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I am trying to understand karma, I have and continue to read about intention and letting go. I am struggling with something. Could you help me ?

A) If I acted (unwisely, unkindly, causing suffering), not knowing that what I was doing was wrong, and never realizing it to be wrong, I believe this is neutral.

B) If I acted (unwisely, unkindly, causing suffering), while knowing that what I was doing was wrong, and continued to understand it to be wrong, I believe this is bad.

C) If I acted (unwisely, unkindly, causing suffering), while knowing that what I was doing was wrong, and then saw that the act resulted in something good, I believe this is bad.

D) If I acted (unwisely, unkindly, causing suffering), not knowing that what I was doing was wrong, and later realized it to be wrong, I believe this is neutral. If (now that I understand) I harbor guilt and attach to this guilt I am doing bad. Here I am asked to forgive myself and move on. If I continue to wallow in the guilt then I am doing more bad.

(assuming I am correct on A-C) the problem I have with D is likely based in the faith of my birth (catholic), where I was made to believe that guilt is really like a payment and the worst the act the longer you need to pay for it (like a monetary value) by continuing to hurt yourself with guilty feelings.

in Buddhism, if attaching to guilt is bad, then how long do you need to feel it ? do you just move on as soon as you realize it was wrong ? If the suffering impacted someone else do they have a "say" in how long you cause yourself suffering (if not literally, then in some kind of moral equivalence that you calculate yourself ?)

thank you for sharing your insight.

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In my understanding,

The original action is one source of karma. The hidden agenda (intention,attitude) behind that act is another source of karma. Our thoughts reflecting on that after it happened is the third source of karma. Our decision to explain what happened and why, in one specific way, is the fourth source of karma.

Each of the four components can be wholesome or unwholesome, so there are 16 combinations in total, or 16 gradations - from 100% unwholesome, to 100% wholesome. Also, the combinations vary by the timing of their effects, producing a complex mixture of some immediate and some latent results.

In context of this question, what we are interested in is the difference between the last two components.

The thoughts about the event (going over it, analyzing, evaluating oneself) can generate either pride and joy, or shame and guilt. This guilt, by itself, is a dukkha, disease. Maintaining oneself in a maimed and injured condition creates negative karma that keeps the vicious circle going.

The decision to explain what and why happened, in a specific way, is the most important component for the long term effects of the action. What is "specific way"? Usually, real life situations are not unambiguous. Instead, they usually have an element of ambiguity, a quantum element so to speak. In most situations we can come up with a number of narratives or interpretations, that will present situation and your role in it rather differently.

What often happens when we analyze a troublesome situation, is we can't decide which perspective we should take. So we keep going over it again and again, replaying it in our head, which can bring a lot of guilt and suffering. Instead, if we decide on one perspective, and make a firm decision to stick with it - then we can stop replaying the situation, and clearly describe what happened and exactly why, and based on this choice of explanation our future will change accordingly.

The perspective Buddha suggest we should take, is that of responsibility, but at the same time the one that will make us strong, not sick with guilt. Here's what happened, here are the attachments that were at play, here is the confusion that was at play, here's the lust and aversion that were at play. Here's why I thought it was a good idea to act like that at the time. However, now I clearly see how and why my actions created that harmful effect.

It is an important skill, according to my teacher, to never betray one's past decisions. If we decided to act a certain way, we must have done it out of our best understanding at the moment. Given our understanding at the moment, we could not have acted differently (if we could we would). However, if we act now, we will act out of our new best understanding, which may be different this time.

The only function of "taking the blame" is to admit that situation indeed happened the way it happened, and that our actions played a role in that. We were acting out of our best understanding, but because our perspective was limited, we participated in creating these negative results. With our new understanding we can see that a better action is possible, and we want to try it that way next time.

This is called "master mind" as opposed to "leaking mind". Leaking mind is the mind that betrays its own foundation, it's own past decisions all the time. Leaking mind says "oh I was so stupid yesterday" or "so wrong" etc. Master mind has an element of confidence and stability, it honorably inherits its past actions and choices, while never getting attached or stuck in the past and taking into account new information as it becomes available.

  • Are there any scriptural sources for the four components? "The original action is one source of karma. The hidden agenda (intention,attitude) behind that act is another source of karma. Our thoughts reflecting on that after it happened is the third source of karma. Our decision to explain what happened and why, in one specific way, is the fourth source of karma." – ruben2020 Apr 28 '18 at 4:23
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Three factors contribute to bad Karma.

  1. Greed
  2. Aversion
  3. Ignorance

Not knowing that an action is wrong, does not redeem you from the Karma. It just makes it a Karma based on strong ignorance. To give an analogy, if you mix mud and milk thinking that it's going to create chocolate milkshake, it is still going to taste horrible even if you didn't know it was wrong. If you touch something hot without knowing that it is hot, it's still going to burn your hand regardless of your knowledge.

