Consciousness and karma

Hi all,

I was having a meal, suddenly I saw there was an insect. Not far from where I sat, other customer saw it too and told the staff. The waiter went to the back and grabbed a tool to kill that insect, the insect was killed.

Do I get some part of the karma of killing, since I was already aware the staff was going to kill it but did not prevent it or encourage him not to kill it? I was thinking to save the insect before it got killed but had nothing with me and I don’t normally catch or hold an insect using bare hands.

I heard many times that if there is consciousness, there is karma. Since I consciously saw there was an insect, did I get some part of the karma of killing? And why? Any reply will be appreciated, thanks.

The most important aspect of karma is intention. If you didn’t have the intention to kill the insect and you also didn’t kill the insect, it’s not your bad karma. Now you could have made some good karma by saving it’s life, but as you saw, that’s not always possible. So maybe try to learn from what happened and think if there’s anything you should try to do differently if you were to find yourself in a similar situation again.


Really? Is that something people say these days? (Genuine question!)

The suttas say that intention, or “choice” is karma. Being aware or conscious of something is not in and of itself karma, it is merely one of the prerequisites. Karma involves a choice to act in an ethical or unethical manner. “Action” in this case includes mental action, and it also includes failure to act.

So in the case you describe, if you see that a sentient being is in danger, and you know you can save it, and you don’t make an effort to do so, I would say, yes, there is a small amount of unskillful karma there. But only a little! The fact that you even care about it is a much bigger positive karma. It means that next time, and in more important contexts, you’re likely to act in a positive way.


“Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, and intellect."AN 6.63

Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi says as follows in a note to the above.
“This should probably be understood to mean that volition is a necessary factor in creating kamma, not that volition on its own invariably and in all instances creates kamma. It can thus be seen as a counterfoil to the jain position that any action, even an unintentional one, creates kamma.”

I think what is important now is not to dwell on this issue continuously to the extent it becomes a repentance which will lead to unwholesome situations. There are so many things in this world which we are aware of but due to various reasons we do not do anything about them. For example, there are millions of people dying of starvation but how many of us do anything at all about it.?.

Just my thoughts please.
With Metta


Hi bhante, thanks for your reply.

I was not sure if its life can be saved, though. It was likely they wouldn’t care with what I said, I had no tool and was having meal. The killing happened quite fast after they were told by other customer.

I find consciousness and intention is closely related, sometimes it is difficult to make a distinction whether there is intention or not.

An example:
One is aware turning on TV can disturb someone in the house, therefore he should turn the volume down or turn it off, although his intention is to watch TV. Why he should turn the TV off if his intention is not to disturb someone, right? I think the answer is probably because he is already aware/conscious it disturbs someone in the house, is this correct?

@Nimal But according to AN 6.63, intention is kamma. How can we relate this to what Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi says that volition is just another factor in creating kamma?

In that case, there is no karma involved.

For sure. That’s why mindfulness is so important, so we can reflect and clarify our intention.

Well, I’d look at it like this. If you turn the telly on loudly, there’s no negative intention to disturb anyone. But there’s also no positive intention to consider the happiness of others. You simply don’t care about them. Your choice to act in that way is based on the fact that, in that moment, you only care for your own temporary happiness, not the happiness of others. So the negative karma doesn’t come from the intention to disturb, but from the lack of compassion. Does that make sense?


Some people can be indifferent to everything but that consciousness or state of mind, I would say, is not the same as intention. Therefore, do you think don’t care or lack of compassion is more about a state of mind than an intention?

Excellent, yes indeed, and that is one of the most important distinctions made in the suttas on this point. Note how i said, “negative karma doesn’t come from the intention to disturb, but from the lack of compassion”? The lack of compassion is the underlying condition—the kilesa or akusalamūla—which conditions our choices. Now of course it can be difficult to distinguish, but the difference is real, and crucial. Even if our mind is full of unskillful qualities, we can still choose to not act out on them.


It is indeed liberating to realise this in our cultivation of the path. Also it is noteworthy that it is somehow implied in the formulation of the path that to get to the point in which that choice gets clear, evident and obvious a gradual and natural, impersonal and positive process is to be started. The memory of a Buddha, the presence of a Sangha and the living of his teachings being the most powerful and promising trigger to that process.


