Can everything be explained as the result of Kamma or not?

Yes and no.

Surely one’s kamma is one’s “problem”.
But at the same time, EBTs are full of instances in which the Buddha terms us of how acts done in previous lives by two or more beings resulted in them being together or meeting each other again in his times.

And this includes he and his close disciples in a number of proto-Jataka suttas.

So in that way there is convergence in results from convergence of intent.

But that is very different from modern ideas of whole populations in a country or even the planet sharing some sort of collective karma, and hence bring doomed or blessed equally because of it.


On this, I am using the general guidelines as follows:

One created bad kamma of torturing others in the past, the result is to be beaten in the future, that’s the ripening of one’s past kamma.

The one who would beat oneself, they are not doomed to create such new kamma by the reasoning of their own past kamma or other’s past kamma. They have a choice in that present moment to choose to do good or not. Although most people without mindfulness really don’t have a real choice, their new kamma is not predetermined to happen.

Ajahn Chah’s vipaka is for him to get beaten. How it happens it is by conditions, not fixed. Just so happens that conditions arises for an insane person to be there and the insane person chooses to act on it (actually no mindfulness, so he had no real choice), that’s it.

It’s not that complicated a concept. It just means that these group of people did the same bad or good things in the past, having similar strength of kamma, thus they have similar causes. They meet with similar conditions (being in the same plane), then vipaka can ripen due to cause and condition all come together.

Collective kamma doesn’t mean that another person did bad, thus they deserve the turbulence, but you didn’t do bad, just happened to be on the plane, but have to suffer the vipaka just because of other’s causes. That’s not it. I think this is the main misunderstanding when discussing collective kamma.

As passenger no. 1 had no fear, it’s clear that he didn’t experience vipaka of past bad kamma, just experiencing the same condition of turbulence with the others.

If we can accept individual kamma, there’s no reason why it’s impossible to have a scenario where a group of people having done the same deeds in the past, encounter the same conditions now, experiences the same vipaka together.

Are you saying that because passenger no. 1 had no fear during turbulence, then that passenger was not experiencing the Vipāka of others, but merely the same conditions?


However, say we change it to plane crash down, everyone dies. So regardless of the emotional reactions of the passengers as the plane crashes down, we would say in this case that everyone in the plane has the collective kamma of doing something bad which makes them die prematurely, condition is boarding the same plane which has problems and gone crashing down.

Say if there’s only one survivor, we would say that that person doesn’t have the bad kamma in the past, so only experienced the same condition, to have different results from the rest of them who died.

This is where kamma very clearly shows itself as not scientific. We can only explain post event, not predict. So we can insert anything as it is explanation after the fact. Thus the exact workings of kamma is unthinkable, also not useful as it cannot be used for prediction.

The most useful thing we need is the general principle: do good, get good, do bad, get bad.


Not sure it’s possible to say this with certainty unless one is like the Buddha.


If there’s only thing I had to take away from this thread, it’s this :stuck_out_tongue:


We take this kind of interpretation of kamma as a given, but in reality this formula is obviously wrong. And I’m afraid in their simplicity even the suttas are not in line with reality.

Unfortunately I need to give examples for something obvious: take social workers, nurses, NGO workers etc. And of these take the ones who are actually kind, with good intentions (and not many do these jobs because of the great career opportunities). They get absurdly low salaries for the stressful and important work they do.

Maybe you say money isn’t everything? Ok, they can’t send their kid to a decent school (which could result in poorer education, stress, more exposure to violence and drugs, unwholesome company). The parents don’t have enough money to access relaxation, time off, nannies, vacation, spas, or even meditation retreats. So how do they ‘get good’ for the good they do? In the afterlife? That’s a poor consolation. Or do orthodox Buddhists have to interpret this as the fruition of old bad kamma?

In the end I don’t see a big difference between the explanatory value of a theistic model vs the kamma model: “If God exists, how can he allow ‘this’ (babies killed, etc.)?” is similar to “If the law of kamma works, why do bad people often enough seem to be rewarded and good ones not?”

