A spider dream: let's talk about kamma

A dream I recently remembered: numerous spiders crawling about. One was accidentally bonked & severely injured. In the dream, I killed it, to end its physical suffering; in the dream, the spider wanted this end, & understood. In the dream, there was concern about kamma.

So let’s talk about kamma. :slight_smile:

Dreaming - is it kammicly null? It seems difficult to control intentions in dreams; but one might say, it can be difficult to understand or control intentions in life.

In the dream, the spider was damaged by impact from an attempt to move the spider to safety. Does kind intent entirely determine kamma; are unintended consequences purely the hypothetical spider’s prior kamma coming into fruit?

In the dream I was also an observor, observing a projection (some version of “me”) interacting with projection (“spider”, “spiders”). It was mental fabrication.
In general terms, how is kamma created or affected by mental fabrications?

Offering thought experiment as opportunity for discussion & teaching. EBT references particularly appreciated.


There is one time the Bodhisattva dreamed about bugs:

white caterpillars with black heads crawled up from his feet and covered his knees. This was fulfilled when many white-clothed laypeople went for refuge to him for life.


Yes, it is pretty insignificant from a Vinaya offense perspective at least.

At one time a monk from Bharukaccha dreamed that he had sexual intercourse with his former wife. He thought he was no longer a monk and that he would have to disrobe. While on his way to Bharukaccha, he saw Venerable Upāli and told him what had happened. Venerable Upāli said, “There’s no offense since it was in a dream.”
Source: SuttaCentral

A similar statement is found in the text of SS1:

"At one time monks ate fine foods, fell asleep without mindfulness and clear awareness, and emitted semen while dreaming.
They became remorseful, thinking, “The Master has laid down a training rule that intentional emission of semen is an offense entailing suspension. We had an emission of semen while dreaming, and that involves intention. Could it be that we’ve committed an offense entailing suspension?”
They told the Master. He said, “Monks, there’s intention involved, but it’s negligible.


Safety from what? Sometimes when I (initially) think that I’m moving another being to safety, I realise that I am moving it to safety from me. So for example I might be trying to move a spider from a wash basin that I want to use. Once I realise my actual intention is for me to have a easier time having my needs met rather than it being out of any real consideration for what the spider wants (above me keeping my precepts), I can then alter my intentions and leave the room and come back later to use the wash basin when the spider has finished doing their spidery things and moved away using its own volition. I’m not suggesting that this applies in your scenario, it’s just something I have noticed about my own minds ability to justify my unwholesome intentions. I’m such a lumbering fool that I feel that I’ve got to be so very careful interacting with these delicate creatures.

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Some dreams are more lucid than others. In those dreams where intention might arise, so too is there a need for mindfulness and awareness.

The drawbacks:

an5.210: “Mendicants, there are these five drawbacks of falling asleep unmindful and unaware.
an5.210: What five?
an5.210: You sleep badly and wake miserably. You have bad dreams. The deities don’t protect you. And you emit semen.
an5.210: These are the five drawbacks of falling asleep unmindful and unaware.

And the escape:

an5.210: There are these five benefits of falling asleep mindful and aware.
an5.210: What five?
an5.210: You sleep at ease and wake happily. You don’t have bad dreams. The deities protect you. And you don’t emit semen.
an5.210: These are the five benefits of falling asleep mindful and aware.”
So when I am aware in my dreams I am also wary.

Seems so. The two references I remember about dreams was Queen Maya’s dream prior to Siddhartha’s birth and Siddhartha’s dream prior to attaining Nibbana.
Both seemed to be described in a way related to a result (phala) rather than an action (kamma).

Good point. I wonder what others have to say.

Also a good question. I wonder this too.
For example, greed, anger, and confusion are said to lead to harm.
Isn’t is possible to be motivated by non-anger (kindness) as well as confusion for a mixed result kamma?
It definitely seems so.
In fact, in the dream this definitely seemed to happen, but not because of the attempt to move the spider: “In the dream, I killed it, to end its physical suffering; in the dream, the spider wanted this end, and understood.”

This seems to be a kamma motivated by confusion: “killing the spider will end it’s suffering” - when in fact, only the noble eightfold path would - “being killed” is not a part of the noble eightfold path, so being killed doesn’t seem to end physical suffering - to the contrary, being killed seems to BE physical suffering.

I vaguely remember a story, either Vinaya or commentarial or something, where a number of Bhikkhus developed repulsiveness of the body in an inappropriate way - as a result they wanted to end their life to get away from their physical body or something like this. To do so, they asked someone to kill them with a sword - that person went around killing all the Bhikkhus being requested by the Bhikkhus to be killed. I don’t think a being asking and wanting to be killed makes it okay to kill that being. So the intent to kill the spider in the dream to put it out of its misery seems to have been rooted in confusion.

I’m not entirely clear what this question is asking - perhaps I don’t know the answer!
Is kamma itself a mental fabrication?

