1

For instance if I go to a forest and a dog bites me on my leg while there.

How do I know whether:

example 1:

a) the dog biting me is my kamma-vipaka from my intentions and actions from the past or from a past life

or

b) the dog biting me is my kamma-vipaka for being in that forest

?

example 2:

I do something bad and something bad happens to me 2 days later.

How do I know whether:

c) The bad thing happening to me is related to the bad thing I did.

or

d) The bad thing happening is not related to the bad thing I did.
?

2

Puthujjanas sure are obsessed with karma. Do not forget that the goal of the dhamma, expressed in terms of karma, is to end karma, not ''to know the precise workings of the karma'', not ''precise workings of the karma+ending karma''. THe only goal is to end karma.

Even if you manage to know the ''precise workings of the karma'', you still begin the path by relying, hour after hour, less and less on what is conditioned, typically karma, vedana, vinanna, birth, ageing, contact, and so on in order to base your action on something else than karma. And knowing the 'precise workings of the karma'' is not part of the method to end karma.

That being said, the buddha claims that indeed there are things that must be known

[5] "'Kamma should be known. The cause by which kamma comes into play should be known. The diversity in kamma should be known. The result of kamma should be known. The cessation of kamma should be known. The path of practice for the cessation of kamma should be known.' Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said?

"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.

"And what is the result of kamma? The result of kamma is of three sorts, I tell you: that which arises right here & now, that which arises later [in this lifetime], and that which arises following that. This is called the result of kamma.

"And what is the cessation of kamma? From the cessation of contact is the cessation of kamma; and just this noble eightfold path — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration — is the path of practice leading to the cessation of kamma.

"Now when a disciple of the noble ones discerns kamma in this way, the cause by which kamma comes into play in this way, the diversity of kamma in this way, the result of kamma in this way, the cessation of kamma in this way, & the path of practice leading to the cessation of kamma in this way, then he discerns this penetrative holy life as the cessation of kamma.

"'Kamma should be known. The cause by which kamma comes into play... The diversity in kamma... The result of kamma... The cessation of kamma... The path of practice for the cessation of kamma should be known.' Thus it has been said, and in reference to this was it said.

Nibbedhika Sutta -- Penetrative (AN 6.63)

just like sanna, feeling, and all the other stuff which are conditioned should be know , their arising and their cessation. In one word, puthujjanas and non-arhants must strive to know all this. In this sutta, the buddha does not say the method to know all those things. This sutta is about the goal expressed in terms of knowledge. This sutta is about the discrimination of teachings: there a teachings which are not the dhamma and there are teachings which are the Dhamma explanation. The buddha says all the things and only the things that constitute a ''Dhamma explanation''

SO to know karma, you must find another sutta. In the first sermon of the buddha, the buddha claims he directed his citta to know karma and rebirth [meaning, the diveristy of karma and the result of karma]

it turns out that even for other puthujjanas, knowing karma is about getting the citta into samadhi: Here is a little exposition about samadhi.

The Samādhi Bhāvanā Sutta (A 4.41) mentions four uses or benefits of mental concentration (samādhi), 1 namely, (1) for happiness here and now; (2) for the divine eye 2 (clairvoyance and knowledge of the working of karma); (3) mindfulness and clear comprehension; and (4) spiritual liberation.

...

“The perception of light” (āloka,saññā) here is prescribed for the attainment of “knowledge and vision,” defined as the divine eye (that is, the psychic power of clairvoyance and the knowledge of the working of karma and rebirth). However, the perception of light is also efficacious in a more mundane way, such as the overcoming of drowsiness, as prescribed in the Pacalā Sutta (A 7.58). In psychological terms, the perception of light is also useful in keeping the mind “bright” in a positive sense, which pre-vents or cures depressive and negative mental states

The Samādhi Bhāvanā Sutta (A 4.41)

3

Acintita Sutta: Unconjecturable (AN 4.77):

"There are these four unconjecturables that are not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about them. Which four?

"The Buddha-range of the Buddhas[1] is an unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about it.

"The jhana-range of a person in jhana...[2]

"The [precise working out of the] results of kamma...

"Conjecture about [the origin, etc., of] the world is an unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about it.

"These are the four unconjecturables that are not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about them."

In other words, I don't think it's possible to know -- or at least, knowing that would be an unusual/supernatural ability.

I guess it (the law of karma) is useful as a general rule, too complicated to see in detail. It's like, you can usefully predict that a river will flow downhill, without understanding every eddy and wavelet.


If I were to speculate further, my conventional/modern understanding (i.e. not based on Buddhist scriptures) is that you can't say that "the" cause of something is either instant or related to the past -- instead, an event has both kinds of cause, e.g. a "proximate" cause (what happened near or close to, just before, the event?) and some "ulterior" cause -- in fact, maybe several proximate causes and several ulterior causes (furthermore, samsara has "an inconstruable beginning ... not evident").

It's difficult, I suppose it's a mind-made projection (see also "sunyata"), to identity any one cause. IMO that's the same kind of difficulty (or impossibility) that you experience when you try to find the single thing which "is" a person (is it their name, their reputation, their fingers, their mood, etc.? Maybe none of these, maybe all).

And yet (obviously or conventionally) people are different, they inherit differences, they react differently, train themselves for better or for worse; and they "reap what they sow", more or less, though the details can be difficult to decypher, they develop habits -- so it wouldn't make sense to say that "karma doesn't exist" (like you wouldn't say that people don't exist).

I'm not even sure whether every event is considered a fruit of karma -- see also What, besides karma, determines the future? -- e.g. in this video I think Ven. Yuttadhammo is explaining that people dying in a Tsunami is an act of nature, which has various scientific causes, e.g. to do with the movement of "atoms" ... and that "karma" (in contrast) explains the role of "the mind" within that, e.g. why some people will be scared, others angry, others calm.

  • Well I like the approach of focusing on "the mind" because it seems a lot more robust and simpler. The problem that still seems to remain (at least for me) is that it seems it sometimes isn't clear to me whether I have done something bad or not if there is no instant kamma-vipaka to indicate it and then I am left guessing or perhaps attributing the wrong kamma-vipaka to my past actions which means I might even stop doing something good because I think the consequences are bad. – Angus Oct 24 '18 at 18:44
  • @Angus See the five niyamas (buddhism), especially here (which says that "100% karma" is Jain doctrine rather than Buddhist) and here -- for example, this quotes SN 36.21 as saying that "all experiences ... is caused by what was done in the past" is overshooting, and mentions e.g. "change of climate" as a different kind of cause of things. – ChrisW Oct 24 '18 at 20:29

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