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I tried to read Kamma & the Ending of Kamma but I don't wholly understand it, perhaps especially:

  • The paragraph which begins with "The truth of the Buddha's understanding of the processes of kamma" (which tries to connect kamma with fabrications).
  • The last 7 paragraphs, including "Only a person who has mastered the skill of release has the mental skills needed to comprehend such matters"; and, "This is why the Buddha insisted repeatedly ... that conviction in the fact of his Awakening necessarily involves conviction in the principle of kamma".

I'd like to ask, what is meant by "ending kamma"?

My understanding is that the doctrine says that

  • Kamma is intention (cetanā)
  • An arhat generates no new kamma
  • "No new kamma" implies "no rebirth" and is an essential feature of enlightenment

So what is kamma and how can it be ended?

Here were some of my theories (which may be wrong or unsatisfactory), for what they're worth, in case reading these help to correct my views:

  • An arhat has eliminated identity-view. Kamma is associated with identity-view ("I am the owner of my actions (kamma), heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator"). An enlightened person acts, but unselfishly, and so etc. (?).
  • Like it is possible to have a "desire to end desire", it's possible to have an "intention to end kamma". If the only "intention" you permit yourself is the intention to end karma, then etc. (?).
  • Maybe this answer implies that all cetanā arise, by definition, only with ignoble mental factors (e.g. ignorance, restlessness, greed, etc.); so action without ignoble mental factors is (by definition) without "intention", and is therefore not new kamma (?).

    Contradicting this, this answer says that cetanā are responsible for Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Thought. Do Right Speech and Right Action create new kamma, if not why not? The Ariyamagga Sutta (AN 4.235) says they result in kamma which leads to the ending of kamma.

  • "From the cessation of contact is the cessation of kamma" (AN 6.63), so kamma is ended only when/while there's no contact ... does "no contact" imply "Jhanas"? But for example sukha (happiness) is associated with the first jhana, which is a form of contact (mind-contact)? So anyway, maybe it's something to do with attaining mastery of the jhanas ... I think someone wrote that the Buddha moved back into some kind of jhana state between each word he spoke?
  • This says, "In the Buddha's case, he focused simply on the process of kammic cause and result as it played itself out in the immediate present, in the process of developing the skillfulness of the mind, without reference to who or what lay behind those processes." So apart from not paying attention to "who", it also focuses on "the immediate present" -- maybe kamma only happens when you intend/want something to happen in the future? But I think the Buddha still acted on (present) cause and (future) effect -- e.g. decide to go somewhere in order to spend the afternoon there, or to go to Sarnath in order to find the people to give his first sermon to. I guess that deciding to act (deciding to go to Sarnath) would cause the stress (e.g. knowledge of people's need to be taught) to cease, and so the action itself (actually going to Sarnath) would be relatively stress-free and without attachment (except perhaps attachment to continuing to do the right thing) ... but even if that's so, I don't see how to relate that to "not creating new kamma".

    It also says, "when there is ignorance of the four noble truths ... the feeling that results from kamma gives rise to craving ..., clinging, and becoming; and these, in turn, form the conditions for further kamma". Is that saying that any Right Intention, which is not motivated by sensuality, doesn't create new kamma? If so, if this is the answer, is the difference between sankappa and cetanā significant, somehow?

    It also says "because good and bad kamma, consisting of good and bad intentions, simply perpetuate the ups and downs of experience in the cosmos, a way must be found out of the mechanism of kamma by mastering it in a way that allows it to disband in an attentive state of non-intention". There's a joke in English (actually an American Blues song) which says, "If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all". Is Thanissaro Bhikkhu saying "if it weren't for 'good' and 'bad' kamma I would have no kamma at all", i.e. that kamma disappears when desire and aversion disappear?

The main topic which I misunderstand is what it might mean to "have no intention" or to "live without intention". It seems to me (using some ordinary English-language meaning of "intention") that "be or become enlightened" and "be harmless" and "keep vinaya" and "go on alms round when hungry" and so on are all examples of "intention" ... if that's so then how can even an arhat live without intention?

