from producing the five aggregates at rebirth, productive kamma pro­duces the five aggregates also in the course of life. But it cannot be the same kamma as the one that produced the rebirth consciousness: it is always another kamma. S24 And again, it is the arising of three things:

1) The different types of resultant consciousness(vipaka citta): that is the con­sciousness aggregate, which is made of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body consciousnesses, as well as the receiving, investigating, and register­ing consciousnesses.525

2) Their different types of associated phenomena(sampayutta dhamma), the mental factors(cetasika) associated with the different types of resultant con­sciousness: that is the feeling-, perception-, and formations aggregate.

3) The material body of the being: that is the material aggregate, which is the continuity of kamma-born materiality: the six sense bases, etc.

Any type of unwholesome and wholesome kamma without exception can pro­duce results in that life’s continuance(j7avatti).


Such kamma The Buddha explains, for example, in connection with someone who has been reborn as an elephant:s26

Suppose one is a killer; one is a stealer of what has not been given; one is a wrong­doer in sensual pleasure; one is a speaker of unthlth; one is a speaker of slander; one is a speaker of harshness: one is a prattler; one is a coveter; one is one with a mind of ill­will; one is one of wrong view, but to ascetics and Brahmins one has been an offerer of food, drink, dothing, transport, gartands, scents, ointments, beds, dwellings and lamps.

At the breakup of the body, after death, among elephants one is reborn. There one en­joys food and drink, flowers and various adornments. In so far as one was a killer [etc.], on the breakup of the body, after death, one was reborn among elephants. But because to ascetics and Brahmins one had offered food, drink, clothing, transport, gartands,

S21 Also called papsandhi·nlima (rebirth-linking mentality).

S22 For an explanation of decad kalapas, see ‘Ultimate Materiality’, p.90. S23 See ‘The COurses of Kamma’, p.ll?

S24 It may, however, be another kamma of the same identity (TiG.xvi.l ‘Sumedhli- Theti­-Glithli'(‘Verses of the Elderess Sumedha’)). See ‘The Principle of Identity’, p.201.

S2S For details, see table ‘5b: The Five-Door Process’, p.l44.

S26 A.X.IV.ii.ll ‘Jlinussoni·Suttam'(‘The Jal)uS5ol)i Sutta’)


The Workings of Kamma

scents, oinbnents, beds, dwellings, and lamps, for that reason one received food and drink, flowers, and various adornments.

Here, that person’s unwholesome kamma functioned as productive kamma, to produce her or his rebirth as an elephant. But the wholesome kamma functioned as productive kamma in the course of that life, to help keep the elephant healthy, provide a happy living, and maintain the elephant’s happy life. S27


In the same way, someone who has been reborn as a human being may become rich through wrong livelihood: for example, killing, stealing, and selling weapons. Then you may ask: ‘But how can unwholesome kamma produce a desired, pleas­ant and agreeable result? The Buddha says it is impossible.’ S28

Here, it is not that person’s unwholesome kamma that provides the wholesome result; it is still only wholesome kamma that does it. In a previous life she or he made money and acquired possessions by killing, stealing, and selling weapons, etc. Using that money, she or he accomplished wholesome kammas, for example, making offerings to ascetics and Brahmins. While making such wholesome kam­mas, there may also have been the wish to be successful in business. And one of those wholesome kammas functioned now as the productive kamma that produ­ced a human rebirth. But other of those ‘offering kammas’ function as productive kamma only when she or he again accomplishes such unwholesome kamma: she or he becomes rich only by wrong livelihood. Such cases we may have seen in any country: someone who is unsuccessful in Right Livelihood, but very success­ful in wrong livelihood.

That does not mean, however, that one will not suffer for one’s unwholesome deeds: no. One’s unwholesome kamma may in some subsequent life function as unwholesome productive kamma to produce an unhappy rebirth, as well as func­tion as unwholesome reinforcing kamma in the course of such a life.

Another example of how productive kamma functions in the course of a life is a so-called mansion-ghost(vimanapeta):s29 wholesome productive kamma produces a beautiful body, etc., and heavenly pleasures for such a being, but unwhole­some productive kamma produces some type of torment related to the accom­plished unwholesome kamma.


An example of this is the case of the devi and the crop-eared dog(kanoa·mun¢a sunakha). S30 In The Buddha Kassapa’s Dispensation, S31 there was a group of devo­tees, husbands and wives, who practised offering(dana), morality(S/7a), and medita­tion(bhavana). Then once, a gambler wagered with his friends that he could make one of those virtuous wives break her virtue, and make her commit adultery. And he succeeded. His friends paid the wager, and then told her husband. When her

S27 PaD.14S ‘Vithi-Mutta Satigaha ~tam’Altha’D~ni'(‘Ultimate-Reality Manual on the Process-Separated Summary’)

S28 See quotation at ‘Impossible and Possible Results’, p.40f. S29 PaD. ibid.

S30 PvA.ii.12 ‘KannamulJlfa’Peti’Vatthu’Vannana'(‘Description of the Case of the KalJlJa­munda Ghost’) Kannamunda is both the name of a lake, and means also ‘ear-cropped’. S31 The Buddha Kassapa: the first Buddha before The Buddha Gotama. See ‘Appendix 2:

The Lineage of Buddhas’, p.361.

III – The Workings of Kamma


husband asked her if she had committed adultery, she denied it. And, pointing at a dog, she made an oath: ‘If I did such a wicked deed, may this crop-eared, black dog eat me wherever I am born!’

