Buddhist Ethical Teaching on
>√kar (to do),
> the Pali term kamma (Sanskrit. karma)
etymologically means “action or doing”,
>KARMA “volitional action”.
>the belief that acts bring about their
retribution, usually in a subsequent existence.
Kamma is formulated as the universal law of
causality and everything comes into existence
must have a cause according to this law.
the principle of the ‘law of karma’ is that
beings are reborn according to the nature and
quality of their actions.
All good and bad actions constitute kamma.
In the ultimate sense, kamma denotes all
wholesome and unwholesome volitional actions.
The volition having the root in ignorance
(moha), greed or attachment (lobha) or anger (do
sa) is evil. The volition, which is accompanied by
generosity (alobha), good-will (adosa) and wisdo
m (pannà), is wholesome.
This belief is nowadays shared by many
Hindus, Buddhists, Jainas, and others, but the
details can vary considerably between differen
They all seem to have shared the aspiration
to end the endless cycle of rebirths that results
from acts and their consequences.
>Theistic : God (Isvara), who is the creator,
the preserver and the destroyer of the world, is
believed to be the Lord of the law of karma.
>Hindus conceive it as operating under the
supervision of God (Isvara), so it is necessarily
dependent on God.
♠ In the Vedic belief, sacrifice was regarded as
almost the only kind of duty, and it was also called
karma or kriya [action] and the unalterable law was
that these mystical ceremonies for good or bad,
moral or immoral, were destined to produce their
> Thus, the sacrifices performed in accordance with the
Vedic teachings might unquestionably be supposed to be
good karma which would in turn produce good results.
♠ In the Upanishads, the law of karma is considered
as the law of the conservation of moral energy.
>According to this principle, We reap as we sow. The
good seed brings a harvest of good, the evil of evil.
> They laid on this law and the ritual sacrifices
as the way leading to the salvation.
“sin could be removed by sacrifices to gods,
great emphasis is laid on the law of karma.”
Regarding karma and its results, Upanishad points
“ According as one acts, according as one
behaves, so does he become. The doer of good
becomes good; the doer of evil becomes evil. One
becomes virtuous by virtuous action, bad by bad
action. Others, however, say that a person consists
of desires. As is his desire, so is his will; as is his will,
so is the deed he does; whatever deed he does, that
♠ One of the sectarians, by the name of
Makkhaligosala was found to hold the view of “Non-
causality (Ahetuka vaada) or fixed (Niyati)”.
> He refutes all the causes or actions either
wholesome or unwholesome thus:
“There exists no cause or condition for beings
to become defiled; they are defiled without cause or
condition. There exists no cause or condition for
beings to become absolutely pure; they are
absolutely pure without cause or condition”.
> According to him all beings come into existence
without making any endeavour but by accident or by
chance. He says thus:
“All sentient beings, all those that breathe, all
those that exist, all those that possess the principle of
life are devoid of power, energy, strength and
endeavour. They just happen naturally, by chance
and according to their own individual character.”
“There is no (consequence to) alms-giving, sacrifice
or oblation. A good or bad action produces no result.
This world does not exist, nor do other worlds. There
is no mother, no father. There is no rebirth of beings
> It means that all good or evil done to them
producing no result.
>His view is embarking upon the annihilationist view
as he disproves to accept all sorts of kamma, either
wholesome or unwholesome, the existence of this
world and the other worlds.
>He criticizes that daana is the idea of the fools as
alms-giving ends in ashes. The words of those who
assert on such a thing as merit in alms-giving are
empty, false and senseless.
♠ The Buddhists, conceive it as an independent
Law; its operation is independent through its nature is
dependent or relative.
♠ It is independent in the sense of working out by its
own nature without the interference of any Supreme
♠ The Buddhists, conceive it as an independent Law;
its operation is independent through its nature is
dependent or relative.
♠ It is independent in the sense of working out by its
own nature without the interference of any Supreme
Past actions are said to ‘welcome’ one in a future
life like a person being welcomed by kinsmen (Dhp.
Culakammavibhanga Sutta states:
“Beings are owners of their actions, heirs of their
actions; they originate from their actions, are bound
to their actions, have their actions as their refuge.
It is action that distinguishes beings as inferior and
superior, happy and miserable, beautiful or ugly, well-
built or deformed, gain and loss, fame and disgrace,
acts of hatred and violence tend to lead to rebirth
in a hell,
acts of delusion and confusion … as an animal,
acts of greed … as a ghost.
