Consider the fact that our Nirvana depends on one crucial truth and that is law of Karma. Good karma bear good fruit and bad karma generates bad results.

Why didn't Buddha say that Fifth Noble Truth is law of Karma ?


8 Answers 8


Other answers say that kamma is already covered by, or implicit in, the first and/or second noble truths.

I think it's related to the fourth noble truth -- i.e. you say that kamma is important to attaining nirvana (and I think that "the path towards attaining nirvana" is what the fourth noble truth is about).

Or, perhaps, you can see "bad karma" and "good karma" in the second and third noble truths respectively.

I find the logical structure of the four noble truths satisfying or persuasive.

The first three have the structure of a syllogism:

  1. premise: dukkha exists, and is this and that
  2. premise: dukkha is associated with craving
  3. theorem: dukkha ceases when craving ceases

So that's the doctrine "in a nutshell".

The fourth is, then, an introduction to the rest of Buddhism:

  1. to begin to implement that in practice, see the noble eightfold way

I think that (as well as karma) there are other important aspects of dharma -- e.g. anatta, dependent origination, the sangha, the qualities conducive to Enlightenment, and so on.

So I don't see why you see the need to "privilege" karma (as more important than other doctrines) -- but it's helpful that there is a doctrine with only 4 (memorable) truths, rather than (less memorable) 20. The "4 truths" served as (and still serve as) an introduction to the dharma.

Or perhaps you're saying that the doctrine of karma should be privileged because it's the single most important doctrine to remember. If so, maybe you're not wrong; but there are also some other dharmas that people have been inclined to say are the most important -- for example, "right view"; or maybe "harmlessness", "generosity", "skilful virtue", "admirable friendship", "attention"; and so on.

  • 1
    I agree that the structure of the four truths is satisfying, but strictly speaking the first three of the four truths do not form a syllogism. The four truths are most compelling in the context of more extensive reasoning. These are examples of syllogisms: P1. Suffering is a phenomenon; P2. All phenomena are caused; C1. Therefore, suffering is caused. P3. If a phenomenon is caused, then it can be eliminated by eliminating its causes; P4. Suffering is a phenomenon that is caused; C2. Therefore, suffering can be eliminated by eliminating its causes.
    – Big Mac
    Commented Jul 22, 2018 at 18:28
  • @BigMac Yes. You are right. I think the structure of 4 Nobel Truth is that of disease diagnosis as Andrei said. Commented Jul 22, 2018 at 22:20
  • @DheerajVerma A good source on the medical analogy in the four truths is: Bhikkhu Anālayo, Right view and the scheme of the four truths in early Buddhism: the Samyukta-āgama parallel to the Sammāditthi-sutta and the simile of the four skills of a physician, Canadian Journal of Buddhist Studies, 7, 11–44, 2011.
    – Big Mac
    Commented Jul 22, 2018 at 22:37

Nibbana does not depend on anything. That's why it is called 'uncaused'. Karma is covered in the Second Noble Truth. Craving for sensual pleasures, craving for becoming and craving for non-becoming are all Karma.


The whole structure of the four truths can be seen as a teaching about karma (cause and effect); that's why the four truths are sometimes called the "two sets of cause and effect"; see, for example:

The third paragraph in The Four Noble Truths by Theravadin teacher Thanissaro Bhikkhu:

To counter this problem, the four noble truths drop ideas of me/not me, and being/not being, and replace them with two sets of variables: cause and effect, skillful and unskillful. In other words, there is the truth of stress and suffering (unskillful effect), the truth of the origination of stress (unskillful cause), the truth of the cessation of stress (skillful effect), and the truth of the path to the cessation of stress (skillful cause).

The section titled "The Two Sets of Cause and Effect" in The Four Noble Truths by Tibetan teacher Geshe Tashi Tsering:

One of the key beliefs in Buddhism is that nothing comes into being without a cause, and this law of cause and effect is a fundamental point for understanding the four noble truths. The following table shows two sets of cause and effect: suffering as the result of the origin of suffering and cessation as the result of the path.