Full of remorse, that woman then passed away. Her unwholesome kamma of lying about her adultery gave her rebirth as a mansion-ghost(vimana·peIi). But be­cause of wholesome kamma, she was beautiful, and had many mansions made of gold and silver,532 on the shores of Lake KalJlJamulJc;la in the Himalayas.s33 And she had five hundred women slaves. S34 She would enjoy heavenly pleasures through the five senses: heavenly clothes, jewellery, garlands, and scents, heav­enly food and drink, heavenly couches of gold and silver, her mansion had steps of gold, there were beautiful and fragrant flowers, and trees bearing many kinds of fruit, and there was the sound of many kinds of bird, trees and flowers every­where, giving off all kinds of pleasant smells, and very beautiful surroundings. But beside her mansion, an unwholesome kamma had produced a lotus pond. And every night at midnight, she would rise from her bed and go down to the lotus pond. There, her adultery kamma and lying kamma would produce a great black dog with shorn ears, of most fearsome appearance. He would attack her, and devour her. When there was only her bones left, he would throw them into the pond, and disappear. And she would revert to her normal state, and return to bed. Every day this would happen: identical meritorious kammas(pufifla’kamma) would produce heavenly pleasures, and identical bad kammas(papa·kamma) would produce the torment of being attacked and devoured by the black dog.s3s


The function of reinforcing kamma(upatthambhaka·kamma) is not to produce its own result, but to reinforce the result of a productive kamma :S36 to reinforce the quality of the result (the pleasure or pain that has arisen), or to reinforce the duration of the result (to make it last). Reinforcing kamma is also unwholesome or whole­some: unwholesome kamma reinforces unwholesome kamma, and wholesome kamma reinforces wholesome kamma.

Thus, for example, the near-death impulsions(mamna·sanna;iavana), the impulsions of the near-death process(mamn·asanna·vithij are only five: that means they are too weak to produce rebirth.537 They only reinforce the rebirth-producing productive kamma, thereby helping it produce the appropriate rebirth. If the rebirth-produc­ing kamma is unwholesome, the impulsions of the near-death process will also

be unwholesome: they will give unwholesome reinforcement to the productive kamma, to produce rebirth as a ghost, animal, or in hell. If the productive kamma is wholesome, the impulsions of the near-death process will also be wholesome, and give it wholesome reinforcement, to produce rebirth as a human being or heavenly being. That way reinforcing kamma reinforces a productive kamma.

S32 This is kamma-caused temperature-born materiality: see footnote S18, p.l84.

S33 lake KalJlJamulJr;Ja: one of the lakes mentioned by The Buddha in A.VII.vii.2 Salta·Siiliya·Suttam’ (‘The Seven-Suns Sutta’): see footnote 23, p.5.

S34 The other wives in the group, when asked, also denied all knowledge, and also made an oath: they said that if they did know of it, they would be her slaves in future lives.

S3S identical kammas: see the ‘The Principle of Identity’, p.201.

S36 AA.III.I.iv.4 Widana’Suttam’ (‘The Causation Sutta’), and VsM.xix.687 ‘llarikha· Vtlamoa­’VlSuddhi’Niddeso'(‘Exposition of the Doubt-Transcendence Purification’) PP.xix.16.

S37 For details, see table ‘Sa: Death and Rebirth’, p.SO.


The Workings of Kamma

Reinforcing kammas also reinforce the results of productive kamma: they rein­force the resultant feelings of pleasure or pain, and make them endure. For exam­ple, S38 when a wholesome kamma has functioned as productive kamma, to pro­duce rebirth as a human being, wholesome reinforcing kammas help maintain the resultant dhammas, the continuity of aggregates: they help keep the human being healthy, provide a happy living, etc. That way, for example, by accomplish­ing wholesome kamma such as offering, morality, and meditation, one may pro­long one’s health, strength, and life span. On the other hand, when an unwhole­some kamma has functioned as productive kamma in the course of a life, to pro­duce a painful ailment for a human being, reinforcing unwholesome kamma may prevent medical treatment from working, thereby prolonging the ailment. That way, for example, by accomplishing unwholesome kamma such as killing, theft, sexual misconduct, lying, prattle, drinking beer and wine, etc., one may help weaken one’s faculties, undermine one’s health, and shorten one’s life span.

Similarly, when unwholesome kamma has functioned as a productive kamma, to produce rebirth as an animal, unwholesome reinforcing kamma may reinforce other unwholesome kamma so it matures and functions as productive kamma to produce painful results. Unwholesome reinforcing kamma may also prolong the animal’s unhappy life, so that the continuity of unwholesome results will endure.


The function of frustrating kamma(upap(7aka·kamma) is to frustrate and obstruct.

It frustrates the result of another kamma but does not produce a result of its own. It is also unwholesome or wholesome: unwholesome kamma frustrates wholesome kamma, and wholesome kamma frustrates unwholesome kamma.

For example, when someone’s wholesome kamma functions as productive kamma to produce rebirth as a human being, unwholesome frustrating kamma may give rise to congenital ailments that prevent that person from enjoying the happy results that the wholesome productive kamma otherwise would have pro­duced. Thus, even the results of powerful productive kamma may be frustrated by kamma that is directly opposed to it.

Unwholesome kamma may frustrate wholesome kamma productive of rebirth in a higher plane of existence so one is reborn on a lower plane, and wholesome kamma may frustrate an unwholesome kamma productive of rebirth in one of the great hells, so one is instead reborn in one of the minor hells or in the world of ghosts(,oel3). Unwholesome kamma may also frustrate a wholesome kamma productive of a long life so one has instead an only short life. Unwholesome kamma may frustrate wholesome kamma productive of beauty so one instead has an ugly or plain appearance.S39 Lastly, for example, unwholesome kamma may frustrate wholesome kamma productive of rebirth in a high-class family so one instead is reborn into a low-class family.


