18. Karma By Venerable Amatha Gavesi

18. Karma

By Venerable Amatha Gavesi

Dated: 1994

Venerable Bhikkhus, brothers and sisters, the subject of the discourse is Karma. Buddha defines karma as ‘cetanāham bhikkhave kammam vadāmi’, as a volition one create before the act of karma is created. That is your state of mind that make you to commit the act. That is important in karma and that state of mind is called Volition. Volition can be weak can be strong. Volition becomes weak when it is mixed up with adverse feelings like anger or attachment, even ignorance. Therefore if you commit a good karma, very effective forceful karma, the 3 qualities such karma should possess are; volition is pure, there is no aversion to any person as such in the commission of that act, there is no attachment to anything, it’s a pure volitional act. Such an act gives you very forceful result.

There are 5 types of karma which are heinous so to say, acts committed for which you have to subject yourself to suffering in that birth itself. Those 5 acts are; causing a bleeding injury on Buddha, killing an Arahat, killing your father and mother and cause a dissension among the bhikkhu order. These 5 acts are supposed to be classified as heinous crime which if one commits will have to suffer in that birth itself. The best example we had was Buddha’s brother-in-law who became an enemy of Buddha and he committed that act by rolling a stone, a piece of that stone striking Buddha’s leg creating injury and he was subjected to a birth in the hell world as a result of that act. Arahat Moggallana prior to his attainment, in previous birth has murdered his mother and father and he suffered as a consequence of that act for many many births. Even the last occasion after he had attained arahathood, he was subject to an attack by some thieves which resulted in ending his life.

I am not going to give you a description of the various types of crime committed resulting from karma or various types of karma. Karma is divided into various various categories according to the effect such karma creates. We like to go a little deeper into karma. Karma is a force that controls your existence. Up to the stage till you develop yourself in the attainment of the 3rd stage of non-returner. After that, karma ceases to be committed by you because for karma, for the commission of karma, there’ll be present in you desire. Desire controls your births right up to the attainment of non-returner. After that, your birth will be an automatic occurrence in the pure abodes. Up to the attainment of 3rd stage of non-returner, karma plays a vital role in creating the birth after your death. It’s the act of karma that you will see in your vision prior to your death or it may be the result you would have to confront yourself with as a consequence of the karmic act you committed and that will be again a vision you would see in the nature of a place you would be born or some set indication to indicate that is the result of the karma which you have committed. And at that stage when you are dying when you have lost all sense base activities whatever you karmic first, you create a thought and cling to it. Maybe even the hell birth you may see at that time, but still there is no option for you except to cling onto that and create a birth in the hell birth resulting from the karma you have committed. That is the nature of karma. One would ask the question, how is it that after you attain your 3rd stage of development non-returner, the karma loses its effect on you in the way of creating births, future births. Even till the time after your attainment to the final stage of arahathood, past karmas which you have committed have an effect on you, but cannot be stopped.

Buddha was supposed to have been subjected to 11 such karmas which he has committed in previous births and he suffered. Likewise, even if you attained arahathood, the final state, so long as you are alive, you will be subject to the effect of good and bad karma but you cease to develop further karma after your attainment of the non-returner. If one ask the question, how that happens? Because you have got rid of desire in that attainment and the desire is created by attachment or aversion and these are the 2 qualities that make the karma a good karma or a bad karma. If it is a good karma, there will be no attachment or aversion and the act is obviously done with your full knowledge. If it is a bad karma, either attachment will be there or aversion will be there or both will be there. And the third ignorance also will be there. Therefore karma is an act which you can commit, either a good karma or a bad karma depending on the mentality you create at the time of the commission of the act. If it is the pure act without any defects or any ill feeling or hatred towards anybody committed by you, then the effect of that karma will be good effect. Subject to the defilements which I mentioned earlier, if you commit an act, you are bound to suffer as a result of that act.  Therefore this karma is a thing that controls your activities in the worldly way. Worldly way means up to the time you are controlled by desire. One can get rid of desire in the attainment of the 3rd stage of non-returner. Because aversion and attachment he has completely given up. About 50% in his once-returner stage and the balance 50% in his non-returner stage. Therefore there is no desire in you now, as such there is no aversion or attachment which are the qualities of karma which certainly has a great effect on the karma you commit.

