Are the teachings on kamma and paṭiccasamuppāda compatible?

Bhantes,

I have a few questions on the way the ideas of kamma and paṭiccasamuppāda are or not to be taken as compatible / consistent.

  1. Would you agree with the idea that there is the fundamental incompatibility of kamma and paṭiccasamuppāda?

  2. Would it be correct to say that paṭiccasamuppāda would prevent kamma from working at all?

  3. Is there any sutta/sutra that depicts the Buddha linking in a consistent manner the workings of kamma and paṭiccasamuppāda?

Thank you in advance for your time and help. Also, I apologise in advance if these are questions that are yet to be treated in the future workshops. If that’s the case, take this as a rhetorical teaser to bring people to the subject! :smile:

The source of the above questions is what I recently read from these sources:

http://www.academia.edu/attachments/32234015/download_file?st=MTQyNDc0Mjg2MSwyMDIuNTguMjI0LjUz&s=swp-toolbar&ct=MTQyNDc0Mjg2NCwxNDI0NzQyODg5

2 Likes

The essay by Jayarava deals entirely with Abhidhamma problems, and doesn’t address kamma as taught in the suttas, apart from blithely dismissing it.

Not at all. They talk about the same thing; kamma from an ethical perspective; dependent origination from an existential perspective. Of course if you want to eliminate the existential and treat dependent origination as purely psychological, you will miss the point.

This is absurd, who could say such a thing? Things are conditioned. Kamma is explaining one aspect of that conditioning, the aspect that deals with the relation between moral choices and our experiences of suffering and happiness.

Sankhara, the second factor of dependent origination, is described as “good choices, bad choices, peaceful choices”, i.e. it is precisely kamma. So every teaching on dependent origination does this!

11 Likes

Wonderful Bhante! Thanks for this, really.

Would there be any sutta in which we find both paṭiccasamuppāda and kamma mentioned at the same time and linked or the understanding of kamma as sankhara was just too obvious to demand such over-explanation?

1 Like

I just wish to add a comment to what Bhante Sujato has said.

Kamma as an ethical principle is in fact fully embedded in dependent origination. Sankhāra, the second factor of dependent origination, is intention and therefore the same as kamma in its ethical sense. Viññāṇa, the third factor of dependent origination, I regard as the station where consciousness establishes itself upon rebirth, known in the suttas as viññāṇaṭṭhiti. This station is what decides what you will experience in that life, especially the degree of happiness and pain. So here you can see a direct link between the intentions of one life and the experiences you have in the subsequent life.

The reason Jayarava argues as he does is that he dismisses rebirth. Once you dismiss such a crucial aspect of the Buddha’s teaching, the integrity of the system falls apart. Buddhism without rebirth is not Buddhism, and the whole “philosophy” needs to be rewritten from scratch.

10 Likes

Here are few suggestions: AN3:77+78; SN12:38+39+40. In none of these cases is the link perfectly explicit, but it should be clear enough that it is strongly implied.

Thank you very much indeed Bhante. :pray:

Dear Bhantes

Sorry to rake up this old thread, but there is the issue of how Dependant Origination intersects with the teachings on kamma at the linguistic level.

  1. Quite a number of suttas have been translated to read compounds such as “ABCpaccayā” to mean “conditioned by ABC”. Would it not be simpler and more direct to translate “ABCpaccayā” as “with ABC as condition/paccaya”? The “conditioned by ABC” translation imports an additional meaning into the compound that goes beyond what paccaya stands for, ie it is the necessary condition for a sequel to arise. If we look at eg SN 12.24, it seems to me that the enquiry on the paccayā is equivalent to an enquiry on it is paṭicca/dependant upon.

  2. There is also the “imasmiṃ sati idaṃ hoti” formula. According to Wijeysekara, the absolute construction in imasmiṃ sati should be understood as “when/provided that/on condition that” in the causal sense (not a temporal sense, despite the present participle being used). This again brings us back into the perspective of Dependant Origination as an enquiry into the necessary conditions, a perspective that seems supported by pericopes such as in SN 12.65 that equates this locative absolute with paccaya -

kimhi nu kho sati jarāmaraṇaṃ hoti, kiṃpaccayā jarāmaraṇan’ti? Tassa mayhaṃ, bhikkhave, yoniso manasikārā ahu paññāya abhisamayo: ‘jātiyā kho sati jarāmaraṇaṃ hoti, jātipaccayā jarāmaraṇan’ti.

