The Law of Karma and the Principle of Causation
By Bruce R. Reichenbach

Philosophy East and West
Vol. 38, no. 4 (October 1988)
pp. 399-410

Copyright 1988 by University of Hawaii Press
Hawaii, USA


 

 

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The law of karma functions as a central motif in Hindu, Jaina, and Buddhist thought. Simply formulated, it states that all actions have consequences which will affect the doer of the action at some future time. So stated, it might seem that the law of karma is nothing other than the law of universal causation, according to which every action, event, or contingent being is caused. Clearly the two laws are related, though the precise nature of their relation is frequently left unclarified. The law of karma is variously described by different authors as identical with, parallel to, or an application of the law of universal causation.

    The relationship is not strict identity. First, whereas the causal law is concerned with results regardless of whom they affect, the law of karma is concerned with the effects of the action insofar as they impinge on the doer of the action. Secondly, whereas according to the law of universal causation the production of effects does not depend on the intentions of the agent (except as they are causally related to actions) but on his action, the karmic relation depends upon both. It is held that actions which are not performed out of desire for the fruits have no karmic consequences, even though they have causal consequences. Though one can find statements to the effect that all actions for which humans can be held morally accountable have consequences, [1] in fact the formulation of the law of karma is much more subtle. It is actions which are performed with an interest in achieving some result or which arise from desire and passion which bring about karmic effects. Actions which are performed in a disinterested way, which stem from no desire for the fruits of the action, or which are offered to II`svara, have no fruits.

    This description of the scope of the law of karma is reflected in the teaching of the Bhagavad-Giitaa, according to which actions are to be done in such a way that the doer manifests no personal concern for the results or outcome of the action. [2] Only if an individual performs his duty in a nonattached or disinterested fashion can he cultivate the requisite attitude of desirelessness and equanimity. Such actions do not result in any effects, either in this life or in the next. [3]

    A similar view regarding actions not performed out of desire is present in Buddhism.

When a man's deeds, O priests, are performed without covetousness [hatred, infatuation], arise without covetousness [hatred, infatuation], are occasioned without covetousness [hatred, infatuation], originate without covetousness [hatred, infatuation], then, inasmuch as covetousness [hatred, infatuation] is gone, those deeds are abandoned, uprooted, pulled out of the ground like a palmyra-tree, and become non-existent and not liable to spring up again in the future. [4]

 

 

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   According to the law of karma, then, whether of not our actions have consequences of a karmic sort is not simply a product of the action itself but of our attitude. If we have certain passions or desires for the object or the fruit of the action, the action has karmic consequences: failure to have desires for the fruits obstructs the formation of karmic consequences. This means that the law of karma differs from the causal account of human action, according to which an action has consequences simply because some action has been performed, irrespective of the particular attitude of the doer. This, of course, is not surprising, considering the fact that the Law of karma is rooted in ethical considerations, whereas the causal relation obtains regardless of ethical considerations. In ethics, our intentions and desires matter in the ultimate evaluation of the action. Where the outcome was unintended, the moral responsibility for it is lessened, though of course the causal responsibility remains. [5]

    Thirdly, according to the law of karma, like causes produce like effects. Right actions produce good consequences, wrong actions bad consequences. However, it is not obvious that like producing like is a characteristic of all causation. Fourthly, whereas the causal law holds irrespective of moral judgments, the causal feature which is central to the law of karma is a moral one. That is, it is not concerned with the general relation between actions and their consequences, but with a specific aspect of certain actions, namely, the moral, and its consequences for human happiness and unhappiness. Fifthly, the law of causation applies to two events or things that are temporally conjoined, whereas the law of karma states that the effects are manifested sometime in the distant future, either in the next life or in more temporally remote lives. Thus the immediacy of the temporal relation found in the causal law is absent in the law of karma.

    In short, there is good reason to think that, though the law of karma is a causal law, it is not identical with the law of universal causation. But neither is it merely parallel, for insofar as its operative principles are causal, the law of karma cannot be understood except causally. This means that it is best understood as an application of the law of universal causation to moral causation But if we understand it in this way, how can we account for the differences between the law of karma and the causal law? Is any kind of reconciliation possible?

