This question is about a very specific situation, but there might hopefully be a more general answer.

We've had conflicts at work, to the extent that we had to get a psychologist help us! There are many reasons for the conflicts, but for me the problem is that many of my co-workers are kind of lazy, not very competent and spend their time not doing their job but knitting, chit-chatting, complaining about everything etc. This situation leads to conflict and I have spent too much time being annoyed and tried to change the situation.

Still, I sometimes think negative thoughts about these people. When I catch myself thinking negative ("lazy, incompetent people") I try to take a look at myself and see what causes the thoughts and what I really am thinking. This strategy also helps me to not take it out on them.

But the question is, does the thoughts in themselves create bad karma?

  • 1
    Are you sure that you mean 'do they create bad karma', rather than 'do they create bad karmic imprints' ? Dec 2, 2015 at 9:48
  • I think maybe that's what I was trying to ask. I'm not really sure about the difference, though. Can you elaborate? Dec 2, 2015 at 9:52
  • Your work space is very good for practicing patience, acceptance of how things are, letting go of wanting, compassion, forbearance :) you are lucky!
    – user4878
    Dec 2, 2015 at 12:03
  • I agree and I also find the job itself very satisfying. It is a help service for people with alcohol and drug problems, and their friends and relatives. So it is in addition to being a place to practice patience also many opportunities to help people in need. Dec 2, 2015 at 12:50

3 Answers 3


There is karma that is intention (an omnipresent mental factor) and karma that is intended actions.

Intended actions are defined by Je Tsongkhapa as:

The actions of body and speech that are motivated by that intention.

Afflictions such as anger, jealousy, covetousness, and so forth are not the intention mental factor - but have their own entity as mental factors - therefore they are not karma. Anger manifests from a seed of anger and that seed is not a karmic seed, because it was "deposited" by a previous instance of anger (not by a previous karma - that is intention or intended action).

However, some qualify the afflictions as 'karmic path' or 'paths of actions' because they are likely to lead one to engage in negative actions (karma).

  • Anger, jealousy, covetousness etc. are Mano Kamma. If speech gets involved, it becomes Vaci Kamma. If body gets involved, it becomes Kaya Kamma. Intention is not omnipresent. Intention comes in only at the 8th thought moment of the 17 thought moments in a single experience. Dec 3, 2015 at 16:07
  • @SankhaKulathantille According to Mahayana Abidharma, the mental factor 'intention' is one of five omnipresent mental factors in that it accompany any 'main consciousness'. A main mind is divided into 64 moments, and the last moment is an instance of 'mental consciousness' which is an inattentive awareness in the continuum of an ordinary being. 'Mano kamma' is intention, and anger is not intention [that it has in its retinue, although they are one entity]. Dec 3, 2015 at 16:26
  • In other words, according to Mahayana, people can get angry/jealous/lustful without Karmic consequences :) Dec 3, 2015 at 16:44
  • It doesn't follow. 1. The main mind associated with anger, as well as the other mental factors in its retinue, become 'afflicted' due to anger being an affliction. Intention is one of them. It's jut not afflicted by its own power. 2. Anger arising produces seeds of anger that will act very much like karmic seeds in that they will determine a tendency. Dec 3, 2015 at 16:53
  • Lord Buddha got headaches due to a past Karma of just being happy seeing the fish on the beach struggling for their lives. How does Mahayana explain that? :) Dec 3, 2015 at 17:14

Bhikkhu P. A. Payutto writes:

But according to the teachings of Buddhism, all actions and speech, all thoughts, no matter how fleeting, and the responses of the mind to sensations received through eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind, without exception, contain elements of intention. Intention is thus the mind’s volitional choosing of objects of awareness; it is the factor which leads the mind to turn towards, or be repelled from, various objects of awareness, or to proceed in any particular direction; it is the guide or the governor of how the mind responds to stimuli; it is the force which plans and organizes the movements of the mind, and ultimately it is that which determines the states experienced by the mind.

One instance of intention is one instance of kamma. When there is kamma there is immediate result. Even just one little thought, although not particularly important, is nevertheless not void of consequence. It will be at the least a “tiny speck” of kamma, added to the stream of conditions which shape mental activity. With repeated practice, through repeated proliferation by the mind, or through expression as external activity, the result becomes stronger in the form of character traits, physical features or repercussions from external sources.

-- Good, Evil and Beyond: Kamma in the Buddha's teachings

As there are physical movements that are devoid of intention (e.g. convulsions), some mental images might be understood to surface unintentionally. While the quote above asserts all thoughts to have intention, it can be argued if these are understood to be karma or not. Dreams would be in this gray area, I think.

But, while awake, any sophisticated thought, anything more than a flash of an image or a sound or taste or smell, any and all imagination containing full sentences, dialogues and motions, etc, have an active element in them which nurtures and develops them: underneath, there's the intention to imagine these things, and these imaginations are actions -- which is the meaning of karma in Buddhism.


Karma is caused by will or intention, expressed in thoughts, words, and deeds (body, speech, and mind) but thoughts in themselves are epiphenomenal.

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