Any intentional action is kamma. We do good and bad actions. Like any other actions, sometimes we do it intentionally, sometimes we just do it without intention.

Is it necessary to generating good intention before/when doing wholesome deed? The more we do good deeds the more frequent we create this intention which can easily become an obsession of the mind and create (new) sankhara. But if there is no intention, how can a good action become a good kamma?

  • 1
    Could you explain what you mean by an action without a prior intention? Jun 8, 2016 at 13:32

5 Answers 5


Mental intention is always necessary for an action. However an intention (such as Right Intention of the Noble Eightfold Path) does not always have to have 'self' or 'attachment' involved with it.

There are three kinds of kamma: (1) bad kamma; (2) good kamma; & (3) void kamma.

The intrinsic meaning of 'good & bad kamma' is there is attachment or 'self' invested in the action & its results. To quote the scriptures:

And what is the right view with effluents (defilements), siding with merit (goodness), resulting in acquisitions (attachment)? There are fruits & results of good & bad actions.

MN 117

'Void kamma' means there is no 'self' invested in the kamma.

Buddhas appear in the world for the primary purpose to teach about void kamma or ending kamma. The higher practise of Buddhism is doing necessary & compassionate kamma with a void mind or 'doing without a doer' (rather than for the accumulation of good karma). It is for stopping obsession with kamma & stopping creating (new) sankhara. To quote the scriptures:

And what is the cessation of kamma? This noble eightfold path — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration — is the path of practice leading to the cessation of kamma.

Nibbedhika Sutta

In summary, the enlightened view is 'ignorance' is the doer of both good (meritorious) & bad (demeritorious) kamma and 'wisdom' is the doer of enlightened void selfless kamma.

Bhikkhus, if a person immersed in ignorance generates (abhisankharonti) a meritorious (good) formation (saṅkhāraṃ), consciousness fares on to the meritorious; if he generates a demeritorious (bad) formation, consciousness fares on to the demeritorious; if he generates an imperturbable formation, consciousness fares on to the imperturbable. But when a bhikkhu has abandoned ignorance and aroused true knowledge, then, with the fading away of ignorance and the arising of true knowledge, he does not generate a meritorious (good) formation or a demeritorious (bad) formation or an imperturbable formation. Since he does not generate or fashion formations, he does not cling to anything in the world. Not clinging, he is not agitated. Not being agitated, he personally attains Nibbāna. He understands: ‘Destroyed is birth, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more for this state of being.’

SN 12.51

This link may be helpful: Kamma in Buddhism


With or without intention, volitional actions are defined as kamma. For example, killing an animal in excruciating pain while the intention was to free it from agony. Even in habitual or involuntary actions, there might be an element of intention. It is just the lack of awareness or mindfulness. For example; one could slap a mosquito involuntarily; but the thought process required to kill is complete, hence bad kamma is accumulated.

  • an example, someone sprays insecticide to kill mosquitoes. Because of this insecticide, it triggers neighbor's asthma. Next time, he does the same thing again i.e. sprays insecticide with intention to kill insects, again his neighbor suffers from asthma. He does that repeatedly and his neighbor got asthma again and again. Since he has no intention to make his neighbor suffers from asthma, why should he stop his action?
    – B1100
    Jun 9, 2016 at 3:28
  • B1100, The intention of killing the insect in this scenario is one sin. Looking into the neighbor, If you happened to know that he is getting an asthma because of the insecticide that you spray and still you have no idea to create asthma to him yet you continue to spray insecticide knowing there is a chance it will cause asthma to your neighbor, then it is bad karma, because you actions create a negative affect on another and knowing that it does, you do not stop you actions.
    – JGCW
    Jul 1, 2016 at 4:32
  • If you give a glass of coca cola to a person because he looked thirsty and its good karma.
  • If you give a glass of coca cola to a person with the intention of increasing his/her sugar level in order to fall sick, then it is bad karma.

Most of the actions come from an intention.

If you were walking listening to music and looking around and you happen to step on a cockroach, then its not bad karma for you, because you never knew a cockroach would be there nor you saw it before you took that footstep.

But if you were walking in the path knowing there are cockroaches and there is a chance that you step on one but still you continue to walk carelessly and suddenly you step on a cockroach, then it is bad karma. This is because it is ignorance. True that you did not meant to step on one, yet you stepped. You walked carelessly knowing there is a chance that another living being could be harmed if you are not careful. But you continued to do so anyway and it harmed a living being. That is a sin.


@B1100… it is worth checking the Atthi Raga Sutta (where there is passion) in Samyutta Nikaya.

SN 12.64 - Atthi Raga Sutta: Where There is Passion


In this Sutta the Buddha explains the causes for the continuation of life from one existence to another or the life through samsara. In it the Buddha talks about four types of ‘food’ that are nourishment for the continuation of life from existence to existence, that is for the continuation of the process of birth, aging, sickness and death. One is material or physical, while the other three are mental nutriments. We were born because we had these four nutriments and as long as we are nourished by these nutriments, life will continue in countless numbers of various existences.

The third of the four is Nutriment of intellectual intention (manosancetana ahara). This consists of mental formation and intentions (volition) which the mind creates and with which it becomes involved in regard to the object with which it comes into contact. When the eye sees form, the nose smells odours, the tongue tastes, the body contacts tangible objects, volition and intentions arise in the mind. This too is a nutriment which results in repeated births.

The arising of volition (cetana) is the result of mental factors. They may be wholesome or unwholesome intentions. Mental factors are not permanent, they constantly change. They are the result of desire. If we are mindful we could realize this and understand the nutriment of intellectual intention in this manner. If someone binds your hands and legs together and tries to throw you into a pit of glowing embers, what would you do? You would try to run away and escape. This is how the nutriment of intellectual intention should be regarded.


Generating intention before doing good will reduce the karmic reward.

Generating regret after doing bad will reduce the karmic punishment.

For deeper explanation see the chapter on the 6 Root Afflictions about Doubt in the book "How to Measure and Deepen your Spiritual Realization".

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