Referring to the Four Characteristics of Karma (catvāri karmasvabhāva), as taught in Tibetan schools:

  1. The certainty of karma.
  2. The magnification of karma.
  3. Not experiencing the effects of actions you did not do.
  4. The actions you have done do not perish.

(From "The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, Tib. Lam rim chen mo, Volume 1: Volume One" by Tsong-Kha-Pa.)

I have no issue with 3 of the 4 characteristics of Karma, but it seems to me that #3 Not experiencing the effects of actions you did not do has been incorrectly extended by many to nothing can be experienced unless you have created the cause. The problem with this is that there must be some random events mixed in with cause and effect.

  • My english is terrible. I need some example.
    – Bonn
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 8:10

6 Answers 6


You said:

...but it seems to me that a result will always have a cause has been incorrectly extended by many to nothing can be experienced unless you have created the cause. The problem with this is that there must be some random events mixed in with cause and effect.

You are correct! You have a bright discerning mind, that's the most precious which guided you in choosing the right path, also guarded you against misleading teachings. Learning Buddha's authentic teachings, or anything this days, is a path tracked along traps and hypocriticals.

In one instant (Ksaṇa), one is experiencing the results of causes also creating new causes; the mind discerns, then chooses the associated factors/responses at hand - in it there are random events, in your words; else this whole Karma equation will fall into the grip of Fatalism (Determinism), what the Buddha rebuked.

Like you, I don't understand why there is this 1. karma is determined in the list of Four Characteristics of Karma in Tibetan Buddhism. In Chinese Mahayana teachings, I've not heard about nor came across this FCK saying. It would be helpful if there is Sutra, or even Sastra can be quoted to refer to it's origin. Or it's the Guru's (Lama's) teaching? Or modern Buddhist scholar's (scholar-monk's) summery?

One of the notions of Karma I think that's closely related to this karma is determined is, Bearer of Karma can't be Replaced (自作自受, the doer bears his own deed), in Chinese Mahayana. That said, even if you are the father/mother of the BKR, you can't replace your son/daughter to bear his/her Karma. Karma is like debt/saving but also unlike debt/saving, for no one can replace another to take it.

However, above Chinese Mahayana understanding is conflicting to some Tibetan teachings for I learnt that some Gurus can help their disciples to bear their Karmas. In fact, this is the initial when a student accepted a Lama as his Guru, i.e., right there this Guru has taken over this student's Karma, this student is "reborn" by the moment he accepting the Guru...

To say "Karma is determined" is very dangerous. So is @Andrei Volkov explaint in his "On a mundane level...", although I believed he intended to emphasize one should take full responsibility of one's life. Yet it's easily fallen into the trap of fatalist. Indeed this saying has been hijacked/exploited by many ruling classes before our modern time. Examples in distance past and present is the Indian Caste System, and Tibetan Serfs System. (There are many articles both false and true surfing on the internet, the best is to see the photos and videos for they are the least capable of lying):

I stress, it's very precious to maintain your doubt: "how could Karma be determined?" "how could there no random events mixed in?"... etc. Keep your sane mind keep your reasoning until you realize yourself, not by anyone's telling you so and so. In fact any "super-master", "H.H. master", "Harvard PhD master"... etc. their job is not to transmit you a set of teachings sealed with "authorized", but to help you realize the knowledge by awakening your own wisdom.

Karma multiples. Chinese Mahayana thus teaches, don't disregard insignificant good because it's insignificant; don't do petty evil because it's petty. Be in awe of the rippling effect of Karma!

The better way to state your 3 is, "Karma will not come to fruition unless ripen". This explains neatly why there disbelief and argument of Karma, since the time of fruition is unpredictable, compounded with the superlative cause-effects and endless birth-deaths.

Karma doesn't dissipate is a warning that one should Think Thrice (三思) before his conducting life. The well-known example for this is about Maudgalyāyana/Moggallāna being beaten to death by the heretics. Despite his superior Rddhi/Iddhi accomplishment, by the moment of attack (fruition of Karma), he lost his powers completely, helpless and mindless to even remember a name of them.

Again, A. Volkov is thorough to point out "On the enlightened level", Karma is understood differently. Yet still greatly different is Andrei's elaboration to Nagarjuna's. Nagarjuna said, Karma is empty. Why? Because in enlightened level, "I" is no longer constructed, hence, "others" ceased; if I ceased, the doer disappeared, therefore the doing no longer there; thus, Karma nixed. I think the key explanation is in Chapter 1 and 2 in Madhyamaka, however I don't think there good translation work in English around that enable one understand what he said, not to say his analogy required a very bright mind to grasp what he said. Maybe until a right moment will come for you to conduct the right study :).

My last friendly reminder, keep your bright discerning mind, do not accept because someone said so, only until you realize it's true, that's the guide and guard helping you along the path.