Typical replies: “God walks in mysterious ways” or “Only Buddhas know the exact working of kamma” - which in both cases effectlively means: Don’t try with your small mind to understand, and have faith that in the bigger picture there is a justice at play that you just cannot fathom.


Not sure how this principle is obviously wrong when a person’s life is looked at as a whole: with no discernible beginning. Your examples of kamma – cause and effect – seem to be confined to one life only and only a portion of one life.

It sounds like you’re arguing the suttas aren’t in line with reality, aren’t true. Another way to look at it is perhaps the truth of the suttas cannot always be easily discerned, which the Buddha explicitly says. It seems like this is where faith comes into play.

with metta,

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When it comes to kamma it’s not only that its working isn’t easy to figure out - it’s impossible for you and me. Only a Buddha knows (which is, again, a common premise of many religions applied to God or the holy books).


Agreed:-) AN 6.44 comes to mind:In this case, the person who is sweet-natured … and has listened, learned, comprehended theoretically, and found temporary freedom is better and finer than the other person. Why is that? Because the stream of the teaching carries them along. But who knows the difference between them except a Realized One?

I’ve learned that the jewish religion has two interesting transmissions adressing the problem of “the repay for the good”. See the book about “Hiob” (or “Job” in english?) : this is, I think, very well known as the main theological workout of the said problem of the “repay”. Second, I came across this same matter to be a critical point in the book on “Kohelet”. This is less known, likely, and moreover - while in “Hiob”/“Job” it is long&widely problematized - it is already taken as a negative/frustrating given/unfair matter, with a resignative tone, but not really discussed like in the “Hiob”/“Job”'s extent.

I think I’ve read somewhere, this is a moral/ethical problem in any developed religion/system - and on the other hand can easily be misused in disguising a lack of empathy/compassion, especially in rationalizing pain&sorrow of collectives.
I think if we (in the context of kamma) encounter some simple, unifactorial , onedimensional handling of this “repay of the good”-question, then this is likely not rooted in the actions and teachings of the Buddha

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It’s common in the suttas to have the Buddha encouraging people to develop to 4th jhana, recollect past lives, develop divine eye, see the past lives and actions of many other beings. Therein, one gathers enough data from the actions and place of rebirth of many beings to have a general pattern of kamma seen directly. Only that is sufficient data gathering to prove kamma for overselves. Obviously, one cannot hope to make this into a scientific thing unless a few things happen:

  1. Science accepts rebirth.
  2. Science accepts divine eye as a tool of investigation (like the Large Hadron Collider, or Gravitational wave detectors).

So, yes, the usual answer is, you don’t see kamma cause your data set points are too small. It’s like the people in the 1850s, even unto 1900s who don’t believe in atoms, cause there’s no electron microscope invented yet. Or people before Hubble’s discovery of universe expansion, believe in the common sensical view that the universe is static and eternal.

Also, the way kamma works should also be paired with wisdom of understanding how to use kamma.

If we crave for results, we can’t work with the law of kamma very well, blaming kamma like blaming God. The law of kamma says, if you want results, plant the causes. So the proper attitude is like in meditation. Don’t crave for results, be happy to be able to plant the causes.

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In a future birth they can be in a position of social, cultural and economic wealth – and perhaps choose to protect their wealth by denying others human decency.

And such conditioned existence rolls on: with many beings accruing bright kamma, reaping the rewards, and then not being mindful of the importance of maintaining skilful behaviour.

I can’t say for certain that I wouldn’t be seduced by power into acting the same way. My feelings about this are formed by my childhood poverty. This is one reason I know that I cannot prosper without practice.

I think this sutta should be read when wondering about kamma and its results:

“Ānanda, these four people are found in the world. What four? Some person here kills living creatures, steals, and commits sexual misconduct. They use speech that’s false, divisive, harsh, or nonsensical. And they’re covetous, malicious, and have wrong view. When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell.
But some other person here kills living creatures, steals, and commits sexual misconduct. They use speech that’s false, divisive, harsh, or nonsensical. And they’re covetous, malicious, and have wrong view. When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a good place, a heavenly realm.
But some other person here refrains from killing living creatures, stealing, committing sexual misconduct, or using speech that’s false, divisive, harsh, or nonsensical. And they’re contented, kind-hearted, and have right view. When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a good place, a heavenly realm.
But some other person here refrains from killing living creatures, stealing, committing sexual misconduct, or using speech that’s false, divisive, harsh, or nonsensical. And they’re contented, kind-hearted, and have right view. When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell.

