"Not doing" in this sense is to mean the absence of any form of action that originates from thought (for instance physical form like speech, bodily movements) in such a way that reduces the physical forms impact upon sentient beings in its environment.

I realise that I'm heading into one of the unconjecturables here but for practical purposes. I don't think it'll lead me to vexation. This curiosity has arisen through partial insight into karmic laws in which the knowledge of karma became demystified into a rather obvious, almost mechanistic natural working of things. I wanted to try to understand at least from the periphery of the insight, from what Buddha said and from what others practising Buddhism understand so that I can cross-reference the three.


In an example from the Buddha, he chose not to be a father to his son, Rahula (not doing) in favour of seeking his own liberation. His thoughts were of himself. I imagine this would have caused considerable discomfort in Rahula and this discomfort would have been further compounded when Rahula learned of the meaning to his name: fetter or ball and chain.

In an example from my own experience, a person became quite angry with me last week. I remained calm and non-responsive, guarding the senses - essentially watching after myself. I still gave a portion of my attention to the person via eye contact. Because of my "not doing" they became more frustrated. I recall thinking, "this person is lost in their emotions". I received a message from them later that day saying they had cried and let it go.

*As I write this addition, Andrei's answer below seems to resonate here.

  • Any form of action from physical form like thought? Thought is not physical. Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 16:53
  • @Sankha - I've adjusted that part of the question in the hope that it may encourage you to provide an answer to the larger, more relevant context.
    – user14148
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 17:50
  • So you are talking about only the absence of bodily and verbal actions. Not mental actions? Ex: you are asking if someone gets angry but not speak a word or not move the body, is it still karma? Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 0:44
  • @Sankha - I'm more interested in the "not doing" aspect regardless of whether there are thoughts or not thoughts. I've provided some additional information in the question for you but I think Andrei may be pointing in the write direction with his answer below.
    – user14148
    Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 8:58
  • My counter question would be, why do you make the assumption that a thought isn't an action itself Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 9:35

4 Answers 4


Rephrasing Buddha, there's action that leads to good experience, action that leads to bad experience, and action that leads to dispassion and liberation.

Of course the word "karma" itself means "doing" or "action". But my teacher said, the wise sees nondoing in doing and doing in nondoing. Meaning, if you choose to drink coffee, you implicitly choose to not drink tea on that occasion and vice versa. In Mahayana terms, an "act" is empty. It is something we isolate and put a label on but in actuality it is just a point we focus on in context of everything else. When we begin seeing it like this, we begin getting closer to the Buddha's perspective.

As my Zen Master said, whenever there's choice, there's confusion. From Buddha's omniscient perspective, there's no more confusion, no action, no choice - only from the perspective of a sentient being.

Another thing that needs to be said, not all karma is personal, which makes sense if you realize that "person" is another empty point of focus. There's also group karma and other even broader kinds of karmic tendencies that don't rely on an individual action per-se. So even if you don't personally act (don't choose) you are still subject to these extrinsic tendencies. It's only when you are free from any group identification as well, is when you begin to get free from the fruits of karma.

Sorry, upon rereading this I can see it comes out a bit unclear, but this is a summary of my understanding as of the moment, based on what I have learned.

  • 1
    It took me some contemplation and several reads but I see your answer as speaking directly to my question.
    – user14148
    Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 9:17

Generally karma stems from sankharas , but the non bright and non dark karma cannot stem from a sankhara since it ends the rebirths. this ad hoc karma called non bright and non dark stems from right view and right resolution, which follow from the discrimination between thoughts of renunciation and good will and other thoughts, and embracing only thoughts of renunciation and good will. Whatever actions following those thoughts will be ''tainted'' by the only karma that leads to the ''ending of karma and rebirth''.

In terms of actions, this weird karma colors the right talks, right actions and so on, with their pinnacle being right samadhi. SO there are plenty of actions stemming from right view, but most of those actions have nothing to do with most of the actions invented and done by puthujjanas.


Cetanāhaṃ, bhikkhave, kammaṃ vadāmi. Cetayitvā kammaṃ karoti: kāyena, vācāya, manasā.

"Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect." - Nibbedhika Sutta

So as you can see, Karma is the intention. These intentions may or may not be followed by verbal and bodily actions in which case they are categorized as verbal karma and bodily karma. When there are no bodily or verbal actions involved they are called mental(mano) karma. But it is Karma nonetheless. There is no Karma without the mind.

For an unenlightened person, there is no experience without Karma. Every experience has a maximum of 17 thought moments. Seven of these thought moments are called the Javanas. They are Karmically charged.


There are three doors of action: bodily, verbal (signs) and thought, while the last, mind is always involved, prompted or latent.

Wrong, better unskilful, thoughts have their effects as well. E.g. bodily killing or approving killing by thought, wishing, is not really that different to order or do by oneself.

To trust that "from this comes that, with arising of that, arises this" does not head toward becoming crazy. So simple that to practice, while trusting that actions have formost impacts on oneself.

Accepting = instigate = donig by one self

[Note: this is a gift of Dhamma, not thought for trade, stakes, exchanges or other gains subject toward decay and should be deleted if it's not giften to give in Dhammic conditions]

  • Many of the links you post are hidden behind a login (can't be seen unless you login): The topic or board you are looking for appears to be either missing or off limits to you. Please login below or register an account with Virtual Dhamma-Vinaya Vihara.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 15:46
  • Are there problems or technical hindrences to do if interested? Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 23:20
  • I didn't know if you knew that it's hidden behind a login (because you have probably logged in) -- I didn't know if you were doing that (posting password-protected links) on purpose, intentionally. Your placing text behind a login means that people are less likely to read it. Also I'm not sure I understood the answer above -- e.g. are you saying that "accepting that some people in the world are violent criminals" the same as "instigating criminality" and "being a criminal yourself"? Perhaps that's not what the vinaya says, IMO e.g. it says that to tell a lie you must make some effort to do so.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 9:03
  • I'm not able to access the content in the link. I'd like to understand more of what you're referring to. Could you provide another source please?
    – user14148
    Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 9:08
  • It's given, consciously, to take an account and access. Usually you have no problem with such, have you? @Suchness , and it's actually a deliberated lie to say "I can not", or? Nyom ChrisW , to give a direct sample: if teaching Dhamma to people showing no respect, for example, if thinking "oh, it will not matter if it is misused or those carry lose honor", even such thoughts are equal disrespecting by words or deeds. (Your sample is not very thoughtful) If you are happy, approve mental, that one loses something, than it's the same like you take it by hand or order, yes. Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 12:00

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