               Result            Cause

Problem        1. Suffering      2. Origin

Solution       3. Cessation      4. Path

Although these two sets of cause and effect are very specific, they follow the rule of all causes and effects, and in particular the type of cause and effect called karma in Buddhism.

  • Cause and effect as described in dependent origination is devoid of any self. The aim is cessation of karma to achieve cessation of craving which achieves cessation of suffering Commented Jul 22, 2018 at 22:03
  • @DheerajVerma Thich Nhat Hanh noted: "the Buddha did say that craving is the cause of suffering, but he said this because craving is the first on the list of afflictions (kleshas). If we use our intelligence, we can see that craving can be a cause of pain, but other afflictions such as anger, ignorance, suspicion, arrogance, and wrong views can also cause pain and suffering. Ignorance, which gives rise to wrong perceptions, is responsible for much of our pain. To make the sutras shorter and therefore easier to memorize, the first item on a list was often used to represent the whole list."
    – Big Mac
    Commented Jul 22, 2018 at 22:30
  • Sorry I made a mistake in my previous comment. It it through cessation of craving that cessation of karma is achieved. Karma is defined in dependent origination as Volitional processes and Continuation( 2nd and 10th). My point was that cause and effect can not be called Karma. For example Ignorance , craving and attachment can not be called Karma although they arise due to cause. Origin of suffering is craving. Craving leads to Suffering. Craving is not Karma. Therefore Suffering,Origin can not be said to be due to karma. Craving is mental affliction. Commented Jul 22, 2018 at 23:30
  • @DheerajVerma Yes, craving leads to suffering, and craving is a mental affliction, but as (for example) Thich Nhat Hanh noted in the quotation above, from The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, page 22, craving is not the only mental affliction and is not the only thing that leads to suffering, as we can see by examining our own experience. The four truths "can be seen as" a teaching about karma, but they are not only about karma, just as they are not only about craving. The four truths are a very deep and multifaceted teaching.
    – Big Mac
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 1:02

Kamma is already covered in the first noble truth that there is suffering.

From AN 5.57:

“This noble disciple reflects thus: ‘I am not the only one who is the owner of one’s kamma, the heir of one’s kamma; who has kamma as one’s origin, kamma as one’s relative, kamma as one’s resort; who will be the heir of whatever kamma, good or bad, that one does. All beings that come and go, that pass away and undergo rebirth, are owners of their kamma, heirs of their kamma; all have kamma as their origin, kamma as their relative, kamma as their resort; all will be heirs of whatever kamma, good or bad, that they do.’ As he often reflects on this theme, the path is generated. He pursues this path, develops it, and cultivates it. As he does so, the fetters are entirely abandoned and the underlying tendencies are uprooted.

The noble disciple reflects that he is not the only one. He reflects that all beings are subject to kamma, which results in their birth, death and rebirth based on their kamma. This is one aspect of suffering. Reflecting thus, he chooses to follow the path laid out in the fourth noble truth, in order to become free from suffering.

But at the same time, we should not adopt the Jain fallacy that everything that happens is due to kamma, as seen in the Sivaka Sutta:

"There are cases where some feelings arise based on phlegm... based on internal winds... based on a combination of bodily humors... from the change of the seasons... from uneven care of the body... from harsh treatment... from the result of kamma. You yourself should know how some feelings arise from the result of kamma. Even the world is agreed on how some feelings arise from the result of kamma. So any brahmans & contemplatives who are of the doctrine & view that whatever an individual feels — pleasure, pain, neither pleasure-nor-pain — is entirely caused by what was done before — slip past what they themselves know, slip past what is agreed on by the world. Therefore I say that those brahmans & contemplatives are wrong."


MN 19 Dvedhavitakka Sutta:

Before my self-awakening, back when I was still just an unawakened Bodhisatta, the thought occurred to me: What if I divide all my thoughts into two groups?' So I made thinking imbued with sensuality, negativity, harmfulness etc. one group, and thinking imbued with renunciation, non-negativity, & harmlessness etc. - another group.

So yes, if you understand karma as dividing all your action (physical, verbal, and mental) into wholesome and unwholesome, and then minimizing one and maximizing the other - then yes, this is a key teaching. And in a way, it's a complete teaching - one could follow it without asking further questions, and by figuring out all implications arrive at Buddha's result.

