Karma in Buddhism

Karma and rebirth in buddhism

The teaching of ‘’karma’’ is not limited to Buddhism. This concept is also mentioned in religions such as Jainism and Hinduism. comparing those teachings with Buddhism, it is clear that the Buddhist concept is unique. According to Jainism Karma is a kind of material particle associated with the soul. But, ‘’ the concept of soul’’ is not approve in Buddhism. According to Buddhism Karma describes as a psychological phenomenon. Karma is a fundamental doctrine theory in Buddhism. simply, Karma is our thoughts, our actions and our moral causations. Our Karma effect on our rebirth cycle. Therefore, Karma and Rebirth have a tight bond. I hope to write the term ‘’karma and Rebirth in Buddhism’’ under two articles. The first part is about the concept of ‘’karma in Buddhism’’. And second part under the concept of, ‘’Rebirth in Buddhism’’.

            Karma in Buddhism

Think a moment. Are you equal on your friends? Are they same as you? Are they same as your skin color, your talents, your desires? The answer is definitely ‘’no’’.

In the world, every person is not equal on another one. There is the inequality. Some people are blind, deaf and ugly, as well as some are beautiful and fair in complexion. Some people spend luxury lives and another people spend poverty. Some are idiots. Some are born with saintly characteristics and some are with criminal tendencies. Each one has artistic, mathematically inclined.

For these inequality, there are two reasons. First one is a cause and second one is may be purely accidental. Without a reason, nothing happens in this world, as well as nothing happens according to our Deserve.

Buddhism teaches that, this inequality is due not only heredity and environment. Karma also be a cause. We are responsible for our evil or good deeds. That’s how we create a heaven or a hell to us.

One day a young person came to the Buddha and he asked regarding this inequality.

‘’ O Lord, what is the cause, what is the reason, that we find among st mankind the short lived and long lived, healthy and diseased, ugly and beautiful, those lacking influenced, the powerful, the poor and the rich, the low born and high born, and the ignorant and the wise.’’

The Buddha answered;

According to one’s own deeds(actions), they are inherited their refuge as well as hell. That’s the cause of a being’s difference of high or low states.

Chullakamma sutta

Therefore, our karma was a reason for our present lives. Though our parents create a nucleus, it remains dormant. Until this potential germinal compound is vitalized by the karmic energy needed for the production of the, fetus. Therefore, karma is the indispensable conceptive cause for this being. Though, the Formation of our present physical and mental characteristics from our parental cells and genes, the karmatic tendencies, inherited from the previous lives.

For instance; like every other person, the Buddha inherited the reproductive cells and genes from his parents. He born in a royal family. Throughout hid rebirth cycle, he trained hid mental attitudes for enlightenment. In his last birth, that’s why he decided to seek the truth by himself, abandoning hi royal life. That’s why he became an awaken one. It was an extraordinary creation of his own Karma.

Abhidhamma explains why this inequality as following manner.

According to one’s difference karma, he is inhered difference birth of being, high and low, base and exalted, happy and miserable. According to one’s own karma, they appear the difference the individual features such as beauty or ugly, high born or low born, well build or deformed.  Further according to one’s own difference in karma, they appear the difference worldly conditions of a being, such as loss and disgrace, blame and praise, happiness and misery.


It says that our present mental, moral intellectual and temperamental differences are, for the most part, because of our own actions and tendencies, both past and present.

What is ‘’Karma’’

The word ‘’Karma’’ is a Pali word. It means action or doing. According to the Buddha, volition is karma,

“Cetanahan bhikkhave kamman vadami”

‘’I declare, O Bhikkus that, volition is Karma. Having willed one acts by body, speech and thought’’

Anguttara Nikaya

And kind of intentional action whether, mental, verbal or physical can be consider as Karma. Our thoughts, words and deeds are karma. These three kinds can be divided into two categories. Those which brings merit, the good deeds we preform and those which do not bring merit, the bad deeds we perform. The mind as the forerunner of our deeds, it proceeds actions.



Karma and reaction

As Pali, Deeds called as ‘’karma’’ and Reaction called as ‘’Vipaka’’. Karma as an action it has a reaction. It just like our shadow. In the Pali canon, Karma describes as a seed. Vipaka (reaction) could be linked to the fruit arising from the tree. Anisamsa and Adinava (result) are the leaves. Flowers and forth as external differences such as health, sickness and poverty.