An example of unwholesome kamma frustrating the plane of rebirth is King Bimbisara: King Ajatasattu’s father. He was a Stream Enterer and great patron to

S38 PaD. 145 ‘Vithi-Mutta Sarigaha Patam’Attha’D~ni'(‘Ultimate-Reality Manual on the Process-Separated Summary’)

S39 For an example, see ‘Scowling Pancapiipi’, p.269

III – The Workings of Kamma


The Buddha and Sangha: much loved by his people. For all his good deeds, he could have been reborn as a high deva. But because he was attached to life as a deva, he was reborn as a low deva, in the entourage of King Vessaval)a, one of the Four Great Kings(C3tu-Maha.Rajika). S40


Then, as an example of unwholesome kamma frustrating the plane of rebirth, we have the three virtuous bhikkhus mentioned in the ‘Sakka·PafiM’sutta.541 Based on the bhikkhus’ morality, they practised samatha and vipassana success­fully, but they did not attain a Noble state. Their morality was so pure that they were sure to be reborn in whatever deva world they wanted. Furthermore, since they had attained the jhanas, they could also have been reborn in one of the Brahma worlds. But at death, they were not reborn in one of the Brahma worlds: they were reborn as musicians and dancers in the deva world(gandhabba). Why? Because they had been such devas in many past lives. So their superior whole­some kammas were frustrated by their attachment for life as musicians and dancers in the world of the Four Great Kings(C3tu-Maha·Rajika).


Then, as an example of wholesome kamma frustrating the plane of rebirth, we can again mention King Ajatasattu. He had his father killed: King Bimbisara, whom we just mentioned. Killing one’s father is one of the six unwholesome weighty kammaS(akusala garukiJ kiJmma). S42 They are productive of rebirth in Avici Hell. Later, however, King Ajatasattu gained tremendous faith in The Buddha and His Dispensation. His faith was of such wholesome power that it frustrated the unwholesome weighty kamma, and instead of being reborn in Avici Hell, he was reborn in a minor hell(lI5S”ada), for a reduced period.543 And in the future, he will become a Paccekabuddha called Vijitavi. At his Parinibbana, he will then escape from all suffering.


As an example of unwholesome kamma frustrating the status of one’s human birth, we can mention the slave-woman Khujjuttara: she was slave to Queen Samavati.544

Once, in a past life, she mimicked a Paccekabuddha because he was slightly hunchbacked. That unwholesome kamma had now frustrated her human rebirth, so she was hunchbacked.

540 He explains this to The Buddha in D.ii.57anavasabha·Suttam'(‘The Janavasabha Sutta’): details from the commentary.

541 D.ii.8 ‘The Sakka’s-Questions Sutta’. Their case is discussed in more detail at ‘The Three Bhikkhus’, p.203.

542 See ‘Unwholesome Weighty Kamma’, p.l68.

543 DA.i.2 ‘Siimanna·Phala·Sutta·Vannana'(‘Description of the Asceticism-Fruit Sutta’) ex­plains that he will escape after sixty thousand years, rather than the customary many hundred thousand years.

544 Khujjuttara’s story is related at the end of the story of her mistress Queen 5amavati, DhPA.ii.l ‘Siimaleti-Vatthu'(‘The Case of Samavati’).


The Workings of Kamma

In The Buddha Kassapa’s Dispensation, she was the daughter of a treasurer, and had a friend who was a bhikkhuni Arahant. One day, while Khujjuttara was adorning herself, the bhikkhuni visited her. Khujjutara’s maid-servant was not there, so Khujjuttara asked the bhikkhuni Arahant to hand her a basket of adorn­ments. The Arahant bhikkhuni knew that if she refused, Khujjuttara would bear her ill-will, which would lead to rebirth in hell. On the other hand, if she obeyed, Khujjutara would be reborn as a maid-servant. That being the better of the two, the Arahant bhikkhuni handed her the basket of adornments. Khujjutara’s un­wholesome kamma of asking a bhikkhuni Arahant to serve her now frustrated her human rebirth, and she was born to be a maid-servant.s4s


In the course of life there are innumerable instances of frustrating kamma in operation.546 For example, unwholesome kamma will in the human world frus­trate the wholesome kamma that produces the aggregates: it will help mature such unwholesome kammas that produce suffering and failure in regard to health, in regard to property and wealth, and in regard to family and friends.547 In the ghost or animal worlds, on the other hand, wholesome frustrating kamma may counteract the unwholesome productive kamma that produced the unhappy rebirth, and contribute towards occasions of ease and happiness.



As an example of frustrating- and reinforcing kamma operating in the same life, we can mention, Queen Mallika. She was originally a poor flower-girl, of very plain appearance.548 One day, she was going to the park, carrying some pudding to eat. Then she saw The Buddha on His almsround. Great faith arose, and spontaneous­ly, with great joy, she put all the pudding in His bowl. 549 Then she did obeisance. Afterwards, The Buddha smiled. And He told the Venerable Ananda that as a result of her offering, Mallika would that very day become King Pasenadi’s chief queen.

King Pasenadi was riding back to Savatthi from battle with King Ajatasattu: he had lost the battle, and was unhappy. Mallika was in the park, singing because of joy over her offering. King Pasenadi heard her singing, and approached her. He talked to her, and discovered she was unmarried. Then he stayed with her for some time, and she comforted him. Afterwards, he obtained permission from her parents to marry her, and that very day, he made her his chief queen. Mallika’s

54S For other cases of such disrespect towards one’s elders/betters, see ‘One Is Stubborn and Proud’, p.287.

546 MA.III.iv.5Wja’J<amma’Wbhariga’Sultam'(‘The Small Kamma-Analysis Sutta’)

547 For examples, see how past cruelty towards animals frustrates health in ‘The Cruel Bird-Catcher’, p.264, past bad action towards an Arahant motivated by envy frustrates food and drink in ‘The Envious Venerable Tissa’, p.277, and past adultery frustrates rela­tions with family and spouse in ‘Mahiipaduma Paccekhabuddha’s Picture’, p.310.

548 JA.vii.l0 (415) ‘Kummasa·Pinqi·JatakiJ·Lennana'(‘Description of the Pudding-Alms Jataka’)

549 This makes the kamma unprompted(a’~likMrika): see ‘Unprompted/Prompted’, p.58.

III – The Workings of Kamma


joyous offering and doing obeisance to The Buddha had functioned as presently­effective kamma.sso

One day, Queen Mallika went to see The Buddha, to ask Him four questions about the workings of kamma:SS1

1) First, Queen Mallika asked why some women are ugly, poor, and without influence. The Buddha explained that the past kamma of being angry and irritable has made them ugly; the past kamma of not making offerings, of being stingy, has made them poor; and the past kamma of envying others their gain and honour has made them uninfluential. Here, all those unwhole­some kammas have frustrated the wholesome kamma that gave rebirth as a human being.ss2

We can see that in Queen Mallika’s case, unwholesome kamma had frus­trated her human rebirth, so she was born with a plain appearance, was born into a poor garland-maker’s family, and was uninfluential.