Let me quote from Upali Sutta MN.56 as follows.

"“What then do you think, householder? Suppose there was a naked ascetic here restrained with the four kinds of restraint: He is restrained as regards all evil; is devoted to restraint as regards all evil; has shaken off all evil; is pervaded with restraint as regards all evil; he, whilst walking up and down, inflicts destruction upon many tiny creatures. Now, householder, what does Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta declare is the result of this?”

“Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta, Venerable Sir, declares that what is unintentional is not heinous.”

”But, householder, if it is intentional?”

”Then, Venerable Sir, it is heinous.”"

So I understand Ven Bodhi’s comment to mean that intention has to be present in order for the kamma to be complete. This is evident from what I quoted above from Upali Sutta.

Also there are five conditions that must be present for the first precept to be violated. ie
1.It must be a living being.
2. One must be aware that it is a living being.
3.There must be the intention to kill.
4. One must take the effort to kill.
5. The living being must die.
Only when all the above conditions are present a person has violated the first precept. So intention is only one of the five conditions and even if all other four conditions are present but there is no intention then there is no kamma. This shows the importance of intention without which kamma cannot happen. Hence, intention is kamma.
With Metta.

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So I think it’s safe to say that when one is conscious his action causes harm to himself and/or others then he should exercise restrain.

But in terms of lack of compassion, as you said, is the underlying condition, just like other latent defilements. What creates karma is our choices, right? In this case, his choice is watching telly. One refrains from harming others but when it comes to “karma is intention” i’m not sure how to understand that. Maybe when someone is aware of something, there is an element of intention?

Thanks for your reply.
I think consciously know turning on TV can disturb someone is creating negative kamma but consciously know someone is killing an insect is not creating unwholesome kamma. I think it depends on whether one is the doer or not. What do you think?

Yes Bhante, it is something people say these days.
I have been told - on two separate occasions by different people - that because I am vegan I deny animals the chance to make good kamma and leave the animal realm by feeding people. My response is that as the animals don’t wish to be killed and eaten they’re not making any kind of kamma, whereas the butcher who intends to kill them is. The response has been that I don’t understand kamma, that because they are living creatures they can make kamma, which the butcher helps them to do, and that I’m too selfish to eat them in order to make that kamma for them!


Wow, that’s really amazing. It is such a shame that the beautiful teachings on karma have been so misunderstood and distorted.

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Do you mean not to eat them?

With Metta

This is precisely so. I think one should not take anything to such an extreme. If we do that, we cannot do anything at all. After all, The Buddha showed the middle way ie the Noble Eight Fold Path for all of us to follow.

Besides, everyone has their own share of kamma. In SN 35.146 Buddha said as follows.

"“And what, bhikkhus, is old kamma? The eye is old kamma, to be seen as generated and fashioned by volition, as something to be felt. The ear is old kamma … The mind is old kamma, to be seen as generated and fashioned by volition, as something to be felt. This is called old kamma.

“And what, bhikkhus is new kamma? Whatever action one does now by body, speech, or mind. This is called new kamma."

I would personally take this type of situations as blessings in disguise. Because, this shows me that Dukkha is so prevalent and is caused by Tanha. and the noble eight fold path is the way.

With Metta



Wow, the veiws of these people are really misinformed. Unless I’m totally misunderstanding what they have told you, I suggest completely ignoring their ‘advice’. People can misuse & misrepresent all kinds of teachings, including profound Dhamma ones, to justify just about anything. [quote=“Varada, post:14, topic:3701”]
My response is that as the animals don’t wish to be killed and eaten they’re not making any kind of kamma, whereas the butcher who intends to kill them is.

Yes, precisely.

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Sorry, yes I do mean not eat. Thank you Nimal for correcting me - I don’t know how to edit my original comment.

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Thank you Linda.

Of course I ignore their “advice”. I’ve been vegan for many years now because I believe that it’s wrong to torture and kill animals. My comment was just an answer to Bhante Sujato’s response to SC1100.

I heard many times that if there is consciousness, there is karma
Ajahn Sujato:
Really? Is that something people say these days? (Genuine question!)

But I guess my vegan soapbox came out with it.

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