Though, Karma is good or bad, it has own Vipaka (fruit) as good or bad. When we do Karma in mental, happiness, unhappiness, bliss or misery are the fruits. If the krma is a seed, Anisamsa is the advantage. Such as prosperity, health and longevity. When  Vipaka’s concomitant material things as disadvantages, they are known as Adinava. It just like poverty, ugliness, disease, short life span etc.

Following Buddha’s utter explains this point.

’According to the seed that’s sown

So it is the fruit you reap there from,

Pour of good will gather good,

Doer of evil, evil reaps,

Down is the seed and thou

Shalt taste

The fruit thereof.’’

Samyutta Nikaya

That’s how, Karma be a low in itself. It operates in its own field, without the intervention of ant external independent ruling agency.

In Buddhism, Karma is neither fate, nor predestination imposed upon us by some mysterious unknown power. We must helplessly submit ourselves. It is one’s own doing reacting on oneself, and so one has the possibility to divert the cause of one’s Karma to some extent.


Cause of Karma

In the Paticca Samuppada (Dependent Origination), the Buddha has clearly described 12 causes for an origination of a man and his death.

  1. Avijja – ignorance
  2. Sankhara – fabrications, action of the body, speech or mind
  3. Vinnana – rebirth consciousness
  4. Nama Rupa – name(mentality) and form(corporeality)
  5. Salayatana – six fold sense base (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind)
  6. Phassa – contact
  7. Vedana – feeling sensation, six form of vision, hearing, olfactory, gustatory, tactile and thought
  8. Tanha – craving
  9. Upadana – attachment
  10. Bhava – becoming existence
  11. Jati – birth
  12. Jara marana – aging and death

This Dependents act as a cycle. In here, Avijja (ignorance), or not knowing things are the major cause of Kamma. ‘’Dependent on ignorance activities arise – Avijja pachchaya vinnana’’.

Conditioned by ignorance, it causes to craving(Tanha). It is the other root of Karma. Our all good deeds, words and thoughts associated with the wholesome roots of,

  • generosity (Aloba)
  • goodwill (Adosa) and
  • knowledge (Amoha)

The oppositive of these three are,

  • Craving (Loba)
  • Anger (Dosa)
  • Delusion (Moha)

These three have bad deeds. Generosity, benevolence and wisdom will bring good results. Like this, our good deeds, will yield goodness and our bad ones, evil. However, our Karma have a power to produce results at any time in the cycle of Samsara, be it in this life or in future ones.


Classification of Karma

A). Karma in Buddhism, can be classified into four kinds, according to ‘’ respect of different functions’’ of them.
1). Janaka Karma – Reproductive Karma

We all birth according to our past good or bad karma. As well as predominated of the past moment of death. In a future birth, these Karma conditions as Reproductive Karma. A death is a temporary vanish of a man in physically. The Karma, which we did during our lives and potential thought-vibration generated at the death moment, because the karmatic force which peoples the life-flux still survives. The last thought, at our death is called as Reproductive Janaka Karma. It determines the state of a person in his subsequent birth. It may be a good or bad Karma.

Rebirth consciousness

Reproductive Karma produces mental aggregates and material aggregates at the moment of conception. This initial consciousness termed as Rebirth consciousness (Pratisandhi). And it conditioned by this Reproductive Karma. Therefore, following kaya Bhavattu Dasaka arise because of the arising of the rebirth consciousness.

  1. Body-decade,
  2. Sex-decade,
  3. Base-decade.

It named as Kaya Bhavattu Dasaka. Decade maens Ten(10) Kaya for the body and Bhava for sex.

The body-decade

The four major elements,

  1. Pathavi – the element of extension
  2. Apo – the elements of cohesion
  3. Tejo – the elements of heat
  4. Vayo- the elements of motion

The four derivatives (Upadana rupa)

  1. Vanna – colour
  2. Gandha – smell
  3. Rasa – taste
  4. Oja – nutritive essence

The total of these eight consider as ‘’Avinibhoga rupa’’. That means indivisible form or indivisible matter.

  1. Jivitindriya (vitality) and,
  2. Kaya (body)

The total is above Avinibhoga 8 + Jivitindriya 1 + kaya 1 = 10(Ten) This collectivity called as body-decade (Kaya Dasaka)

And sex decade and Base-decade also consist in the first nine. Sex (Bhava) and seat of consciousness (vathu) respect to eye, ear, nose, tongue and body.