2) Second, Queen Mallika asked why some women are ugly, yet are rich and have great influence. The Buddha explained that the past kamma of being angry and irritable has made them ugly, whereas making offerings, gener­osity, has made them rich, and not envying others their gain and honour (experiencing sympathetic joy(miJdi/;3J) has made them influential. Here, the unwholesome kamma of being angry and irritable has frustrated the whole­some kamma that gave rebirth as a human being, whereas the wholesome kammas of generosity and non-envy have reinforced it.

We can see that in Queen Mallika’s case, the wholesome kamma of offer­ing The Buddha all her food had reinforced the wholesome kamma that gave her a human rebirth, so she became King Pasenadi’s chief queen, with very much influence.

3) Third, Queen Mallika asked why some women are beautiful, yet are poor and uninfluential. The Buddha explained that the past kamma of not being angry and irritable has made them beautiful, whereas stinginess has made them poor, and envy has made them uninfluential. Here, the wholesome kamma of not being angry and irritable has reinforced the wholesome kamma that gave rebirth as a human being, whereas the unwholesome kammas of stinginess and envy have frustrated it.

4) Fourth, Queen Mallika asked why some women are beautiful, rich, and of great influence. The Buddha explained that the past kamma of not being angry and irritable has made them beautiful, generosity has made them rich, and non-envy has made them influential. Here, all the wholesome kammas have reinforced the wholesome kamma that gave rebirth as a hu­man being.

After The Buddha’s teaching, Queen Mallika vowed never again to be angry and irritable, always to make offerings, and never to envy others their gain and hon­our. And she took refuge in The Buddha.

sso For other cases of an offering with immediate result, see endnote 196, p.248. SSl A.N.N.v.7 (197) ‘Mallika’Devi-Suttam'(‘The Queen Mallika Sutta’)

SS2 These explanations The Buddha gives in more detail in the ‘The Small Kamma-Analysis Sutta’, discussed at p.255ff.


The Workings of Kamma


Interceptive kamma(upaghaf11ka·kamma) functions in three ways:SS3

1) It intercepts weaker kamma, produces no result, and forbids another kamma to produce its result.

2) It intercepts weaker kamma, produces no result, and allows another kamma to produce its result.

3) It intercepts weaker kamma, and produces its own result.

Interceptive kamma is also either unwholesome or wholesome. Interceptive kamma is like a force that stops a flying arrow, and makes the arrow drop. For example, wholesome productive kamma may produce rebirth as a deva, but cer­tain unwholesome interceptive kamma may suddenly mature and cause the deva to die, and be reborn as an animal, ghost, or in hell.

Sometimes, interceptive kamma works as frustrating kamma works: it intercepts the result of a weaker kamma only within one life. That means the weaker kamma can still produce results in some subsequent life.


Devas who fall from their deva existence are, for example, the devas whose minds are spoilt by excessive enjoyment or envy.212 The devas spoilt by play (khi(l(la-padosika) engage in excessive play and enjoyment. Doing so, they become as if drunk, with no control. For that reason, an unwholesome kamma intercepts the wholesome kamma that produced their deva-rebirth, so they perish and get an unhappy rebirth. And the devas spoilt by mind(mano’padosika) become very en­vious when they see another beautiful deva, another beautiful deva-mansion, etc. There again, an unwholesome kamma intercepts the wholesome kamma that produced their deva-rebirth, so they perish, and get an unhappy rebirth.


Then again we can mention King Ajatasattu. The Buddha taught him the great teaching that is the ‘Samafifia·Phala’sutta.s54 And the king had sufficient parami to attain Stream Entry there and then. sss But the unwholesome heavy kamma (akusala garuka’kamma) of killing his father intercepted his parami, so he remained a common person(puthujjana). In the distant future, however, those parami will en­able him to become a Paccekabuddha called Vijitavi.ss6


We can also mention the Venerable Devadatta again. SS7 He was skilled in the eight attainments: the four material jhanas, and the four immaterial jhanas. He was also skilled in the five mundane psychiC powers. SS8 But he had not attained any Path&Fruition: he was still a common person(puthujjana). And when he devel­oped the desire to take over The Buddha’s position as leader of the Sangha, that

SS3 MA.III.iv.S ‘CiJ!a·Kamma·Vibhariga·Sutta· Vannana'(‘Description of the Small Kamma­AnalysiS Sutta’) & AA.III.I.iv.4 Widana·Sutta· Vannana'(‘Description of the Causation Sutta’) SS4 D.i.2 ‘Samaliffa·Phala·Suttam’ (‘The Asceticism-Fruit Sutta’)

sss See the Buddha’s words, quoted p.l72.

SS6 See the commentary to that sutta.

SS7 See ‘The Venerable Devadatta’, p.1S0. SS8 psychiC powers: see footnote 239, p.80.

III – The Workings of Kamma


unwholesome kamma intercepted his jhana wholesome kamma, so he lost his jhanas and psychic powers.213 In the distant future, however, his jhana whole­some kamma will produce or reinforce the production of jhanas for him again, and will help him become a Paccekabuddha.


Then again, interceptive kamma may indeed cut off another kamma completely, so it no longer produces its own results. Here, an example is Bahiya Daruciriya. SS9 In The Buddha Kassapa’s Dispensation, he and six other bhikkhus had climbed up to the top of a mountain to meditate. They threw away the ladder that they had used, in order that they would not be able to escape. One of them became an Arahant, another a Non-Returner, whereas the remaining five (including Ba­hiya) passed away with no Path&Fruition. They were reborn in the heavenly realms, and in our Buddha’s Dispensation, they were reborn as human beings.