One would ask the question, how is it that this acts which you commit with prior to your attainment to the 3rd stage bring about a return to you in the nature of a reaction resulting from the karma. Is a good act which you commit, you get a good reaction, and if it is something bad, a bad reaction. How did that happen? That happens because your mind at the time the commission of the act is not a pure mind. It’s a worldly mind which attachment still playing an important role in all your activities. It may be that as a result of your own effort, you can be non-attached, you can also be non-adverse to anything, also you can have a good motive that purposefully done by you. In any other way, if it is an ordinary event committed without forethought or planning or thinking prior to the commission of the act, you will be subject to the weakness you are subjected to, like let us say hatred or attachment or aversion or such things can occur to you at the time you create the thought to commit the act. Essential thing in all these karmic activities is at the time when the creation of the thought for the commission of the act. Your mind must be pure, clean of all the defilements. Defilements such as hatred and attachment, they can be suppressed by you momentarily. When you want to give an alms to the poor or the bhikkhus. You normally a person who is much attached to money but you can make up your mind, I shall free this pence for the requirements to make this gift to the bhikkhus and you freely with a purposeful approach, you are free to buy whatever that is their spending money not caring how much you spend. Now that is something which you have yourself knowingly, purposefully avoided being greedy and being stingy. And you may be a person who has now merely aversion to something that occurs there, and you would be careful not to commit such an act but keep the mind completely free of ill will or hatred. Your faith is developed, your devotion to the act is developed and in all respects that act if you commit without all these impediments, these defilements affecting you, you yourself will have to admit that you have committed a very pure act and that pure act has resulted in committing a good karma. A person who has not attained up to the 3rd stage, he must be mindful of all his acts. Mindfully he can commit a good act though he is subject to attachment or aversion, because his mindfulness is suppressing those 2 defilements from him and committing that act that is a pure act. That ability is there in you, very often that happens. The lay people they offer alms to bhikkhus and what they do is they purposefully avoid being stingy, greedy. Then also the other aspect of aversion, creating aversion to something maybe a circumstances attached crop up at the time when you prepare yourself to give the alms and you pursue that feeling, you have got that adverse feeling and with that feeling you offer the alms as a result of it, that act which you commit is not a pure act. These things that are creating the impurities in the act are your mental conditions created at the time of the commission of the act or in the preparation of the committing of the act. The period that will affect you in the commission of a good act will be the period you have decide to commit the act. And after the time you have completed performing that act that’s the period you must be careful about because any ill feeling towards the act you intend to commit or misunderstanding or creation of attachment to a thing or creation of ill will towards a person who is helping you and participating in the activity you have arranged, such things might occur during that period for the time you have decide to provide the alms to the bhikkhus up to the time you finish that act of providing alms.  For one has to be rather careful when committing acts that your mind is free of such adverse circumstances or adverse feelings which a good act can be discoloured. Now therefore, we have the option and we have the ability and the power within us in spite of the fact that we are not freed from desire. In spite of the fact that we sometimes fall into 1 or  2 extremes of attachment or aversion. But you can commit an act purposefully being careful not to subject yourself to such adverse feeling. Therefore you can commit a pure act which can give you much benefit as a reaction to that act and that if you purposefully commit by avoiding these feelings that may discoloured the act or make the act a weak act. That is something which you can do. But after you attained your 3rd stage, you have got rid of attachment. There doesn’t arise in your mind, feelings of attachment or aversion. All the acts you commit carefully, mindfully and awaringly without any of these defilements that can disturb the purity of the act. Or in other words create adverse effects in the act which you have committed. So that you have to bear in mind, up to a stage of the development of the 3rd attainment that is non-returner state, you have to be careful of all your activities in the way of committing good karma and also controlling yourself giving in to the commission of bad karma.

Desire is a vital circumstance or defilement which controls these activities up to the time of the attainment of the 3rd stage. Desire is something which is quite foreign to the mind. You have adopted that, you have maintained desire as a result of committing acts which are promoted by desire. And we promote desire. But you have the ability as a person who possesses the consciousness to keep clear of such defilement and commit the act as a pure act. But after you have given up desire, then your mind is free. Again I emphasize all the bad acts and good acts that you have committed in the past prior to your attainment to the 3rd stage of non-returner, you are going to subject to yourself to the effect of those acts and I quote that example even Buddha have to suffer on the 11 occasions resulting from the past karma which he has committed.