- answering the newly edited -

Your new version of

  1. Not experiencing the effects of actions you did not do.

There are 3 aspects:

  • A) This is a, if you will excuse me, bad sentence. This is called a sentence that "Begging the Question". It's like saying, you will not die if you haven't consumed the deadly toxin of the pufferfish; or Not experiencing the pain (effect) of cutting (action) if you did not cut yourself (do).

  • B) I was not able to locate where exactly this saying in the Lam Rim Chenmo 1, Tsong-Kha-Pa written in Tibetan, there are 4 Chinese translations, different English translations too. I believe it's making more sense to revert to your original quote, or as Andrei's quote If karma were not accomplished, the result would not be experienced. These versions of translation/summery may better transmit TKP's original meaning.

  • C) Taking the sensible, more acceptable translation, still this way of saying is in logical conflict. How could a Karma be not accomplished? A Karma is the effect of an action, how could an effect be obtained if the action is not completed? Example, you hit someone, the fist contacted the body part of your object, this is a karma: hit someone; if your fist hasn't contacted your object, it's not called hit someone, right? Likewise, how could karma were not accomplished, the result would not be experienced be established? Therefore, I think it's a corrupted statement trying to convey this statement Karma will not come to fruition unless ripen - what I learnt from the Chinese Mahayana source. And the translated Tibetan statement is really easily being hijacked again. For one can be playing with the marginal/edge. Like a boat will sink if overloaded, but the boat will never sink if it's even so close to overload but not overloaded, so that you can keep loading because the boat will not sink if not overloaded, even so close to overload... I think this may be employed as an aid and explanation, when to the higher level, the Tibetan teaching telling, to prove that one's realized a higher understanding of reality, one should disregard social norms... the more one challenging the existing/known norms, the more advance one's achievement in Dharma.

However, your core question is triggered by the 3. Not experiencing the effects of actions you did not do., though not really about the 3th of FCK. Because in your mind there is a question about when/how the 1st cause happened if experience must be experiencing the effect of a cause, an effect without cause is impossible, therefore experiencing the 1st effect is impossible, then how the 1st experience happened?

Think of a loop, or electric circuit, the end is the beginning, the beginning is the end. So in eons of death-births, in the perfect circle (not linear, that's how electricity can be live constantly, by switching on/off; not like a battery that after used up then dead), no beginning and end, so is cause-effects. Your this question arisen in the same way as in this post, a construct confined in the Four-statement when searching for the ultimate in the mind of intellect. In the Ultimate Truth, it's Suchness. Nagarjuan said in Madhyamaka, my transl. from Chi.:

... ... [excerpt]

The effect comes from cause, from non-cause?

The cause contains the effect, contains not the effect?

If from this comes the effect, thus called the cause;

If the effect is not yet born, why not called this non-cause?

Has or Hasn’t the effect already been in the cause, invalid are both;

If hasn’t how rendered it that cause, if has how it would need the cause?

If the effect not coming from cause, nor coming from non-cause;

Neither both, how renders it there the cause?

... ... [excerpt]

Nag. concluded:

The effect not comes from cause, nor from non-cause;

There the effect unobtainable, hence vain is the cause and non-cause.

A graphical depiction in my words to help understanding this question: In the Ultimate, there's no spatial/temporal conditioning; there is no "I", hence no "others"; no observer (subject), hence no observed (object). It is you taking a position, now you have the cause causing your existing, defining your positioning... and the world is created.

I don't think I can give a solid answer to this question, maybe by analyzing your question you may come to understand the question and answer by yourself.

As far as I leant, Tsong-Kha-Pa (1357–1419CE) his teachings and writings were coming from a background with the Lama political power established, a need for religious reform due to the power struggles of different lineages, he synthesis the teachings and condensed in this The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment. Traditional Chinese Mahayana held we should 1st consult and learn the Sutras - teaching spoken directly by the Buddha; then the Sastras - explanation of Sutras written by the Bodhisattvas or Great Masters with achievements. Tsong-Kha-Pa's in the Sastras category the max., however not sure which Sutras he was referring to. As far as I learnt, TKP himself didn't practice his own teaching, he was never a Tantra Yoga practitioner himself. His last vow was hoping to be reborn in Tusita, until then when Maitreya Buddha be born, to complete his quest together .

There is not lack of controversy in the Tibetan Tantra Yoga practice. In the linked article the former Dakini even has strained relationship with her own father for she thought her father set it up. Little did she know nor she was able to mention, in Tsong-Kha-Pa's Lamrim Chenmo/Nagkrim Chenmo it taught the apprentice should offer his women, from wife (girlfriend), daughter, sister, aunt to anyone related to him, to his Guru...