It is my opinion that everything in a dream (all characters; the scenery; the narrative; the meta-thoughts, in lucid or semi lucid dreams; the personal post dream analysis) is as much a projection & self examination, as is any identifiable parts of “me”.

However, it is also my opinion that others’ insights or interptetations are inevitably their projections & examinations of parts of them.

That’s partly why I asked to discuss kamma conceptually.

@Khemarato.bhikkhu ty for the reference. Sophisticated use of metaphor, including a bug dream; everything utilized for teaching & sharing the Path! :pray:

@Gabriel_L ty for the reference. @stu I know why my dreaming offered a spider for consideration; that day I had seen a large spider, which appeared to be of a venomous type, moving around part of the ceiling. I had observed it & come to the tentative conclusion it was safely out of the way of humans. But part of me wanted to reconsider; it might be better for its & others’ safety to be relocated. (That’s a household decision; please trust we will do/decide our best. If relocated, spider will be carefully captured, moved, given a good place.)

@karl_lew I can honestly say, I have not emitted semen in dreams in this life. :laughing: Often, my last moments before sleep are spent in metta meditation; usual results are good (often pleasant, often useful) dreams, good rest. I don’t fear lucid dreams, or great awareness or understanding of this life; it’s the sandbox, the work.

@SeriousFun136 hmm. phala v kamma. Confusion though - not sure that applies to a metaphor known/seen to be metaphor. No actual spider in the dream. No confusion regarding the first precept in real life regarding the spider I happened to see prior to the dream. What if the dream spider is a metaphor, for a defilement? It’d be interesting if defilement is loosening its grip by growing awareness that it is conditioned… and renunciation is the way to end suffering.
" Is kamma itself a mental fabrication? " I don’t think so. :slight_smile: I am not a secularist, but I can see that in such a context, that might be discussed vigorously.


Do you think maybe it was like “issues were getting resolved within the dream”?

Well, not exactly; that’s a little too close for comfort to magical thinking for me; I think issues actually get resolved by conscious insight and habitual, conscious sila… However, a journey is gradual.

Any more thoughts on kamma?

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I have heard more than once that Arahants don’t dream. I don’t know if this is based on EBT or not, but if it is true, and considering that Arahants transcended Kamma, then dreams are not kammaicly null

Yep, it’s not null.
The Buddha is quoted saying the element of intention in it is very insignificant.


The OP asked if it were Kammicly null, and i simply answered why it might not be the case, so where is the strawman?

Edited my reply! :slight_smile:

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If i may ask you to expand. The OP indicated:

It seems difficult to control intentions in dreams; but one might say, it can be difficult to understand or control intentions in life.

According to your understanding, what is it that makes the element of intention in a dream very insignificant?

The vast majority of humans act in a heedless way. The Buddha said:

Heedful among the heedless, wide-awake among the sleepy, the wise man advances like a swift horse leaving behind a weak jade.

Thanks :anjal:

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I believe what makes it insignificant is the fact that it is contained in one’s private and non-physical stream of experience (one’s nama I would say ).

The beings with whom one may interact are not real, and one’s actions in dreams are mostly echoes of behaviours, fears, passions.

Hence the Buddha straight away dismissed as not relevant to justify a serious offense the case of the monk who emits semen when dreaming of his ex-wife.



This justification is based on meaningful differences that are relevant to our legal system and to the Vinaya. The following might be interesting to expand on the discussion even further:

Would emphasizing the difference between objective reality and private stream experience warrants equating the vinaya and/or the secular legal system with Kamma?

According to my understanding of Kamma, evil begins with the mind, and belief is integral to the notions of both mind and Kamma. What defines a dream is contrasting it with a more persistent reality as well as the distinction between nama and rupa as you stated. However, when it comes to belief, both appear to be real and the mind that acts in both realms acts as if they were real.

While the social and legal consequences are radically different between the two, the vipaka of some dreams extend itself to what we call real and vice versa. If a monk has a sexual dream without ejaculation, he might experience more sexual thoughts during the day, and sexual arousal during the day might materialize in a sexual dream.

When it comes to significance, there are wide range of individual differences that makes it difficult to determine kammic significance without taking individual cases into consideration. For instance, what is the kammic significance of celibacy for an asexual individual? i think none. Even vipaka might lose its significance when the mind changes such as in the case of Aṅgulimāla.

May be its like the loading program. Not fully connected to the simulation yet. :sunglasses:

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Happened to read this; mostly on the 5 aggregates but naturally refers to kamma with reference to saṅkhārā volition.

The Tyranny of Transcendence by Bhikkhu Sujato
Uses and abuses in the development of the will

After reading this, it seems to me that kamma, while of course effective in every life, really isn’t very much my “business”; it seems better to focus on what definitely IS my business & responsibilities - the 8 Fold Path.
Kamma takes care of itself. The 8 Fold Path, in any life, does not, without much practiced discipline & development. It involves effort, diligence, development, a gradual path.