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WARNING: I don't hold the view explained in this question anymore and I think the view should not be held by anyone, because of it being dangerous. It's dangerous to think there are no consequences to certain intentional violent actions. It's safe to think there are severe consequences to all intentional violent actions

This has been perturbing me for a while.

--I have noticed what looks like invalid logic in this sutta https://accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an05/an05.129.than.html

( note 1: this is the conclusion I come to if I look at kamma and the the-fruit-of-kamma (vipaka) logically, if it isn't true then it seems kamma and the-fruit-of-kamma (vipaka) operates illogically or "randomly" or in an unknown way???

note 2: The paragraph below also only seems applicable if the event is onesided i.e an "innocent victim" is involved )

Seemingly the aggressors are supposedly in hell for their actions but weren't their actions (the aggressors) only because of their victims kamma from past lives (now their current fruit-of-kamma (vipaka)) and therefore the aggressors actions (the victims fruit-of-kamma (vipaka)) were seemingly unavoidable, so why would the aggressors be in hell?

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    You seem to be saying that your view is that if you kill someone, then that's the victim's fault for having bad karma -- and that your killing them would be "unavoidable" somehow, and that your going to hell as a consequence would be "illogical" -- is that really what you're saying? – ChrisW Oct 22 '18 at 20:41
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    Yes that is really what I am saying (at least in some cases it seems). I am aware of how morally repulsive that is but I cannot see how else it would work? What's even more morally repulsive is that it only seems to be clearly applicable if the victim is obviously innocent e.g an arahant etc. and therefore cannot be explained in terms of the victims present actions. Well if it wasn't the victims bad karma from past lives that caused the action then what was it? The sudden nonexistence of karma itself? Unexplainable? – Angus Oct 22 '18 at 20:53
  • I didn't understand the "important note" you added -- who is the "innocent victim"; and if this is the only case, what are the other cases? – ChrisW Oct 22 '18 at 21:29
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    This is not related to the question, but it's interesting that you have picked the Sutta that specifically talks about the 5 heinous crimes, not just any Karma. Are your parents still among the living? – Sankha Kulathantille Oct 23 '18 at 9:45
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    What I have described in my question is more obvious in the sutta about the 5 heinous crimes, for other examples in other suttas it isn't as clear. Yes they are. – Angus Oct 23 '18 at 9:49
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The aggressors are supposedly in hell for their actions but weren't their actions (the aggressors) only because of their victims karma from past lives and therefore the aggressors actions were unavoidable, so why would the aggressors be in hell?

There's a problem with the above logic. And the wrong word is "unavoidable". Mr A killed Mr B in a previous life. In this life, Mr B has the option to kill A in return. But that is simply an option, not an "unavoidable" action. If B chooses to spare A's life, that doesn't necessary mean A is off the hook. Due to the killing kamma, A's life will be cut short in some other ways, not by people's hand, but by a stray bullet, a fatal car accident, a terrible incurable disease, etc. Bottomline is that there's nothing in the suttas that say that B would have no choice but to kill A in return.

  • Then it isn't even close to equivalent. There's more to it than simply a life being cut short. – Angus Oct 23 '18 at 9:34
  • You seem to be promoting a view in which if there were multiple Mr A's who performed the same action (same kamma) that they could all end up receiving different consequences (different vipaka, different fruits) for their actions in past lives depending on how the multiple Mr B's choices are in the present lives? I.e what I refer to as "the element of randomness", kamma and it's fruit isn't lawful in that case. Please correct me if I am wrong in my understanding about this. – Angus Oct 23 '18 at 12:55
  • No, I simply point out to you that one is in control of one's own action and can't get away with killing by simply blaming kamma regardless if the killing is to settle the debt with some people in some previous lives. Killing begets killing ad infinitum. Very simple. By the way, nowhere in the suttas where it said that the resulting kamma would be 100% exact matching the original. Please see the Lonaphala Sutta. – santa100 Oct 23 '18 at 13:11
  • Okay I think that might answer the question. I will think about that. Thank you. – Angus Oct 23 '18 at 14:02
  • There doesn't seem to be invalid logic in sutta AN 5.129 in terms of kamma and it's fruit if it works in the way that you seem to be describing @santa100 i.e an intention + action = an appropriate yet possibly superficially different consequence – Angus Oct 23 '18 at 18:32
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The way my first teacher explained karma, it works like a matching machine, it just puts the "victim" in the situation when the odds of encountering a certain kind of people are increased. It's like, the victim's bad karma makes them more vulnerable to corresponding problems.

But the actions of the "aggressor" are their own choice plus their own past karma. They are not caused by the "victim's" karma.

It's just like opening the windows in the night can make you a victim of mosquitoes. It's not that your act of opening the windows literally makes mosquitoes come and bite you. It just makes it possible for them to find you, but their actions are their own - they act driven by their hunger, survival instinct and so on.

Just so you understand, because it's easy to get this wrong. Karma is not some magical force unknown to science, it's just a hidden (latent) effect of the previous actions. It seems magical because its complexity (the number of connections in the spanning graphs of effects) exceeds our capacity. But if you look at any specific example, it will always have very objective, very rational forces at play.