There is no self forgiving in Buddhism, because you are not supposed to look at Karma in terms of self in the first place. You are supposed to look at it in terms of causes and effect. What you should know is that actions based on greed, hatred and ignorance lead to unfavorable effects and actions based on non-greed, non-aversion, non-ignorance lead to favorable effects.

Feeling guilty makes the Karma worse. What you should do is reevaluating past actions and correcting them if they were wrong or improving on them if they were right.

  • @sankhakulathanille (I am working on understanding your second paragraph, cause & effect, without a self) Is it similar to: 'I throw a ball up into the air (the ball being a wrong action, the throwing being the act of doing it) karma is the ball falling back down, and gravity acts on the ball regardless of my knowledge of the scope of my action. It falls not because I am standing beneath it, and I might move away or stay, the falling is not affected. If I am still there when it returns, it hits me, if I move away the ball still falls. – Mishtook Apr 4 '18 at 18:10
  • @sankhakulathanille (continued) My presence beneath the ball is the "false self" that feels intrinsically involved when the ball hits me in the head, but really, the ball is not aware of me, and neither is gravity aware of me. – Mishtook Apr 4 '18 at 18:21
  • On a conceptual level, you can think of Karma involving a doer and an experiencer. But in reality, Karma is just causes and effect. There's no 'I' throwing the ball. Wanting to do something is just wanting arising and ceasing. There's no self in 'wanting'. Doing something physical is just rupa(matter) arising as a result of the wanting. – Sankha Kulathantille Apr 4 '18 at 19:39
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Karma will result from 'Intention' + 'Action'. basically, any action will form karma, and intention behind will increase the strength of karma. Intention itself will also cause Karma. Therefore:

A) Karma will result.

B) Karma will result.

C) Karma will result.

D) Karma will result.

In Buddhism, there is no such thing as "Payment" of karma through guilt. You will experience the Karma (good or bad) as long as you created it.

If you realized something you did was wrong, learn from it, refrain from repeating it, and do something about it if still possible.

No one has a "say" about the strength of your karma, as Karma itself is a manifestation of natural universal laws. No one can tamper with universal laws. Not even the Gods.

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I understand suffering: A) impermanent suffering: suffering given to other person and have time to heal that (person) B) permanent suffering: no discussion. Simply don't create that, create something better.

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Feeling guilty is not healthy. It obstructs you from learning. Sure, if you feel guilty it might be a motivator, but so is remorse. If one is guilt loaden one can barely think the bigger picture, ignores the fallibility of being human and over-generalizes with statements such as "I am bad", "I am worthless" etc.

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Please if you have time try to find the book "Handbook of the Buddhist". This is written by Ven. Rerukane Chandawimala thero. In this book you will be able to find a good explanation about Karma. I think there is the solution you need. Following link is to buy the book. But try to find it online for free.
http://www.online.buddhistcc.com/books/handbook-of-the-buddhist-detail.html

If you can afford you can buy. (Im not sure these kind of links are allowed here. But please understand that I'm not trying to sell anything here.)

  • 1
    thank you, I did look for it, I have written to the book seller. I did not think you might be trying to profit :) you will be pleased to know it is 2$ which where I am is less than the cost of a cup of tea/coffee, so it is a sum more like a tip than a burden. Thank you for your consideration. – Mishtook Mar 29 '18 at 1:33
  • I hope it will work for you. And if you get interested try to find other books written by Ven. Rerukane Chandawimala thero. All of them are really good. Also you don't have to worry about the accuracy too. – Joe Mar 29 '18 at 5:02
  • Also I want to let you know this too. The book isn't completely about the Karma. There is a little part. But I believe it's more than any of us can explain and also none of us will dig that deep to give an asnwer – Joe Mar 29 '18 at 5:05
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The answer comes in the Lonaphala Sutta:

Now, a trifling evil act done by what sort of individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment? There is the case where a certain individual is developed in the body, developed in virtue, developed in mind [i.e., painful feelings cannot invade the mind and stay there], developed in discernment: unrestricted, large-hearted, dwelling with the immeasurable. A trifling evil act done by this sort of individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment.

What developed in body and developed in mind means, is elaborated in MN36:

"And how is one developed in body and developed in mind? There is the case where a pleasant feeling arises in a well-educated disciple of the noble ones. On being touched by the pleasant feeling, he doesn't become impassioned with pleasure, and is not reduced to being impassioned with pleasure. His pleasant feeling ceases. With the cessation of the pleasant feeling there arises a painful feeling. On being touched with the painful feeling, he doesn't sorrow, grieve, or lament, beat his breast or becomes distraught. When that pleasant feeling had arisen in him, it didn't invade his mind and remain because of his development of the body. When that painful feeling had arisen in him, it didn't invade his mind and remain because of his development of the mind. This is how one is developed in body and developed in mind."

Self-forgiveness does not play any role here.

The development of virtue (sila) allows one to think and act in ways that is wholesome. It also counters the ignorance of not knowing what is wholesome, and provides freedom from remorse.

Being developed in body and mind allows one to not react to both pleasant and painful feelings, and have it remain in his mind.

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