What the appearance of someone who is "without intention" or "not generating new kamma": are there visible characteristics, it it possible to recognize that state when you see it (or conversely to recognize the absence of that state, to recognize when someone is generating new kamma)?

Is kamma closely related to fabrications, somehow?

I guess that a pathological example of "lack of intention" might look something like catatonia ... but descriptions of arhats in the suttas don't portray them as incapable -- capable of Right Speech etc.

  • Very good question. I'm confused about this topic myself. My current theory is, it's your first hypothesis, that agent-less, self-less karma isn't considered (personal) karma. See also, "wu-wei". Another clue might be that in some schools the word Zen/Chan means not only "Jhana", but also "spontaneous action", as in "show me your Zen" - as evidence of realization. Regarding your last bullet point, I think it's not about having no idea of future but rather, no idea of self in the future to reap the fruits of action. Can't say I'm really clear on this though, hence the comment, not answer. – Andrei Volkov Sep 1 '17 at 18:36
  • The conjecture in that last bullet point was influenced by this Zen aphorism, "Live with cause and leave results to the great law of the universe". – ChrisW Sep 1 '17 at 21:56
  • @AndreiVolkov Also you may have answered it in this answer: not exactly "cessation" but rather control, containment, suppression. – ChrisW Sep 3 '17 at 10:07
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Ending self-view (atta) or the idea of 'a being' (satta) ends kamma. This is why AN 6.63 states the noble eightfold path ends kamma.

Please consider those mundane suttas about kamma always refer to 'a being' ('satta') or 'person' ('puggala') that inherits good & bad results of kamma.

MN 117 clearly states views of good & bad kamma side with merit but are polluted with asava (defilements) & burdensome self-views (upadhi).

Good & bad kamma are mundane matters, which are only sustained by self-views.

For example, think about the most evil or harmful action you have done in your life. Then change this self-view to the view it was not 'me' that performed that action but only the element of ignorance that performed that action. Notice the weight of kamma falls away & the liberation.

  • The fourth paragraph of Kamma & the Ending of Kamma says, "Most descriptions of the Buddha's teachings on kamma tend to stop here ... The third insight explored the possibility of a fourth kind of kamma — in addition to good, bad, and a mixture of the two — that was skillful enough to bring about the ending of kamma". I think your answer is about good and bad karma ... I'm asking about "ending kamma". I'm asking in case "ending kamma" is a goal, or a method; I think you're saying kamma a side-effect of self-view. – ChrisW Sep 1 '17 at 22:24
  • Ending karma is in AN 6.63, you mentioned in your post. The word 'nirodha' does not mean 'cessation'. It means 'cooling' or 'extinguishing'. When contact is void of the fires of greed, hatred & delusion, kamma ends. Contact is specifically mentioned because in many suttas Buddha says without contact there is no kamma. – Dhammadhatu Sep 2 '17 at 1:02
  • Thank you, I think that "nirodha does not mean cessation" is on the right track and that I was taking "cessation" too literally. How or where do you get that it means "cooling or extinguishing"? Why not "liberation or unbinding"? – ChrisW Sep 3 '17 at 12:13
  • Liberation is another meaning of nirodha; what the Visiddhimagga translates as "non-confinement". You might browse this post discourse.suttacentral.net/t/nirodha-etymology/3515/2 to "A problem with the word "nirodha"" by Payutto (since the original link is gone from the internet). The important matter about "nirodha" in most (but not all) contexts is it refers to the cessation of defilements rather than cessation of the aggregates. – Dhammadhatu Sep 3 '17 at 21:08
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The paragraph which begins with "The truth of the Buddha's understanding of the processes of kamma" (which tries to connect kamma with fabrications).

Yes, kamma is volition. It is thinking. It is part of sankhara aggregate.

An arhat generates no new kamma

Yes. No new kamma that can bring vipaka. No kamma-vipaka.

Kamma is associated with identity-view ("I am the owner of my actions (kamma), heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator").

The above is a mundane or conventional view.

