Did the Buddha ever say there is a ”Law of Karma”?

Kamma is one of the four ”unthinkables” in buddhism = AN4.77

But despite this the Buddha refuted many wrong views regarding our intentional actions, speech and thoughts when talking to others sects.

So how and when in buddhist history did kamma all of a sudden become formulated as an ”Impersonal law of justice in the universe”, when the Buddha never said such a thing himself? Or did he?

That there could even be a ”Law of Karma” is highly problematic for numreous reasons:

*It somehow implies that all those good innocent people suffering unjustly in their current life, still somehow deserve the suffering due to ”past life karma” - but the Buddha refuted the whole ”past life karma”-thing when speaking with the Jains.

So anyone claiming such a thing is wrong from a buddhist point of view.

*Another problem is of course that if you truly believe there is a ”law of karma”- someone doing evil things will, eventually, get back exactly what they put out.

This means that a rapist would need to feel in a future life what it is like to be raped. The problem with this wrong view is of course that thanks to this rapists will never go away! Because thanks to the ”law of karma” someone needs to feel the effects of their evil deeds and others need to commit these evil deeds, rape, in order to balance out the ”karma”. And then those rapists need to be punished by yet other rapists…An never-ending circle of evil deeds FOR NO GOOD AT ALL since it doesn’t destroy the possibility of the evil deeds in question ever going away.

*Kamma is only our intentions. Not a ”impersonal law in the universe” to set things right regarding justice.

Let us say a father has to hurry to the hospital with his daughter with the sole intention of saving her life and on his way there close to the hospital he accidently hits a doctor with his car resulting in the doctor dying. The father had no intention to kill the doctor and to make things worse this doctor was the expert surgeon that was called in to the hospital to save the daughters life…

Everyone involved had good intentions but it ended in a whole nother way.

So that being said surely there never was nor never will be such a thing as: ”the impersonal universal law of karma”…?


What we do find though in buddhism is that evil people go to hell.

There is no mention of hell in the vedas but the Buddha described the various hells in MN 130 in detail. The sutta even ends with the Buddha saying:

I tell you this, monks, not from having heard it from another contemplative or brahman. On the contrary, I tell you this just as I have known for myself, seen for myself, understood for myself.

So instead of claiming there is a ”law of karma” it would be wiser to actually say that rapists and other evil-doers go to hell or have an animal rebirth.

This is the most sensible solution and more likely to put an end to evil intentional actions than having evil deeds continue on and on via ”the law of karma” - for no good whatsoever.

Thoughts? :pray:

No, that’s is not wiser and that’s in direct contradiction with what the Buddha taught us.

There are many suttas to clarify about the law of kamma, hopefully other people will contribute to help you here.

It seems to me, Loṇakapallasutta AN 3.100 is one among those relevant sutta:

Yo, bhikkhave, evaṁ vadeyya: ‘yathā yathāyaṁ puriso kammaṁ karoti tathā tathā taṁ paṭisaṁvedetī’ti, evaṁ santaṁ, bhikkhave, brahmacariyavāso na hoti, okāso na paññāyati sammā dukkhassa antakiriyāya.

Yo ca kho, bhikkhave, evaṁ vadeyya: ‘yathā yathā vedanīyaṁ ayaṁ puriso kammaṁ karoti tathā tathā tassa vipākaṁ paṭisaṁvedetī’ti, evaṁ santaṁ, bhikkhave, brahmacariyavāso hoti, okāso paññāyati sammā dukkhassa antakiriyāyā”ti.

Further looking gives me one more relevant sutta for your thought which is Mahākammavibhaṅgasutta MN 136. I am sure there are still a lot more.

Again, further looking gives me another one: Titthāyatanasutta AN 3.61

But reading AN 3.100 is further proof that there is no ”law of karma” to begin with and in no way a contradiction.

What kind of person does a trivial bad deed, but it lands them in hell? A person who hasn’t developed their physical endurance, ethics, mind, or wisdom. They’re small-minded and mean-spirited, living in suffering. That kind of person does a trivial bad deed, but it lands them in hell.
What kind of person does the same trivial bad deed, but experiences it in the present life, without even a bit left over, let alone a lot? A person who has developed their physical endurance, ethics, mind, and wisdom. They’re not small-minded, but are big-hearted, living without limits. That kind of person does the same trivial bad deed, but experiences it in the present life, without even a bit left over, not to speak of a lot.

If someone is a very honest person pretty much all the time but tells a trivial lie the consequences of this are insignificant. But if someone who constantly tell lies to mislead people and makes a living as scammer tells a trivial lie this person is bound for a bad rebirth, even hell.

MN136 just points out that eventhough someone has commited evil deeds in their life they can still go to heaven when they die, if the evil intentions are truly eradicated thanks to right view. Likewise a good ethical person can somewhere down the line take on wrong views and go to hell.

Now, Ānanda, take the case of the person here who refrained from killing living creatures … and had right view, and who is reborn in hell. They must have done a bad deed to be experienced as painful either previously or later, or else at the time of death they undertook wrong view. And that’s why, when their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell.

I’ve already mentioned AN 3.61 in my first post. The Jains I mentioned have the view:

There are some ascetics and brahmins who have this doctrine and view: ‘Everything this individual experiences—pleasurable, painful, or neutral—is because of past deeds.’

The Budhha refuted this wrong view, but those that claim there is a ”law of karma” use that exact wrong view that the Buddha refuted to explain ”the workings of law of karma”.

There is no direct contradiction to what the Buddha taught in anything you posted regarding what I wrote. But to claim that there is a ”law of karma” and explain things by using the same arguments that the Buddha refuted, that is truly in direct contradiction to what the Buddha taught.

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Just to chime in and clarify, actions snd thier consequences (“kamma”) is analysed by the buddha exactly the same way as actors (“beings”) are analysed by the buddha:

Actors, thier actions, and the consequences of thier actions cannot be:

Not eternal

But are


This philosophy is most comprehensivly explained in DN1 and DN2 (and DN9) but is also used explicitly for kamma at SN12.17 and elsewhere, please see

For more examples.


“The Law of Kamma”, is nothing to do with ‘justice’. ‘Justice’ is a conditioned and fabricated concept (impermanent and not self). It is a ‘Law’, because it is an example of the Law of conditionality, that is specifically about ‘becomming’ - how Beings change both within this life and accross rebirth.

This is also why there is no absolute predictability with regards to outcomes, it is relative not absolute. The specific outcomes/effects depend on a vast number of factors and conditions, including Right View, and as such are ‘unthinkable’, but the ability to differentiate between wholesome/beneficial v/s unwholesome and unbeneficial (RV), is a good indicator of the inclination towards certain states. If one has Wrong View then the ‘becomming’ will be conditioned in a way that leads to unbeneficial states. This is why it is relative not absolute.

This mechanism (of kamma) is what affects Dependent Origination (or one could say that DO is the mechanism of kamma). That is why, once reality is seen as it really is, when one has penetrated DO, one is Liberated from rebirth… because ‘the law of kamma’ has been overriden, one is no longer subject to conditioned becomming… it is a state without craving or the momentum to pick up, grasp and become something. The ending of Kamma. Dependent Cessation mode :slightly_smiling_face:

Added: To get a bit more detailed and deeper…

RV is related to Ignorance (avija) in the DO scheme. This informs Sankharas. These then have a direct conditioning effect on NamaRupa. The mutually dependent NR and Vinnana are what determines rebirth (or deep conditioned change within this life). This part is exactly where Kamma is formed. Now I’ll add a strong rider here - this is really where one needs deep meditation and to have already put in place substantial conditioning, to enable the perception required to see it. Intellectual analysis (while there is not yet fully developed Right View/wisdom), will not yield the required results for direct realisation… but it is good to know what to keep an eye out for in deeper practice and to steer things in a beneficial direction.


The Buddha was able to perceive the rebirth of beings according to their kamma vipaka thereby verifying the action of it. He calls on us to similarly verify the results of our thoughts:

"And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with sensuality arose in me. I discerned that ‘Thinking imbued with sensuality has arisen in me; and that leads to my own affliction or to the affliction of others or to the affliction of both. It obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding.’

Majjhima Nikaya 19

Kamma is simply the law of cause and effect, no different to the physical law like a hammer hitting a nail, but carried to the psychological level. Not believing in it is therefore illogical and puts the stress solely on material causes, which opposes the Buddhist emphasis on mind and shows ‘Western materialistic ignorance’. Not believing in the action of kamma is the primary indication of wrong view (Majjhima Nikaya 117).

Just to make sure I understand you correctly, when you say something like this:

Did you mean you endorse/accept/encourage/approve/agree with such statement “rapists and other evil-doers go to hell or have an animal rebirth”?

I am having an impression that you incline/prefer/endorse that statement “rapists and other evil-doers go to hell or have an animal rebirth”. That’s why I said in my post “No, that’s is not wiser and that’s in direct contradiction with what the Buddha taught us.”

If you instead were making a point to counter such statement “rapists and other evil-doers go to hell or have an animal rebirth” then I would have misunderstood you. And if I have misunderstood you, then you would have my apology.

By the way, I just found another sutta which is also among the relevant ones: Saṅkhadhamasutta SN 42.8

There are no laws of cause and effect in “western” scientific theories, they are time symetric and work equally well explaining the nail exploding out of the wood and flinging back the hammer.

The OP is right that there is NO place in the ebt that endorses a fixed law relating actions to consequences, and in fact MANY, including as i pointed out SN12.17 and others that EXPLICITLY deny such a law is possible.

MN117 is substantivly different from MA189 and is therfore almost certainly sectarian in its contents in the Pali.

The obsession of “western” misunderstanding of buddhism is xenophobia pure and simple and I would warn anyone trying to take the ebt, as opposed to the just the pali, seriously, to be deeply wary of posters here who more or less explicitly defend medieval therevadan exegisis as “original buddhism” and attempt to convince “westerners” there is something special about them that makes understanding (therevada) buddhism difficult or impossible.

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My critique is based how some buddhist monastics, when speaking about kamma, try to explain things that happen or have happened in the world due to the workings of this ”law of karma”. Even using the Jain view that the Buddha refuted when telling their stories.

So it would be wiser to say, just like the Buddha, that to be a human is a very rare thing and the result of mostly wholesome intentions. Eventhough we are close to 8 billion we only make up 0.01% of earth’s life according to science. So if someone doesn’t quit commiting evil deeds and gain right view they are bound for a bad rebirth. Kamma should be explained in the context of rebirth and not as a ”fixed law” that one can apply to all the various things taking place among and between humans.

I wish monastics tried to explain things more after what the Buddha taught because all this talk of a law is quite frankly inhumane and a disservice.
One elder monk went so far as saying a little child having cancer is due to ”past life kamma”…Or even silly anecdotes/stories like what happened in these stories actually had anything to do with ”the law of karma”…

Ven. Nāgasena’s answer to King Milinda regarding unseen demonic beings and how we can only see these, to us normally unseen beings, when they have died as snakes or scorpions etc. was a real eye-opener to me regarding kamma-rebirth.
Sure, the scientific community and so-called intellectuals would probably ridicule and laugh at such a view, but honestly who cares? It is closer to what the Buddha actually taught and we are not here to cater to the views of materialists.

BTW materialists are not exclusively found in the west:

I had no clue Ajita Kesakambalī was a westerner… :wink:

Until the greeks invaded India there were no Buddha statues. Much later on Thailand adopted Buddhism. Due to the thai cultural belief that the feet are dirty one should never, under no circumstance, point the feet at a Buddha statue.

These two things, the western Buddha statues and the eastern belief regarding feet, obviously have nothing to do with buddhism at all - but they still complement each other very well to this day. :stuck_out_tongue:

Thank you very much for your two excellent posts! :+1: :grinning:

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No worries @Dhabba !

Basically I think this site is a fantastic resource for ALL buddhists AND even Non-Buddhists interstes in the history of religion, in philosophy, and in asian literature more generally.

However it is important to realise that many of the community ARE religious, and many of them follow some contemporary “school” of Buddhism.

If you have not read Jain texts, Upanishadic texts, or Mahayana texts, and you have ONLY read Pali texts and Therevada scholars and thier western acedemic sympathisers and specialists, then you will have a biased view of the early buddhist texts, which, as many have pointed out, are different when we thoughtfully explore the pali AND chinese, (and sanskrit, and tibetan, and etc).

When we do this it is very clear that the “abhidhamma” style texts are substantivly later than the “sutta” texts, and I argue that this is true again (to a lesser extent) of the relationships between the beginnings of D and M and the ends of M (MN117 is a good example) and S (and E, but thats a more complicated story).

Basically the sekkha in DN2 is the kernal of the narrative suttas and it is fairly simple to see the evolution of the system simply by taking the “formulas” “tropes” “pericopes” or whatever you want to call Rhy Davids’ “short prose passages repeated everywhere” and taking them to be individually early, while “abidhamma” style combinations of them, like MN117 and basically all the prose part of S, are the later works.

This is abundantly confurmed when we look to the comparitive “ideal canon” of the overlap and agreement between the pali and chinese, which taken together show that a lot of the doctrinal content of S is disputed between the schools, while the substantive portions, say the abayakata arguments and the hinderences/jhana, are in complete agreement between the languages, indicating a clear priority to the the therefore earlier material.

Anyway, all this is to say that when you ask a question here, you get 2 different kinds of answers,

Answers from people who are trying to understand buddhism by studying the texts

And from people who are trying to understand the texts by studying (contemporary, whatever school) buddhism.

My advice is to study the texts, and at least in Pali and Chinese.


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I agree that there will be very different answers based on the perspectives of those coming at it from different points of interest.

However, you didnt mention those coming at it from a practice and experiential direction. This is not about a ‘school’ of Buddhism, but of actually doing the practice as the Buddha teaches in the EBTs, pali, chinese - all EBTs…

As you and i have discussed before, there is a fundamental difference if one is using the texts as a ‘practice manual’ to literally follow in the Buddhas footsteps, (with a goal of ending rebirth and Nibbana), versus studying the texts from a linguistic, philosophical or historical perspective.

It is good to be clear about this and not to get it mixed up :slightly_smiling_face:

Added: of course the work done to establish the authenticity of the Buddhist texts is incredibly valuable. However, while it highlights later additions and distortions etc, thus informing practice, in itself it is not a substitute for practice.


I couldnt agree more @Viveka ! and of course all these perspectives are valuable and depend on what your purposes are!

Socrates probably never ehard a word of dhamma, but it is always wise to listen carefully to the wise!


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