Bahiya became a merchant, and was one day shipwrecked, but floated ashore on a plank. Having lost all his clothes, he put on a piece of bark, and went for alms. People thought he must be an Arahant, and eventually he also thought he might be an Arahant. And he became a much-honoured ascetic. But the Non­Returner from his past life in The Buddha Kassapa’s Dispensation (who had been reborn in a Brahma world)told him he neither was an Arahant, nor was practising the way to Arahantship. Then Bahiya asked the Brahma if there was anyone in the world who was an Arahant, and taught the way to Arahantship. The Brahma told him to go and see The Buddha.

So Bahiya went to Jetavana, the monastery in Savatthi, where The Buddha was staying. But The Buddha was on His almsround. So Bahiya went into Savatthi to find The Buddha. When he found The Buddha, he asked The Buddha to teach him the Dhamma. But The Buddha could see that Bahiya was too excited to un­derstand the Dhamma. So He said it was an unsuitable time, and refused. Then Bahiya asked again, and said that The Buddha might die before Bahiya got a teaching, or Bahiya himself might die. The Buddha saw that indeed Bahiya would die that very day, but again He refused. And a third time Bahiya asked Him. By then, Bahiya’s mind was sufficiently calm, and The Buddha taught him the famous and very brief teaching:

‘In U1e seen, the seen merely will be, in tf1e heard, the heard merely will be, in tf1e sensed, tf1e sensed merely will be, in the cognized, the cognized merely will be.’ Thus indeed, Bahiya, should you train.

When then for you, Bahiya, in the seen, U1e seen merely will be, in the heard, the heard merely will be, in tf1e sensed, the sensed merely will be, in the cognized, the cog­nized merely will be, therefore you, Bahiya, are not because of that; since you, Bahiya, are not because of that, tf1erefore you, Bahiya, are not U1ere; since you, Bihiya, are not there, therefore you, Bihiya, are neither here, nor beyond, nor between the two. Just this is the end of suffering.

Do you understand it?214 Bahiya Daruciriya not only understood this brief teach­ing, there and then, he even attained Arahantship: that is how very powerful his parami were.21SBut shortly afterwards (as The Buddha had known) Bahiya was killed by a cow. In spite of his having such superior parami, the kamma that pro­duced his rebirth as a human being was intercepted, cut off by a past unwhole-

SS9 U.i.l0 ‘Bahiya’Suttam’ (‘The Bahiya Sutta’)


The Workings of Kamma

some kamma of killing a courtesan, so his life span was shortened.s60 Because of his Arahant Path-Knowledge(Alahalta-Magga’Nana), all defilements had been destroy­ed, however, so he passed into Parinibbana.s61


Another example of how interceptive kamma may cut off another kamma com­pletely is the case of the Venerable Arigulimala.s62 Before ordaining as a bhikkhu, he killed very many people: he accomplished uncountable unwholesome kammas. But after he had ordained as a bhikkhu, he undertook the bhikkhu’s higher moral­ity-training. Then, with The Buddha as his teacher, he practised the bhikkhu’s higher mind-training (samatha meditation), and higher wisdom-training (insight meditation), and attained the Arahant Path-Knowledge and Fruition-Knowledge. The Arahant Path-Knowledge functioned as wholesome presently-effective inter­ceptive kamma, to cut off all the unwholesome and wholesome kamma capable of producing rebirth that he had accomplished in that life, and previously in the infinite past: they all lapsed. That meant he would never again be reborn.


Another example is from ancient Sri Lanka.563 There was a hunter called Suna­khavajika: he went hunting with dogs. His son was a bhikkhu called the Venerable Sol)a. And he was unable to make his father undertake Right Livelihood. But when his father got old, he managed to persuade the old man (against his will) to ord­ain as a bhikkhu. Then, when the old man was on his death-bed, there appeared a destination sign(gati·nimilta):s64 enormous dogs surrounded him, as if to eat him. The old man became very frightened, and cried out in fear.

Then the Venerable Sol)a had many flowers brought by novices, and had them all offered to The Buddha statue, and strewn about the shrine and the Bodhi Tree. And he had his father brought in his bed. He told him all the flowers were an offering to the Blessed One, on his behalf. And he told his father to do obei­sance to The Buddha, and to set his mind at rest. His father did as instructed, and his mind settled down. And there appeared to him a new destination sign: deva palaces, and the beautiful gardens in the deva world, etc. In that way, his wholesome kamma of worshipping The Buddha (reinforced by other wholesome kamma) intercepted his unwholesome kamma of having hunted innocent beings in the forest.

Let us then discuss the three ways in which interceptive kamma functions.


The first way in which interceptive kamma may function is to only intercept weaker kamma, to produce no result, and to forbid another kamma to produce its result.

S60 For details, see ‘The Avenging Courtesan’, p.270. S61 See ‘The Two Types of Parinibbana’, p.339.

S62 M.II.iv.6!’1rigulimb”la’Suttam'(‘The Arigulimala Sutta’)

S63 VbhA.XVI.x.80919tf7ama’Bala’Nktdes’o'(‘Exposilion of the First Power’) DD.XVI.x.2194-6 S64 This example becomes clearer if one refers to table ‘Sa: Death and Rebirth’, p.50.



For example, The Venerable Mahamoggallana. In a past life, he had beaten his parents, with the intention to kill them. Over many lives, that unwholesome kamma produced its results: it produced results also in his last life. Over seven days, hired bandits came to his dwelling to kill him. But the Venerable Maha­moggallana knew their intention with his psychic power, and with his psychic power, he disappeared from his dwelling: he went out of the keyhole. On the seventh day, however, he was unable to disappear: his parricide kamma funct­ioned as frustrating kamma to stop him from attaining jhana, and he could not exercise his psychic powers. Then an identical kamma functioned as interceptive kamma, and the bandits beat him to death, till his bones were smashed com­pletely. And then they left him. But he did not die. The interceptive kamma did not cut off his present five aggregates and produce rebirth. He was able again to enter jhana, and exercise his psychiC powers. And using his psychiC powers, he was then able to go and ask The Buddha for permission to enter Parinibbana, to return to his dwelling, and to enter Parinibbana there.