Karma is one would classified as fate. Very often people considered karma as fate. One would ask a question, for instance you may have committed lots of mistakes in your past, now that you have educated yourself in the religion and you can now control your mind to see that favourable results are accrued as a result of committing acts, are you in a position to overcome the bad effects of karma which you have committed in the past. That is something one has to very carefully consider. If for instance, let us imagine that you have committed a bad act. And the effect of that bad act coming to force during this birth. You have become a bhikkhu now, having realized the truth, you have given up the lay life and you are a bhikkhu now. Now the question would be now you are a person who is leading a religious life, in no way committing acts which are supporting karma or committing or thinking of evil things which support the activities of karma on you. In other words, you are leading a pure life and a good life now. Then one would ask the question for instance if you are leading a good life and good pure life now, could the past karma affect you. It’s still has an effect on you. It may be not so virulent or very adverse really meeting the after effects of the karma in the hard way, maybe because the circumstances you are in now being a bhikkhu and leading a pure life, such circumstances certainly minimize the effect of the karma. If that reaction took place in the person who still harbours ill will, who commits bad acts, you can imagine the amount of sufferings he may have to undergo as a resulting from that act which he had committed in the past, but now this person has converted himself to a situation where no qualities that can promote the commission of acts creating ill feeling and creating unpleasant circumstances to those around him and who are close associates with him, he is a bhikkhu. But he may be subjected to suffering. I would consider for instance though I am a bhikkhu now, I have now developed this sickness and it is giving me lots of pain of mind. It is giving me certain reactions from which I suffer daily. I am not an ordinary person who can commit ordinary acts now in a way of say let’s say normal existence one would subject oneself to within the eight ?????. No. I have a limited moment now living in a limited scope of living because of this sickness. Therefore I have to admit the fact that I am suffering. Maybe if I wasn’t a bhikkhu and if that karma had reacted on me, I would have even met with my death because there was no circumstances that is not effective in minimizing the bad effect of the karma I have committed, and I in all force, I meet the reaction against me. But if you are a bhikkhu, you are clad in robes, you are practicing virtue and your life is a bhikkhu life, is not a life that promotes let’s say the commission of bad acts, so though the karma is going to have an effect on you, because the circumstances you are in, you will still have to face it, the suffering would not be so hard as you would have to subject yourself to if the circumstances I have already created in respect of my life did not exist.  There may be very minor karma which you commit and it may be the good life you lead now may not give a chance for such forces to react on you. And they get, reaction is not created as a result of lack of circumstances to create that reaction. There may be such karma and they are weak karma, no powerful karma can be avoided and the best example we have is Buddha the enlightened one with completely free of even in the nature of a thought creating any ill feeling towards any being in this world, such a being who is so free, so pure in every respect had to undergo the effect of bad karma.

Therefore, that’s why Buddha say promoting always good karma, sabba papassa akaranan, don’t commit bad karma, kusalassa upasampada, commit good karma. He gave us this advice because if you commit bad karma, under any circumstances you may have to confront yourself with the situation where you have to suffer as a result of that karma. And if you have committed good karma, well that will help you support you. Now there were occasions even arahats had to subject to results of bad karma which they have committed in life.  There was an arahat who just could not swallow his food, he make all the pre signs sympathy with him, everybody trying to help him to eat, but he just cannot pass any food down his throat. And It is said that they dissolve the food in water and then pour it into his mouth. There were circumstances like that. They were circumstances where the effect of bad karma has caused such a depressed feeling in the mind of the arahat, that his suffering he could not tolerate. He could not bear at the suffering and indications were given to the other arahats that he may even commit suicide.  There were instances even arahat Venerable Shariputta, he approached his monks, spoke to them, advise them and in fact pleaded not to commit such acts, and in certain circumstances said don’t worry, I will see that you ……

Because of the suffering that they had to undergo and therefore continuity in this world given as an arahat, having reached that pure state of existence even he is not free from karma. One would ask this question, what is this karma that you referred to? Is it something which is originating from the depth of your heart as a reaction to something or is it something that you automatically create on the surface and commit the act and suffer from the ill effect or bad effect or good effect of that act? Karma is what you have created, it is not so to say an automatic reaction to an occasion. You commit the karma knowingly and for the commission of that karma, you have created circumstances in your mind to get that ill effect or suffer from the ill effect of that act which you have committed. It is not a thing that has automatically got created and directed you to commit, no. You knowingly decide, of course there may be circumstances that may be influencing his act, but those circumstances are only circumstances placed before him for his due consideration. There is no forceful direction given to you that you must commit this act or that act. No such force is used on you. The entire activity is a voluntary one and you knowingly committed it.