An enlightened person acts, but unselfishly, and so etc. (?).

Yes.

Like it is possible to have a "desire to end desire", it's possible to have an "intention to end kamma". If the only "intention" you permit yourself is the intention to end karma, then etc. (?).

Yes. But when that intention is not clung to; it is not "kamma".

When AN 6.63 refers to "kamma", it refers to kamma that leads to five destinations, none of which are enlightenment. To quote:

Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect.

"And what is the cause by which kamma comes into play? Contact is the cause by which kamma comes into play.

"And what is the diversity in kamma? There is kamma to be experienced in hell, kamma to be experienced in the realm of common animals, kamma to be experienced in the realm of the hungry shades, kamma to be experienced in the human world, kamma to be experienced in the world of the devas. This is called the diversity in kamma.


Maybe this answer implies that all cetanā arise, by definition, only with ignoble mental factors (e.g. ignorance, restlessness, greed, etc.); so action without ignoble mental factors is (by definition) without "intention", and is therefore not new kamma (?).

Not really. Buddhas have noble intention rather than ordinary intention.

Contradicting this, this answer says that cetanā are responsible for Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Thought. Do Right Speech and Right Action create new kamma, if not why not? The Ariyamagga Sutta (AN 4.235) says they result in kamma which leads to the ending of kamma.

Yes. This is noble kamma, which ends kamma. It is not really kamma.

"From the cessation of contact is the cessation of kamma" (AN 6.63), so kamma is ended only when/while there's no contact ... does "no contact" imply "Jhanas"?

The Pali word "nirodha" does not mean "cessation". It means the "extinguishing" of the fires of greed, hatred & delusion. It means "quenching".

But for example sukha (happiness) is associated with the first jhana, which is a form of contact (mind-contact)?

Yes.

So anyway, maybe it's something to do with attaining mastery of the jhanas ... I think someone wrote that the Buddha moved back into some kind of jhana state between each word he spoke?

No. You are stuck on this mistranslation "cessation".

This says, "In the Buddha's case, he focused simply on the process of kammic cause and result as it played itself out in the immediate present, in the process of developing the skillfulness of the mind, without reference to who or what lay behind those processes."

The Buddha was not concerned with kamma. It has nothing to do with enlightenment. Kamma is only a foundation. The Buddha was concerned with suffering & ending suffering. The idea of kamma causes suffering.

So apart from not paying attention to "who", it also focuses on "the immediate present" --

I would speculate Thanissaro is teaching some kind of skilful means here for American students rather than the truth.

The fact that Thanissaro denied Buddha taught "what lay behind kamma" shows how wrong Thanissaro is.

maybe kamma only happens when you intend/want something to happen in the future?

No. Longing for the past is kamma. Merely hating a thought with attachment is kamma.

But I think the Buddha still acted on (present) cause and (future) effect -- e.g. decide to go somewhere in order to spend the afternoon there, or to go to Sarnath in order to find the people to give his first sermon to.

Sure. But this was unrelated to himself. It was for the benefit of teaching others anatta.

I guess that deciding to act (deciding to go to Sarnath) would cause the stress (e.g. knowledge of people's need to be taught) to cease, and so the action itself (actually going to Sarnath) would be relatively stress-free and without attachment (except perhaps attachment to continuing to do the right thing) ... but even if that's so, I don't see how to relate that to "not creating new kamma".

The Buddha wasn't concerned with kamma. Kamma is like a teaching given to children. For example, in the dependent cessation, dependent origination, three characteristics & four noble truths, the word kamma is never mentioned, apart from one factor of the noble path. Buddhism is not about kamma. Kamma is only something in Buddhism taught for the laypeople who feed the monks.

It also says, "when there is ignorance of the four noble truths ... the feeling that results from kamma gives rise to craving ..., clinging, and becoming; and these, in turn, form the conditions for further kamma".

