Homeless fellow humans having a bad karma issue?

We understood it the same way. Because as you say, it’s not logical that so many people can have the exact same karma. We can’t even all agree on how much sugar to add to a cup of tea!

If you would like some background on the suffering due to underdevelopment in political science we have decided that lack of development is due to poor institutions. These institutions allow for corruption by higher members of society to making it function, also known as greed. The way to get rid of this corruption? No clear answer! Every method devised since the 1970s has failed, it appears to mostly due to chance events that disrupt the ruling elite who loosen their grip on power and capital. All my friends were mad at this answer, and my Buddhist buzzer went off! :rofl:
The good news is, according to a 2019 World Bank report, the poverty is declining despite greedy people ruling developing countries, likely by chance but we may find a cause in the future.

I would say it enters because you have control over it. It’s an intentional action that generates positive results. I don’t have my sutta book with me that has a few examples to cite, but it’s very frequent in the canon where having goodwill toward everything, if given wisely, can’t have a bad effect (worst case you end up in heaven for a few eons and fall back into the more unpleasant regions of samsara later). Therefore if you can forgive people for intentional and unintentional actions–for example unintentionally insulting someone because you accidently hit a sensitive topic–then you are doing a good action with a good intention (letting go of anger with the intention of building harmony).


Not sure why this is not logical. If you can say that it’s not logical that someone could have done so many past bad deeds, then you’d have to say it’s not logical that someone could experience so much suffering in one single life. But of course they do.

To understand all this we really need to have the Buddha’s understanding of the nature of this conditioned existence. I’m glad for those beings who are having a happy time in samsara. But this is a very rare experience. For the most part samsara is really, really horrible. Even humans experiencing the worst of human suffering are far better off than beings in the hell realms.

One of the best ways to ground ourselves in this understanding is by absorbing the explanations about samsara found in the Anamatagga Samyutta. SuttaCentral

I think one of the biggest challenges in thinking about karma is not bringing with us any preconceptions based on the Christian world view (if that is our background). Because those concepts just don’t fit in to the Buddha’s teachings. Punishment, sin, forgiveness, redemption. They just don’t track well.


Yes, thank you, Gabriel. I would second this. Karma was used by Buddhists as a pedagogical tool to convince people to avoid immoral behavior as much as possible, not give them ways to rationalize bad events and suffering. Unfortunately, it’s a natural extension of the concept to start using it to basically say, “Well, that must have happened for a reason.” The original idea, though, was to give people a concrete way to think about their actions and the results they have.

Wasn’t it the case that outside of Buddhism other ascetics were trying to absolve themselves of past bad actions with the self-mortification practices? I seem to recall that, which would mean the Buddhist way of talking about karma was a shift away from the absolution practices. Instead of making yourself suffer for bad deeds, you washed them away with new good deeds.


The following by Dr Walpola Sri Rahula in his book “What the Buddha Taught” can be relevant:

The theory of karma should not be confused with so-called ‘moral justice’ or ‘reward and punishment’. The idea of moral justice, or reward and punishment, arises out of the conception of a supreme being, a God, who sits in judgment, who is a law- giver and who decides what is right and wrong. The term ‘justice’ is ambiguous and dangerous, and in its name more harm than good is done to humanity. The theory of karma is the theory of cause and effect, of action and reaction; it is a natural law, which has nothing to do with the idea of justice or reward and punishment.


We don’t know what is in our own or someone else’s kamma ‘field’ or when those seed may bear fruit. All beings are heirs to theIr actions. As long as there is a being in any state, happy or unhappy, there is dukkha. That is reason enough for compassion for every being.


Ajahn Liem- Dealing with the worldly dhammas


Yes, they do. But I find it clear that this has (if not all then) much more to do with the karma of others - the ones causing suffering to their fellow humans in this present life - than with the karma of the people that are suffering collectively. Karma is not a punishing tool after all. If we take the example of the recent bushfires in Australia where many families, friends and animals have suffered, that’s the immediate effect of the rising temperatures worldwide due to the fact that some people (a small percentage of all humans) consume much more than they need to stay alive. We might consider that bushfires are as well the effect of the poor attitude of Australian people in the past towards the Aboriginals. But that is exactly a monotheistic view that I find not rational, not logical and not useful at all to make this world a better place. It is making people feel guilty (very useful in a monotheistic society where one God is of course easily replaced by one government) in stead of lifting them up to change something for the better in this life.

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Regarding homeless and giving:

DN33:3.1.95: A person might give a gift after insulting the recipient. Or they give out of fear. Or they give thinking, ‘They gave to me.’ Or they give thinking, ‘They’ll give to me.’ Or they give thinking, ‘It’s good to give.’ Or they give thinking, ‘I cook, they don’t. It wouldn’t be right for me to not give to them.’ Or they give thinking, ‘By giving this gift I’ll get a good reputation.’ Or they give thinking, ‘This is an adornment and requisite for the mind.’