Therefore, is clear that the sex of a person determined at the very conception of a being. It is conditioned by karma. It is not a fortuitous combination of sperm and ovum cell. With this inevitable consciousness of this Reproductive Karma, it decides unhappiness and happiness one.

2. Upatthambaka Karma – Supportive Karma

This type of Karma support to the above Reproductive (Janaka) karma. It may be good or bad. It assists or maintain the action of the Reproductive Karma in the course of one’s lifetime. Immediately after conception till the death moment, this supportive Karma steps forward to support the Reproductive karma.

This Supportive Karma has two categories.

  • Moral Supportive Karma (Kusal Upatthambhaka) – This kind assists in giving health, wealth, happiness etc.
  • Immoral Suoortive karma (Akusal Janaka) – It assists in giving pain, sorrow, poor etc. for instance, to a birth with an Immoral Reproductive Karma, be a beast, peta (hungry ghost) can be mention.
3. Upabhidaka Karma – Obstructive Karma

This category acts as an obstructive. For instance; a person born with a good Reproductive karma may be subject to various aliment etc. such as preventing him from enjoying the blissful result of his good actions. When we consider a cat, who is born with a bad Reproductive Karma, may lead a comfortable life with good foods, home etc. like this, one’s good Obstructive Karma prevent the fruition of the Evil Reproductive Karma.

4. Upaghataka Karma – Destructive Karma

This Karma destroys the whole force and, it also may be either good or bad. As the Buddhist theory, the potential energy of the reproductive Karma could be nullified by a more powerful opposing Karma of the past. It is seeking an opportunity, may quite an unexpectedly operate, just as a powerful counteractive force can obstruct the path of a flying arrow and bring it down to the ground.

As an example; we can see the story of Magandhiya. In Buddha’s same period, there was a gorgeous lady called Magandhiya. She was a daughter of a Brahmin family. She wanted to get married Buddha. Her father proposed her to the Buddha. But, Buddha turned the proposal down because an awakened one does not engage in marriage or sex. Therefore, Magandhiya thought that the Buddha rejected her and her beauty, she fell hate with the Buddha. However, she became a queen of the king “Udeni”. Few years later, based on her power at time, she bribes and chased out of town. When the Buddha into the city, her people immediately shouted to the Buddha telling lies. But, Buddha and his disciples tolerated everything.

There was  another lady called ‘’Samawati’’ and, she also was a queen of the king ‘’Udeni”. Samawathi was a good follower and devotee of the Buddha. Therefore, Magandhiya was angry with Samawati. One day she planned to set fire Samawati’s palace. The palace burnt and the whole 500 of servents and Samawati also died. Later, the King knew her nature. He rejected her.  As a result, Magandiya also faced a painful death. One day, the king ordered his servants to dig holes in the front of the palace.  Ordered, Madandhiya and her relatives to be buried and beheaded until they could get lose. So, her death was very painful.

In here, Magandhiya’s good Reproductive Karama brought her birth in a Brahmin family. Her continued comfort, prosperity, beauty and was a queen, were due to the action of Supportive Karma. The Obstructive Karma came into operation when she was allured to do a big assassination of burnt Samawati’s palace and abased to Buddha. Finally, Distractive karma brought her life to a miserable end.

B). Karma in Buddhism can be classified, according to the priority of effect
1. Garuka Karma – weighty Karma

This is a weighty or serious type. As well as good or bad. It products it in present life or in the next for certain. If good, it is purely mental as in the cause of Dhyana (ecstasy). Otherwise it is verbal or bodily. There is an immoral side in here. It has five immediate effective heinous crimes called ‘’Pancanantariya Karma’’.

  1. Matricide
  2. Patricide
  3. Kill of an Arahat
  4. The wounding of a Buddha
  5. Creation of a schism in the Sangha

For instance; King Ajasatta with the advice of Devadatta, (who tried to kill the Buddha), killed his father. Ajasatta would have attained the first stage of sainthood (Sotapanna), if he had not committed patricide. In here, the powerful evil Karma acted as an obstructive to him, gaining Sainthood.