Now for instance if one would ask a question, there is a force behind you and that powerful force maybe some enemy of yours gives you a gun and say shoot that person. If you ought to shoot, but this person knowing the ill effect of that act if he commits it, he would say no, I would not do it. And he may suffer from the circumstances of refusing to carry out the directive given by his enemy. On the other hand, if he just comply with that because the enemy has directed him just to save his life, you can well imagine that he can’t avoid the ill effect of that act. After all its your mind’s creation. The purity of that act is what you have created. The impurity of that act is what you have created. One cannot say because I have to save my life I committed this act. That may be a circumstance, for instance in the court of law. If one has to be tried for him to point out and gets some consideration for what he has done because circumstances led him to commit such an act because he was under the power of somebody who would cause his death. And in that circumstance, he may have committed that commission, but where karma is concerned, he would still have to face that reaction. Maybe that circumstances were not fully in agreement to consider that act as something heinous because in his mind, he knew that he was not doing the right thing, but through fear he did that. But the fact is that you have committed the act and somebody suffers as a result. Therefore the reaction is felt. In that too, if you apply the rule to chethanahan bikkawe kamman vadhami, you can evaluate the motive you had in committing that act at the time when he was directed to do so by some other party. And through fear of his death, through other circumstances which he could not avoid, he committed the act. But certainly those are not circumstances that may completely help you to evade or avoid the reaction of that karma. Some ways something very wonderful, I would say entirely your volition, how you decide. Now there was an instance where supposed to have been a boy who aims a stone at his fruit to pluck at, but the stone struck the bird that was resting on a branch and fell dead. The boy took the dead body of this bird and was quite happy, I am very happy that I killed this bird instead of getting that fruit. There he committed the full crime of committing causing the death of that bird.  On the other hand, in a similar act, this boy finds that as a result of the throwing of the stone, it has reacted on killing of the innocent bird and he did his best to recover that bird and felt very sorry about the incident. Now imagine these are 2 situations. One when he committed that act, he was quite happy that he committed that act because he was happy to see this bird dead. On the other hand, there was this other boy, who was very reasonable as a result of seeing what has happened, resulting from the stone he threw at the tree, and he repented. I don’t think he will suffer from that act. There was a case of that blind arahat who was walking the entire night up and down trampling and causing the death of many insects, thousands of them, think ants or some sort of things like that. And there was a normal discussion among the bhikkhus how this bhikkhu has killed so many insects not voluntarily because he did not observed them, neither he felt that they were there at the time of walking but the result of his walk, up and down that night was causing the death of thousands of insects and Buddha decided that he was not aware of the act he was committing. He was innocently walking therefore there was no bad karma committed by him because the volition is a pure volition where there was no bad feeling affecting that volition. He was just mildly walking up and down but unfortunately he has trampled the insects and caused their deaths. Likewise, when you are walking along the road, maybe that you trample an insect unaware and cause the death of that insect but you are not responsible for that act. That is the sort of karma which we are confronted with, it plays a vital role in the human world, even the animal world. In any world, it’s said to be born a deity, also you must commit  good karma. Even to be born in the luminous world where you have to commit a good karma in the way of meditation, that’s also good karma.  And that helps you not that the direct effect of the good karma you committed but the direct effect of the karma resulting from a transcended mind had that deem to be born in that luminous world.

This is karma, Buddha says don’t think of karma because you cannot strictly say that this will be the result of what you have done and it is true. One had to make up a proper assessment of the temperament of the person at the time when he committed that act. It is rather difficult for one to go into that aspect of what life you see to exactly assessed whether he had a criminal outlook or whether he had a unaware of what he was doing or that he’s thought of something else but this is the result of that act, but that thought he gave to this earlier is something completely innocent. And he never thought that he would see a result like this when he give the consent, but there are many circumstances like that. And one cannot draw a line and say this act is a karmic act which one has to confront himself with all the reactions. This act is though he has committed the crime not going to suffer from it? One cannot clearly define these boundaries because after all your mind is involved. It is rather difficult for one outside to assess your mind, even you yourself do not know what you have been doing at the time you committed that act resulting from this harm that you have done to another. Therefore Buddha says one cannot, is something beyond the thinking of the human being. But you have to be careful not to harm even an insect because such harm will react against you. There are lots of variations to this, lots of other circumstances that are for and against suffering you may have to undergo as a result of an act. It is so varied you see rather difficult for me to describe them in detail. But one thing that you have to bear in mind is no arahats commits bad act, he is pure. Even if for instance as a result of a certain volunteer act which he has committed which has resulted in something adverse to somebody, well it is not a direct effect which he has caused in the other person but maybe an indirect effect that man is subject to as a result of the arahat’s act. Arahat is pure in all his activity, he would not harm anybody. And what he is very honest and completely honest, he is ujucha sujucha that is in every aspect he is above the ordinary being and his honesty is more than honesty one should say. His mental condition is pure and he is more than pure and he would never think of let’s say harming anybody because that is the evolution he has gone through and reached that state of purity which is about any he is ???,  about any adverse effect and he is a pure and pure innocent person. Thus though he has reached that height, still he can be subjected to the effects of bad karma which he has committed. So we can go on discussing this subject very far, now that the bell has rung for us to attend to the puja. We will stop the discussion further and may you all attain Nibbana. Thank you very much.