Considering the notion of our future being the result of our actions in the past, is there any room for the concept of unfairness in Buddhist philosophy? What is the right/skillful view one should take when witnessing suffering in a loved one?

From my understanding, one should be compassionate towards the person and keep a calm mind as much as possible, but at the same time I find discomforting the idea that somehow, the present condition of a loved one has to do with his/her past actions, specially when considering more extreme examples of suffering without any apparent reason (e.g. childhood traumatic events, such as sexual abuse).


3 Answers 3


It's certainly been seen as a difficult question for Buddhists. I've heard it termed the Glenn Hoddle question after an ex-footballer used karma type arguments to explain disability - to quote

You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and half-decent brains. Some people have not been born like that for a reason. The karma is working from another lifetime

He was sacked as England coach. However it is a difficult question and I will attempt a decent answer

Karma isn't cause and effect

Karma isn't just cause and effect - there is more going on. To quote the Sivaka Sutra

Now when these ascetics and brahmans have such a doctrine and view that 'whatever a person experiences, be it pleasure, pain or neither-pain-nor-pleasure, all that is caused by previous action,' then they go beyond what they know by themselves and what is accepted as true by the world. Therefore, I say that this is wrong on the part of these ascetics and brahmans.

It's not as if someone lies in one life then is reborn as with a disability in the next. Sometimes the fruits of karma (action) are immediate, sometimes they are delayed, sometimes the fruits don't come to pass at all.

There is more going on than Karma

Also in Buddhism there is the concept of Niyamas which explains outcome dependant origination (the underpinning of reality). These being

  1. kamma niyama: ("action") consequences of one's actions
  2. utu niyama: ("time, season") seasonal changes and climate, law of non-living matter
  3. bīja niyama: ("seed") laws of heredity
  4. citta niyama:("mind") will of mind
  5. dhamma niyama: ("law") nature's tendency to perfect

The above list is taken from here. So karma would only explain a fraction of someones present conditions.

Karma isn't blame

I guess the other thing to point out is that there is no concept of blame in any of this. The audio here is very interesting - a Buddhist nun discusses this exact issue with someone with seeing difficulties.

Even if someone's unfortunate circumstances were caused directly by their actions (which is no means as simple as that) then this wouldn't stop us feeling compassion for them. This would be true in this life or the next. If someone was run over because they didn't look both ways before crossing the road then it is a normal human response to feel compassion for them - Buddhist or not.

As I say though a difficult and interesting question. I hope that helps some.

  • Karma is a process of causes and effect. But it isn't the only one. Jul 19, 2014 at 17:59

Future is the result of our actions in the past, present, future and the other 4 Niyama Dhammas.

Was there any room for the concept of unfairness when the Tsunami killed about 150,000 people in 2004? Was there any room for the concept of unfairness for all those kids born deformed after Hiroshima & Nagasaki bombing? Is there any room for fairness when earthquakes kill thousands of people? Just like that, Karma is also a law of nature. Is it fair to get burnt, if a kid puts his hand in the fire, not knowing it burns? Is it fair to get sick when mosquitoes bite you? The concept of fairness or unfairness doesn't have anything to do with the laws of nature.

Past Karma is most definitely a cause for child rape. But nothing happens by a single cause. Everything has multiple causes.

Nature or life is fair in only one way, i.e. if the right causes are present, it gives you the appropriate result.


According to Buddhism, kamma and its consequences (vipaka) may not happen at the same time or even in the same life, it is hard to predict when it will create its results because it depends on other conditions, that is why people can be born with serious problems.

For example: Imagine a murderer, he creates terrible kamma, but if he lives with several bodyguards he may protect himself from being murdered, this kamma will not rippen in this life because there is cause but there are no conditions, so this kamma will go on into the next life (probably in a much worse plane)

If it helps: When someone is facing a problem at least think that he or she is puryfing some bad kamma, at least this kamma will be gone and if the person has created merit, good things are on his way!

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