2. Asana Karma – Death Proximate Karma

This is an important type of this category. This is what, one does or remembers immediately before the moment of dying. Therefore, it can be considered as Deathbed Karma. It plays in determining the future birth. Therefore, as Buddhists we have a custom to reminding the dying man of good deeds and making him do good acts on his deathbed.

Sometimes, at the last moment of a bed person, he may happily and receive a good birth if he remembers or does a good act.

As well as, at a time a good person may die unhappy by suddenly remembering an evil act of his. He may remember some unpleasant thought, perchance compelled by unfavorable circumstance.

For instance; in Buddha’s time, there was a lady called ‘’ Mallika’’. She was queen of king Kosala. At her deathbed she was remembering a lie, which she had uttered. She suffered for about 7 days in a state of misery when she lied to her husband to cover some misbehave.

3. Accinna Karma – Habitual Karma

Simply, this means habitually performs and recollects. Those habitats may be good or bad. It becomes ones second nature, tending to form the character of a person. At the deathbed moments one often laps into one’s habitual mental minds, unless influenced by other circumstances. One usually recall to mind one’s habitual deeds.

For instance; there was a great king called ‘’Dutugemunu” in our country. He had a habitat of giving alms to sangha before he took his own meals. It was his habitual Karma that gladdened him at the dying moment and give him birth in the “Tusita’’ heaven.

4. Katatta Karma – Reserve or Cumulative Karma

In here, an action that are not included in the after mentioned and those actions soon forgotten.

C). Karma in Buddhism categories according to the time in which effects are worked out.
1. Dittadhammavedaniya Karma – Immediately Effective

We have to experience this karma in our present life

For instance; Abraham Lincoln was 16th president of United States. In 14th of April 1865, well known stage actor John Wilkes Booth shoot in the head while Lincoln was watching the play at Ford’s Theater. After the shooting, Wilkes escaped. He escaped with an accomplice called David Harold, towards Southern Maryland. The great Leader, Lincoln died due to his critical condition. The criminal and his friend hide in the Virginia barn. On 26th of April, union troops surrounded the barn. They set fire to get them out. Harold surrendered, but Wilkes remained inside. A sergeant shoot Wilkes, in his neck. This was his last moment of his life. His evil deed chased after him.


2. Uppajjavedaniya Karma – Subsequently Effective

This effects on one may reap in the subsequence birth. That’s why it is called ‘’Subsequently Effective Karma’’.

3. Aparapariyavedaniya Karma- Indefinitely Effective

This Karma does not operate in the second birth. The effect if intermediate thought moments may take place at any time until one attain Nibbana. 

4. Ahosi Karma – Defunct or Ineffective Karma

This Karma does not operate in this life or another life. They are defunct.

D). Karma in Buddhism can be divided according to the plane in which the effect take place.
1. Akusala karma – Evil Deeds

This may ripen in the sentient planes, which means Kamaloka. There are eleven kamaloka planes.  [Six celestial planes (6) + one human plane (1) + four woeful planes (4) = 11]

Six celestial planes

  1. Paeanimmitavasavati bhum: they are realm of devas who enjoy sensory pleasure crated by other for them
  2. Nimmanarati bhum: they are realm of devas who delight in creating
  3. Tusita bhum: they are realm of devas of happiness and contentment
  4. Yama bhum: they are realm of blissful existence
  5. Tavatimsa bhum: they are real of the thirty-three gods
  6. Catummaharajika bhum: this is the heaven of four grate kings

Manussa loka: Human plane/ human realm

This is the most important one, because human can stop or develop their minds. A Buddha also awakes in this human plane. There are pain, pleasure, suffering and happiness in the Human realm.

Four woeful planes

  1. Asura loka (Demon world): in here, the inhabitants for them are powerful, those are opposed to devas.
  2. Peta loka (world of spirits and hungry ghosts): This plane is known as the state of woe. People, who relatives or loving ones share their merits with these beings when they do good deeds. It helps them to get rid of this plane in one day.
  3. Tiracchanna loka (animal world): dogs, cats, birds and other animals in this plane. This is not a pleasant plane. Animal have to seek for foods, water, home and fight each other to stay alive.
  4. Niraya (the Hell): this is the most intense suffering plane. The beings in the hell, have to suffer the results of their lives until the end, without a moment respite. There are 168 total of hells in Buddhism.

      But, here are only four woeful Kamalokas.

