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I have often seen the Anguttara Nikaya 4.77 being quoted as in this post against pondering on the precise workings of karma. My question: is there a misunderstanding of the Buddha’s words thus misconstruing his intentions.

My understanding on the Buddha’s caution on karma (in AN 4.77) is that we should not try to figure out its exact/precise/detailed workings if 1) we don’t have the tools (i.e. divine eye faculty or recollection of past lives) and 2) we don’t have the discernment or wisdom to see anicca and anatta in the process. The danger is that we may draw the wrong conclusion as was the case with certain mentioned recluse in Brahmajala sutta. But the Buddha did not prevent anyone from having a deep understanding of paticca-samuppada (dependent-arising or conditionality) which is the basis of karma. And through the insights on conditionality, have a deeper understanding of karma; why it works in general.

I believe a deeper understanding of karma is within our abilities as ordinary humans as we have the ability to observe, recall and analyse conditions and events in our lives. For example, if I am staring at the ceiling at 2 a.m. in the morning, unable to sleep and I tried to recall what I did to cause this, I may then remember giving in to temptation and drinking a nice cup of coffee after dinner. So, there was an unskillful craving involving certain pleasure and a bad consequence. This is observing karma-in-action and anyone can do it. Incidentally, I have friends who claimed to be able to drink coffee or tea just before hitting the bed and still sleep like a log. One common theme is that they don’t experience the caffeine-high like I do. Although I always find it strange why people drink coffee if they don’t get any pleasures from it.

Whether we talk about karma or the other four niyamas, conditionality is their foundation. Millions of scientists, researchers and engineers all over the world are working hard daily, trying to tease out the conditioned causes that govern the phenomena of the world we lived in, from climate change to superconductivity. They are trying to harness their understanding to improve the lot of humanity. We should also deepen our understanding of karma for our own long-lasting well-being and happiness. If one is not in samsara, they need not bother with the rule of the game i.e. karma. But what choice do we have? Surely, the Buddha understand this and would want us to have a better grasp of karma to improve our own lives.

Addendum:

Suppose we assume the Buddha intended for us to investigate the workings of karma through proper verification by keen observation, analysis and even experimenting on ourselves and not by mere speculation. Furthermore, if we assume this is possible because not all karmic fruits are from our or others’ past lives, many are the results of this life. Would we be doing an injustice to the Buddha by quoting him out-of-context with AN 4.77? Also, wouldn’t discouraging investigations into the workings of karma be totally inconsistent with the entire teachings of the Buddha?

If we postulate the above is correct, how can we quote AN 4.77 in the right context without giving the wrong impression that the Buddha discouraged investigating and understanding the workings of karma?

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  • is there a misunderstanding of the Buddha’s words thus misconstruing his intentions Is this asking, "what is your understanding of these words and his intentions"?
    – ChrisW
    Aug 4, 2023 at 8:32
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    @ChrisW Kind of. As I noticed answers quoting AN 4.77 use it as an argument not to ponder into the workings of karma. I am puzzled why would the Buddha discourage anyone from gaining a deeper understanding of karma when karma is so central to our well-being and happiness. Could this be a misunderstanding? Do you think we should or should not investigate into the workings of karma? What's the Buddha's intentions in AN 4.77 on karma?
    – Desmon
    Aug 4, 2023 at 9:41

3 Answers 3

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It appears AN 4.77 is saying true understanding of the scope of Buddhas, the scope of jhana, the results of kamma & the nature of the world is arrived at by direct realization and not arrived at by thinking/speculation (cintā). It appears the key word in AN 4.77 is 'cintā'. SN 56.41 is a detailed sutta explaining to not engage in 'cintā' about the world. SN 56.41 appears to conclusively explain what AN 4.77 is about.

Generally, on the internet, posts mentioning four suttas are best ignored, namely, AN 4.77, SN 12.15, SN 35.23 & SN 44.10. Here, generally, no one knows what they are posting/cintā about.

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    Thanks for the clarification, yes, thinking and speculating will not help in uncovering the truth. Some kind of verification is still needed similar to the approach of the scientific method.
    – Desmon
    Aug 4, 2023 at 9:29
  • cintā is worry. not speculation. of course, when one worries, one speculates...
    – blue_ego
    Aug 4, 2023 at 15:40
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When AN 4.77 is read together with SN 36.21 (quoted below), it becomes clearer why one shouldn't speculate on the precise workings of the results of kamma.

The reason for this is that not everything that happens to us is caused by kamma.

“Master Gotama, there are some ascetics and brahmins who 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.’ What does Master Gotama say about this?”

“Some feelings, Sīvaka, arise here originating from bile disorders: that some feelings arise here originating from bile disorders 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.

“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. .....

Bile, phlegm, and also wind, Imbalance and climate too, Carelessness and assault, With kamma result as the eighth.
SN 36.21

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sorry your karma sucks but you cannot fix it b/c of america and and the like.

https://youtu.be/-nSMi0whFEA

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  • Thanks for the video, I agree that it is hard to fathom the Buddha's mind. Traditionally, one gets closer to understanding the Buddha by understanding his teaching. On another matter, is your account being hacked? Or perhaps, this is an attempt to transcend the ego by achieving negative reputation scores. Do let us know if it works.
    – Desmon
    Aug 9, 2023 at 10:57

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