Does 'karma' mean that everything that happens to us is under our control, or only that we are responsible for it? I thought that only substantial beings could be completely in control of everything that happens to them, and not just because things are impermanent.

Also, conditioned things are a result of past karma, which is often said to be an unconscious process of seeds becoming ripe. So surely it would only be under out control over the course of very many lives, at least?

The Points of Controversy -- theravada -- refute the claim that everything is from karma, including karma, of the rajagirikas and siddhatthikas. But it does not show that for anything but new karma. The sautrantikas taught that there is no life faculty sustaining events between life and death, because karma alone is "sufficient" to account for all destinies.

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this is accepted by all Buddhists... theravada or mahayana

The Lioness in Bloom, p33

Further, Bodhidharma exhorted

the practice of following conditions, sentient beings lack a self and are all whirled around by conditions and karma; suffering and joy are to be equally accepted, for both arise from conditions. If I encounter excellent karmic recompense, such as honor and so forth, it is in response to causes in my past lives. Even if I should encounter such recompense in the present, the necessary conditions for it will exhaust themselves, and it will again cease to exist. What is there to be joyful about in its existence? Gain and loss follow conditions. Mind has neither increase nor decrease. Unmoved by the winds of joy, one is mysteriously in accordance with the path. Therefore, it is called the practice of following conditions.

  • Bodhidharnma, Two Entrances

3 Answers 3


Not everything is caused by karma. Some things are caused by other reasons, like the weather. The Sivaka Sutta talks about this. There's a summary at the bottom:

Bile, phlegm, and also wind,
Imbalance and climate too,
Carelessness and assault,
With kamma result as the eighth.

To quote the sutta in detail:

“Some feelings, Sīvaka, arise here originating from phlegm disorders … originating from wind disorders … originating from an imbalance of the three … produced by change of climate … produced by careless behaviour … caused by assault … produced as the result of kamma: that some feelings arise here produced as the result of kamma one can know for oneself, and that is considered to be true in the world. Now when those ascetics and brahmins hold such a doctrine and view as this, ‘Whatever a person experiences, whether it be pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant, all that is caused by what was done in the past,’ they overshoot what one knows by oneself and they overshoot what is considered to be true in the world. Therefore I say that this is wrong on the part of those ascetics and brahmins.”

The Acintita Sutta states that you can't work out karma and its results precisely:

"The [precise working out of the] results of kamma is an unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about it.

What's more skillful is to develop one's virtue (sila), concentration (samadhi) and wisdom (pañña) as stated in the Lonaphala Sutta. That will mitigate the ill effects of past karma (actions).

As for future karma (actions), to avoid accumulating karma debts, it is skillful to adopt the following skillful thinking from the Themes Sutta:

“And for the sake of what benefit should a woman or a man, a householder or one gone forth, often reflect thus: ‘I am the owner of my kamma, the heir of my kamma; I have kamma as my origin, kamma as my relative, kamma as my resort; I will be the heir of whatever kamma, good or bad, that I do’? People engage in misconduct by body, speech, and mind. But when one often reflects upon this theme, such misconduct is either completely abandoned or diminished. It is for the sake of this benefit that a woman or a man, a householder or one gone forth, should often reflect thus: ‘I am the owner of my kamma, the heir of my kamma; I have kamma as my origin, kamma as my relative, kamma as my resort; I will be the heir of whatever kamma, good or bad, that I do.’

  • so something can't be caused by bile AND phlegm?
    – user2512
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 5:19
  • @sorta_buddhist The Sivaka Sutta states eight possible causes of why things happen to you: bile, phlegm, wind (in your body), imbalance, climate, carelessness, assault or harm by others and karma result. But I think we should not take this too strictly. It just means things happen to you because of your past karma, but things also happen to you due to other causes. Whether there are 8 or 80 such causes is not important.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 5:23
  • yes, but there is a question here... is everything a result of karma? is it a sufficient condition for everything that occurs to us? much like the wind is for the movement of clouds?
    – user2512
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 5:24
  • @sorta_buddhist No. That's what it means. I will quote more of the sutta then it will become clearer.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 5:25
  • 1
    @sorta_buddhist From the book The Selfless Mind by Peter Harvey?
    – ruben2020
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 6:15

There are 24 controllers in Patthāna, Karma is just a controller in 24.

Some controllers can arise without Karma, such as a tree or water, because there are many controllers can create effects together without Karma-controller. Even Karma's effects require many other controllers, Ie. Arahanta's past Karma (which never effect) can't create new life for Arahanta because there are no Tanha-controller and Avijjā-controller in Arahanta.

See AbhidhammaPitaka Patthāna.

Patthāna kammapaccaya

  • can you quote it?
    – user2512
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 6:56
  • wisdomlib.org/buddhism/book/patthana-dhamma
    – Bonn
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 9:20
  • can you quote it?
    – user2512
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 9:24
  • 1
    I quoted it in the answer.
    – Bonn
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 9:27

Karma is intention / volition. It is the only thing under your control as a human. Your intension to know, to learn, and to be liberated is all Karma.

What is volition?

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