This is wrong. Kamma does not create feelings. Kamma starts to manifest at craving & attachment and consolidates at becoming. Kamma is essentially becoming rather than a distant cause of becoming. Please refer to AN 3.76. The 2nd link of D.O. is unrelated to kamma or intention. In D.O., intention, in relation to internal phenomena, first appears at the 4th link. The translation of kammic formations for the 2nd link of D.O. is non-sense.

Is that saying that any Right Intention, which is not motivated by sensuality, doesn't create new kamma? If so, if this is the answer, is the difference between sankappa and cetanā significant, somehow?

I doubt it. I think sankappa & cetana are synonymous and both probably can be unwholesome, wholesome & noble. MN 117 refers to unwholesome & ignoble sankappa.

It also says "because good and bad kamma, consisting of good and bad intentions, simply perpetuate the ups and downs of experience in the cosmos, a way must be found out of the mechanism of kamma by mastering it in a way that allows it to disband in an attentive state of non-intention".

This is just Thanissaro's opinion. You are taking Thanissaro too seriously. I lived around Western monks for many years and found few to be inspiring, Most of them, particularly translators, are heavily distracted. It is a open fact that Bhikkhu Bodhi has always struggled with meditation. These people are merely people.

There's a joke in English (actually an American Blues song) which says, "If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all". Is Thanissaro Bhikkhu saying "if it weren't for 'good' and 'bad' kamma I would have no kamma at all", i.e. that kamma disappears when desire and aversion disappear?

I think Thani was trying to be a bit Zen with his non-intention.

Kamma is common word in Indian culture. It is always personal. This is why the Buddha used it but also depersonalised it.

The main topic which I misunderstand is what it might mean to "have no intention" or to "live without intention". It seems to me (using some ordinary English-language meaning of "intention") that "be or become enlightened" and "be harmless" and "keep vinaya" and "go on alms round when hungry" and so on are all examples of "intention" ... if that's so then how can even an arhat live without intention?

Thanissaro was wrong or otherwise just trying to behave Zenny for the benefit of his students.

What the appearance of someone who is "without intention" or "not generating new kamma": are there visible characteristics, it it possible to recognize that state when you see it (or conversely to recognize the absence of that state, to recognize when someone is generating new kamma)?

It is best to simply define kamma as self-invested or self-identified action. That makes it easy.

Is kamma closely related to fabrications, somehow?

No. While kamma is certainly a fabrication (sankhara), the word sankhara is extremely broad. Buddhas have sankhara aggregate functioning.

I guess that a pathological example of "lack of intention" might look something like catatonia ... but descriptions of arhats in the suttas don't portray them as incapable -- capable of Right Speech etc.

As I mentioned, when AN 6.63 states kamma is intention, it is highlighting mental kamma (per MN 56) & goes on to describe the five unenlightened realms of kamma. Since it mentions the realms, we must assume the phrase: "kamma is intention" is mundane and does not include Noble Intention. AN 6.63 is probably pointing out, similar to AN 3.61, that kamma is not something mysterious from a past life. AN 6.63, SN 12.25 and other suttas say kamma can only arise from sense contact (thus cannot be from a past life). Saying "kamma is intention" brings it into the present reality & stops people speculating about unknowable causes.

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Kamma means merits of one's actions. Good action/behaviour/intention results in good kamma, bad/immoral actions result in bad kamma. i.e., good action generates good kamma which influences your this life or the next in a positive manner, bad kamma will affect it negatively.

Since an Arahat has ended all effluents and has no future lives, kamma has no impact on him/her, so he/she has ended the kamma effectively. So an Arahat generates no positive or negative kamma, while for others kamma will shape their future positively or negatively, based on their current actions.

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1 "Kamma is intention (cetanā)."

Correct

2 "An arhat generates no new kamma."

Correct, but it needs explanation: while the arhat is still alive (in Samsara), he generates kamma, but only wholesome or neutral kamma. No unwholesome kamma is generated by the arahat. Still, he must bear the bad fruits of extinguishing of his kamma (diseases, aging, bad events, death), but free from suffering. Once the arahat dies, all his remaining kamma gets extinguished, thus he enters Nibanna. In essence, because he does not generate unwholesome kamma and he does not suffer from his unwholesome kamma extinguishing, it can be said that he generates no kamma, because only unwholesome kamma gives fuel to future rebirths.