2.      Kusala KaRma – Good Deeds

Kusala karma assist as two ways,

  1. It may ripen in the sentient plane except for the four woeful planes and
  2. it ripens in the realm of form (Rupa Brahmaloka). There are four Arupa Brahma Lokas.
  • Vevasanna nasannayatana bhum: they are realm of neither perception nor non- perception bhum. They are the highest of the four planes of the Arupa brahmas.
  • Akincannayatana: they are realm of nothingness
  • Vinnananncayatana bhum: they are realm of infinite consciousness
  • Akasanancayatana bhum: they are realm of infinite space

According to above long explanation, it may clear that according to our past deeds (Karma), we are inherent our present lives. But, there is another low, which effect on our lives, as well as Karma. It named as ‘’Niyama” or some kind of natural lows. Therefore, our lives depend on our past deeds, present deeds as well as Niyamas. Karma is not one and only thing, which reasons of happenings of our lives.

Everything is not depend on our karma.

Although Buddhism described the Karma for the variation, is the chief cause a variety, everything does not happen due to karma. The karma is one low of the variation. There are 24 conditions described in philosophy and above ‘’low of Kamma’’ is one among those. There are five orders or processes called ‘’Niyama’’ which operate in the physical and mental realms. They are,

1. Uthu Niyama

The Sanskrit word (uthu) refers for the season in weather. ‘’Niyama’’ means the law. This natural low orders the change of seasons and phenomena. Related to climate and the weather. The behavior of nature, temperature, soil, gases, water and wind are described in this low. As modern terms, t includes in physics, chemistry, geology and several sciences of inorganic phenomena. For, instance; in a drought season, there is no enough water for cultivate. In such duration, our cultivation fields may be destroyed. Then our food productivity becomes decreasing. As well as diseases can be spread among people. Such a situation is very hard time to us. If the rain falls regularly, such a disaster may not happen. Like this, floods, earthquakes, Volcanic Eruptions, tornedos and many natural disasters happen according to this low. We face to these disasters, because of they came from the nature. It is not a fault of mankind.

2. Bija Niyama

The Pali word ‘’Bija’’ means seeds. This is the Niyama of the low of living matters, what we would think of as biology. All lives, plants and animals came under the heading of Bija Niyama.

For instance; a mango produces from a mango seed, corn produce from corn seed, a child same as his parent’s appearance, their voice, their eyes etc.

3. KaRma Niyama

This means the order of act and result. As above described, all of our volitional thoughts, words and deeds create an action and it brings an effect and that process is called Karma Niyama. In above description of this article, I kept more details regarding this point.

4. Dhamma Niyama

The Pali word ‘’Dhamma’’ means manifestation or reality or the nature of existence. ‘’Dhamma’’ is used to refer to the teaching of the Buddha

For instance; as human, we go aging, hair becomes grey, teeth fall, skin becomes wrinkles. Those are not results of our previous deeds. It is the reality. With the birth, everyone go ageing until his death.

5. Citta Niyama

The Pali word ‘’Citta’’ means ‘’the mind’’, heart or state of consciousness. This is the low of mental activity. Therefore, it concerns as consciousness, thoughts and perception.

We used to think of our mind as ‘’I’’ or as the pilot directing us through our lives. In Buddhism, mental activities are phenomena that arise from cause and conditions like other phenomena.

For instance; there are five Skandhas. Eyes, ears, nose, tongue and mind. Mind is a kind of sense organs and thoughts are sense objects. In the same way, the nose is a sense organs and smells are its object.

Therefore, every mental or physical phenomena is generated according to these five orders or processes which are laws in themselves. Karma is only one of these five orders. As all other natural laws, they demand no lawgiver.

This part is only about Karma in Buddhism. It described that, what is Karma? Why there is an inequality among us? Cause of Karma and results of karma. Then I explained that, karma can strictly effect on our lives. It is a cause to decide our live conditions too. As well as it described, that karma is not only one cause of our birth and lives. There are several laws called ‘’Niyamas’’. According to Buddhism, these Karmatic are clearly link with rebirth. Via my next article on rebirth in Buddhism, I hope to explain regarding the Buddhism view. See you in next step of this article.

Get in touch. Stay safe. May triple gems bless you..!

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“There are someone who do not realize that one day all must die. But those who realize this they settle their clashes”

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