Then another example from our Buddha’s time is the bhikkhu called the Vener­able Cakkhupala,216 He was an Arahant. Wholesome kamma that he had accom­plished in a past life produced his five aggregates as a human being at rebirth, as well in the course of this his last life. The materiality aggregate includes the five material sense faculties: they are the translucent element by which the eye sees sights, the translucent element by which the ear hears sounds, the translucent element by which the nose smells odours, etc.S6S When a human being can see, hear, smell, etc., it is owing to past wholesome kamma. But in a past life, as a doctor, the Venerable Cakkhupala had accomplished a very unwholesome kamma. One of his patients had been a woman with failing eyesight. And she had promised him that if he cured her, she and her children would become his slaves. When her eyesight was restored, however, she changed her mind, and pretended her eyes were worse than before. To take revenge, the doctor then gave her some ointment to make her blind. When she applied it to her eyes, she went completely blind.

That happened in one of the Venerable Cakkhupala’s past lives. Now, in his last life, as a bhikkhu, he undertook to spend one rains retreat in only the three pos­tures: walking, standing, and sitting down. He was not going to lie down for three months: that is one of the thirteen ascetic practices taught by The Buddha. After doing this for one month, the Venerable Cakkhupala’s eyes began to trou­ble him. And on the night he attained Arahantship, he went blind. The unwhole­some productive kamma of blinding the woman in a past life matured now to function as interceptive kamma that cut off his eye faculty. But it produced no result of its own, and forbade another kamma to produce its result. So no whole­some kamma was able to give the Venerable Cakkhupala his eye-sight again.


The second way in which interceptive kamma may function is to intercept weak­er kamma, to produce no result, but to allow another kamma to produce its result.

S6S For details, see table ‘1: The Resultant Consciousnesses’, p.44.


The Workings of Kamma


Here, we can take as example, King Udena’s queen Samavati, and his con­sorts. S66 In a previous life Samavati and her friends had been concubines in the king of BaralJasi’s harem. One day, having bathed with the king in the river, they felt cold, and set fire to a tangle of grass nearby. When the grass had burned down, they found a Paccekabuddha seated there. Since they had had no inten­tion to burn him, it was not unwholesome kamma. But the king held the Pacce­kabuddha in great reverence, and he might punish them for having burnt the Paccekabuddha to death. So Samavati and her companions gathered grass, placed it round the Paccekabuddha’s body, poured oil on it, and set fire to it so as to destroy all traces of their crime. This act, of burning the Paccekabuddha with evil intention, was unwholesome kamma. The Paccekabuddha, however, had entered the cessation attainment(nirodha’samapaltQ, an attainment that is the temporary cessation of mentality and consciousness-born materiality, and noth­ing could therefore harm him. S67 Nonetheless, even though the Paccekabuddha had not died, Samavati and her companions had accomplished much unwhole­some kamma by their action, and they experienced the result in a subsequent Iife.s68

In our Buddha’s time, a past wholesome kamma produced their rebirth as hu­man beings. And Samavati became King Udena’s queen, and her former compan­ions became his consorts. They became also devout Buddhists who offered many requisites to The Buddha and Sangha, studied the Dhamma, and with success practised samatha and vipassana. Because of that practice, Samavati became a Stream Enterer(Sot’,4panna), and the consorts attained various Noble attainments. But one day, the kamma of burning the Paccekabuddha matured as interceptive kamma to cut off their life faculty: they were burned to death in their own quar­ters.217The interceptive kamma’s own result did not arise, but allowed the wholesome kammas that each one of them had accomplished in our Buddha’s time to produce rebirth in the deva and Brahma worlds respectively.


Another example is the five hundred bhikkhus who were killed, either by them­selves or another.s69 The Buddha knew that they all shared a common unwhole­some kamma: in the distant past, they had all been hunters in the same forest. Using weapons and traps, they had made hunting their livelihood. With keen plea­sure(haftha·tutfha), they had throughout their lives killed animals and birds. At their death, that kamma produced rebirth in hell. Then a wholesome kamma gave them rebirth as human beings. And, dependent on a good friend, they came into the presence of The Buddha, and ordained as bhikkhus. Some of them became

S66 DhPA.ii.l Sclmaloati-l4ltthu'(‘The Case of 5amavati’); UA.vii.lO ‘Utena-Suttam'(‘The [King] Utena Sutta’)

S67 cessation attainment: see footnote 434, p.156.

S68 The fifth factor for killing to be a full course of unwholesome kamma is that the being dies: that was not the case here. Nonetheless, having had the intention to kill the Pac­cekabuddha, and having fulfilled the other four factors, means they accomplished very much unwholesome kamma. For details, see ‘A Course of Unwholesome Kamma’, p.126. S69 Vin.par.i.3 7atiya·pa~ikam'(‘The Third Defeat’) & S.v.X.i.9 Ves-aff.Suttam'(‘The Vesali Sutta’) and their commentaries.

III – The Workings of Kamma


Arahants, some became Non-Returners, some became Once Returners, some became Stream Enterers, whereas some remained ordinary people(puthu1jana).

One morning, as The Buddha was surveying the world with His Buddha-Eye (Buddha·Cakkhu), He saw that within two weeks those five hundred bhikkhus would die: indefinitely-effective ‘hunting-as-Iivelihood’ kamma would intercept the wholesome kamma that had given them their human rebirth. The Buddha also saw it was impossible to stop this result from arising. And He saw that the Ara­hants would not be reborn; the other Noble Ones would have a happy rebirth; but those who were still ordinary people(puthu1jana) would die with lustful desire (chanda’raga), with attachment for their human life, and would die with fear: that would produce a bad rebirth. If, however, He taught them to practise foulness meditation, they would remove their attachment for life, and fear of death. And with that wholesome kamma, they would attain rebirth in the deva world: The Buddha saw that He could help them only that way. And that way, their ordina­tion as bhikkhus would still turn out beneficial to them. So The Buddha told them to take foulness(asubha) (the thirty-two parts of the body (dva·ttirhs·akara)) as their main meditation subject:s7o in many ways He spoke in praise of that meditation.