Give adornments and requisites for the mind with love, compassion, rejoicing and equanimity to all homeless above, below, across, everywhere and all around.

Monks also are homeless, they are the homeless above. :pray:


Hi Karl, what do you when you say a monk is a homeless above? Buddhist monastics may not be owners or renters but they are living a houseless life by a deliberate choice. They feel at home were they live, I wish for all of them. Where as so called homeless humans did not become houseless and homeless by choice. You simply can’t be both houseless and homeless by choice. That’s the difference we should make between houseless and homeless. I personally may be travelling right now (that’s by choice) but I’m not feeling homeless. And the other way around - that other underestimated tragedy in our civilisations - I may be the owner of a house but still feel homeless. I’m rich but I feel miserable & lonely and why would I care about people who have no houses - the homeless so we call them - and share my house with them.


Teresia, as a layperson, I think of the Noble Ones as above me in the path. The vinaya has many rules about “aboveness” such as not teaching while sitting to one standing. With this, I extend the brahmavihara practice (e.g., above, below, …) to giving.

What interesting to me about the Buddha’s advice on giving is that the eighth way of giving is the noblest and most mindful. To give adornments and requisites for the mind is to give for others benefit on the Noble Eightfold Path. In such giving there is no thought given to kamma or judging. Instead, one gives according to a mindful awareness of benefit. In this way one gave give food or shelter to the Noble Ones for the good of all. In this way one can also give food and shelter to the homeless for sustenance and support in their journey back to self-reliance.

Our cities are filling with the homeless. Attitudes of callous indifference have proven ineffective. Attitudes of aggressive hostility have also not diminished the flood of homeless. So we must do better to tackle the homeless issue. And if we cannot ignore or repulse, then perhaps it is time to think about how to give. We need to learn how to give without perpetuating the suffering of homelessness. Without mending the fraying social fabric, we all suffer.

Giving should be mindful but not judgmental. Kamma does what it does on its own without needing backseat drivers. But we can be mindful of our gifts to the exiled homeless and transform the pit into which they have been pushed or fallen, transform that deep dark pit into a valley from which they can walk out on their own.


But how do you know that? Do you have the ability to see the actions that people did in the past? What makes this clear to you? Your own logic and reasoning? The Buddha said that coming to a conclusion through reasoning can turn out to be right or wrong. Now, coming to a conclusion through faith can also turn out right or wrong.

When it comes to the workings of karma, it is only through the direct seeing of the actions in previous lives and the direct seeing of their results that the truth can be known. Short of that, we are operating on faith in the Buddha’s enlightenment.

Lets take a stripped down example such as theft. The Buddha taught that one of the results of stealing is that in the future our own possessions will be taken from us. So here I am in this life and something is stolen from me. I could say, from my perspective, “I was separated from my possession because someone took it from me.” This is 100% true. The other person stole from me. We can even ask, “Why did they steal from me?” and the answer could be “Because they have greed.” All this is true. But none of that has to contradict the possibility that the reason behind my being separated from my possession was the theft I committed in a previous life.

The problem comes when we start to say something like “Thieves should not be punished because it is all the fault of people who have things stolen from them. The victim is really a perpetrator because if the victim had not stolen in a previous life, then the thief would not have stolen from them.” Of course this is absurd. And it’s equally absurd if people use the law of karma to argue against solving the very real systematic injustices that exist in the world, including the colossal greed that is causing environmental problems.

But solving these injustices does not require abandoning a belief in karma.

And saying that karma makes people feel guilty and is therefore monotheistic and therefore bad? Well, that doesn’t make sense. Karma empowers people to have control over their choices and their outcomes. One can just as easily not feel guilty because if actions were done in a previous life, why should I feel guilty about that? Past is past. Better to focus on good actions in the present. If learning about karma makes someone feel guilty, then they haven’t learned enough about it.

Misunderstanding and misapplication of the law of karma is a real thing. But the fact that people misunderstand it does not invalidate karma. And we can’t make definitive conclusions about a system that we have no way of directly observing (life to life results).

[If it’s not clear, I agree with you on the nature of the systemic problems and the injustices in the present life. I also believe they should be solved as much as possible. I just don’t think rejecting karma is helpful for solving them, if that is what you are proposing, although it may not be.]


They are probably both true. For instance, if a cliff falls out from under me, that’s my karma to have that happen to me, but I certainly hope someone would at least try to save me. The idea that karma exempts us from having basic human decency towards those we perceive (and perceive is the key word here) to be less fortunate than us is a bad piece of folk Buddhism, the worst piece IMO.