3 "No new kamma" implies "no rebirth" and is an essential feature of enlightenment."

Correct, but it needs explanation. "No new kamma" implies that a being reached Nirvana and is free from his kamma, thus no rebirth. But it does not mean that before death an enlightened being is not producing new kamma. (read my explanation above about the arahats)

4 "So what is kamma and how can it be ended?"

Kamma is intention.

When intention arises, kamma is accumulated.

When intention ceases, kamma is not accumulated.

Due to the nature of things, kamma is extinguishing.

The nature of things is that all things are impermanent. Thus, the natural process of your kamma is that kamma is naturally extinguishing.

If while your kamma is extinguishing, no intention arises in you, then your kamma will not accumulate and will be extinguished.

Once kamma is extinguished, Nibanna is entered.

5 "An arhat has eliminated identity-view. Kamma is associated with identity-view ("I am the owner of my actions (kamma), heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator"). An enlightened person acts, but unselfishly, and so etc. (?)."

Correct.

6 "Like it is possible to have a "desire to end desire", it's possible to have an "intention to end kamma". If the only "intention" you permit yourself is the intention to end karma, then etc. (?)."

Incorrect. Any intention, even if the intention is an intention to end kamma, accumulates kamma.

If you have the "intention to end kamma" it will not end kamma, because the "intention to end kamma" comes from ignorance.

Whoever thinks that with the sole "intention to end kamma", kamma will end, is not free from ignorance and is bound to suffering in the future.

7 "Maybe this answer implies that all cetanā arise, by definition, only with ignoble mental factors (e.g. ignorance, restlessness, greed, etc.); so action without ignoble mental factors is (by definition) without "intention", and is therefore not new kamma (?)."

Incorrect. Any action which is done, ALWAYS arises out of intention, even if all the other mental factors are removed (restlessness, greed, etc.), thus it creates kamma. This is why arahats who are still in their physical bodies (not in Nibanna) still accumulate kamma, but are free from this accumulated kamma. They do not act out of their ignorance, but because they choose to be part of this ignorance (Samsara). They know the truth, they know what is kamma and what is its cessation. Unlike not liberated beings, arahats have a free choice, thus their actions are free from kamma, are not dependent on kamma.

8 "Contradicting this, this answer says that cetanā are responsible for Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Thought. Do Right Speech and Right Action create new kamma, if not why not?"

Correct, cetana are responsible for Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Thought. Cetana is responsible for all actions, wholesome, unwholesome or neutral.

Any action creates new kamma.

A liberated being, until he enters Nibanna, creates only wholesome and/or neutral kamma.

9 ""From the cessation of contact is the cessation of kamma" (AN 6.63), so kamma is ended only when/while there's no contact ... does "no contact" imply "Jhanas"? But for example sukha (happiness) is associated with the first jhana, which is a form of contact (mind-contact)? So anyway, maybe it's something to do with attaining mastery of the jhanas ... I think someone wrote that the Buddha moved back into some kind of jhana state between each word he spoke?"

Yes. Kamma is ended only when/while there's no contact.

And when does contact cease completely? In Nibanna.

Going into the deepest Jhana, does not cease contact completely. Think about it ... what if somebody punches you in the face while being in Jhana? What if your body develops a disease while being in Jhana? As you can see, due to your kamma not being completely extinguished, you bear fruits of this kamma, even if being in perfect Jhana. The only way to extinguish your kamma is by ending ignorance and "dying" one last more time, thus entering Nibanna.

10 "This says, "In the Buddha's case, he focused simply on the process of kammic cause and result as it played itself out in the immediate present, in the process of developing the skillfulness of the mind, without reference to who or what lay behind those processes." So apart from not paying attention to "who", it also focuses on "the immediate present" -- maybe kamma only happens when you intend/want something to happen in the future? But I think the Buddha still acted on (present) cause and (future) effect -- e.g. decide to go somewhere in order to spend the afternoon there, or to go to Sarnath in order to find the people to give his first sermon to. I guess that deciding to act (deciding to go to Sarnath) would cause the stress (e.g. knowledge of people's need to be taught) to cease, and so the action itself (actually going to Sarnath) would be relatively stress-free and without attachment (except perhaps attachment to continuing to do the right thing) ... but even if that's so, I don't see how to relate that to "not creating new kamma"."