If we take a bare-bones reading of the standard presentations of Dependant Origination, it seems that it does not say that kamma causes (or is a sufficient cause for) rebecoming or existence. Rather, it suggests that whatever rebirth or existence there is, all that is due to kamma as a necessary condition.

Might the Bhantes have a different perspective to this? I’m actually trying to find a more direct connection between the teaching on kamma and the teaching on Dependant Origination that goes beyond the necessary condition concept.

With metta!

Sylvester

2 Likes

Dear Sylvester,

(1) Do you mean that “with ABC as condition” is a better translation because it implies that ABC is a necessary condition for what follows, and that this necessity does not follow from the translation “conditioned by ABC”?

Well, there are two aspects to kamma, one being the accumulated kamma from the past and the other kamma as an active force at any particular time. Kamma as an active force is equivalent to sankhāra, and as such it is both a necessary and sufficient condition for rebirth. Kamma in the sense of an accumulation of ethically significant actions from the past, however, is only a necessary condition for rebirth and not a sufficient one. What this means in practice is that you do not need to exhaust all your kamma from the past to make an end of suffering.

I believe this connection is evident in at least a couple of ways. The link between sankhāra and viññāṇa shows not only that the relationship between them is one of necessity, but also that the station of consciousness (viññāṇaṭṭhiti) in any particular life depends on the sankhāras of previous lives. So this is about the relationship between one’s ethical conduct in one or more lives and one’s experiences in a subsequent one.

But there is also a second way, I think, that this connection is made. In the linkage of upādāna and bhava, upādāna represents kamma being made through ethical choices. We take things up and hold on to them, and this constitutes ethical action. The result of this is that we exist in a certain way, which is how I understand bhava. Existence in a certain way implies habits and a certain way of doing things. Volition must be a part of this, that is, we make habitual kamma dependent on the upādāna in the previous link. (So both upādāna and bhava are kammically active.) But the fact that bhava is used to represent this link, instead of for instance cetanā, probably means that bhava has a broader meaning that also includes our experience, and especially its feeling tone. If this is correct, then dependent origination also establishes a link between kamma and results that are experienced in the same life.

With metta.

4 Likes

do you imply, bhante, that it suffices to just allay all sankharas to end suffering? and if so, is this explicitly supported by the Nikayas?

that in turn would imply that the impact of the old kamma doesn’t extend beyond the immediately following life, wouldn’t it? because per such understanding it seems necessary to posit that all the kamma governs is sankharas and so a person’s decisions and behavior, that is volitional acts, rather than events and outside influences one’s a subject to during one’s lifetime and which are beyond one’s control.
at the same time should this inference be true, it would mean that a person is a subject not only to his/her own kamma but to the kamma of other people’s too, which acts upon one through those people actions.

2 Likes

Dear Lxndr (Alexander?),

This is definitely supported by the Nikāyas; think dependent origination. With the ending of delusion (avijjā), that is arahantship, sankhāra also comes to an end. When sankhāra comes to an end, viññāṇa (consciousness) does not get established in a new existence.

No. I don’t see why this should be so.

And no, kamma does not govern sankhāra. If it did, there could be no escape from suffering. One’s sankhāras are subject to a number of conditions, including the experiences we have in this life. One’s past kamma certainly conditions one’s volitions, but it does not determine them. What kamma governs is the general feeling tone of any particular existence.

With metta.

3 Likes

[quote=“brahmali, post:10, topic:254”]

the logic is that had the kamma impact extended beyond the immediately following life, a person who realized arahantship would have to live at least one more life before nibbana, due to accumulated yet non-actualized old kamma still having a potential for him/her.

that’s unless the reach of the kamma impact is getting shorter as arahantship nears. however i’m not aware of such a concept being present in the Nikayas.

or is it that with the allaying of sankharas kamma loses its object of application and kind of falls through or gets erased? this would imply that kamma either works through sankharas, has them as its medium or is stored in them.