‘By constantly committing evil deeds we are reborn
in hell, by doing many we become spirits [i.e. ghost
s], and doing only a few we are reborn as an animal’
♠ Rebirth in a hell is also seen as particularly due to both doing
evil actions and encouraging others to do them, by approving
of and praising such actions.
>Abstaining from evil actions and encouraging others to do so
leads to a heavenly rebirth (AN).
♠ In Mahayana Buddhism, it is also held that obstructing a
Bodhisattva – a heroic, compassionate being – in a good
deed has terrible karmic consequences, for it hinders the
welfare of many beings (Bca).
♠ Actions can also lead to karmic fruits in a
human life. This might be the present life, or a
future human life, be this one’s next life, or one
that comes after one or more other types of re
♠ Culakammavibhanga Sutta
It is said that to develop generosity and moral
virtue to a small degree leads to rebirth as a human
of ill fortune;
…to develop them to a medium degree leads to
being a human of good fortune;
…to develop them to a high degree leads to rebirth in
The status and working of the law of
Karma is often likened to a seed, and the two words for a
karmic result, vipāka and phala, respectively mean ‘ripening’
> As a fruit seed gives rise to a new plant of the same
kind of tree which gives the seed, so also a kamma seed will
produce a new being in a plane appropriate to the original
> What determines the nature of a karmic ‘seed’ is the will
behind an act: ‘It is will (cetanā), O monks, that I call karma;
having willed, one acts through body, speech or mind’ (AN).
‘Kamma-patha’ means ‘course of action’. It is the name for a
group of 10 kinds of either unwholesome or wholesome
actions. The unwholesome actions may be divided into three
groups in accordance with three types of kamma.
There are 3 unwholesome bodily actions:
1 Pānātipàtà – killing any living being,
2 Adinnādānā – stealing or taking other’s property unlawfully,
3 Kamesu-micchācārā – sexual misconduct such as unlawful
There are 4 unwholesome verbal actions:
4 Musāvādā – lying,
5 Pisunavācā – slandering,
6 Pharusavācā – rude or harsh speech,
7 Samphappalāpa – vain talk or foolish babble.
There are 3 unwholesome mental actions:
8 Abhijjhā – covetousness,
9 Vyāpāda – ill-will
10 Micchādi hiṭṭ – wrong view
These are ten wholesome actions also known as “ten
sucaritas”, meaning “ten types of good conduct’. They are
also divided into three groups in accordance with three types
There are three wholesome bodily actions:
1 Pànàtipàtà-virati – avoidance of killing,
2 Adinnàdànà-virati – avoidance of stealing
3 Kamesu-micchàcàrà-virati – avoidance of sexual
There are four wholesome verbal actions:
4 Musàvàdà-virati – avoidance of lying,
5 Pisunavàcà-virati – avoidance of slandering,
6 Pharusavàcà-virati – avoidance of harsh speech,
7 Samphappalàpa-virati – avoidance of vain talk.
There are three wholesome mental actions:
8 Anabhijjhà – absence of covetousness (unselfishness),
9 Avyàpàda – good-will
10 Sammà-di hiṭṭ – right view.
Cetanā encompasses the motive for which an action
is done, its immediate intention (directed at a specific
objective, as part of fulfilling a motive), and the imme
diate mental impulse which sets it going and sustains
>Actions, then, must be intentional if they are to
generate karmic fruits: accidentally treading on an
insect does not have such an effect, as the Jains beli
The ‘karmic fruitfulness’ of actions
Good actions are said to be ‘lovely’ (kalyā aṇ ) and to
be, or have the quality of, puñña (Pali; Skt punya),
>puñña = ‘fortune-bringing or auspicious quality of an
action’; ‘an act which brings good fortune or to the ha
ppy result in the future of such an act’.
>A puñña action is ‘auspicious’, ‘fortunate’ or ‘fruitful’,
as it purifies the mind and thus leads to future good
>Monks, puñña is a designation for happiness, for
what is pleasant, charming, dear and delightful. I mys
elf know that the ripening of puññas done for a long ti
me are experienced for a long time as pleasant, char
ming, dear and delightful. After developing a heart of l
ovingkindness for seven years, for seven aeons of ev
olution and devolution, I did not come back to this wo
rld . . . [being reborn in a delightful heaven for that tim
> As the noun puñña refers to the auspicious, uplifting,
purifying power of good actions to produce future happy result
s, one might translate it as ‘goodness-power’.