    One possibility is to make a distinction between two kinds of effects, which we might term phalas and sa.mskaaras. Phalas include all the immediate effects, visible and invisible, which actions produce or bring about. They are often referred to as the fruits or results of an action. Sa.mskaaras are the invisible dispositions or tendencies to act, think, experience, or interpret experiences in ways which are conducive to one's happiness or unhappiness, produced in the agent as a result of the action. [6] They constitute, in effect, special modifications of the agent.

 

 

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   Using this distinction, one can argue that the laws are consistent. The law of universal causation speaks to the production of phalas: every act produces phalas (results) in the world. The law of karma, on the other hand, speaks to the production of sa.mskaaras: every karmic act produces sa.mskaaras in the agent. The two laws are related in that the law of karma is the application of the law of universal causation, which deals in general with the relation between the act and its effects, to a specific aspect of certain kinds of actions. It concerns the disposition- or sa.mskaara-producing aspect of dispositionproducing actions. The law of karma, then, is the more limited law.

    This distinction between phalas and sa.mskaaras holds promise for resolving the differences between the laws just noted. First, it accounts for the specificity, found in the law of karma, of who is affected by the results. Since the law of karma focuses on the formation of sa.mskaaras, its concern is with the agent's sa.mskaaras and not consequences in general.

    Secondly, it accounts for the fact that in karmic causation the arising of the effect depends on the intention of the agent, for the formation of the disposition follows properly on the original intention. All actions have phalus, but only actions produced from desire recoil on the doer of the action. Only when action is performed out of some desire to realize a worldly end is the corresponding disposition or tendency to repeat the same kind of action in future lives produced. This seems reasonable, for dispositions are formed or reinforced consistent with the attitude out of which the original act was performed. If the action was performed out of greed, this would have the causal tendency to produce or reinforce a greedy disposition; but were the action performed out of no desire for personal gain, but to please others or for the good of the work, this would have a tendency to produce or reinforce a disposition of wanting to please others or to work skillfully. And it might be reasonable to hold that actions produced from complete equanimity produce no dispositions at all.

    Thirdly, it accounts for the fact that in karmic causation, like produces like, for actions of one sort. for example, done spitefully, will produce or reinforce like dispositions, for example, to act spitefully. This, in turn, accounts for the fourth difference, that is, for the relevance of the moral feature in karmic causation. Intentions are particularly important for determining the moral quality, not only of the action, but of the agent who performed the action. A person who performs an action which results in bringing about good but which was done to bring harm is immoral because he engaged in it for that reason. In karmic actions, since the resulting disposition correlates in kind with the intentions which the agent had in performing the action, the moral quality (in the form of a potency) is passed on and preserved. Acts performed with right intentions lead to dispositions to perform like acts: acts performed with the wrong intent produce corresponding dispositions.

    Finally, this distinction also solves the problem of immediate versus de-

 

 

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layed results. All effects, including sa.mskaaras, are immediately produced. But though produced immediately, sa.mskaaras (as tendencies or potencies) are not actualized until some future time when the proper actualizing conditions are present. This interpretation is confirmed by frequent references likening karmic fruits to seeds which, though produced at a particular time, lie dormant until the appropriate conditions for germination occur.

    Unhappily, though. promising as it is, this resolution is not without its difficulties. Two of these difficulties deserve consideration.

 

1. Are phalas in general relevant to rebirth?

(a) On the one hand, the distinction between phalms and sa.mskaaras and the resultant restriction of karmic considerations to matters of sa.mskaaras suggest not. In this interpretation, what is important in karmic considerations is what forms dispositions. Dispositions or tendencies arise not from the results of the act, but from the dispositions or intentions out of which we acted. If so, what matter are the attitudes, desires, passions, dispositions, and general character with which we perform the action and not the actions per se and their general results. That is, the karma of an action is determined largely by the intentions, dispositions, desires, character, and moral virtue of the agent.

    This emphasis on formative dispositions, desires, and intentions accords well with the Buddhist emphasis on will or intentional impulse (cetanaa). In early Buddhism "kamma is virtually defined as cetanaa: 'I say, monks, that cetanaa is kamma: having intended, one does a deed by body, word, or thought.'" [7] Actions performed without intention produce no karma, whereas intention alone is capable of producing it. That is, intention is not only a necessary condition for considering an act to be moral or immoral, it is sometimes held to be sufficient. [8]

    However, such an emphasis on originating dispositions and intentions as determinative of moral quality implies that it matters little what we do. Consequently, with respect to our accumulation of karma it would mean we could do the most despicable acts, so long as our attitude and dispositions were correct. Even though consequences might be partially determinative of the morality of an act, they are irrelevant or minimally relevant to karmic considerations. This begins to drive a wedge between the law of karma and the moral law governing actions that it is sworn to uphold.