Once the activity of the sankhāras, which is equivalent to the creating of kamma, comes to a stop, viññāṇa is not capable of arising in a new existence. There is no further subsequent life. It is irrelevant how much kamma has previously been accumulated; all this becomes defunct, at least as far as future lives is concerned.

Sankhāra is really the same as cetanā, at least in this connection. As such it is the essential ingredient that makes kamma bear fruit.

With metta.

4 Likes

Dear Ajahn Brahmali

Thank you so much for taking time to address my queries! I do apologise if I am unfamiliar with the functional buttons, so please excuse the inability to use the quotation boxes. I’ve instead bolded the parts of your reply which I hope to discuss. :grin:

(1) Do you mean that “with ABC as condition” is a better translation because it implies that ABC is a necessary condition for what follows, and that this necessity does not follow from the translation “conditioned by ABC”?

Yes, that was the general drift I was getting at. “Conditioned by ABC” does not make it evident that ABC was a necessary condition, and instead makes it appear that ABC might be a sufficient cause for the sequel.

Well, there are two aspects to kamma, one being the accumulated kamma from the past and the other kamma as an active force at any particular time. Kamma as an active force is equivalent to sankhāra, and as such it is both a necessary and sufficient condition for rebirth.

I have little difficulty accepting that sankhāra is a necessary condition for rebirth. However, it might appear from AN 3.76 that sankhāra alone does not suffice to bring about rebirth. Apparently, consciousness needs to be “established” (patiṭṭhita) in a particular bhava in order for rebirth to come about. I think this is perhaps related to your point that -

I believe this connection is evident in at least a couple of ways. The link between sankhāra and viññāṇa shows not only that the relationship between them is one of necessity, but also that the station of consciousness (viññāṇaṭṭhiti) in any particular life depends on the sankhāras of previous lives.

What I am looking at in terms of just a plain linguistic analysis of EACH nidāna in Dependant Origination is whether or not each nidāna exemplifies only a necessary condition, or whether each nidāna exemplifies both a necessary and sufficient condition. If we adopt the interpretation that sankhāra is a necessary and sufficient condition for rebirth, that is not so apparent from just the nidānasaṅ­khā­ra­pac­cayā viññāṇaṃ”. One will actually need 2 nidānas (ie saṅ­khā­ra­pac­cayā viññāṇaṃ and bhavapaccayā jāti) to give rise to the certainty that intentions will act as a sufficient cause for rebirth.

Which is why I like very much the 2nd suggestion you offered -

But there is also a second way, I think, that this connection is made. In the linkage of upādāna and bhava, upādāna represents kamma being made through ethical choices. We take things up and hold on to them, and this constitutes ethical action. The result of this is that we exist in a certain way, which is how I understand bhava. Existence in a certain way implies habits and a certain way of doing things. Volition must be a part of this, that is, we make habitual kamma dependent on the upādāna in the previous link. (So both upādāna and bhava are kammically active.) But the fact that bhava is used to represent this link, instead of for instance cetanā, probably means that bhava has a broader meaning that also includes our experience, and especially its feeling tone. If this is correct, then dependent origination also establishes a link between kamma and results that are experienced in the same life.

This habituation of kamma (and of our experiences) is probably the closest to the idea of the establishment of consciousness or the station of consciousness, which I think must refer to bhava.

If we take the nidāna of “saṅ­khā­ra­pac­cayā viññāṇaṃ” as importing a necessary and sufficient condition, other nidānas in Dependant Origination would end up being somewhat irregular. Eg the nidānasaḷāya­tana­pac­cayā phasso” (since MN 28 suggests that attention is also needed for consciousness to arise). Likewise, the nidānavedanāpaccayā taṇhā” might be invariably true for worldlings, but Trainees who practise sense-retraint are able to arrest craving.

Thank you again for your time and patience!

With metta

S

1 Like

Sylvester, to quote from a previous post, just start your reply, place your cursor where you want the quoted phrase to go, then highlight what you want to quote from the previous post. A popup will appear saying “quote reply”. Click it, and the relevant code will appear in your post.

Dear Bhante. It works!

Many thanks and with metta.

S