> As an Adj. ‘(an act of) karmic fruitfulness’, with ‘karmically
This makes a connection with the fact that actions (karmas)
are often likened to ‘seeds’ and their results are known as ‘fr
uits’ (phalas) or ‘ripenings’. While such phalas can be the res
ults of either good or bad actions, and puñña relates only to go
The link to ‘fruitfulness’ is also seen in the fact
that the Sangha is described as the best ‘field
of punna’, i.e. the best group of people to ‘plan
t’ a gift ‘in’ in terms of karmically beneficial res
ults of the gift.
Puñña-kiriya Vatthu (Bases of
1 Dàna – giving charity or generosity
2 Sīla – morality; observing five precepts, eight precepts,
ten precepts, etc.
3 Bhàvanà – meditation, both tranquility and insight
4 Appacàyana – reverence to elders and holy persons
5 Veyàvacca – service in wholesome deeds
6 Pattidàna – transference of merit
7 Pattànumodana – rejoicing in others’ merit
8 Dhamma-savana – listening to the Doctrine
9 Dhamma-desanà – expounding the Doctrine
10 Di hijjukammaṭṭ – straightening one’s right view
The above ten puñña-kiriya-vatthus can be classified into
1. giving (dāna),
2. moral virtue (sīla) and
1 giving (dāna) group – Dàna, Pattidàna, Pattànumodana
2 moral virtue (sīla) group– Sīla, Appacàyana, Veyàvacca
3 meditation (Bhàvanà) group – Bhàvanà, Dhamma-savana,
Dhammadesanà, Di hijjukamma.ṭṭ
The dāna group represents alobha (generosity), and
opposes lobha (attachment) and macchariya
(stinginess). It is compared to the legs.
The sīla group represents adosa (good-will) and
opposes issa (jealousy) and dosa (anger). It is
compared to the body.
The bhàvanà group represents amoha (wisdom) and
opposes moha (ignorance). It is compared to the
♠ The opposite of puñña is apuñña, which one can
accordingly see as meaning ‘(an act of) karmic
unfruitfulness’ or ‘karmically unfruitful’, i.e.
producing no pleasant fruits, but only bitter ones.
A synonym for apuñña is pāpa, which, while often
translated as ‘evil’, really means that which is
‘infertile’, ‘barren’, ‘harmful’ or ‘ill-fortuned’.
Karmic fruitfulness and motive
♠‘the mental aspiration of a moral person is effective
through its purity’(DN).
>If a person gives something to a monk ‘with
longing, with the heart bound (to the gift), intent on
a store (of karmic fruitfulness), thinking “I’ll enjoy this
after death” ’, it is said that he will be reborn for a whi
le in the lowest of all the heavens.
>A series of what seem to be meant as progressively
higher motives is then outlined:giving because one
feels ‘it is auspicious to give’; wishing to continue a fa
mily tradition of giving; wishing to support those who
do not cook for themselves; because great sages of t
he past were supported by alms; because giving lead
s to mental calm, joy and gladness; or because giving
enriches the heart and equips it for meditation (AN).
Giving from the last of these motives is then said to
lead to rebirth in the first heaven of the realm of (ele
mental) form, where the brahmas dwell.
> Buddhaghosa says, on moral virtue: That
undertaken just out of desire for fame is inferior; that
undertaken just out of desire for the fruits of karmicall
y fruitful actions is medium; that undertaken
for the sake of the Noble state thus, ‘This is to be
done’, is superior. (Vism. 13)
While Buddhists often see a large gift as generating more
karmic fruitfulness than a small one, a small gift from a poor p
erson is said to be worth as much as a large one from a rich p
Here, purity of mind makes up for the smallness of a gift, for
‘where there is a joyful heart, no gift is small’ ( J.).
Thus, ‘If you have a little, give little; if you have a middling
amount, give a middling amount; if you have much, give much.
It is not fitting not to give at all’ ( J.).
Thus it is emphasized that even the poor have the means to
give, be this as little as leftover noodles as food for ants.
♠ The karmic fruitfulness of a gift is not seen to
depend on its usefulness to the recipient (which may
be variable and unpredictable), but on the donor’s sta
te of mind when giving.
