Are social-ills the result of kamma?

Utu: Dhamm affected due to seasonal changes. (winter, summer etc) This includes seasonal world destruction as well.
Bijja: Dhamma due to nature of the seed. Mango seed produces mango trees. Even Buddha got sick. When you are born you are subject to sickness, old age, and death.
Dhamma: Gravity, death etc.
Citta: Superhuman activities.

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Interesting that utu is separated from Dhamma, both being natural forces. Though I guess bija is too.

Is this in a sutta or abhidhammic classification?

I was looking for a sutta which I think is in the book of the 5s which talks about the ways to lose your wealth, where again kamma is but one portion. Maybe it was 8s. I can’t find it!

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Dhamma Niyama Sutta.


Niyāma: the ‘fixedness of law’ regarding all things; cf. tathatā. - Pañca-niyāma is a commentarial term, signifying the ‘fivefold lawfulness’ or ‘natural order’ that governs: (1) temperature, seasons and other physical events (utu-niyāma); (2) the plant life (bīja-n.); (3) kamma (kamma-n.); (4) the mind (citta-n.), e.g. the lawful sequence of the functions of consciousness (s. viññāṇa-kicca) in the process of cognition; (5) certain events connected with the Dhamma (dhamma-n.), e.g. the typical events occurring in the lives of the Buddhas. (App.).

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  1. Utu Niya¯ma physical inorganic order (e.g. seasons)
  2. Bi¯ja Niya¯ ma physical organic order, order of germs and seeds
  3. Kamma Niya¯ ma order of action and result (actions produce results)
  4. Citta Niya¯ ma order of mind or psychic law (e.g. process of consciousness)
  5. Dhamma Niya¯ ma order of the norm (e.g. gravitation

Do you see anything in these five forms of causation that is relevant to how societies change over time?

“Social change refers to any significant alteration over time in behavior patterns and cultural values and norms. By “significant” alteration, sociologists mean changes yielding profound social consequences. Examples of significant social changes having long‐term effects include the industrial revolution, the abolition of slavery, and the feminist movement. Today’s sociologists readily acknowledge the vital role that social movements play in inspiring discontented members of a society to bring about social change. Efforts to understand the nature of long‐term social change, including looking for patterns and causes, has led sociologists to propose the evolutionary, functionalist, and conflict theories of change […]. All theories of social change also admit the likelihood of resistance to change, especially when people with vested interests feel unsettled and threatened by potential changes.” - CliffsNotes

Could the reason be as follows:

I am curious as to why the cause and effect process - illustrated in the quote about ‘social change’ (above) - is not included in the list of niyamas? Its interesting the EBT teaching that ‘Pasana’ mentioned - but could not find - does it have some relevance to social change?

The way I understand Buddha did not teach collective kamma.

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I am not talking about the notion of collective-kamma. The other niyamas you provided are not defined as kamma - either. They are different kinds of causation but, they do not say anything about social change over time. Could this be a consequence of not knowing what had come before and not having a clue about how things may change over time? It would appear that the ‘Aryan invasion’ of the region that the Buddha lived in, was largely unknown among the Brahmins, though I think there are fragments about ‘horsemen’ and that’s about it! Perhaps, this lack of a genuine historical narrative made reflection on social change a consideration for later generations?

The Brahmins did not seem to envision a world that was substantially different - past and future - from the society they inhabited. The social-order was established by divine-decree from the beginning of this round of creation. Its the same with a lot of ancient cultures including indigenous creation myths.

Isn’t this Samsara?
It does not matter how it changed, it is Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta. (ie: Dhamma Niyama)

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I live in a society where there is religious-pluralism. As a consequence of this social-change regarding ‘freedom of belief’ I can practice Buddhism in a society whose (predecessors) would have had me persecuted and executed - if I was caught taking the 3 refuges. In this context, how is social-change irrelevant? I would think it is (at least) as important as ‘seasonal change’ in terms of its impact on human wellbeing?

Regarding ‘seasonal change’ and the weather, I wonder if climate-change may have an impact in this niyama of cause and effect? There are ‘natural’ forms of seasonal change and there are human-induced forms of seasonal change. This is something that our spiritual ancestors may not have envisaged? We needed the industrial revolution before the arising of our current developmental trajectory heading head-long into a place we don’t really want to find ourselves.

The climate-crisis is the most important form of change we are faced with in the modern world. It may be the prime-mover of social change in the future. Changes that can be managed responsibly or, we can ignore the issue with serious consequences for the welfare of Buddhists - and everyone else. With regard to this predicament the EBT’s provide us with inadequate ‘direct’ guidance? If this is true, how should we deal with issues that are of vital importance that are beyond the scope of the teachings?

Buddhism teaches that it is important to be reborn in a place which is conducive to practice.
That is why we are lucky that we can learn Dhaam via the internet.


In my opinion, although the context has changed the causes of our ‘social-ills’ a.k.a dukkha remain. This is why the 4NT are as relevant today as ever. Also why I believe people like Ajahn Brahm, Thich Nhat Hanh and HH Dalai Lama are effective in social change. They have dedicated their lives to understanding the 4NT and 8FP.