    Further, it is inconsistent with the fourfold classification of karma in terms of consequences -- white, black, black and white, neither black nor white -- found in both Hinduism and Buddhism. For example, acts which have good intentions but which also have bad consequences, intentional or unintentional, are classified not as white karma (which would be the case if only the intention mattered) but as black and white karma.

    One might reply that we cannot so easily separate intentions from action. In Buddhism, for example, though some like Vasubandhu make cetanaa a

 

 

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mental act and distinguish it from the physical and vocal acts which follow from it, others interpret cetanaa more broadly to include both the intention and the resultant actions. "Mental acts are pure intentional impulse, while acts of body and voice are intentional impulses which put the body and voice in motion, not simply the actions ensuant upon such impulses." [9] The vocal or physical act is, as it were, the thought or intention incarnate. Buddhism refuses to make the clear-cut distinction between mental act and the bodily and vocal acts found in Western action theory. Thus, even where intention is determinative, the intrinsic connection between intention and act, where act is intention made manifest, makes it impossible that a good intention is knowingly and willingly followed by an evil act. [10]

    Put more broadly in a different framework, though it is true that right intentions are necessary for building character, they are not sufficient. Frequent reference is made to a stage of the path to liberation where the person has the right knowledge and intention, but lacks sufficient spiritual strength to carry out the intention. If the intention is not implemented sufficiently, this will affect the intentions of the agent, for he will begin to question whether he should bother to form the intention since he regularly fails to act on it. Persistent right intentions without implementation lead to regression; it is not a stage at which one can remain. It is like the traditional making of New Year's resolutions. After a while, if there is no serious attempt to keep the resolutions, the making of the resolutions is either forgone, or it becomes a ritualistic game with no moral significance for the maker. Rather, it is the brunt of a bad joke.

    A second objection to the restriction of karmic efficacy to sa.mskaaras might be formulated on the grounds that this denial of karmic efficacy to phalas in general separates two things which are functionally inseparable in the doctrine of karma, namely, the visible or physical and the invisible and moral. It is precisely the strength of the doctrine of karma that it links the pain and pleasure that we experience with cosmic or environmental conditions, and these conditions in turn with the moral quality of actions performed. But this distinction between phalas and sa.mskaaras severs that connection. Phalas now seem to function in their own sphere, immediate, short-lived, affecting the agent as one among, others and other things, whereas sa.mskaaras, which are the proper concern of the law of karma, are the seeds sown to bear fruit in future experiences. But our human predicament is not merely the product of our dispositions and tendencies; it is also the product of our environment.

    Two responses are possible. First, it might be argued that pain and pleasure are not objective but subjective. We feel pain and pleasure because that is the way in which we interpret our experiences, and this interpretative perspective arises from our dispositions, which are caused by our karma. Accordingly, if we can control the way we view our experiences, we can control and eventually eliminate pain and pleasure from our existence. In effect, then, phalas in

 

 

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themselves are irrelevant to our future, karmically-caused experiences. What really matters is internal to us, that is, the dispositions and tendencies we create within ourselves which affect our interpretation and understanding of our experiences.

    This view is consistent with the Buddhist emphasis upon adopting the proper inner attitude and spirit and with certain important Buddhist teachings, [11] including the doctrine of Dependent Origination. According to this, we have contact with the environment, and this causes us to crave or desire things, which in turn causes grasping or clinging to things, which finally brings rebirth, misery, and sorrow. If we can eliminate the cravings, we can eliminate both the search for satisfaction and the frustrations of dissatisfaction, and this in turn will mean the elimination of pain and misery. And cravings are eliminated through terminating the sa.mskaaras -- the drives, impulses, and dispositions karmically produced in us -- and this through overcoming ignorance about our true nature and condition and following the Eightfold Path. Note that in all this, the primary source of pain and pleasure is not objective or external (though of course the external or environmental is a condition or occasion for it), but subjective or internal. That is, pain and pleasure are created by us as we react to our circumstances. We are disposed to interpret our experiences in this way. Thus, by controlling our reactions and the desires from which they stem, we can control our responses of pain and pleasure and ultimately eliminate both. This goal is achieved in adopting the attitude of equanimity toward all events.