The Buddha also knew that in those two weeks, the bhikkhus would come and report: ‘Today one bhikkhu died’, ‘Today two bhikkhus died’, etc. Knowing He could not stop it, knowing there was no purpose in His hearing those things, and to protect those who might criticize Him for not stopping it, The Buddha went into seclusion for those two weeks. And two weeks later, all five hundred bhik­khus had died.

There was an ascetic known as Migalal)c;Iika the fake ascetic(samana·kuttiikiJ). he lived off the bhikkhus’ leftovers. And those bhikkhus who were still ordinary peo­ple(puthujjana), either got him to kill them, or got another unenlightened bhikkhu to kill them, or committed suicide. Why? Because even though The Buddha says suicide is blameable(savajja) in one who is not an Arahant, they thought it was blameless(anavaffa): even though it was unwholesome kamma, they thought it was wholesome kamma.571/218

Even Migalal)c;Iika the fake ascetic thought it was wholesome kamma. How?

First he killed a number of bhikkhus because they asked him to, and because they told him he could have their requisites. And when he then got remorse, a deva told him he should have no remorse. The deva told him he was doing the bhikkhus a favour. And because he believed the deva, he then went back and killed more bhikkhus, including the Noble Ones who had not asked him to kill them. S72 That was how all five hundred bhikkhus then died.

And when all the bhikkhus had died, The Buddha returned. And He asked the Venerable Ananda why the Sangha was so diminished. The Venerable Ananda told Him it was because the bhikkhus had practised foulness meditation. And the Venerable Ananda suggested The Buddha teach another meditation subject. The

S70 The commentary points out that The Buddha did not glorify death.

S71 In the ‘Glanna’sutta, The Buddha declares suicide by an Arahant to be blameless, and by a non-Arahant blameful. But after this incident with the five hundred bhikkhus, The Buddha declares that it is improper, etc.

S72 The commentary points out that the Noble Ones neither killed themselves, nor asked anyone to kill them, nor killed anyone else. And the Ii7mativinadanisubcommentary ex­plains that all the Noble Ones were killed by MigalalJQika the fake ascetic.


The Workings of Kamma

Buddha asked the Venerable Ananda to have the remaining bhikkhus assembled, and then explained and spoke in praise of mindfulness of breathing(an·apana·.ssali).

Here we need to be very careful to understand this story properly. Just earlier, we mentioned how the Venerable Bahiya was killed by a cow, and the Venerable Mahamoggallana was beaten to death by bandits. That cow and those bandits accomplished their unwholesome kamma by their own volition. But their victim died because of past unwholesome kamma intercepting the wholesome kamma that had given him his human rebirth.

Please always remember that if one is attacked by someone, or one is killed in an accident, etc., one is experiencing the result of one’s own past kamma. The being who attacks one, or the accident that takes place, etc., is merely the in­strument by which one’s past unwholesome kamma intercepts the wholesome kamma that gave one a human rebirth. S73

It is maybe difficult to understand, but please remember that according to The Buddha, the workings of kamma cannot be understood by mere reasoning. You can properly understand them only when you yourself discern the workings of dependent origination. Until then you must depend on faith: not doubt.

The unenlightened bhikkhus had to die within those two weeks, one way or another. That was because of their own past unwholesome kamma. But they did not do as they did because of their own past unwholesome kamma. They did it because of the strong loathing for life they had developed through foulness meditation, and because they did not understand that what they wanted to do was blameable.574 In the same way, as we just explained, MigalalJc;lika the fake ascetic did not do as he did because of the bhikkhus’ past unwholesome kamma. And The Buddha did not do as He did because of the bhikkhus’ past unwhole­some kamma either. He did as He did because He knew their past kamma would intercept one way or another, and that they would all die. And The Buddha knew also that the best way for the unenlightened bhikkhus to die was to die without lust for life, because that wholesome kamma would then give them rebirth in the deva world.s7s/219


The third way in which interceptive kamma may function is to intercept weaker kamma, and produce its own result.


An example is the case of Mara DOsi, during The Buddha Kakusandha’s Dispen­sation.s76 The Buddha’s two chief disciples were the Venerable Vidhura and the Venerable SaiijlVa. S77/220 One day, the Venerable Saiijiva sat down under a tree,

S73 See in this connect VsM’s discussion of timely/untimely death, endnote 241, p.301.

S74 The subcommentary to Vin.par.i.3 7atiya’Parajikam'(‘The Third Defeat’) explains that the bhikkhus who were ordinary people did what they did with the perception of blame­lessness(anavajja·saliliino).

S7S Further to explain the story of the five hundred bhikkhus should be understood, the Most Venerable Sayadaw refers to the kamma because of which the Bodhisatta had to practise austerities(dukkalD) for six years: see subsequent endnote 219, p.2S1.

S76 The Buddha Kakusandha: the third Buddha before The Buddha Gatama. See ‘Appendix 2: The Lineage of Buddhas’, p.361.

S77 M.I.v.l0 ‘Ham· 7l3jjaniya·Suttam'(‘The Blameable-Mara Sutta’) and commentary.

III – The Workings of Kamma


and entered into the cessation attainment(nirodha·.samapattO. Some cowherds, goatherds, and farmers passed by, and saw him sitting under the tree: they thought he was dead. So they covered his body with grass and wood, etc., and set fire to it. Then they left.

Now, when one enters into the cessation attainment, it is impossible for one to suffer any harm: and it is impossible for one’s requisites to be ruined.s78 So at dawn the next day, the Venerable SafiflVa emerged unharmed from the attain­ment. He shook out his robe, and with bowl went for alms in the village. When those same cowherds, goatherds, and farmers saw him going for alms, they thought the dead bhikkhu had come back to life: they were filled with wonder and faith.

