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I am trying to deepen my understanding of the law of karma. Let's say:

  1. A killed B.
  2. B killed A in next life.

Is this particular karma of A considered "completed", that B will not suffer since this is just the effect of A's karma?

Or does B still create new karma when killing A, and will suffer unwholesome result?

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Killing someone is an act that is accomplished by many thought processes. A single thought process can have a maximum of 17 cittas. Among them, the cittas 9 to 15 are called the Javana cittas. They are the ones responsible for creating Karma.

Thought-Process

1. The subject, the consciousness, receives objects from within and without. When a person is in a state of profound sleep his mind is said to be vacant, or, in other words, in a state of bhavanga. We always experience such a passive state when our minds do not respond to external objects. This flow of bhavanga is interrupted when objects enter the mind.

2. Then the bhavanga consciousness vibrates for one thought-moment and passes away.

3. A bhavanga that cuts off the flow (bhavanga upaccheda).

4. Thereupon the sense-door consciousness (pañca-dvārāvajjana) arises and ceases. At this stage the natural flow is checked and is turned towards the object.
5. Immediately after there arises and ceases the eye consciousness* (cakkhu viññāna), but yet knows no more about it.
6. This sense operation is followed by a moment of reception of the object so seen (sampaticchana).
7. Next comes the investigating faculty (santīrana) or a momentary examination of the object so received.
8. After this comes that stage of representative cognition termed the determining consciousness (votthapana). Discrimination is exercised at this stage. Free Will plays its part here.

9 to 15. Immediately after there arises the psychologically most important stage - Impulsion or javana. It is at this stage that an action is judged whether moral or immoral. Kamma is performed at this stage; if viewed rightly (yoniso manasikāra), the javana becomes moral; if viewed wrongly (ayoniso manasikāra), it becomes immoral. In the case of an Arahat this javana is neither moral nor immoral, but merely functional (kiriya). This javana stage usually lasts for seven thought moments, or, at times of death, five.

16 to 17. The whole process which happens in an infinitesimal part of time ends with the registering consciousness (tadālambana), lasting for two thought-moments - thus completing one thought-process at the expiration of seventeen thought-moments.

Each of the Javana Cittas are Karmically potent. They come into fruitions at different times.

1. Immediately effective kamma (dittha-dhamma-vedaniya kamma)

  • kamma which produces its results in the present life.

Among the seven javana cittas, the first, or the weakest javana-citta called the dittha-dhamma-vedaniya - produces its effects in the present life. Because it's the weakest kamma, it is unable to produce results past the current life.

If this kamma is performed in this present life and does meet the opportunity to ripen , it will give the result in the same existence. Otherwise, the effect becomes defunct.

2. Subsequently effective kamma (upapajja-vedaniya kamma )

  • kamma which produces its effects in the nearest next life.

Among the seven javana process, this is the seventh one.The second weakest of the javana cittas, - called upapajja-vedaniya kamma.

3. indefinitely effective kamma ( aparā-pariya-vedaniya kamma)

  • kamma which produces its effects in lives subsequent to nearest next life.

It can ripen at any time whenever it has opportunity to produce the results from the second future existence onwards as long as the round of rebirths continues. It never becomes defunct until it comes to fruition.

4. defunct kamma (ahosi kamma)

  • kamma which is ineffective.

The kamma that is unable to produce its results are called ahosi-kamma.

If immediately effective kamma (dittha-dhamma-vedaniya kamma), for example, is unable to operate in this life, and if the subsequently effective kamma (upapajja-vedaniya kamma) does not operated in the second birth or next life, they are ahosi-kamma.

In the case of Arahants, all their accumulated good or bad kamma from the past which was due to ripen in the future lives become defunct with their enlightenment.


Since killing a person involves so many thought processes, it doesn't end just because the Karma of one of the Javana cittas of one thought process comes into fruition. Chances are that one is going to pay for the Javana cittas in the multitudes of thought processes involved with the killing, from time to time in Samsara. So getting killed once in a future life is not likely to complete all results of the Karmas one accumulates in an act of killing.

If person B kills person A in next life, it won't be a new karma for person A as the fruit is never a Karma. However it will become a new Karma for person B. Because B is not the one facing the result. He's a different person creating a fresh Karma.

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@Sankha Kulathantile, has given an answer. Let me try to explain from the point of view of daily meditative practice.

