Anicca versus kusala

How to reconcile the unpredictability of kamma results (anicca) and our confidence that our actions are beneficial and wholesome (kusala), such as following the noble eightfold path

“good? bad? who knows?” with - “the noble path leads to the end of suffering.”

Anicca is not about the complexity of all the causes and conditions that form kammic effects or consequences, ( vipāka). Rather,it is one of three characteristics of all conditional phenomena: anicca, dukkha, annatā.
Anicca means impermanence, inconstancy; and in a more interpretive sense can point to the unreliability of any conditioned phenomena to be a “permanent” refuge from dukkha, (let’s say suffering, pain). Quite the opposite – because of inconstancy, all conditioned things are dukkha.

In SN 36.11 the Buddha says, ‘yaṁ kiñci vedayitaṁ, taṁ dukkhasmin’ti. ‘Suffering includes whatever is felt.’ When I said this I was referring to the impermanence of conditions, to the fact that conditions are liable to end…"

Kamma fundamentally is cetana, volition/intention. “Cetanā ahaṁ bhikkhave kammaṁ vadāmi”, “It is volition or intention, monks, that I call kamma,” (AN 6.63).
From this, kusala and akusala point to intentions/actions that lead the mind towards dispassion (viraga), the ending of craving (tanha khaya), and liberation from all dukkha, (vimutti).

The N8FP lays out the aspects of the Path to be practiced as in SN56.11 and many other suttas.
Specifically, Right Effort is about cultivating wholesome states and letting go of unwholesome ones.
Why? Because although they are conditional, wholesome states lead to less craving, grasping, and to samadhi and wisdom. And the opposite is true for unwholesome states.

So it’s not about having to know all the conditions that combine to manifest a particular physical or mental state or predicting exactly what the next experience will be.

Rather, it’s about skillfully using conditions and intentions in a way that leads to beneficial kammic effects which, in turn, are conducive to further wholesome states in a manner that leads to fully letting go and untimately nibbāna, the ending of all conditions and the ending of all dukkha. :slightly_smiling_face: :pray:


Jasudho • Great Sadhu for your help.
I understood my question wrongly defines the effects of the anicca view.
Anicca is not the unpredictability of the effects of existing conditions. Only their impermanence.

I came across a statement that anicca is uncertainty.

“The suttas also imply the interpretation of uncertainty, hence death meditation meaning you could die with each and every breath, all it takes is for one part in your body to fail, and you’re no longer breathing, which happens to people daily such as aneurysm, heart valve failing, etc…” Thito

Does Anicca also mean “nothing fixed” and “anything can happen”? - Discussion - Discuss & Discover (

“Nothing fixed” is ok, if by nothing fixed one means inconstant and changing.
“Anything can happen” sounds nihilistic. If there is no relationship between our intentions and actions and their effects, then there would be no possibility of escaping from samsāra – from all conditional experiences/dukkha.

The Buddha taught that nibbāna is unconditional, free of all conditions, and so free of all dukkha.
The N8FP is what leads to that freedom and is effective because some intentions and actions reliably lead toward release while others don’t. See SN45.8:

“And what is right effort? It’s when a mendicant generates enthusiasm, tries, makes an effort, exerts the mind, and strives so that bad, unskillful qualities don’t arise. They generate enthusiasm, try, make an effort, exert the mind, and strive so that bad, unskillful qualities that have arisen are given up. They generate enthusiasm, try, make an effort, exert the mind, and strive so that skillful qualities that have not arisen do arise. They generate enthusiasm, try, make an effort, exert the mind, and strive so that skillful qualities that have arisen remain, are not lost, but increase, mature, and are fulfilled by development. This is called right effort.”

So in this sense, if “anything can happen” implies a lack of causation and conditioning, then the 4NTs and DO become invalid – which is certainly not the case.

Be well. :pray:


Hi. To me, “kamma” is a “law” (“niyama”), which thus implies predictability. I think “anicca” only offers some respite from the predictability, i.e., the results of kamma will eventually be impermanent (exhausted), as stated below:

Then the wardens of hell punish them with the five-fold crucifixion. They drive red-hot stakes through the hands and feet, and another in the middle of the chest. And there they suffer painful, sharp, severe, acute feelings—but they don’t die until that bad deed is eliminated [exhausted].

MN 130

What kind of person does the same trivial bad deed, but experiences it in the present life, without even a bit left over, let alone a lot? A person who has developed their physical endurance, ethics, mind, and wisdom. They’re not small-minded, but are big-hearted, living without limits. That kind of person does the same trivial bad deed, but experiences it in the present life, without even a bit left over, not to speak of a lot.

AN 3.100

Because Nibbana is permanent, I think the more successfully the Noble Eightfold Path is practised, the more permanent the the Noble Eightfold Path will be, as follows:

Even if you have to carry me around on a stretcher, there will never be any deterioration in the Realized One’s lucidity of wisdom.

MN 12

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  1. Anicca at its core means whatever arises must cease. You don’t have full say when something ceases, your heart could cease at any moment.

  2. Kusala/Akusala is about intention and action. You have the choice to create kusala/akusala by how skillfully you direct attention. It’s like directing a river split in two paths. You could turn the dam to make the river go to path A or path B.

Thus, paragraph 1 and paragraph 2 above do not contradict eachother. 1) Whatever arises must cease, and it will ultimately cease without your permission. 2) You can direct action into wholesome or unwholesome and also stop action.

Knowing point 1 also helps point 2. If you know everything is impermanent then you’re less likely to value fickle impermanent things and focus your attention on the expression of life, which is kamma-vipaka, which is just like playing music, except with your life (aka actions). You can play wholesome music, or unwholesome music, and when rightly tuned, your mind will not play music that leads to suffering.


An unskillful action will yield a bad result, whereas a skillful action will yield a good result - this is 100% certain.

It is the when, where and how that is uncertain. If any ascetic or brahmin could accurately both know the cause and see the result, they would be omnicient and omnipotent!

Even an Arahant with psychic powers such as Mahamoggallana cannot predict when his previous unskillful action will catch up and bear fruit, as evident by the circumstances of his death, when his famed psychic powers failed him.

That said, if one frequently does good deeds, one can be assured that one’s chances of experiencing good results increases while the chances of having to bear with bad outcomes is correspondingly reduced. And such good deeds bear compound interest, so to speak! So one should logically choose to cultivate the wholesome to the best of one’s ability.

With regards to the ‘uncertain’ dimension of Anicca, IMO the common translation of Anicca as ‘impermanent’ or ‘inconstant’ is fine, as long as it is kept in mind that it implies something to the tune of ‘impermanently impermanent’ or ‘inconstantly inconstant’ and therefore unreliable, uncertain and giving rise to dukkha. :rofl:

This can be further clarified by examining the impermanent status of unpleasant phenomena such as a headache. Why should the impermanence of a headache be a source of dukkha? Because even though we know it to be impermanent (which should be a cause of happiness!), we don’t know when it will end, or if that ending is permanent or just a temporary remission!