In popular Buddhist teaching, we often hear of collective kamma/karma or shared karma which is postulated as common deed(s) done by a group of people and its result is experienced together by the people. The best example of this collective kamma is the famous Sakyan genocide by Vidudabba, son of King Pasenadi Kosala. Although this is from commentary and commentary doesn’t used the term, but it is said that this genocide is caused by a common deed done by Sakyan people together in the remote past.
Bhante Dhammika in his blog has investigated that the notion of collective kamma is not found from early suttas, but the notion had been used in Vasubhandu’s Abhidharmakosabhasya:
Even though Bhante Dhammika’s explanation is reasonable, but I think the working of kamma is unthinkable and perhaps there is something called collective or shared karma although it is not found in the early suttas.
I remember this was one of the topics addressed the course on Karma & Rebirth in Early Buddhism, run by Bhante Sujato (@sujato) and Ajahn Brahmali (@Brahmali) at the BSWA and the Buddhist Library in 2015.
The specific topic of Colective Kamma was addressed the first workshops, as a myth to be busted.The article found in the link below was part of the course’s suggested readings:
Proponents of collective kamma are long on generalizations but noticeably short on details.
How, for example, does kamma organize all its mass causes and effects?
How and in what form does it store and process all the data needed so that one individual experiences this kammic consequence and another one experiences that?
How do the logistics work that would be needed to guarantee that a large number of individuals are reborn at this time, within that group and at a certain location so as to experience the required suffering?
And what is the force or energy by which kamma makes all these extraordinarily complex arrangements? No explanations are forthcoming.
There seems to be no end to the extraordinary abilities that speculation is able to attribute to kamma. And of course all this may be true. Just let it be known that nothing even remotely like this was taught by the Buddha.
I agree with Ven. Dhammika on this; there is no evidence for collective kamma in the suttas. The expression in the suttas is that we are the heir of our own kamma. If there were a collective element to this, the implication would be that we would be the heir of other people’s kamma as well.
Sometimes it happens, of course, that we do kamma together, while having similar intentions. If we then keep the same company, perhaps because of attachment, it is possible we will reap the result of our actions together, whether in this life or another. But this is not collective kamma, just individual kamma ripening together.
What the Pali says is that the “ripening of kamma” (kammavipāko) is unthinkable (AN 4.77), not understanding the laws of kamma. In fact I think the general laws are fairly straightforward. It is the ripening of kamma from a almost unimaginable number of past actions that is fiendishly difficult to predict.
You are right that how we experience the world depends on how the rulers and everyone else act. This is fairly obvious and something we all know from personal experience. But I don’t think there is any basis in the suttas for calling this collective kamma. Rather, I would say that when you have been reborn as a human because of having made the appropriate kamma in the past, you can expect a certain range of experiences. This range includes rulers and people doing bad things, and it also includes the negative effects of those bad deeds. In other words, this is just part of the experience of being human, and thus it is a result of the overall kamma that made you human in the first place.
Moreover, even though we may be subject to the same social conditions, we experience their effect very differently. This is all about the famous simile of the grain of salt (AN 3.100). What some people experience as negative, others may even see as positive. If the kamma was collective, we should all experience the results in roughly the same way. That’s the whole point of kamma: bad intentions lead to bad experiences, and good intentions to the opposite.
I agree with A.Brahmali. There is no such thing in the suttas and things to not work in that way. The failure of the harvest will affect people in a different way based on their tendencies developed in the past (aka, kamma). A person might get very angry and do something stupid, another might not be affected at all. The more advanced the person, the less he will be affected by kamma. Or the person might have specific tendencies that protect him from particular situations. He might have non-greed developed and not be affected by lack of money. But he might have anger problems and be affected by slight insults from his wife and still suffer during the harvest problems because of his wife.
As for why the harvest failed in the first place, that is because of present kamma. As A.Brahmali had explained, been born as a human gives us a range of possibilities that we can experience. What is fixed is the field, not the possibilities. Believing that the possibilities are rigidly fixed means determinism and leaves little room for present kamma.
These determinist views develop because of our wrong point of view. For example we might look at the situation with our face towards the past. From this point of view, everything looks perfectly conditioned and we conclude that this implies determinism cause that’s how things look from that angle. All our actions and all the things that happen to us such as the harvest look perfectly conditioned by the past. The problem here is to look from another point of view, with our face towards the present. If we want to stretch our hand, he can stretch our hand. That is how Buddha always replied when asked such question about determinism.
A good example I have is regarding online poker and online casinos. The shuffling of the cards is done by a machine conditioned by algorithms and is perfectly determined by conditions. Yet, the process is more random than a normal person shuffling the cards. Nobody even complained about these machines not shuffling the cards right. As far as everybody is concerned the process is random.
Even if a human would shuffle the cards, if we look with our face towards the past we can say all the moves of that human were conditioned and therefore predetermined by the past. The process was exactly the same as a computer program shuffling the cards. And things are the same with the harvest problems. The failure of the harvest is conditioned but is still random, just like cards you receive in online poker. It is just as random as it would be without being dependently arisen and conditioned by lack of rain, winds etc.
The problem here is our point of view. Are we looking towards the past or are we looking towards the present ? We can look at the same thing and see different things depending on our point of view. That is why Buddha always answered in that way when asked about determinism. He simply responded by asking the person to look from another perspective facing towards the present.
Do you mean a better term for akusalamūla? Mūla can be rendered as “motivation,” at least in this context. It’s the driving force behind any action, and in this sense it’s a “root,” which is the literal meaning of mūla. “Unskillful” is not bad for akusala, or you could opt for “unwholesome” which might be better in this context. So how about “unwholesome motivations”?
There are many other factors affecting our lives.
Kamm is only one of the five Niyamas.
The First Niyama (Utu Niyama) is the law of physical matter. It is the physical, inorganic order of existence. Seasonal changes, earthquakes, floods, gravity and heat are some of the many examples. It roughly embraces the laws of physics and chemistry.
The Second Niyama (Bija Niyama) is the law of living matter, the physical organic order, like cells and genes, whose laws are similar to the science of biology.
The Third Niyama (Kamma Niyama) is Karma. Karma is the activity of transforming energy through intention, speech and action. The result of this energy transformation is only considered wholesome or skillful if less suffering or no suffering is produced. Karma is the cause, and Vipaka (Pali) is the result. It is the principle of conditionality operative on the moral plane. This sequence of cause and consequence replaces a divine law giver. In Buddhism there is a moral law, but no lawgiver and no one to administer it. This Niyama pertains to the world of ethical responsibility.
The Fourth Niyama (Dhamma Niyama) is the Spiritual or transcendent. This principle of conditionality operates on the spiritual level. The natural phenomenon that occurs with the birth of a Buddha, and the reasons for Buddhist Practice are in this group. This Niyama has to do with the spiritual laws that govern ultimate reality.
The Fifth Niyama (Citta Niyama) is mind. This Niyama implies mental activity such as consciousness, perception, conception, etc. Mental phenomenon arises because of conditions; the mind is not an independent agent. This is like the science of psychology.
This is a good quote. However, it makes a point that applies equally well to some of the forms of individual kamma that people believe in as well.
The problem with relying on the “Well, it’s a mystery” response to defend faith-based beliefs for which no really defensible rational justification can be given is that such a response then opens the door to belief in many other kinds of rationally unsupported beliefs.