  1. Firstly the theory behind my answer. Budhha never taught the rule of Kamma. What he taught is Paticca Samuppada or the dependent origination. Here is a link wherein Late Ven. K Sri Dhammananda has explained it very beautifully...http://www.ancient-buddhist-texts.net/English-Texts/Short-Pieces-in-English/Belief-Systems.htm
  2. According to the theory of Dependent Origination, there are the six elements, the six spheres of contact, the eighteen investigations of mind and the four noble truths. The six elements are Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, Space and Consciousness. The six spheres of contact are Eyes, Ears, Nose, Tongue, the Body and the Mind. Having taken birth, it is impossible to avoid contact between the spheres of contact and the six elements. Upon contact of the elements with each sphere of contact an experience is generated. Now, the mind will investigate if the experience is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Now since there are 6 spheres of contact, there will be 18 investigations of mind in total. Now the Buddha says that upon categorizing these experiences as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral we develop craving and clinging to these six elements which then leads to rebirth, thus putting in motion the Samsara.
  3. Now upon contact with these elements if we watch the experiences objectively and see them as they are, as impermanent we become free from sufferings and thus set in motion the Wheel of Dhamma. In essence our ignorance (Avijja) is the root cause of all the sufferings. Thus upon contact with the six elements, it is our ignorance which makes us categorize the experience as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. But upon contact with the six elements if instead of categorizing the experience as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, we see them as impermanent, that ignorance is abandoned and we develop wisdom (Pannya).
  4. Now coming back to your question, I will assume that in the 1st birth A do not know the Dhamma. Here it does not matter if B knows the Dhamma or not, since he/she is anyways having a rebirth. In the second birth/rebirth, I will assume that B does not know the Dhamma since he is committing a murder. Now, suppose in the second birth A knows the Dhamma. Thus on experiencing pain, he will not react to it as unpleasant but recognize its true nature i.e. impermanent and his kammic energies will dissipate and depending on the strength of his practice, he will be born in higher realms and A and B may never meet again. But suppose A too does not know the Dhamma, he too will keep on reacting and he will be reborn again. In the case of B he will also be reborn again. It is speculative if they will meet again.
  5. Now I think, and this is my personal opinion, that if A does a wrong deed to B, it need not be B who will act in retribution in the future rebirth. Suppose, B is already an enlightened person, then A and B may not meet at all; A having rebirth and B being born in higher realms or attaining Nibbana depending on the level of his practice. Also it need not be the same wrong deed being done to A again. For e.g., if A has committed a murder, and in his rebirth A comes to know the Dhamma, then it is highly possible that the results of his past kamma will arise during his meditation practice and having overcome them the force of his past kamma will keep on reducing. Again this is very speculative. But the point here is We should keep practicing the Dhamma.
  6. Also I am not suggesting that by just knowing the Dhamma, one will not do wrong deeds at all. One may know the Dhamma but not practice it at all and keep on reacting to the feelings which are generated upon contact with the six elements. So essentially Buddha laid a lot of emphasis on practice and it is evident in various of his teachings in Dhammapada and the Tipitaka
  • When you said Buddha never taught the rule of karma, did you mean Buddha never taught what Sankha Kulathantille put in his answer: thought-process and 4 kinds of karma? – fxam Oct 15 '14 at 0:13
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    The point I want to make here is that there may be kamma which are indefinitely effective or ineffective or whatever but what Buddha thought is we must be mindful every moment. So when the fruits od past kamma come, we don't react to it but rather stay mindful see its real nature and thus the kammic energies dissipate without reappearing again. Seeing true nature of our experiences reduces kammic energy of past kamma. – TheDarkKnightRules Oct 15 '14 at 16:01
  • Thanks for your answer. Your point of view is inspiring. – fxam Oct 18 '14 at 12:59
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A kills B, B kills A (in the next life), now we are all square is not how kamma works. Kamma is a complex subject, guesstimating its effects in detail is said to lead to futile mental fatigue.

One's thoughts and intentions matter.

  • A harms B on the spur of the moment argument.

  • B plots revenge for many years and exacts his revenge.

The quality of the person performing the act, and the quality of the person upon whom the act is performed also matters.

I recommend reading Ajhan Sucitto's book 'Kamma and the Ending of Kamma' to help in your understanding.

This book explores a range of ways in which the principle of kamma - of cause and effect - can be seen as underlying the Buddha's teaching in all aspects of life. Often seen as a teaching on morality, kamma has its most transformative fruition in meditation.

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According to the Acintita Sutta, the precise working out of the result of karma is not to be conjectured about, otherwise it will bring madness and vexation to anyone who conjectured about it.

"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 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...

"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."

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