However, an explanation like "To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas." (Dhammapada) lacks context: WHY? Why do good? What's wrong with evil? What will I get if I follow this teaching?

So Four Noble Truths structure the teaching like a doctor would structure a consultation with the patient. First it discusses the symptoms, then the diagnosis (the root cause of the symptoms), then it states that removing the root cause will fix the problem, then it offers a methodical plan of healing.

The fourth truth, the Eighfold Path, is 100% based on the "two kinds of thoughts" and the idea of good vs. bad karma. Every item in Eightfold Path starts with the word Samma, which means "correctly done, good quality". So every item explains right and wrong, not just applied to Physical, Verbal, and Mental action - but also applied to View, Livelihood, Practice, Mindfulness, Meditation and so on.

Finally, as Buddha explained in MN 101, it is wrong view to assume that liberation happens as a result of good karma. Instead, according to Buddha's teaching in MN 101, liberation from dukkha is achieved by "abandoning of unskillful mental qualities and the attainment of skillful mental qualities in the here-&-now":

When I exert a [physical, verbal, or mental] fabrication against this cause of stress, then from the fabrication of exertion there is dispassion. When I look on with equanimity at that cause of stress, then from the development of equanimity there is dispassion.' So he exerts a fabrication against the cause of stress where there comes dispassion from the fabrication of exertion, and develops equanimity with regard to the cause of stress where there comes dispassion from the development of equanimity. Thus the stress coming from the cause of stress for which there is dispassion through the fabrication of exertion is exhausted & the stress resulting from the cause of stress for which there is dispassion through the development of equanimity is exhausted ...

On seeing a form with the eye, he does not grasp at any theme or details by which — if he were to dwell without restraint over the faculty of the eye — evil, unskillful qualities such as greed or distress might assail him. On hearing a sound with the ear... On smelling an odor with the nose... On tasting a flavor with the tongue... On touching a tactile sensation with the body... On cognizing an idea with the intellect, he does not grasp at any theme or details by which — if he were to dwell without restraint over the faculty of the intellect — evil, unskillful qualities such as greed or distress might assail him. Endowed with this noble restraint over the sense faculties, he is inwardly sensitive to the pleasure of being blameless. ...

Abandoning covetousness with regard to the world, he dwells with an awareness devoid of covetousness. He cleanses his mind of covetousness. Abandoning ill will and anger, he dwells with an awareness devoid of ill will, sympathetic with the welfare of all living beings. He cleanses his mind of ill will and anger. Abandoning sloth and drowsiness, he dwells with an awareness devoid of sloth and drowsiness, mindful, alert, percipient of light. He cleanses his mind of sloth and drowsiness. Abandoning restlessness and anxiety, he dwells undisturbed, his mind inwardly stilled. He cleanses his mind of restlessness and anxiety. Abandoning uncertainty, he dwells having crossed over uncertainty, with no perplexity with regard to skillful mental qualities. He cleanses his mind of uncertainty. ...

Having abandoned these five hindrances — imperfections of awareness that weaken discernment — then, quite withdrawn from sensual pleasures, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, he enters and remains in the first jhana ... second jhana ... third jhana ... fourth jhana ...

With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, the monk directs and inclines it to the knowledge of the ending of the mental fermentations. He discerns, as it has come to be, that ... These are mental fermentations... This is the origination of fermentations... This is the cessation of fermentations... This is the way leading to the cessation of fermentations.' His heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, is released from the fermentation of sensuality, the fermentation of becoming, the fermentation of ignorance. With release, there is the knowledge, 'Released.' He discerns that 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world. ...

Such is the teaching of the Tathagata.


Good karma gives you good destination, and bad gives you bad destination. But it doesn't matter good or bad. All birth is suffering: because where ever born then there is aging and dying. So karma is in the second noble truth:

yāyaṃ taṇhā ponobbhavikā

ponobbhavikā ("leading to rebirth") is new karma.


"Good" & "bad kamma" are ignoble, dirty & filthy defiled things. They are not Noble Truth.