When I read the passage you quoted, I understood that the Buddha meditated and reached Nirvana:

"On the most basic level of this mode of awareness, there was no sense even of "existence" or "non-existence" [§186], but simply the events of stress, its origination, its cessation, and the path to its cessation, arising and passing away. Through this mode he was able to pursue the fourth type of kamma to its end"

So he went into meditation and gained insight on kamma and realized its workings, thus he ended kamma just like an arahat would end his kamma when reaching Nirvana. (read my explanation above about arahats still generating kamma even after reaching Nirvana).

After reaching Nirvana, the Buddha was still accumulating kamma, but he was free of it completely because his ignorance was removed. He knew kamma, he knew its workings, he knew its cause and its cessation. But out of compassion for other beings he choose to continue generating only wholesome and/or neutral kamma until his kamma completely exhausted due to the real nature of things and entered Nibanna.

11 "It also says, "when there is ignorance of the four noble truths ... the feeling that results from kamma gives rise to craving ..., clinging, and becoming; and these, in turn, form the conditions for further kamma". Is that saying that any Right Intention, which is not motivated by sensuality, doesn't create new kamma? If so, if this is the answer, is the difference between sankappa and cetanā significant, somehow?"

Yes the quote says correctly: when there is ignorance, there is potential for unwholesome kamma to be accumulated, thus giving rise to craving, clinging and becoming, which in turn conditions the accumulation of kamma in the future.

12 "Is that saying that any Right Intention, which is not motivated by sensuality, doesn't create new kamma?"

Yes, but it needs explanation:

Any Right Intention, which is not motivated by sensuality, DOES create new kamma. But the newly created kamma, because it is not motivated by sensuality, is wholesome and/or neutral kamma, thus the fruits of this kamma will not create suffering, but will aid the owner of this kamma to more easily remove his ignorance and attain Nibanna. Thus, this kamma helps you in extinguishing your kamma.

So correct would be to say: any Right Intention, which is not motivated by sensuality, creates a potential of entering Nibanna, thus ending kamma. So in a way the statement "any Right Intention, which is not motivated by sensuality, doesn't create new kamma" is correct, but it needs to be understood correctly, as I explained.

13 "It also says "because good and bad kamma, consisting of good and bad intentions, simply perpetuate the ups and downs of experience in the cosmos, a way must be found out of the mechanism of kamma by mastering it in a way that allows it to disband in an attentive state of non-intention". There's a joke in English (actually an American Blues song) which says, "If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all". Is Thanissaro Bhikkhu saying "if it weren't for 'good' and 'bad' kamma I would have no kamma at all", i.e. that kamma disappears when desire and aversion disappear?"

He is saying that the ups and downs produced by kamma actually help you in removing your ignorance and entering Nibanna. Without these ups and downs produced by kamma, you would never need to enter Nibanna because it would be as if you are already in Nibanna (no ups and downs, thus no suffering, thus everything is fine).

This "attentive state of non-intention" is knowledge of the truth. Knowledge of what the truth is, is knowledge about kamma: is knowing kamma, its workings, its cause and its cessation.

14 "The main topic which I misunderstand is what it might mean to "have no intention" or to "live without intention". It seems to me (using some ordinary English-language meaning of "intention") that "be or become enlightened" and "be harmless" and "keep vinaya" and "go on alms round when hungry" and so on are all examples of "intention" ... if that's so then how can even an arhat live without intention?"

Becoming enlightened does not mean that intention in you stops. I remember a quote from somewhere that goes like this: "Before enlightenment chop wood and bring water, after enlightenment chop wood and bring water."