It's not such a mystery or it's also very mysterious of the Tibetan Tantra Yoga. I believe it has it's psycho-physiological reasoning, also the reasoning in the way of Qi (氣, Prana), Chakra, Nidas (Mài 脈)... etc. The Daoist having this type of harnessing sexual energy skill, so the Indian... though I can't say these are all the same. There is certain truth about desire is not rid by suppression... But I really can't discern if the Buddha will teach such technique (or it's not for human, but for celestial beings some said) even if it's having effect, if the harm is bigger than the effect, especially the harm to the objects that's used in aiding the practitioner.

Tibetan Tantra Yoga was a skill widely adopted by the Emperors, especially after China fell to the Mogonlian rule around 1360CE, inside the Emperor's zenana. So was the Lamas ruling Tibet. Not sure how do general public carry out the practice; perhaps Hugh Hefner that type of super-rich has the exclusivity, without causing complaints since those were knowingly working like his playgirls.

Anyhow, I think it's always good to learn something. It is in my task to give Tsong-Kha-Pa's writings a read, but there are many other more important Sutras also Sastras I need to study first. I've already save a copy of Lamrim Chenmo in my collection.

I read some learnt said Tibetan Buddhism built upon the wrong interpretation of Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka, it mistaken the 6th Vijnana the foundation; not the 8th Vijnana. Nagarjuna's Emptiness is referring to the 8th... Some said the real Tibetan School was extinct, it was Jonang, teaching the real Tathāgatagarbha, but wiped out and replaced by the 5th Dalai Lama... And Vajrayana (金剛乘) is not exclusivity of Tibetan Buddhism, historically there are Vajrayana teaching in different schools, like Tientai, Huayan, and Ch'an/Zen is the greatest of Vajrayana, like a great secret laid open in plain sight but only for those can see it. In fact the fundamental Sutra for Ch'an school is Diamond Sutra, which, diamond and Vajra are the same word: 金剛 (Pinyin: Jīngāng), thus Diamond Sutra in Pinyin is Jīngāng Jīng... I think it's too deep for the general Western practitioners due to they are new in contacting Buddhism, due to the lack of Sutras they can read in English, also English Sutras correctly transmitting the teaching...

If you are interested to dab more a bit in Buddhism, I think a good translation work was Blue Cliff Record, done by Thomas Clearly. I read by chance one or two chapters I was impressed, until recently I learnt who is Thomas Clearly and he also translated the Avatamsaka Sutra, I will recommend and also is in my list to acquire this work. the Platform Sutra (grasping the fundamental principles in the most plain words) by Red Pine is not a bad read, though the accuracy is in question but I see Red Pine is genuine in his trying his best. These are suggestions if you are interested, though I think to follow whichever teaching is purely a personal choice. But to read something in the different sect is always a good balance also good cross-checking process ;).

My last, keep your bright discerning mind as guide and in guarded, be safe in your venture!

  • Excellent @ Mishu... if Karma is Volitions and Volitions are Choices, Choice cannot be intrinsically detemined, but if determined then its pure fatalism!
    – user10552
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 10:55
  • @Epic true. However there is a hindrance with this word "Volitions". It's a loaned word from the Eng translators dabbed in Christian doctrines. Volition is needed in the system of "God created world, how could his creatures Adam + Eve sinned, since God is perfect?" To round the argument, God has to grant them "Volition/Free Will" to sin 囧. The better way to say is mind of discern. This "mind of discern" is the key that we humans can follow the path and realize Nirvana. Only when the mind is free of contamination, spotless, it can do correct discerning... Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 11:05
  • Thanks @ Mishu... my understanding of Volition stem from the early Stoic they called it "Prohairesis" it's nothing but the choice involved in giving or withholding assent to impressions..it is the faculty that distinguishes human beings from all other creatures.
    – user10552
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 11:16
  • 1
    @Mishu..Perhaps those you read have misunderstood the Stoics... Only the wise are free according to the stoic...Here is a Stoic quote......."He is free who lives as he likes; who is not subject to compulsion, to restraint, or to violence; whose pursuits are unhindered, his desires successful, his aversions unincurred. Who, then, would wish to lead a wrong course of life? "No one." Who would live deceived, erring, unjust, dissolute, discontented, dejected? "No one." No wicked man, then, lives as he likes; therefore no such man is free.
    – user10552
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 13:10
  • 1
    @ Chris I couldn't agree more. Certainly, Buddhism is rich and alive. It has ardent followers and uninterrupted written record with detail exposition to attain the "good" for those who can. Even for those who don't aim at the higher end, but follow in faith, it leads to contentment, which is what I witnessed on my visit to Cambodia. …As to the Ancient Greeks, what we have is fragments in the hand of academics whose very aim is a play on words. So as you put it is a dry-land with no action.
    – user10552
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 15:43

Same situation can have many results from many causes.