    Yoga also might be interpreted as offering, at least in part, a subjective view of pleasure and pain, though in a different vein. Yoga, too, has a cycle or "six-spoked wheel" driven by ignorance. From virtue and vice come pleasure and pain; from these come, respectively, the samskaras of attachment and aversion. From these sa.mskaaras come effort, and from effort action by mind, body, and speech. This action favors or injures others, creating virtue and vice, and the cycle begins anew. [12] Here the experiences of pleasure and pain are causes of the dispositions, and not their results. Hence, pleasure and pain are not attitudes but experiences which result from our actions. Exactly how pain and pleasure arise from virtue and vice is unclear, though what is clear is the presupposition that virtue is rewarded with pleasure and vice with pain.

    Where then is the subjective flavor? It arises in the discussion, not concerning the causes of pleasure and paint but concerning how to eliminate them. In the Yoga account the sa.mskaaras, along with the other named afffictions (ignorance in taking the noneternal, impure, painful, and nonself to be the eternal, pure, pleasurable, and the self; egoism, and love of life), are responsible for our accumulation of merit and demerit (called the vehicle of actions). This accumulation determines; our subsequent birth(s), the length of our lives, and our experiences of pleasure and pain. Insofar as ignorance is the breeding ground or field for the afflictions, and these bear fruit in pain and

 

 

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pleasure, the latter can be ended through proper "cultivation" of that field. That is, pleasure and pain can be eliminated by the separation of the knower from that which is knowable, the cognizer or self from the field of its experience, and this can be done by meditation. [13] Pain and pleasure, then, are subjective, not in the sense that they are attitudes which we adopt, but in that they can be eliminated though gaining control over the mind (detachment, becoming one-pointed) and restraining and ultimately ceasing its modifications.

    That karma works only subjectively is an important possibility, for it means that our painful and pleasant experiences are our own responsibility. Pain and pleasure, though in one sense resulting from our experiences, are in another and most real sense created by us out of our dispositions and tendencies both to have desires and to view the world as pleasurable or painful. Our environment provides only a setting, a backdrop against which we react. Thus there is both individual responsibility for interpreting the world in a certain way and the promise of being able to alter that interpretation by removing those dispositions through the removal of ignorance and desire, or by separating the self from the world entirely.

    However, even supposing that pain and pleasure are subjective, it is difficult to separate the pain and pleasure from the environmental instruments of pain and pleasure or whatever may occasion our subjective experience of them. Indeed, it is generally held that karma affects these as well. Length of life, health and sickness, handsomeness or beauty and ugliness, social position, wealth and poverty, the kind of body and intellectual ability gotten at birth, fortune and misfortune -- all are believed caused by karma. [14] In Jainism, in addition to the subjectively operative obscuring karma, there is the objectively operative nonobscuring karma, which is responsible for the mechanisms and objective features of rebirth, while in the Yoga-suutra the karmic residues (vehicle of action) ripen into a determination of our quantity of existence. [15]

    There are, in effect. two stories, the subjective and the objective. According to the first, karma works through us, creating dispositions and tendencies, merit and demerit, which in turn affect our desires, passions and perspective on the world. So seen, karma disposes us to interpret our experiences and to act in ways which bring us pain and pleasure. Here the appeal to sa.mskaaras (or something similar) provides a reasonable basis for constructing a naturalistic account of the causal operations of karma. According to the second, our karmic acts affect the instruments of our experiences, from our own bodies to the world around us. They help determine. among other things, the kinds of bodies with which we are reborn, our social status, and how other persons and things in the environment act on us. These instruments mediate properly determined karma to us, so that one can say that we deserve what happens to us. Here the sa.mskaaric account by itself is inadequate. Since both

 

 

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accounts are part of the tradition, an explanation of how karma affects objective as well as subjective conditions is necessary.

    In order to reestablish the linkage between the environment and the moral or dispositional, some traditions suggest that karma is propagated through the dispositions until it bears fruit when the person with a given set of dispositions creates (in part) his environment. A person's environmental conditions are a product, in part, of his current actions and dispositions. This environment will in turn affect the person, in both forming the context for his karma-producing actions and being the instrument for the appropriate recompense for his past deeds. The adequacy, then, of this reconciliation of the two laws by the distinction between phalas and sa.mskaaras rests on the adequacy of the account which brings the dispositional and envi ronmental-phpsical back together. [16]

(b) If phalas in general are relevant to rebirth, then karmic consideration must be paid to the general consequences of the act as well as to the specific sa.mskaaric consequences which are produced in the agent.

    This, however, is also not without difficulty. For one thing, since according to the principle of universal causation all acts have phalas or consequences, the very actions one performs in order to live will have results. Will another rebirth be necessary to fulfill the consequences of these acts? If so, the question arises whether escape from sa.msaara, even for those well on their way to enlightenment or nirvaa.na, is possible.

    One possible solution is simply to deny the universality of the principle of causation. That is, if one affirms that some acts have no effects or phalas, the acts of the saint about to be liberated could be of this sort and thus create no karma. However, many advocates of the law of karma wish to maintain the principle of universal causation, especially since a denial of this principle could in turn be used against the universality of the law of karma.

    A different resolution is suggested by the Jainas. They argue that the perfect state is realized in the cessation of all activity, when no more karma is accumulated. And we cease activity when we liberate the soul from the passions which delude it and obscure and distort its capacities. The passionless saint on the verge of emancipation still acts, but these acts create only momentary karma, which is quickly and immediately exhausted. The final acts, if not much of the life, of such a person would be of minimal moment, producing as little as possible of what can he immediately used up. Indeed, he largely would be engaged in meditation. As the one about to be liberated gradually approaches inactivity, he uses up the remaining karma, as passionless he creates no new significant karma. and in his acts produces results with only momentary karma, until finally activity itself ceases. [17]

    One can find a similar view in Yoga. The yogin in his final stage, who has rooted out the afflictions and renounced all actions, and whose present life

 

 

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will be his last, performs no actions which depend upon external means. By meditation alone he destroys the last vestiges of karma while accumulating no new karma, since the fruits of his mental actions are offered to II`svara. [18]

    A third reply would be that the final rebirth would be one where the individual suffers -- and thus completes the karmic debt -- but where the individual does not act -- and thus fails to accrue further karmic debt. Since it is impossible for an individual to live as a person and not act, the final reincarnation would be in a lower form of life which would suffer the final karmic debt. In this state it would not accumulate further debt, since only conscious actions or actions for which the individual can be held morally accountable create karma. The story of the Emperor Asoka, who was incarnated briefly as a maggot before being transformed into a deity, illustrates the point, though hardly makes it more believable. This response suggests, however, that reincarnation in lower forms of life may play a more significant role in karmic systems than generally allowed.

    There is a more serious problem with this view, however. How do the karmic aspects of the general effects impinge on the agent? In particular, how are the appropriate and just deserts meted out through insentient nature? Some kind of conscious agent seems necessary to administer the unconscious law of karma, that is, both to be aware of these phalas and to apportion out their effects.

 

2. Can karmic concerns be restricted to sa.mskaaras?

A second difficulty faces our attempted reconciliation of the laws of karma and causation. The restriction of karmic concerns to sa.mskaaras proves unsatisfactory in cases where the action bears fruit in ways which have no obvious connection with the action, or where the happiness or unhappiness experienced and its causes have nothing to do with dispositions or tendencies. Let us consider two illustrations.

    Suppose we contract malaria. As an unpleasant experience, this must be the just recompense for some previous misdeed(s). On the account of the law of karma just given, our contracting malaria might be explained in terms of some sa.mskaara--for example, our susceptibility to the disease. This susceptibility, resulting from some action(s) done in this or previous lives, has remained dormant until we encountered malaria-carrying mosquitoes in our environment. There is a continuous causal chain from our action(s) to our disease: they are connected causally by the susceptibility which resides in us. But what is the causal connection between the original act(s) and our susceptibility to malaria? What is there about what we have done which brings about this susceptibility rather than another? And what is there causally to justify the thesis that this susceptibility rather than another is morally justified in terms of the demerit accruing to our action(s)? The causal connection be-

 

 

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tween the original action(s) and the susceptibility which arises is unaccounted for.

    Consider a second case. Our house burns to the ground in a raging forest fire ignited by lightning. Since this is a misfortune, the karmic theorist would appeal to some previous action(s) of ours to explain why it burned. But in this case, what causally links our previous action(s) and the burning of our house? That is, why did the house burn rather than another calamity strike, and what caused it to strike not only me but with the particular intensity it did? How am I a cause of the fire and/or of its burning my house? Since the lightning, forest fire. and burning of the house have nothing to do with my dispositions, the causal link here is not in the realm of the sa.mskaaras but the phalas, visible or invisible.

    One possible response to both cases is to expand the concept of sa.mskaara to include special modifications of the agent other than simply dispositions and tendencies. There are various interpretations as to how karmic residues are stored in the agent. This includes, in addition to dispositions and tendencies, the storing of special, invisible moral potencies or forces (ad.r.s.ta) or the accumulation of invisible karmic matter which our passions and actions attract to us and which forms a subtle body that accompanies the soul. Using this broadened notion of special modifications to the agent, one could argue that the contracting of malaria or the burning of the house was caused by the special moral quality which existed in us. Yet the problems remain. Why do our action(s) occasion malaria or the burning of our house rather than another calamity? Further, how does this moral or physical quality connect with establishing this as the appropriate and just recompense? That is, what is the connection between a so-called moral quality and the justness of an event which it causes? In ordinary causation, the mere fact that the cause has a property does not entail that the effect will possess it as well. For example, that the hammer is made of gray, hardened metal tells us nothing about the color or composition of the things it affects. And finally, what is the causal connection between these special modifications and the environment which caused the fire? Here we return again to the issue raised above, for it is not obvious how, for example, moral qualities existing in the agent can cause forest fires or houses to burn or remove impediments to such.

    In sum, it seems reasonable to contend that the law of karma is a special application of the principle of universal causation. In particular, it refers to some special modification of the agent which includes, among other things, dispositions and tendencies which have an important connection with moral actions. But what remains to be explained is the relation between these special modifications and the environmental effects which cause in us good or bad experiences.

 

 

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NOTES

1. For example, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan writes, "[A]ll deeds have their fruits in the world and effects on the mind" (Indian Philosophy, vol. 1 (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1923), p. 247).

2. "...[W]ork alone is your proper business, never the fruits [it may produce]; let not your motive be the fruit of works nor your attachmenr to [mere] worklessness" (The Bhagavad-Giitaa, trans. by R. C. Zaehner (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 2.47). "But even these works (sacrifice, giving alms, penance) should be done [in a spirit of self-surrender], for [all] attachment [to what you do] and [all] the fruits [of what you do] must be surrendered" (Ibid., 18.6).

3. "To those who have not vet renounced the ego and its desires, action bears three kinds of fruit--pleasant, unpleasant. and a mixture of both. They will be reaped in due season. But those who have renounced ego and desire will reap no fruit at all, either in this world or in the next" (Bhagavad-Giitaa, 18.12).

4. A^nguttara-Nikaaya, 3.4.33. Translation from Henry Clarke Warren, Buddhism in Translations (New York: Atheneum Pub., 1962), pp. 216-217.

5. As with much else, one can find exceptions to this. For example, Naagasena puzzles King Milinda with his assertion that the person who sins unconsciously acquires greater demerit than he who sins consciously. The reason, he argues, is that the one who does not know what he is doing and is unaware of the resulting effects can inadvertently sin more greviously and thus experience more severe karmic effects (Milindapa~nha, 3.7.8).

6. Actions have "a double effect -- one physical and visible and another moral and invisible...... The physical effect follows the law of instantaneous succession, but the moral effect (which is often compared to a seed) may remain in abeyance and fructify at a much later time when maturing conditions are present. Again, while the physical effect is mainly, if not wholly, produced on others, the moral effect comes to rest upon the head of the doer himself...." (H. D. Bhattacharyya, "The Doctrine of Karma," The Philosophical Quarterly (Amalner) 3 (1927): 239). Mysore Hiriyanna, treating phala somewhat differently, makes a similar distinction: "...[E]very deed that we do leads to a double result. It not only produces what may be termed its direct result -- the pain or pleasure following from it according to the karma theory, but it also establishes in us a tendency to repeat the same deed in the future. This tendency is termed sa.mskaara; and the direct fruit of the karma is known as its phala. Every deed is bound to yield its phala; even the gods cannot prevent it from doing so.... As regards the sa.mskaaras, on the other hand, we have within us the full power of control, so that we may regulate them as they tend to express themselves in action" (Outlines of Indian Philosophy (London: George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., 1932), pp. 129-130).

7. A^nguttara-Nikaaya. 6.6.63. See James P. McDermott, "Karma and Rebirth in Early Buddhism, in Wendy D. O'Flaherty, ed., Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1980), p. 181.

8. For example, "Superficial appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, Buddhist ethics is essentially an ethics of intention. Actions themselves are neither good nor bad: for the Buddhist even more than for Shakespeare, 'thinking makes them so.' Ku`sala and aku`sala, literally skill and unskill. the more precise Buddhist expressions for what is morally good and morally bad, are terms applicable only! to karma-producing volitions and their associated mental phenomena. By the figure of speech according to which qualities belonging to the cause are attributed to the effect, an action is termed immoral when it springs from a mental state...dominated by the three unskillful or 'unwholesome' roots of greed, hatred, and delusion, and moral when it proceeds from mental states characterized by the opposites of these'' (Bhikshu Sangharakshita, A Survey of Buddhism (Bangalore: Indian Institute of World Culture, 1959) , pp. 142-133).

9. McDermott, "Karma and Rebirth." p. 182.

10. Again we can illustrate this through Sangharakshita: "It is not possible to commit murder with a good heart because the deliberate taking of life is simply the outward expression of a state of mind dominated by hate. Deeds are condensations of thought just as water is a condensation of

 

 

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air. They are thoughts made manifest, and proclaim from the housetops of action only what has already been committed in the silent and secret chambers of the heart. One who commits an act of immorality thereby declares that he is not free from unwholesome states of mind" (p. 143).

11. For a discussion of this perspective with respect to the question whether old age and death are the result of karma, see James McDermott, "The Kathaavatthu Kamma Debates," Journal of the American Oriental Society 95 (1975): 426-427.

12. Vyaasa, Yoga-bhaa.sya, on Yoga-suutra, 4.11.

13. Pata~njali, Yoga-suutra, 2.3-17.

14. A^nguttara-Nikaaya, 4.20.197; Milindapa~nha, 3.4.2. That karma conditions our rebirth bodies and our environment is also clearly asserted in Hinduism. Chaandogya Upani.sad, 5.7-9; 'Svetaa`svatara Upani.sad, 5.11-12. Manu, 11.49-52, lists actions of various sorts and their correlative diseases, while 12.74-80 not only emphasizes the state of rebirth, but also lists such things as the heat of scorching sand, afffictions of heat and cold, imprisonment, separations from loved ones, being enslaved, gaining wealth and its loss, old age, and death.

15. Pata~njali, 2.13.

16. This will be the subject of a forthcoming article, entitled "Karma, Causation and Divine Intervention."

17. Jainism has an extensive explanation of what happens in the fourteen stages of spiritual development leading to liberation. In the seventh stage the soul gains self-control and freedom from spiritual inertia to continue its progress. In the eleventh stage the passions (deluding karma) are suppressed, while in the twelfth they are eliminated, though the karmas resulting from activity remain. In the thirteenth stage the threefold activity of the body, the sense-organ of speech, and mind remains, though this activity does not create any further bondage (its bondage does not last longer than an instant and hence is technically nonaffecting). In preparation for entering the fourteenth stage, the soul ends this activity. Thus both sources of karmic attraction -- passions and activity -- are eliminated. However, the karma which determines the body formation, social status, and production of feelings is longer than that which determines length of life. Hence, the soul in eight instants expands to the size of the universe, and then contracts again. This equalizes the length of all the other karma with that which determines the length of life in any incarnation (aayu.h karma). That is, it assures premature fruition and complete exhaustion of all karmas which are of longer length than the ayuh karma and would require a longer existence. The fourteenth stage is an extremely brief period ("the period of time required to pronounce five short syllables at the ordinary speed") of nonactivity, immediately followed by liberation. For a detailed description of this process, see Nathmal Tatia, Studies in Jaina Philosophy (Banaras: Jain Cultural Research Society, 1951), pp. 276-280.

18. "There the meditation-born mind is devoid of the vehicle" Pata~njali, 4.6.