Becoming enlightened means that if after enlightenment you decide to stay in Samsara, you will only do wholesome and/or neutral intentions, and always for the greater good of other beings still not liberated.

Becoming enlightened means that you know what intention is, what is its cause and what is the way to its cessation. It does not mean that after enlightenment you stop completely your "intentions", it just means that you know what "intention" is, what is its cause and what its ending.

15 "What the appearance of someone who is "without intention" or "not generating new kamma": are there visible characteristics, it it possible to recognize that state when you see it (or conversely to recognize the absence of that state, to recognize when someone is generating new kamma)?"

Someone "without intention" or "not generating new kamma" is an arahat or an enlightened being. It is possible to recognize such being by how he behaves in different situations.

16 "Is kamma closely related to fabrications, somehow?"

Yes.

Because of ignorance fabrications arise.

Fabrications that arose is your kamma.

You respond to these fabrications with different intentions.

With every intention, you fabricate a fabricated thing, which can aid you in reaching Nirvana, deter you from reaching Nirvana or neither aid you nor deter you. In this way you are accumulating fabricated fabrications, which is in essence your kamma.

While fabricating fabrications, due to suffering, you learn what is "good fabrication" and what is "wrong fabrication". You basically learn what is a "wholesome action" and what is an "unwholesome action".

You're learning. Adding, subtracting or modifying your fabricated fabrications depending on already fabricated fabrications. This is you doing actions based on your accumulated kamma.

Until one day you learn enough and realize the truth. You stop fabricating fabrications. You know the end of kamma and enter Nibanna.

  • only unwholesome kamma gives fuel to future rebirths But isn't "good" kamma fuel for higher rebirths, in a higher realm (e.g. rebirth as a human, or in heaven, etc.)? – ChrisW Sep 3 '17 at 13:08
  • Unwholesome kamma gives fuel to "future rebirths". Neutral kamma neither increases nor decreases fuel to "future rebirths". Wholesome kamma decreases fuel to "future rebirths". Thus, the less fuel, the less future rebirths needed until liberation. The less fuel, the more potential for a birth in a higher realm where liberation is easier to be achieved. – beginner Sep 3 '17 at 17:06
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“Paticca samuppada” (PS) explains how and under what conditions kamma vipaka produces results, but it never gets discussed in greater detail in this forum. But what is important to know is that Kamma is not deterministic, other than for anantariya kamma (killing of parents or an Arahant or harming a Buddha etc.). The law of Kamma is that one’s actions will have consequences-. A natural extension of the law of Kamma is the validity of the rebirth process. It is because the result of a kamma can bear fruits in this life or in future lives.

All things in the world (sankata) operate on the basis of kamma vipaka and will also eventually go away (viparinäma). At Sotapanna stage (which is within reach of anyone of us in this forum if we can break away from set notions on dhamma that we are not prepared to question) all of the kamma seeds that make it possible to have births in the four lower planes, is made ineffective. We are yet to become stream entrants because we have wrongly interpreted the three characteristics of anicca, dukkha, anatta.

To put a stop to the generation of negative kamma, it is important that we accept the true meaning of these three words, and through this to learn to see the true nature of this world (that it is anicca, dukkha, & anatta), not just intellectually but truly. Then we will never be born in the four lower planes. It happens when we start to comprehend that it is not possible to achieve and maintain anything to one’s satisfaction. Here it is important to note that we do not have to remove any attachments by force. When one comprehends Dhamma to the level to see not only the unfruitfulness but the dangers of our ‘normal way’ of going about things, we start becoming more and more detached from things. Then our attachment to sense pleasures lessen, by seeing that temporary enjoyment (assada) is bound to bring about negative consequences (adeenava).

Kamma vipaka are the root causes for all that happen in this world, but their effects can be altered and be even stopped by this above mentioned way of seeing. If we do not have the humility to consider this other way of seeing things, we will continue to acquire kamma seeds (good or bad) that can lay dormant for a long time until conditions becomes right for it to germinate, in this never ending samsara. The only solution for this predicament is to come to Sotapanna stage. It can also be done by developing an insight called “Udayabbaya ñāna”.

