Buddha says if one plants mango, he will reap only mango not something else. Short-lived and get killed are the result of killing living beings, poverty is the result of stealing, not trusted by others is the result of lying and so forth. Then why Buddha says the result of kamma is one of the four imponderables. Does it mean one who loves to kill living beings will experience poverty or not trusted by others which is the result of stealing and lying? How do we relate that with "sow apple seed, reap apple fruit?"

4 Answers 4


The kammas are imponderable because people tends to expect action 'A' resulting in the equal fruit 'A'. However as we know a single action 'A' is only one cause, there are many other conditions (other causes) which result in a fruit. Just as a cup of coffee implies the existent of coffee beans, but coffee beans by themselves do not necessarily result in a cup of coffee. There are so many other factors such as farmers, the sun, customers wanting to drink coffee for the outcome 'a cup of coffee' to result.

In my temple we like to say that the merit of a good deed is 'immeasurable'. Why is this? Because the outcome cannot be entirely predicted, a single good action, can lead to opportunities for further good actions to occur. For example, you help someone with a small task, and then that person gives you an opportunity to do more good, and eventually eventhough the original good action was only the beginning seed the final result is immense.

The only thing we know for sure is that good actions will result in good outcomes (if something consistently results in bad outcomes it is a bad action and you should stop doing it). So instead of trying to predict the final outcome, you should focus on the simple strategy of doing more good as opportunity allows.

Addendum regarding the comment

My understanding is that because the Four Imponderables can not be deduced logically therefore it is imponderable. For example a common stated effect of karma is said that killing leads to a shortened life span. There is no clear logical explanation why this is the case, you could argue it's through some kind of revenge, or perhaps susceptibility to illness caused by psychological damage, but it's only speculation.

Likewise, releasing animals doomed for butchering are said to be good karma for longevity, but once again there is no logical explanation why it would work.

Since speculations about the exact working of karma does nothing to lead to peace and end of suffering, the Buddha ask you to refrain from pondering about them and take it at face value.

  • I'm not trying to predicting anything but just want to get a little bit of picture to what extent we should understand the unconjecturable. You're saying there are many factors needed to produce a result but they (farmers, sun, etc.) are only supporting factors, right? The final result for killing doesn't change i.e. short life, that is known to us, so why it's imponderable? Are you saying short life can be caused by killing and also can be caused by other causes. But poverty can never be the result of killing. Do I understand you correctly?
    – B1100
    Commented May 29, 2016 at 11:39

Not all Pali suttas are the words of the Buddha, which is why there are contradictions. In the Maha-parinibbana Sutta, this issue is addressed by the Four Great References. The scriptures also teach the teachings of the Buddha are to be verified by each wise person for themselves.

Personally, I am not willing to accept the Buddha spoke the Cula-kammavibhanga Sutta because what is written in it is not true. For example, rich people are often rich due to greed & unethical business practises where as poor people are often poor due to political or social oppression or exploitation. It is not because of past kamma that children are abused, raped or murdered. It is not because of past kamma that millions of people were randomly murdered by communists in the Soviet Union or China.

As for the imponderables in the Acintita Sutta, I guess this might mean the 'exact' workings of kamma in minutiae detail. Kamma is a general rather than exact principle. Kamma is not ultimate truth, which is why in the Maha Kammavibhanga Sutta it is said good karma can also lead to a bad result & bad karma can also lead to a good result.

  • Note the Cula kammavibhanga never says that all rich people are so due to being givers -- which is very suspect indeed. It also never says that a rich person is so due to giving things in its current life. What it says is that, a person who is a giver now, when dying, if he or she reappears in human realm, he or she will find him/herself born rich -- a plausible reading would be being born in a rich family. The same applies for other qualities.
    – user382
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 12:45
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    @Dhammadhatu So do you agree a person who loves to kill living beings will experience poverty, not trusted by others, etc., as the result of killing living beings? From what I understand, good kamma will always lead to good result. Bad kamma will always lead to bad result. But when will it give the effect, we do not know. Regarding rich people, everyone has greed but not all greedy people are rich. Being born in a wealthy family, for example, is one of the "right condition" for the good kamma to take effect, the same thing as being poor and socially oppressed.
    – B1100
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 23:49
  • Kamma is not ultimate truth, as I posted from the suttas. MN 117 states the moral right view of kamma is tainted (defiled)by the burden (upadi) of self-view. I can do good karma by loving & raising a perfect successful family. But if my family die in an accident, I will suffer. This shows good karma does not always lead to a good result. I can do evil & learn this is harmful. From knowing clearly the harm of that evil action, I can shun evil & thus become enlightened. There is no absolute lawfulness of karma, as the scriptures state. Commented May 20, 2016 at 5:36

Lord Buddha himself said that karma is like a ripple effect.

Let's assume you killed the person A by firing a bullet through the forehead. So in direct terms, you should also be fired a bullet through your head. But it may and may not happen. Let me tell you why.

Now when you killed that person A. There is a chance that you caused these effects on him :

  • Caused him physical pain before death
  • Caused his family immense pain
  • Caused his friends pain

Now you have caused person A's family a lot of heart breaks. Imagine, because of that person A's death, his spouse and children have no way of earning money and gets mentally weakened. The children do not get proper education nor the guidance. So the children end up drug addicts. Now the children are addicted to drugs and they grow up and commit murders to find money for drugs. Person A's parents die in terrible sadness and shock because of their sons murder.

This is why the Karma is like the ripple effect, it follows a lot of things. Hence you ignored the consequences of your actions to the people around and you just shot person A in cold blood. Now the sins you pay will be determined by these things.

  • If you intended to kill person A
  • If you knew the person A had living parents
  • If you knew the person A had a spouse and had children

  1. If all of the above is positive and committed the murder with the intention of hurting the entire family, then you have committed a massive sin and you will pay for it for a very longtime in hell.
  2. If you only wanted to kill him out of anger but did not know he had living parents or family. The effect will most likely be less than the previous one but still you will pay for a very longtime in hell.
  3. If you didn't mean to kill him and it was totally some sort of an accident then probably there won't be any bad karma on you.

For the first two situations, the way you will pay for these may and may not happen like an mirror image of what you did. Mostly likely it won't. Because that is not the only Karma you have with you. You have previous good karma and bad karma. So the good and the bad karma will determine how you pay for each one.


I would like to ask the rebuttal question to this? Are we afraid of the consequence of our actions?

Yes karma will deal with us and the future. Possibly. But yes we will never know what exactly we have done and to what consequence. Because we have not reached that level of perception.

If we do much Sadhana, we may reach that level, but then again I am nobody to ask you to do that.

Having said that, let's try to be aware of every moment, mindful, and let's face what the future has for us.

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