For the example: eyes have 34 elements that are formed from 4 kinds of difference causes (kamma, consciousness, temperature, and nutrient).

Another example: pathavi-dhatu, that is arise by temperature in eyes, also depend on the other co arising elements, same time arising causes, too.


You refer to the Four Characteristics of Karma (catvāri karmasvabhāva), as taught in Tibetan schools:

  1. Karma is definite, or deterministic.
  2. Karma creates inertia and tendency to proliferate.
  3. If karma were not accomplished, the result would not be experienced.
  4. Karma does not disappear.

This is a lamrim teaching, so it's meant for beginner students. What the third point is meant to teach is:

  • On a mundane level: We should not blame our problems on other people and on the circumstances. Our life is a result of our own karma. We should not feel like helpless victims tossed by the wind, nor should we be angry at the unfair world and society. Instead, we should take responsibility for our lives. Whatever we experience today, was in one way or another caused by a choice we made in the past.
  • On a supramundane level: There are hidden connections between our attitude and our future experiences. Selfish and negative intentions seed subtle seeds that over time ripen into unpleasant experiences. Selfish attachments, and negative emotions they generate, manifest as problems downstream. Knowing this we should always be very careful with the condition of our mind and our hidden/inner attitudes. Being outwardly friendly but having selfish and negative thoughts creates latent conditions for future trouble.
  • On the enlightened level: All our experiences come from our own mind. Any problem we experience comes from our mind and any happiness we experience also comes from our own mind. Our body, our senses, the objects of our senses—everything we see is our view, and it is the projection of our mind. Our view has to do with our own mind, with the level of our own mind. If our mind is impure, we see things as impure. If our mind is pure, we see things as pure. Reality is an interpretation we make. Therefore, in a very fundamental, very personal way, we are directly responsible for 100% of our own experiences, in fact we ourselves fabricate it.

As you can see, this not about the physics of cause-and-condition, the second law of thermodynamics, and the philosophy of free-will. We are not arguing whether every result has a cause or is there anything like true randomness in the Universe. Instead, this is about our attitude to life - and taking responsibility for everything that happens, past, future, and present.


All potential probabilities exist around us. ([Multiple Universe explanation here])1 It is our very perceptions that shape the material content of the universe we will experience - albeit a combination of ours and all those we bring into our world. ([Double Slit experiment explanation])2 These perceptions and their resulting change in quantum mechanic probabilities are the karma. A chain reaction of the resultants of our perceptions. Research now suggests that these changes of probability and other resultant karma are stored in the micro-lobules of the brain.([tie between quantum physics and karma])3

So, in short, our sensory experience creates the very cause and effect that further creates. Thus the maxim becomes true that nothing is experienced unless you created the cause - either directly or by your inclusion of others in your world.


You do not create anything. ex: When you do something evil, you don't do it with the intention of wanting to suffer for it in the future. Things happen due to causes. Even the causes themselves cannot create anything. It's simply a case of the result occurring when the causes are present.

  • 1
    Perhaps the word "create" is something to be avoided, but I think when you do evil it's not because of some random presence of causes. You are the culprit, and due to your ignorance, you have chosen the wrong path.
    – user10552
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 8:35
  • There's no 'you' or a doer. There's simply a thought moment which performs the task of decision making. If the decision is evil, suffering follows. Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 8:43
  • @ Sankha, I think you're verging to fatalism. There's certainly a doer... here is a quote from Attakārī Sutta........................“So, brahmin, when there is the element of endeavoring, endeavoring beings are clearly discerned; of such beings, this is the self-doer, this, the other-doer. I have not, brahmin, seen or heard such a doctrine, such a view as yours. How, indeed, could one — moving forward by himself, moving back by himself — say ‘There is no self-doer, there is no other-doer’?”
    – user10552
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 9:27
  • 1
    No it is not fatalism. If it's fatalism, the determining thought moment would be defunct. But just because it performs the function of deciding, it does not qualify as a self in the ultimate sense as it is also caused and perishes. There are 4 such false views of self: owner, dweller, doer, experiencer. In the Attakārī Sutta the Buddha is talking at a conceptual level to make it clear that beings are responsible for their deeds. But at no place he mentions that any of the five aggregates can be regarded as a self. Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 9:57
  • Thanks, Sankha... I agree "non-self" is the correct view! But I think declaring non-self too quickly without explaining the power of Karma / Volition (free will) of the being could be a problem. The being "Mr. Sankha" when he does evil he is responsible...!
    – user10552
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 11:28

In some schools of Buddhism, everything is mind. Even the random effects are created by mind, which is karma. In other words, the random effects do not exist outside the mind. Which means, since the random effects exist within the mind, it does create experience.

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