With Udayabbaya ñāna (udayavaya nana) one comprehends how suffering arises and how one can eliminate future suffering. When one gains the udayavaya nana, one can see the causes that need to be eliminated to overcome otherwise inevitable future suffering. So what is this udayavaya ? It is the arising and destruction of a sankata; Udayavaya describes how anything in this world (pancakkhanadha) arises due to causes. And whatever arises (udaya), it matures with time while changing in unexpected ways, and then inevitably gets destroyed (vaya).

A living being arises due to causes, and when the underlying cause or the fuel is spent, the living being dies. But the process does not stop, because the being had acquired new causes (new kamma) during that life or in the previous lives.

In PS, there are two types of Bhava. The first type can bring about “experiences” during the current life (kamma bhava) and those that become strong enough to power a whole new existence (uppatti bhava). The more one does acts suitable for a certain “bhava“, the vinnana for similar behavior grows, and it is easier for one to be “born” in a corresponding state; this is “pati+ichcha” leading to “sama+uppada”. This is what is meant by PS. Repeated ‘abhi’sankhara that one does, leads to strengthening the corresponding mindset or vinnana, and it propagates down the paticca samuppada series to make “kamma bhava“. “Kamma bhava” then gives rise to a “jati”.

The laws of kammā are not just based on causes and effects, they depend on conditions. If suitable conditions do not materialize for long times, then that kamma beeja will lose its energy. A seed cannot germinate unless it is placed in the ground and water, sunlight, and nutrients are provided. Similarly the role of conditions in the laws of kamma are inherent in the PS systems.

In PS, “avijja paccaya sankhara” does NOT mean “avijja causes sankhara”. Similarly “sankhara paccaya vinnana” does NOT mean “sankhara causes vinnana”. In order for causes to bring about corresponding effects, suitable conditions must be present. That is what “paccaya” means. When such suitable conditions are present, causes will bring about corresponding effects. Thus when some effect is brought about, it is called “paccuppanna“, i.e., born (“uppanna“) via suitable conditions (“paccaya“). In many cases, such critical conditions are not satisfied long after the causes were generated, so there is normally a time delay between causes and effects, i.e., between kamma and kamma vipaka.’

In the Patthäna Dhamma (book on “Conditional Relations” in Abhidhamma), the subject of Kamma is discussed in greater detail, if one needs to find out more. Pattana Dhamma describies that conditions are as important as root causes, which are lobha, dosa, and, moha (for akusala kamma), and alobha, adosa, and amoha (for kusala kamma). Further reading will tell you that Kamma vipaka do not take place via PS cycles, even though the seeds were generated with PS cycles. They appear when suitable conditions are available.

What is most important for you and I, is to realize that unless one has at least attained the Sotapanna stage, one could act with avijja at the level of moha, and generate kamma (sankhara) that could generate kamma bhava corresponding to possible birth in the four lowest realms. Thus realizing the importance of comprehending the true meaning of anicca, dukkha, & anatta is a must, whether we like it or not.

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I'm going to give you the Westerner's lens for karma:

Karma is your debt to the universe. Without serving your karma, you will be lost in endless cycles of dualism, ego, and suffering (whether it's your or another`s). If it is another's, it will leave it's mark in the world and will find you in the next.

The world had to go through a lot of suffering to get here. Some of that your own soul has made. Some of that is documented, some is not. Some of it is Biblical in scope. Without attention to karma, the world creates physical and psychic entropy. The soul goes into depression, rage, and ennui. Dark Ages are caused by such. Hence, karma is a vital topic.

The necessary practices are:

  • attentiveness -- you must stay aware as you are about the world,
  • compassion -- you have to be willing to learn about and empathize with the suffering of the world,
  • effort -- one can't rest in one's mini paradise,
  • contrition -- you have to be willing to admit that you were wrong.

One can't make the Enlightened Age or enter the future without dealing with the past. The more you deal with your karma, the more other's karmas are assisted also. It helps end suffering. So hop to it.

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