Hi Snowbird, I do not know half of what you know about karma.
But the past isn’t always a foreign country. It may as well be yesterday.
I know very well what I did yesterday. I might know what others did yesterday.
Does it matter what someone did in a past life? Of course I can not see in the past.
I try to see karma in this present life as it is the only life I am living right now.
In that sense, if I do bad to you in this life, it will instantly effect me.
I will suffer from it and you will suffer from it. Is that not enough to know
that what I do wrong to you today is by far more important than what you did
wrong to me in an earlier life? What does it matter as we are living today.

No, I do not reject karma. On the contrary, I am sure karma exists.
But I prefer to live today as that is already challenging enough :slight_smile:
All that matters to me, is that we take up responsibility of our actions in this life.
So it touches me that you all inspire me to stick to that. Thank you so much.
I guess next time I will just write a haiku on Sutta Central :slight_smile:


I pretty much came here to say what @Coemgenu said. Sure, the homeless person may have the bad kamma to have gotten into that situation, but they also have the good kamma to cross paths with you and the help you may offer. If they don’t take it, that’s on them. As for the fatalistic friend…poor thing! He or she is really missing out on making merit! Not to mention the Golden Rule. Uppekkha isn’t about apathy; it’s more like the serenity prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can change, and the wisdom to know the difference.” There are going to be people you try to help who are going to throw your help away. Oh well, but you tried; when you come to look back on it from the future you’ll be able to be at peace with that moment. No one can take that away from you; it is a treasure that cannot be taken by thief, king, or flood.

Helping wisely is a totally different topic.

Anyway, @anon36724545, people who are obsessed with kamma seem to be the same people who are obsessed with self and becoming. Not helpful in the long run.

As for some people having an unbelievable heap of problems in the current life…well, there have been many, many, many lives before (“I cannot see a beginning…”) and kamma can take many, many, many lives to ripen. Sometimes it ripens all at once and a being can get a whole lot of suffering at once.

Anyway, that’s how I understand it. Not saying it’s right.


Previous kamma can never be judged according to outward circumstances, but only according to the experience of the person who is caught up in the circumstances. When in India some years back I went out for an early morning walk and cup of chai. I saw a mother with two children sleeping out in the open on a mattress of newspapers. The children had some blankets and were still asleep. The mother was sitting up. I looked at her face. It was full of presence, contentment and bliss. I felt myself to be in the presence of a great spiritual teacher.


There is a nice little book by Than. Geoff titled The Seeds of Karma that might help. Here are a couple of relevant quotes:

6. Is it true that “If you want to see a person’s past actions, look at his present condition; if you want to see his future condition, look at his present actions.
That’s much too simplistic. It implies that you have a single karma account, like a bank account, with your present situation showing the running balance.Remember that karma is like seeds in a field. You’re planting karma seeds in your field with every intention, and those seeds mature at different rates. So you’ve got lots of karma accounts at different stages of development. All you can see at any one moment are the seeds that are currently sprouting. As for the other seeds that haven’t yet sprouted, good or bad, you can’t see those at all.

7. Doesn’t the teaching on karma teach people to be callous toward the sufferings of others? Knowing that you have both good and bad seeds in your field that haven’t yet matured, the teaching on karma teaches you to ask this question instead: What’s the wisest way to view other people whose bad seeds are currently sprouting? And the answer is: with compassion.

*8. But can’t karma be used to justify social injustices? *
Only by people who don’t really believe in karma. If someone has the karma that tends to poverty or a painful death, there are plenty of natural causes or accidents that will provide an opportunity for that karma to bear fruit. But if you decide to oppress that person economically or bring about his painful death, that bad karma now becomes yours.


I’m very sorry. My comment was in no way meant to refer to your knowledge about karma in general. I was trying to say that none of us know the exact karmic influences in the world.

I’m glad you started this topic and I hope that you raise more issues in the future. I’m sorry if I was too much in my responses.


Interesting. Could you share your source for that understanding? Thanks! :anjal:

MN 95 Canki Sutta SuttaCentral

“First you relied on faith, now you speak of oral tradition. These five things can be seen to turn out in two different ways. What five? Faith, preference, oral tradition, reasoned contemplation, and acceptance of a view after consideration. Even though you have full faith in something, it may be void, hollow, and false. And even if you don’t have full faith in something, it may be true and real, not otherwise. Even though you have a strong preference for something … something may be accurately transmitted … something may be well contemplated … something may be well considered, it may be void, hollow, and false. And even if something is not well considered, it may be true and real, not otherwise. For a sensible person who is preserving truth this is not sufficient to come to the definite conclusion: ‘This is the only truth, other ideas are silly.’”

The citation links are a little wonky. Just search for faith and you will see it.


great, thanks! :anjal: