Kamma or the Law of Moral Causation
We are faced with
a totally ill-balanced world. We perceive the inequalities and manifold
destinies of men and the numerous grades of beings that exist in the
universe. We see one born into a condition of affluence, endowed with
fine mental, moral and physical qualities and another into a condition
of abject poverty and wretchedness. Here is a man virtuous and holy,
but, contrary to his expectation, ill-luck is ever ready to greet
him. The wicked world runs counter to his ambitions and desires. He
is poor and miserable in spite of his honest dealings and piety. There
is another vicious and foolish, but accounted to be fortune's darling.
He is rewarded with all forms of favors, despite his shortcomings
and evil modes of life.
Why, it may be
questioned, should one be an inferior and another a superior? Why
should one be wrested from the hands of a fond mother when he has
scarcely seen a few summers, and another should perish in the flower
of manhood, or at the ripe age of eighty or hundred? Why should one
be sick and infirm, and another strong and healthy? Why should one
be handsome, and another ugly and hideous, repulsive to all? Why should
one be brought up in the lap of luxury, and another in absolute poverty,
steeped in misery? Why should one be born a millionaire and another
a pauper? Why should one be born with saintly characteristics, and
another with criminal tendencies? Why should some be linguists, artists,
mathematicians or musicians from the very cradle? Why should some
be congenitally blind, deaf and deformed? Why should some be blessed
and others cursed from their birth?
These are some
problems that perplex the minds of all thinking men. How are we to
account for all this unevenness of the world, this inequality of mankind?
Is it due
to the work of blind chance or accident?
There is nothing
in this world that happens by blind chance or accident. To say that
anything happens by chance, is no more true than that this book has
come here of itself. Strictly speaking, nothing happens to man that
he does not deserve for some reason or another.
Could this be
the fiat of an irresponsible Creator?
"If we are to assume that anybody has designedly set this wonderful
universe going, it is perfectly clear to me that he is no more entirely
benevolent and just in any intelligible sense of the words, than that
he is malevolent and unjust."
According to Einstein:
"If this being (God) is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including
every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and
aspiration is also his work; how is it possible to think of holding
men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an Almighty
out punishments and rewards, he would to a certain extent be passing
judgement on himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and
righteousness ascribed to him."
to the theological principles man is created arbitrarily and without
his desire and at the moment of his creation is either blessed or
damned eternally. Hence man is either good or evil, fortunate or unfortunate,
noble or depraved, from the first step in the process of his physical
creation to the moment of his last breath, regardless of his individual
desires, hopes, ambitions, struggles or devoted prayers. Such is theological
fatalism." - Spencer Lewis
As Charles Bradlaugh
says: "The existence of evil is a terrible stumbling block to
the theist. Pain, misery, crime, poverty confront the advocate of
eternal goodness and challenge with unanswerable potency his declaration
of Deity as all-good, all-wise, and all-powerful."
In the words of
Schopenhauer: "Whoever regards himself as having become out of
nothing must also think that he will again become nothing; for an
eternity has passed before he was, and then a second eternity had
begun, through which he will never cease to be, is a monstrous thought.
is the absolute beginning, then death must be his absolute end; and
the assumption that man is made out of nothing leads necessarily to
the assumption that death is his absolute end."
human sufferings and God, Prof. J.B.S. Haldane writes: "Either
suffering is needed to perfect human character, or God is not Almighty.
The former theory is disproved by the fact that some people who have
suffered very little but have been fortunate in their ancestry and
education have very fine characters. The objection to the second is
that it is only in connection with the universe as a whole that there
is any intellectual gap to be filled by the postulation of a deity.
And a creator could presumably create whatever he or it wanted."
Lord Russell states:
"The world, we are told, was created by a God who is both good
and omnipotent. Before he created the world he foresaw all the pain
and misery that it would contain. He is therefore responsible for
all of it. it is useless to argue that the pain in the world is due
to sin. If God knew in advance the sins of which man would be guilty,
he was clearly responsible for all the consequences of those sins
when he decided to create man."
a poem of his old age, Lord Tennyson thus boldly attacks God, who,
as recorded in Isaiah, says, "I make peace and create evil."
(Isaiah, xiv. 7.)
should call on that infinite love that has served us so well?/ Infinite
cruelty, rather, that made everlasting hell./ Made us, foreknew us,
foredoomed us, and does what he will with his own./ Better our dead
brute mother who never has heard us groan."
doctrine that all men are sinners and have the essential sin of Adam
is a challenge to justice, mercy, love and omnipotent fairness."
Some writers of
old authoritatively declared that God created man in his own image.
Some modern thinkers state, on the contrary, that man created God
in his own image. With the growth of civilization man's concept of
God also became more and more refined.
It is, however,
impossible to conceive of such a being either in or outside the universe.
Could this variation
in human beings then be due to heredity and environment? One must
admit that all such chemico-physical phenomena revealed by scientists,
are partly instrumental, but they cannot be solely responsible for
the subtle distinctions and vast differences that exist amongst individuals.
Yet why should identical twins who are physically alike, inheriting
like genes, enjoying the same privilege of upbringing, be very often
temperamentally, morally and intellectually totally different?
cannot account for these vast differences. Strictly speaking, it accounts
more plausibly for their similarities than for most of the differences.
The infinitesimally minute chemico-physical germ, which is about 30
millionth part of an inch across, inherited from parents, explains
only a portion of man, his physical foundation. With regard to the
more complex and subtle mental, intellectual and moral differences
we need more enlightenment. The theory of heredity cannot give a satisfactory
explanation for the birth of a criminal in a long line of honourable
ancestors, the birth of a saint or a noble man in a family of evil
repute, for the arising of infant prodigies, men of genius and great
According to Buddhism
this variation is due not only to heredity, environment, "nature
and nurture," but also to our own kamma, or in other words, to
the result of our own inherited past actions and our present deeds.
We ourselves are responsible for our own deeds, happiness and misery.
We build our own hells. We create our own heavens. We are the architects
of our own fate. In short we ourselves are our own kamma.
On one occasion
a certain young man named Subha approached the Buddha, and questioned
why and wherefore it was that among human beings there are the low
and high states.
said he, "we find amongst mankind those of brief life and those
of long life, the hale and the ailing, the good looking and the ill-looking,
the powerful and the powerless, the poor and the rich, the low-born
and the high-born, the ignorant and the intelligent."
The Buddha briefly
replied: "Every living being has kamma as its own, its inheritance,
its cause, its kinsman, its refuge. Kamma is that which differentiates
all living beings into low and high states."
He then explained
the cause of such differences in accordance with the law of moral
Thus from a Buddhist
standpoint, our present mental, intellectual, moral and temperamental
differences are mainly due to our own actions and tendencies, both
past the present.
means action; but, in its ultimate sense, it means the meritorious
and demeritorious volition (kusala akusala cetana). Kamma constitutes
both good and evil. Good gets good. Evil gets evil. Like attracts
like. This is the law of Kamma.
As some Westerners
prefer to say Kamma is "action-influence."
We reap what we
have sown. What we sow we reap somewhere or some when. In one sense
we are the result of what we were; we will be the result of what we
are. In another sense, we are not totally the result of what we were
and we will not absolutely be the result of what we are. For instance,
a criminal today may be a saint tomorrow.
this variation to kamma, but it does not assert that everything is
due to kamma.
were due to kamma, a man must ever be bad, for it is his kamma to
be bad. One need not consult a physician to be cured of a disease,
for if one's kamma is such one will be cured.
According to Buddhism,
there are five orders or processes (niyamas) which operate
in the physical and mental realms:
Every mental or
physical phenomenon could be explained by these all-embracing five
orders or processes which are laws in themselves. Kamma is, therefore,
only one of the five orders that prevail in the universe. It is a
law in itself, but it does not thereby follow that there should be
a law-giver. Ordinary laws of nature, like gravitation, need no law-giver.
It operates in its own field without the intervention of an external
independent ruling agency.
Nobody, for instance,
has decreed that fire should burn. Nobody has commanded that water
should seek its own level. No scientist has ordered that water should
consist of H2O, and that coldness should be
one of its properties. These are their intrinsic characteristics.
Kamma is neither fate nor predestination imposed upon us by some mysterious
unknown power to which we must helplessly submit ourselves. It is
one's own doing reacting on oneself, and so one has the possibility
to divert the course of kamma to some extent. How far one diverts
it depends on oneself.
It must also be
said that such phraseology as rewards and punishments should not be
allowed to enter into discussions concerning the problem of kamma.
For Buddhism does not recognize an Almighty Being who rules his subjects
and rewards and punishes them accordingly. Buddhists, on the contrary,
believe that sorrow and happiness one experiences are the natural
outcome of one's own good and bad actions. It should be stated that
kamma has both the continuative and the retributive principle.
Inherent in kamma
is the potentiality of producing its due effect. The cause produces
the effect; the effect explains the cause. Seed produces the fruit;
the fruit explains the seed as both are inter-related. Even so kamma
and its effect are inter-related; "the effect already blooms
in the cause."
A Buddhist who
is fully convinced of the doctrine of kamma does not pray to another
to be saved but confidently relies on himself for his purification
because it teaches individual responsibility.
It is this doctrine
of kamma that gives him consolation, hope, self reliance and moral
courage. It is this belief in kamma "that validates his effort,
kindles his enthusiasm," makes him ever kind, tolerant and considerate.
It is also this firm belief in kamma that prompts him to refrain from
evil, do good and be good without being frightened of any punishment
or tempted by any reward.
It is this doctrine of kamma that can explain the problem of suffering, the mystery of so-called fate or predestination of other religions, and above all the inequality of mankind.
Kamma and rebirth
are accepted as axiomatic.