The Buddhas goes on to discuss this at length in the sutta, of course. He points out that someone with the divine eye might see the first type of person, and then claim that anyone who kills is reborn in hell, but the Buddha says that is wrong. So, yet again, we see how complex kamma is, and that it’s not as simple as one action mapping directly to one result.

So either kamma is complex beyond our possible understanding (or where are the hordes of meditators with their divine eye open?), or it’s so simple that we can apply baby-logic à la whoever-is-wealthy-is-so-because-they-donated-to-the-sangha-in-a-former-life.

If kamma is indeed that complex then it should be left outside the handful of leaves. But of course if the discourse at the time was so that some law of kamma was taken for granted then the Buddha probably had to comment on it. But then again, there were other important topics he refused to comment on, e.g. if there is a jiva or not, so why not leave the universal aspect of kamma aside?

We run into much less problems if we confine the topic to a much narrower field. For example: “The chances on a retreat (or as a monastic) to improve meditation are much higher if no killing, stealing, gossipping is committed, that’s why while preparing or doing meditation you shall not kill, steal, etc.”

So, why to believe in a cosmic concept that never can realistically be verified, and is also known to have been used to keep society in check, put up with an exploitative social order, etc.?

Well, after enlightenment the Buddha was reluctant to teach because of how difficult he thought it was to understand the Dhamma. We don’t have any reason to believe that he thought kamma was dead simple and that only anatta and Nibbana were difficult. I mean, is there a sutta where the Buddha says, “Oh monks, this kamma stuff is really simple”? Based on the number of suttas where the Buddha had to clarify his own interpretation and understanding of kamma, including the one I posted above, it’s clear that even during his lifetime there was confusion and controversy about it. So, in the same way he tried his best to impart an understanding of anatta, Nibbana, jhanic states, etc., to the unenlightened, he tried to explain kamma in a way that was beneficial to attaining the goal of the holy life. That’s not to say there isn’t more to kamma than is contained in those teachings, but that he taught only what was relevant to practice.

Complexity wasn’t the reason why the Buddha chose to exclude certain topics from discussion. He refused to talk about certain topics because they had no relevance to ending suffering. It’s pretty easy to see how kamma is related to understanding suffering, its cause, its cessation, and the path leading to its cessation. However, does wondering what the kamma was that caused some dude to hit Ajahn Cha help one end suffering? I don’t think it does.

One thing we can say with certainty is that the Buddha did talk over and over again about the impact of the first two of the Three Knowledges. Seeing for himself an infinite number of his own past lives, as well as how beings arise and pass away according to their kamma, was a pivotal point in the Buddha’s understanding of reality. I personally feel that people don’t draw enough attention to what that experience must have been like for the Buddha. It seems like people tend to focus more on the impact of his experiencing impermanence or anatta. However, putting those profound insights aside, what is it like to “only” see ourselves making the same stupid decisions, and suffering the same miserable consequences, millions upon millions of times? I think we can all imagine ourselves 20 years ago and see the silly things we thought were so important back then, especially if we weren’t Buddhists at the time. Imagine that same experience, but looking back over a whole life instead of 20 years, then hundreds of lives, then an infinite number of lives. It would shake anyone to the core. Personally, I find reflecting on kamma in this way to be more conducive to practice than wondering what was the kamma that caused the chicken to cross the road.


I guess you know that the Buddha’s reluctance is absent from the Chinese parallels? But that’s beside the point as it doesn’t relate to kamma specifically.

Not in these words, but there are certainly suttas which present the law of kamma as straightforward,

e.g. AN 4.197: “Take a female who is irritable and bad-tempered… wherever she is reborn she’s ugly, unattractive, and bad-looking; and poor, with few assets and possessions; and insignificant.”