And what is the right view with effluents [defilements], siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions [attachments]? 'There is what is given, what is offered, what is sacrificed. There are fruits & results of good & bad actions. There is this world & the other world. There is mother & father.

MN 117

"Good" & "bad kamma" are found in all worldly religions; which are not Noble Truth.


Yeah puthujjanas are stuck between what they call good and bad karma and since ''bad karma'' is ''bad'', they love to believe they become good people for striving to do the ''good'' karma. The love this good karma because the good karma does not lead to painful contact and they love to think that having good contacts is a good thing for them and other people.

It turns out that What there is about ''common'' karma is bright karma, dark karma, dark & bright. ANd even worse, none of those karmas makes you reach nirvana.

"Monks, these four types of kamma have been directly realized, verified, & made known by me. Which four? There is kamma that is dark with dark result. There is kamma that is bright with bright result. There is kamma that is dark & bright with dark & bright result. There is kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of kamma.

"And what is kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of kamma? Right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is called kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of kamma.


Toxic Puhtthujanas love to confuse the bright karma with the non-bright & non-dark karma because they love to believe they generate the bright karma and they love to believe that they are good people for this generation.

Toxic puthujjanas love to think that karma is a good thing, but it really is not. It just a big mechanic scam since you do not even know if the karma will be good or bad. You do not know how the evolution of the karma that is ''attached to you'' end even less the karma ''of'' others. Even worse, speculating about karma, trying to know about it with the usual ways of the puthujjanas is a big waste of time on the path to reach nirvana. In therms of karma, THe whole point of nirvana is that the karma ends.

iN order To know about karma, the various destinations, for you and others, you need lots of work and even with this work, you are not an expert on karma like a buddha. At best a puthujjanas can know about karma by listening to a buddha. And even then, plenty of pathetic puthujjanas manage to cling to their fantasy of being a good guy for generating bright karma and neglect non-bright non-dark karma.

And even better about this non-bright non-dark karma, is that once the person is good at generating those non-bright non-dark karmas, the person automatically '' fabricates a non-injurious bodily fabrication ... a non-injurious verbal fabrication ... a non-injurious mental fabrication '' like with the ''bright karma'', that puthujjanas crave so much believing they do, which are part of the noble path.

Since you really worry about karma, be a good puthujjana and start by following the ''5 precepts'', each hour of each day of each week, which are typically tied to bright karma, but do not spend most on your life on this, and remember about this 4th karma and go beyond this bright karma by following the ''8 fold path''. THe 8 fold path which is one of the ''truths'' is exactly what you imagine would be the ''5th noble truth''. Once you follow the 8 fold path, you do not need to worry about all those karmas, you already know that the ''fabrications'' are the relevant ones and since you stop worrying about all that, you get better at generating piti, sukkha, samadhi and all that.

here is a little text about those karmas for more references. http://read.goodweb.net.cn/PDF/p34/Karma%20In%20The%20Pali%20Suttas.pdf

Ajahn Buddhadāsa's Note: This matter of 4 kinds of karma appears in numerous suttas, with the same details in some places and different details in others: in the Kammavagga of the AN Fours, the Saṃkhitta Sutta (A.ii.230) and Vitthāra Sutta (A.ii.230, Cf NDB 123) have the same details as above for all four kinds; Paṭhamasikkhāpada Sutta (A.ii.234) has dark karma explained in terms of violating the five precepts and bright karma in terms of upholding the five precepts, while the other two karmas are the same as above; Dutiyasikkhāpada Sutta (A.ii.234, 21/319/236) has dark karma explained in terms of the five heinous actions and bright karma in terms of the ten bases of wholesome action; Ariyamagga Sutta (A.ii.235, 21/320/237) has the first three kinds of karma are explained the same as above while the fourth is in terms of the noble eightfold path; Bojjhaṅga Sutta (A.ii.236, 21/321/238) has the first three kinds of karma explained the same as above while the fourth is in terms of the seven factors of awakening. In some cases the Buddha spoke to bhikkhus and in other suttas he spoke to other kinds of people.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .