SuttaCentral

Consequences for the "Five Heinous Crimes"? What do the EBTs say?

I’ve always wondered about the “5 heinous crimes” (killing your mother, killing your father, killing an arhat, shedding the blood of a Buddha, and causes a Schism in the Sangha). The traditional belief is that performing one of more of these deeds is so terrible that it will automatically lead to rebirth in hell in the next life — there is nothing one can do after to avoid this fate. However, is this a claim made by later writings, or is this belief in the EBTs themselves?

At the end of the Samaññaphala Sutta (DN 2), the Buddha said that, had King Ajatasattu not killed his father, he would have become a stream winner at that very moment. The Buddha doesn’t say that he will necessarily go to hell. Nor does he say (at least as far as I can tell from the English translation) that he cannot ever become a steam winner this lifetime, just that he couldn’t after giving the sermon. It’s the commentary that makes the claim that he is doomed to hell.

So I’m curious…what’s the earliest reference to the precise claim that committing one of the 5 grave offenses ALWAYS leads to hell?

2 Likes

There’s AN 5.129:

“Mendicants, these five fatal wounds lead to a place of loss, to hell. What five? Murdering your mother or father or a perfected one; maliciously shedding the blood of a Realized One; and causing a schism in the Saṅgha. These five fatal wounds lead to a place of loss, to hell.”

But it doesn’t say they lead to hell in the immediately following life.

In addition to DN 2, there is also AN 6.87 that says that you can’t become a stream-winner if you commit one of these crimes.

“Mendicants, someone with six qualities is unable to enter the sure path with regards to skillful qualities even when listening to the true teaching. What six? They murder their mother or father or a perfected one. They maliciously shed the blood of a Realized One. They cause a schism in the Saṅgha. They’re witless, dull, and stupid. Someone with these six qualities is unable to enter the sure path with regards to skillful qualities, even when listening to the true teaching.

3 Likes

Thanks for your response, @vimalanyani, and congrats on your recent ordination :slightly_smiling_face: :pray:

AN 5.129 seems a bit vague. There are other Suttas that talk about “deed XYZ leads to hell,” but I don’t think that means they necessarily lead to hell with no hope for redemption (unless there is something in the original Pali that makes this more obvious).

AN 6.87 is interesting. It does seem to suggest that somehow committing one of the 5 bad deeds clouds your mind in a way that makes it impossible to understand the teaching when exposed. I dunno, does it leave open the possibility of purifying yourself, though?

I don’t think there’s anything more on the 5 crimes in the EBTs to answer your questions.

But these categorical statements are a little hard to reconcile with other EBT teachings on kamma. Since kamma is intention, then an act like “killing one’s mother” can happen due to many different kinds of intention that would also originate from different grades of mental impurity.

For example, you could kill your mother out of hate. You could kill your mother because she is extremely violent and abusive in an act of self-defense. You could kill someone not knowing it is your mother. You could just mess around or be playful, and by accident your mother is killed. You could theoretically maybe euthanize your mother out of compassion (?).

Since the intentions are different, why would they all have the same result — block stream-winning / lead to hell?
And it would also depend on your intention how impure your mind is and whether you could purify it later or not.

6 Likes

Yeah, I agree, something about this teaching doesn’t sit well with me. FWIW, Buddha in the Samaññaphala Sutta mentions how the King killed his father out of greed/ambition AND, on top of that, that the father was a righteous man. So it’s not quite as simple as “The Buddha condemned the king simply for killing his father.”