>Indeed, a person with nothing to give can do an act
of karmic fruitfulness by helping someone else to give
or by simply rejoicing at another person’s giving, whic
h is a good mental act in itself. This even applies to th
e joyful contemplation of one’s own past wholesome
deeds (Miln. 297).
It is said that an act of karmic fruitfulness is greater
than its opposite, as regretting a bad action can stop
one repeating it, but one has no need to regret a kar
mically fruitful action, and it leads on to further spiritu
al progress – joy, calm, concentration and
insight – which generates more karmic fruitfulness
The state of mind in which an act is done is partly a
matter of motive, but also of the manner in which it is don
> This is also seen as having an effect on the karmic
> It is said that to give ‘disrespectfully, without due
consideration, not with one’s own hand, of something unwa
nted (by oneself), not recognizing the giving as having a kar
mic fruit’ leads to a karmic fruit where the mind does not incl
ine to the enjoyment of the best of sense-pleasures (i.e. bei
ng miserly with what one has (SN).
More specifically, it is said:
( ) giving with faith ( saddha) leads to the giver having wealth and
( ) giving respectfully or carefully leads to the giver’s wife, family and
workpeople listening carefully to him and helping him in an understanding
( ) giving at the appropriate time leads to wealth coming at the appropriate
( ) giving with no reluctance in the heart leads to the mind inclining to
enjoyment of the best of sensepleasures;
( ) giving without harm to self or other leads to future wealth being free
from harm from fire, water, kings, thieves or unfriendly heirs (AN).
S´antideva cites the Aksayamati Sutra as saying
a ‘gift’ is no real gift if it harms someone, or is less
than has been promised, or is accompanied by conte
mpt, boasting or hostility, or causes distress, or is of
what would otherwise have been thrown away, or is n
ot given with one’s own hand, or is improper, or given
at the wrong time.
The Sangha as the best ‘field of
The karmic fruitfulness of an act of giving is said to
be great not only if the state of mind of the donor is p
ure, but also if the recipient is very virtuous or holy.
Thus ‘even so little as a handful of rice-beans …
bestowed with devout heart upon a person who is wo
rthy of receiving a gift of devotion will be of great fruit,
of great splendour’ (Vv.).
A gift is said to be ‘purified’: (1) by the donor,
(2) the recipient, (3)both or neither, according to whether they
are virtuous and of good character or not.
To be ‘purified’ by a donor, a gift must be ‘rightfully
acquired, the mind well pleased, firmly believing in the rich fru
it of karma’ (MN).
Even if a gift is given by an evil person, in the opposite way,
it may be ‘purified’ by the virtue of the recipient.
While a gift to an animal yields a hundredfold, and to
an unvirtuous human a thousandfold, one to an ordin
ary virtuous person yields a hundred thousandfold, a
nd one to a spiritually Noble person has an immeasur
able fruit. A gift of the virtuous to the virtuous has the
greatest fruit, though (MN).
>A gift given to renunciants and brahmins who are
not endowed with the qualities of the path to Nirvana i
s of little fruit, like a seed sown on poor, ill-watered so
The opposite applies for a gift to those endowedwith
the factors of the Eightfold Path, which leads to much
good karma and conduces to spiritual accomplishme
> The well-trained Noble Sangha (which includes
some lay people) is said, in a well-known chant, to be
‘worthy of respect, worthy of hospitality, worthy of gift
s, worthy of salutation, an unsurpassed field of karmi
c fruitfulness for the world’ (DN; MN).
A monk, he should be such that objects of any of the senses
do not engender attachment, elation or depression so as to dis
turb his calm concentration (AN).
He controls his senses, uses his robe and alms-food without
greed, patiently endures unpleasant sensations or abuse, avoi
ds situations in which he might be suspected of misconduct, a
bandons lustful or cruel thoughts, and develops the seven fact
ors of awakening, beginning with mindfulness (AN).
> giving such a monk generates a powerful purifying effect
in the givers’ minds, leading to abundant karmic fruitfulness.
Nibbedhika Sutta :
“When a Noble Disciple understands kamma, the
origin of kamma, the variety of kamma, the resultant
of kamma, the cessation of kamma and the practice
leading to the cessation of kamma, then he fully
understands the noble practice which leads to the
complete destruction of defilements and final
cessation of kamma.”