4

In SN 35.145 (below), we see that the body, intellect etc. is "old karma", capable to be felt. But it doesn't say whose "old karma" it is. The sutta also talks about "new karma" generated by decisions and actions within our control, but also not pinned to a specific individual self identity. Also SN 12.37 reiterates this.

"Now what, monks, is old kamma? The eye is to be seen as old kamma, fabricated & willed, capable of being felt. The ear... The nose... The tongue... The body... The intellect is to be seen as old kamma, fabricated & willed, capable of being felt. This is called old kamma.

The following comes from SN 12.17 (although this quote comes from here). Here, karma is not pinned to a specific self identity or a specific individual. Karma is attributed to past decisions and actions, coming from dependently originated conditions.

Again, when the Buddha was asked by the naked ascetic Kassapa whether suffering was of one's own making or of another's or both or neither, the Buddha replied "Do not put it like that." When asked whether there was no suffering or whether the Buddha neither knew nor saw it, the Buddha replied that there was, and that he both knew and saw it. He then said "Kassapa, if one asserts that 'He who makes (it) feels (it): being one existent from the beginning, his suffering is of his own making,' then one arrives at eternalism. But if one asserts that one makes (it), another feels (it); being one existent crushed out by feeling, his suffering is of another's making,' then one arrives at annihilationism. Instead of resorting to either extreme a Tathaagata teaches the Dhamma by the middle way (by dependent origination)".

From MN 38, SN 22.85, SN 12.20 and other suttas, and from "sabbe dhamma anatta" (all phenomena is not self - Dhp 279), we have learned that there is no specific individual self that is permanent, unchanging and continues to wander within this or other lives. The endeavouring being (self) (AN 6.38) is ever-changing and arises from dependently originated conditions.

So, where does the "old karma" which generated our physical body and our mind come from?

Does it come from our parents, family, community, media, books, surroundings?

Are there any scriptural references or commentaries to support this?

2
  • Would you welcome answers from outside of pali canon as well or rather restrict this to just theravada?
    – user13375
    May 5, 2021 at 13:58
  • @YesheTenley You can answer outside of Pali Canon and Theravada.
    – ruben2020
    May 5, 2021 at 14:12

2 Answers 2

3

When you feel a breeze on your skin, where does the breeze come from? Is there a single time or place where we can say "The breeze started here"? Is there a group of air molecules such that we can say "These molecules (and no others) are the breeze"? A breeze comes from everywhere and nowhere. It is the culmination of all the movements of the atmosphere, dependent on all the breezes that came before, and on the heat of the sun and the earth as they pass through the days and the seasons.

Karma is like the breeze: neither here nor there, not specific to this or that, not inherent in him or her or them. It's not personal. It's the culmination of all the movements of human minds as they brush past and push against each other, dependent on all the actions of all who have come before. Our bodies are given to us by the actions or our parents, our grandparents, our great grandparents, etc... Our minds our shaped by the minds of our parents, which were in turn shaped by the minds of our grandparents... Our bodies and minds are continuations of karma that ran through them to us, and continues on from us to others.

1
1

SN 35.145 & SN 12.37 provide a supramundane (lokuttara) definition of "old kamma"; in that SN 12.37 says the sense bases and collection (kaya; body) of aggregates: "is not yours, nor does it belong to others". This teaching is also found in SN 5.9 (about the nun Selā). In other words, SN 35.145 & SN 12.37 appear to say "old kamma" is not actions made by a "person" or "self" in the past; as is ordinarily or mundanely understood by puthujjana.

SN 35.145 & SN 12.37 appear to never say: "old karma generated our (lol) physical body and our mind". Instead, these suttas appear to say the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body & mind are the places where old kamma was manifested in the past & also can manifest in the present.

For example, if old habitual kamma was made in the past of eating a certain food; when the habitual underlying tendency flows out (asava) in the present; the mental mind memory of that food will flow out (asava) in association with causing a simultaneous salivation of the tongue and arousal of the body. It could even cause subtle manifestations in the eye; preparing the eye for new pleasure seeking new kamma.

Thus, taking the Jain meaning of "vedaniyaṁ" to mean "producing feeling", these suttas appear to say old kamma is the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind & aggregates that were mentally conditioned or proliferated about in the past (abhisaṅkhataṁ; accusative; past participle) , willed in the past (abhisañcetayitaṁ; accusative; past participle) and produce feeling in the present (vedaniyaṁ).

Again, for puthujjana stuck in materialism or physicalism, "mentally conditioning or proliferating about" the eye means, in the past, the mind proliferated ideas about/via the eye & the seen, such as "beautiful, ugly, etc".

Therefore, unlike the puthujjana, the mind of the Noble Disciple does not venture back to the past (MN 131) but practises vedanānupassanā in the present, namely, the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body & mind are to be "felt" ("vedaniyaṁ"), in the present moment, as explained in the Salt Crystal Sutta.

Now, a trifling evil deed done by what sort of individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment? There is the case where a certain individual is developed in [contemplating] the body, developed in virtue, developed in mind, developed in discernment: unrestricted, large-hearted, dwelling with the immeasurable.[1] A trifling evil deed done by this sort of individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment.

Lonaphala Sutta: The Salt Crystal

For example, when an Arahant (such as Angulimala) is attacked by others for old kamma, those verbal & physical attacks are merely sounds at the ear and touches on the body. For an Arahant, there is no self that did old kamma. Any manifestation of old (purāṇa) willed (abhisañcetayitaṁ) proliferated (abhisaṅkhataṁ) kamma (kammaṁ) will only produce feeling (vedaniyaṁ) for the Noble Disciple that only feels the "first arrow" (per SN 36.6).

However, if the mind does recollect "past abodes" (per SN 22.79), the past again is not viewed in terms of "self" or "personal kamma" but merely as mere impersonal aggregates (SN 22.79).

In short, there is really no such thing as "old kamma". Instead, there is only the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body & mind is the present moment; in their present state; where any manifestation of old kamma will only produce feeling (vedaniyaṁ) for the Noble Disciple that only feels the "first arrow" (per SN 36.6).

That is why SN 35.145 ends as follows:

And what is the path of practice leading to the cessation of kamma? Just this noble eightfold path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is called the path of practice leading to the cessation of kamma.

Note: the phrase in SN 12.37 (""is not yours, nor does it belong to others") is also found in SN 5.9, which is related to SN 5.10, which are both about the non-reality of "a being". Therefore, as said, these old-kamma suttas redefined "old kamma" and removed "the being" from old kamma.

Note: as repeated inexhaustible times on this forum, "a being" is merely "a view", per SN 5.10 and SN 23.2.

3
  • I've marked this answer down as it is obviously incorrect (and repeated a great number of times) since SN 5.10 does not say that "a being" is merely "a view", but rather says "There's the convention 'a being.'"
    – user13375
    May 7, 2021 at 11:19
  • Also, SN 12.37 does not "appear to say "old kamma" is not actions made by a "person" or "self" in the past;" rather, it literally says, "It’s old deeds, and should be seen as produced by choices and intentions, as something to be felt." You seem to be missing "produced by choices and intentions" and "old deeds"
    – user13375
    May 7, 2021 at 11:38
  • SN 12.37 clearly says the old kamma is "not yours". I recommend reading the sutta accurately to avoid your apparent doctrine of self and eternalism. May 7, 2021 at 20:11

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .