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This is something I have been wondering about karma for quite some time. I have been told that intention is what matters when one does an action but what about when I know that a side effect of my intention will cause harm. For example when I intend to drive my car to work and I hit many insects along the way- I am aware that I will kill insects but this is not my intention, yet in a way I do intend to kill insects now that I know it is a side effect of driving.

The insect thing would seem similar to intending to feed myself and so I kill an animal. Of course there are other ways to feed myself but there are also safer options for transport.

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    I think that "the insect thing" (the fact that numerous living things are harmed or killed by every conceivable action, including breathing) is one of the Vexing Questions, and it needs to be disregarded. Where "harm" is unavoidable, like when driving, we do the best we can, and mind our attitude - not take it lightly, and not lose awareness, but not get embroiled in it either. The Buddha never said it was necessary to be vegetarian, which I think is a much more significant choice. – user2341 Mar 23 '15 at 11:26
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The difference is that it is possible to drive a car without the intention of killing the bugs you will hit, but it's not possible to kill an animal for a particular purpose without intending to kill it. You can't do something for a specific purpose without somehow forming the intention to do what you are doing.

For example if a farmer decides to kill a chicken in order to cook it and then actually kills it, then at the very least when he is preforming the act of killing he has the intention of killing. If he didn't have the intention of killing it then the physical act itself couldn't happen.

  • I think that the OP was saying that he had become aware of harm, even unintentional harm, and so now he feels conflicted. A similar problem arises when thinking of the conditions of people elsewhere in the world who produced products that I purchase - am I responsible for their plight? Would my NOT buying be likely to benefit them? Otherwise, I agree with this answer. – user2341 Mar 23 '15 at 11:57
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The test here is the volition behind the action is based on the 3 poisons (ignorance, greed, hatred). If it is the case the Karmic results are non favorable.

The final result of the action don't count towards the formation of Karma, for unintentional side effects or results. But if you ponder on such side effects this itself will create bad karma due to the negative thoughts and worry though the Karma is not linked to the original action or it's karmic results. So it is advisable not to think too much or worry.

To feed yourself, if you through a stone at a fruit and it hits a bird this is not bad karma (unless the fruit belongs to someone else). If you see a bird and want to have it for dinner then proceed. The intention to kill is there.

Sensations is the mind conditioner. So with every volition there is an associated sensation. From this sensation, your breath and heart rate you can decide if the volition is linked to bad karma.

Compassion should not be a source of restless worry and cause you to loose the equanimity of your mind. If this is the case you have to deepen your equanimity. Equanimity should always be the main target then other wholesome mental cultivations.

  • Thank you for your answer. Your answer seems in the spirit of Buddhist teachings as I understand them, but do you have any source material? – Adamokkha Apr 18 '15 at 15:24
  • This is my personal understanding. I might have read or heard it in a dhamma sermon some where but cannot pinpoint. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Apr 18 '15 at 15:33
  • @Adamokkha I read you profile. I am wondering how I can contact you perhaps by email. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Apr 18 '15 at 17:32
  • you can email me at murray.r.adam AT gmail.com – Adamokkha Apr 18 '15 at 19:45

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