The Mara at that time was called Mara Dusi. Like all Maras, he did not like such virtuous, well-behaved bhikkhus, because he did not know their coming and go­ing(agatim va gatim va); he did not know where they were going to be reborn. Why did he not know? Because the Arahant attains Parinibbana with consciousness (vifii’ialJil) unestablished(appa/ittflila).579 Since the Arahant has put an end to craving and ignorance, there is no subsequent rebirth.

To try to prevent this, Mara Dusi created images of the bhikkhus misbehaving, for the Brahmin householders to see. And he encouraged the Brahmins to criti­cize, abuse, scold, and trouble the virtuous bhikkhus. Mara Dusi thought un­pleasant feelings would then arise in the bhikkhus’ minds, associated with ill-will, anger, dissatisfaction, dejection of the mind, etc.,221 which would hinder their practice. That way, he would then be able to know their coming and going. But when the Brahmin householders criticized, abused, scolded and troubled the bhikkhus, The Buddha Kakusandha told the bhikkhus to practise the four divine abidings(cattaro brahma-whara): 1) loving-kindness(metta), 2) compassion(karona), 3) sympathetic joy(muditH), and 4) equanimity(upekkh8). And He told them to use the four divine abidings as their basis for insight meditation, to attain Arahantship. So the bhikkhus would go to the forest or an empty place, and practise according to His instructions. That way, Mara Dusi’s plan fell through: he did still not know their coming and going. Then he encouraged the Brahmin householders to do the opposite: to honour, respect, revere, and pay homage to the virtuous bhik­khus. Mara Dusi thought pleasant feelings would then arise in the bhikkhus’ minds, associated with delight, pleasure, elation of mind, etc.,222 which would hinder their practice. But here again, The Buddha Kakusandha had a remedy. He told the bhikkhus instead to practise the four types of perception(.safii’ia):s8o 1) the foulness perception(asubha·.safii’ia), 2) the food-repulsiveness perception(ahare patikii­/a·.safii’ia), 3) the entire-world disenchantment perception(.sabba-loke an·abhirati·.safii’ia), and 4) the impermanence perception(aniaa·.safii’ia). And again, the bhikkhus would go to the forest, etc., and practise according to His instructions: they would use these four meditation subjects to counteract lust, hatred, and delusion, develop insight, and attain Arahantship. Again, Mara Dusi’s plan fell through: again, he did not know their coming and going.

S78 cessation attainment: see footnote 434, p.156.

S79 Mara’s not knowing where the Arahant goes is discussed at ‘Consciousness Unestab­lished’, p.345.

S80 The commentary quotes A.VII.v.6 (49) ‘Dutiya·Safifi,j·Suttam'(‘The Second Perception Sutta’): it is explained endnote 281. p.351.


The Workings of Kamma

Then one day, when The Buddha Kakusandha went for alms together with His chief disciple Vidhura, Mara took possession of a boy. The boy picked up a pot­sherd and threw it at the Venerable Vidhura. It cut his head and drew blood. And now The Buddha Kakusandha turned about with a Buddha’s elephant look(naga­‘paloki/;J). He then said: ‘This Mara Dusi the limit does not know(na vayamdiisimaro matta·m·affffasi),’ And then Mara Dusi fell from there and was reborn in the Great Hell. There he was cooked for many thousand years. He was even reborn in the worst of all hells (a smaller hell attached to the Great Hell), where he was cooked for ten thousand years: there, he had a human body and a fish’s head.

Dusi Mara’s kamma of harassing a Chief-Disciple intercepted the wholesome kamma that gave him rebirth in the deva world. And it produced its own result, which was rebirth in the Great Hell, even in the worst of all the hells there.

We need here understand that Mara Dusi’s rebirth in hell was not caused by The Buddha Kakusandha’s elephant look, or his words. It was caused solely by Mara Dusi’s unwholesome kamma of harassing the chief disciple of a Buddha. S8! Thus are the workings of kamma.


Another example is the king of BaralJasi, King Kalabu, many aeons before our Buddha’s time.582 He had the five aggregates of a human being because of past wholesome kamma. And he became king also because of past wholesome kamma. But one day, he got angry at an ascetic Khantivadi, who taught patience (/chanti), and who was our Bodhisatta. To test the Venerable Khantivadi’s patience, King Kalabu had Khantivadi’s nose cut off, then his ears, then his hands, and then his feet. Those unwholesome kammas matured presently, for the earth opened up and sucked Kalabu down to Avici Hell. His present unwholesome kamma in­tercepted the wholesome kamma that had produced his five aggregates as King Kalabu, and produced its own result, which was the five aggregates of a being in hell. S83 We may thus say that the kamma of killing the ascetic functioned both as interceptive kamma and as productive kamma. Looking at it another way, we may also say that one kamma of killing the ascetic intercepted the kamma that produced his five aggregates as King Kalabu, and another identical kamma pro­duced his five aggregates as a being in Avici Hell:s84 that is, the interceptive kamma and the productive kamma had the same identity(ek·attanaya),58s

Let us then discuss the principle of identity.

S8! This point is discussed also on p.294.

S82 JA.III.IV.ii.3 (313)~nti·vaor-.Jataka·l4lnnana'(‘Description of the Patience-Speaker Jalaka’)

S83 For other such cases, see ‘Mischievous Nanda’, p.263, and ‘CincamalJavika’s Picture’, p.307.

S84 VsMT.687 ‘Karikha’ Vtfarana’ Visuddhi·Niddeso’ (‘Exposition of the Doubt-Transcendence Purification’) denies that interceptive kamma can produce its own result: ‘If interceptive kamma acts in this way, it is not interceptive kamma, but productive kamma.’ The Most Venerable Pa-Auk Tawya Sayadaw is here explaining that even though it looks as if the Visuddhi-Maggas explanation is contradicted by this denial, it depends on one’s point of view. While it is correct that one kamma intercepts and another kamma produces, they can be said to be the same kamma, since they have the same identity. The difference is point of view.

S8S VsM.xvii ‘Pafffia·Bhilmi·Niddesa'(‘Exposition of the Wisdom-Ground’) PP.xvii.309f



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