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Yes, but there are some Buddhists that feel that social-activists like: Ajahn Brahm, the Dalai Lama and, the brilliant ‘Thich Nhat Hanh’ have overstepped the mark - when it comes to their advocasy. I think we could add ‘Bhikku Bodhi’, ‘Sulak Sivaraksa’ and, many others to the list of Buddhists who are helping to bring about important forms of change - in Buddhism and beyond. Forms of change that seem to have a lot to do with recognising social and environmental issues and dealing with these problems on that level of engagement. A process that has little to do with kammic- consequences and more to do with education and social/environmental awareness.

"All theories of social change also admit the likelihood of resistance to change, especially when people with vested interests feel unsettled and threatened by potential changes.” - CliffsNotes

Perhaps, this is what has to be made clear i.e. Buddhism does not have the answers when it comes to facing climate change - and the enormous social change that will follow in its wake? ‘Kevin Rudd’ referred to climate change as:

“the greatest [moral], economic and social challenge of our time”.

Is this a moral-issue for which Buddhism has no answer - beyond platitudes - and, if so, why?

Buddhism is the answer to the climate change!

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Moral issues surely come from a lack of morality. That is greed, hatered and delusion. The buddha and all the modern day teachers teach their antidotes generosity, compassion and awareness . This is their strength.


I agree, but how does that ‘play out’ in real-world situations when it comes to practical and workable solutions that address human-induced climate change, habitat loss and deforestation, damaged and depleted marine ecosystems, mass-extinction, the growing gap between the rich and poor i.e. intragenerational and intergenerational equity etc.

We all have the best of intentions and we all know we need to be kind and generous and is-that-it? The problems are complex and they take a bit more applied constructive engagement than merely saying: may all beings be well and happy and, dropping some coins in a charity box - do you agree? So, how do we get to that level of engagement with the problems we face from an understanding ‘in principle’ that the 3-roots is the source of the problem to, ???

Maybe, Buddhism - early Buddhism - does not have the answers? If this is the case, we may be obliged to look beyond the EBT’s to help us to address the greatest [moral], economic and social challenge of our time? What might that mean - any ideas?

I believe monastic communities (could be) a wonderful response - exemplary - when it comes to a real-world solution to these kinds of issues. Perhaps, the answers were there in Buddhism right from the beginning but no one takes it that seriously i.e. Buddhists living in the developed world?

I lived at ‘Wat Buddha Dhamma’ a couple of times. They had a lay-community there at one point supporting a monk (Ven. Khantipalo). Would this be one way forward whereby Buddhists could help to realise viable social-alternatives that try to address important social and environmental issues - could they self-organise?

There may be other ‘meaningful’ ways to realise vital change. Does anybody have ideas that may be relevant to this thread? Something/anything that does not involve just ‘accepting’ the given situation and resigning ourselves to it because human-beings are just bad-apples - puppets of the 3-poisons - we can’t do anything about it (its hopeless).

Regarding the subject of kamma, its well worth reading Ajahn Amaro’s little booklet “Who is Pulling the Strings” in which he discusses the five niyamas and also investigates superstition, karma and the Buddha’s teaching on causality.

He also gave an excellent talk with the same title at Amaravati monastery a few years ago and it can be found on the Amaravati website.


Thanks, I will read it - he is a lovely ‘Ajahn’ with a warm smile, a good mind and, a kind heart. :heart_eyes:


I am not suggesting that social change can end our suffering but it certainly goes some way to improving our lot. When it comes to climate change action and the social change this inevitably requires, it does mean superficial improvements - things we can do without. We really need to get our head around the fact that there is no alternative when it comes to facing and dealing with climate change. It is far to serious an issue to quibble about whether change does us any ‘real’ good - it is not that kind of an issue (is it)?

We all know that the Buddha-Dhamma is as ‘clear as a bell’ when it comes to many things we struggle with as individuals. However, is it possible that it can lead us into a lack of clarity with regard to many social and environmental issues if we are unable to understand its wider implications? The Buddha talked about the ways to handle a snake - the right way and the wrong way. He used this as a simile of how we ‘grasp’ the Dhamma - it can be misunderstood without difficulty.

When I hear stock-standard Buddhist responses when it comes to social change it gives me a sinking-feeling. Responses like: 1) we need not do anything (much) about people who are in difficult situations because it is their ‘kamma’ that put them there. Be kind, be a well-wisher but, understand their condition is self-induced. Life is tough and we just need to accept the fact, 2) you can’t fix suffering by changing society so why bother - its a waste of time, 3) people are just bad-eggs, they are inherently greedy, violent and, stupid, what do you expect from human-beings, its their nature to be this way - its the 3-roots having their way with us - we have next to no choice in how it all plays out in cyclic-existence. I am hearing these kinds of arguments coming from long-term Buddhists who apparently know the teachings in detail. What should I conclude from this?

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The way that I see it is that the ‘five forms’ interrelate in the aspect of how societies change over time. So, for example, in the case of peoples relationship with climate change we might say that kamma and citta niyama play a largely casual role which affects states governed largely by utu and bija. I think we might look at these as interrelated groups of natural laws where ‘we’ don’t have any say in the future outcome … except in the case of kamma - hurrah! - where our intention (black, white or mixed) for the future state is expounded, or our intention (neither black, nor white) for nibbana is expounded. This is why kamma is so important in Buddhism, it’s the only one of the ‘five forms’ where we can do any work. Yes, we are where we are because of old kamma, but we get to where we are going with the kamma that we make now.

So. No. The Buddha’s teaching on kamma, on the contrary, suggests that we can indeed do something about it.