Or AN 5.44: “The person who gives the best, the giver of the foremost, the giver of the excellent, is long-lived and famous wherever he is reborn"

Or SN 1.49: “Those who are stingy here in the world… If they come back to the human state they are born in a poor family”

Or SN 3.20: “Because that financier householder provided the paccekabuddha Tagarasikhı with almsfood, as a result of that kamma he was reborn seven times in a good destination, in the
heavenly world…”

And there are many more examples which strongly suggest a pretty simple logic that everyone can adopt: Give generously → get reborn rich. Be an ill-tempered wife → get reborn ugly and poor.

So, obviously there is a clash between ‘complex-kamma’ suttas and ‘simple-kamma’ suttas. Both can’t be true at the same time.

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You seem upset at something. I suspect it’s not truly what Lord Buddha taught that is causing your reaction, so you might better interrogate something else.

I’ve come to what I find a pretty calm view on exploitative social orders. It’s because I knew people who attempted to achieve an exploitation for their ends through manipulation and violence. Those people were my parents, who were diagnosed as mentally ill, and each sectioned for the safety of society before I was born (and then let out, hence me). And they learnt it from (in each of their cases, one of) their parents, who – in my non-professional opinion, as a Psychology teacher and not someone qualified to diagnose – showed signs of various problems themselves.
Absolutely none of these people were happy. Their power was illusory. And they did not find it easy to learn their lessons – three out of the four destroyed themselves, while still blaming others. They absolutely and with great certainty did not have mastery of their own minds. They were each, with individual differences obviously present, like a sleepwalking child who was walking into danger over and over again, and only reacting to it in the way we react to dreams that take some of our sensory cues and turn them into fantasy.

I don’t know that a cosmic concept is required to explain all this. I don’t know if any of this can truly keep society in check. I don’t think that the exploitative social order I lived in was even really successful, because I rebelled against it in all kinds of ways – as much as possible I am not like that violence or that rage.

At the bottom of my beliefs is that I accept that people are allowed to make mistakes, and to hurt themselves and others because of those mistakes. And they don’t even have to learn from them. To try to counter this with fairness seems to me like trying to collect sunlight in a frying pan. There is no fairness when people can’t even be fair to themselves. We hurt, and we try everything to stop hurting, and sooner or later we think to hurt others so that they correspond to our hurt. We hope that this will make the others look at us with respect, because they will understand. There is no fairness in that. From top to bottom, there’s no fairness at all – to start with we’re not even really being fair to our own feelings, which are that being hurt and hurting others is wrong. I think there can be compassion in it, though.

I practice so that I do less and less that could ever hurt anyone else in a similar way. Whether or not others do so is not my main concern. I have survived being hated, and I refused to hate in return. That is all I could do, but I found it to most definitely be enough.

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My personal perspective on this is that the view of Kamma as a straightforward cause of Vipāka, and the view of the workings of Kamma as more complex, are not at odds with each other. If you take both views at the same time, and the teachings on Kamma throughout the canon, it’s been my experience that they can be reconciled by looking at Kamma as the seeds of a result, which may or may not ripen.

There are, in fact, a couple Suttas that come to mind that support this view.

The first one is MN 136, in which the Buddha explains how Kamma might lead to rebirth in certain planes of existence, and if it doesn’t, it might lead to certain conditions during one’s life. The second one is MN 101, in which he refutes the views of the Nigaṇṭhas by explaining that present experience cannot be accounted for solely by past Kamma, but by present Kamma as well.

What these two have in common, according to the commentary of Thanissaro Bhikkhu, is that they depict Kamma as a non-linear system. If you’re not familiar with systems thinking, a non-linear system is one in which an input does not necessarily correspond directly to an output. It might but not necessarily, because such a system has many other variables to account for, which alter the system’s effects in unpredictable ways.

If you are familiar with systems thinking and theory, then you’ll know right away that there is nothing mystical or obscure about saying that one cannot hope to grasp a complex system with the mind. It’s impossible. Ask any engineer, or mathematician and they’ll say the same thing about these systems that the Buddha said about Kamma.

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