  • I like this because it says no one eles' bad actions are responsible for you doing something bad. – m2015 Oct 23 '18 at 1:59
  • You used the word odds which seems to imply "randomness" or probability. If the outcomes are different for two different people with the same bad karma then what is that? Chaos? Where's the law of karma? – Angus Oct 23 '18 at 9:45
  • @Angus I think Andrei's definition of karma is beyond good and evil and that is why it seems like chaos. – user29568 Oct 23 '18 at 11:11
  • What's the process used to calculate the consequences to actions? If there is no lawful orderly process behind it then it seems that it genuinely is "chaos" even though I don't know what "chaos" is. – Angus Oct 23 '18 at 12:37
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I think that the Buddhist understanding of karma isn't quite the same as the one you explained in this comment.

To start, the phrase that 'people are heir to (inherit from) their own karma or their own actions' appears frequently in the suttas; for example:

Taking responsibility for one's actions

"'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. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir'...

So far as I know, this doctrine has two consequences:

  • It encourages (or justifies, gives reasons for) "right effort" -- e.g. 'I should make an effort because I will inherit the result'
  • It permits or helps to maintain "equanimity" (which is one of the brahmaviharas)

Secondly, karma is not the only reason why things happen.


Thirdly I think that your karma affects how you react to things -- for details see the video described in this answer -- for example:

  • When you meet someone, if you are heir to good karma (e.g. because you have trained yourself to be kind) then you will, you can, you are able to choose to, act with kindness towards them, with compassion, with equanimity -- and I think this kind of behaviour is described as godly or enlightened.
  • Conversely if you are heir to bad karma, then perhaps you have, and you don't control, you can't control, your 'evil' impulses, and so you end up killing them (and then blaming them) -- and I think this is the kind of reason for which you'd be described as being reborn as an animal, or in hell.

You were saying that if you meet someone with bad karma then killing them is unavoidable -- but if a person with bad karma meets the Buddha, for example, I don't see it as possible that the Buddha would be unable to avoid killing them.


Fourthly there's quite a famous exposition of karma e.g. in the Bhagavad Gita. It's been a long time since I read it (and in translation), please forgive me if I misinterpret it -- I might have a very naive or superficial view of it -- but I remember it as being something like (my paraphrase):

A warrior before a battle sees his kin on the other side, and talks to God. God (i.e. Krishna) replies that:

  • It's his karmic duty to be a warrior (e.g. because he was born into the warrior caste)
  • Killing people is therefore his duty to God -- "selfless service", says Wikipedia
  • The people he kills, being mortal, are obviously going to die one way or another anyway
  • Fullfiling your duty to God is good karma, not bad karma

Perhaps your view of karma ("killing is unavoidable" and "it's the karma of the victims") has been informed by this kind of doctrine.

I personally see this as quite antithetical to Buddhism, i.e. a way in which the "Buddhist" and the "Hindu" doctrines on karma are quite different, contradictory. I think the Buddhist view is that:

  • There's no God (more particularly, perhaps there are Gods but there's no "duty to God" and no "God's laws"); but there is good and evil; and killing people is evil
  • Being born into a particular social caste is not a good reason to kill, either

Fifthly, the precise working of karma are complicated -- so complicated that the Buddha's being able to see/understand it as a supernatural power of his -- but I'm not sure it's useful to ask, "for what karmic reason did such-and-such happen?"

I only find a very very simple version of karma to be useful as a theory, e.g. "what you train for, what you practice, you become" and "actions have consequences".

That may be the opposite of the message you were suggesting, e.g. "my actions don't (or shouldn't) matter", "my reaction (e.g. to kill someone I meet) is unavoidable", and "everything is predetermined (by past karma)".


if it isn't true then it seems karma is illogical or there is an element of randomness i.e good karma isn't reliable

Yes there's a limit to how much good karma you accrue. For example with a lot of good karma you may be reborn in heaven, but even then your stay in heaven is temporary (you're reborn when the fruit of good karma is exhausted).

So good karma isn't going to stop you from dying and so on.

I do think that good karma (or a lack of bad karma) might be enough to keep you from killing, though.

I think the "randomness" you mention is a description of the (complicated) circumstances which surround us. The Buddhist definition of karma is that it's "intentional action" -- our actions and reactions -- and that might be less random: a "good" person might for example successfully train themselves to avoid (to refrain from) ever murdering someone, no matter who they meet.

  • And in this sutta it seems the Buddha is very much talking about the physical/external consequences of past actions. – Angus Oct 23 '18 at 10:09
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    I think that "consequences" is what's called "fruit of karma" rather than karma itself. – ChrisW Oct 23 '18 at 10:19
  • @ChrisW You are correct. Kamma is cetana (intention) and vipaka is the result. – Medhiṇī Oct 23 '18 at 12:34
  • Okay so it looks I am writing about both kamma and vipaka then. I think I shall update the question. Hopefully that helps. – Angus Oct 23 '18 at 12:53
  • @Angus The edit makes no difference to how I answer. Also perhaps there's a limit to how much you should try to edit an question after people answer -- i.e. if you decide you want to ask a different question perhaps post that as a new/follow-up question. – ChrisW Oct 23 '18 at 12:55
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Even though it is that person's karma to be killed or what ever, you don't need to be the one commiting that action. It's your thoughts making you do it. So that will build a karma for you. Let others karma be served witout involving you. Hope this makes you feel the karma approach logical.

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