Is all intention subjective?

I’m a bit late to the party and just started looking at the course. So far it’s been informative and helpful. I just had a question based on the reading by Bhante Dhammika. I think I may try to find a way to contact him, but if not maybe someone here can help?

In the reading, Bhante Dhammika mentions that “It is the intention behind an act that gives it its ethical quality.” There are examples like the different intentions for cutting into someone’s flesh (a doctor vs. an assailant). My question is, is the quality of the intention (and therefore the quality of the karmic fruit/result) solely determined by how one feels?

For instance, some people have no qualms about lying. Some find it quick and useful at getting out of situations. My best friend often recommends I lie to avoid uncomfortable interactions. If I were to lie, say with the intention of getting myself out of a sticky situation, and presumably I felt no remorse for that (I even might forget it), would my intention be wholesome? Or at least not unwholesome? So the kammic seed I planted should be of the same quality, right?

The example of a judge ordering the death penalty also comes to mind. If s/he feels no qualms whatsoever about doing that (they may even consider it moral justice), then would their kammic intention and then result would be positive or neutral vs. someone who kills out of anger or revenge?

Just some thoughts that came to mind.


I am reminded of the episode of the U.S. situation comedy Seinfeld in which the title character lies to his girlfriend about watching the television program Melrose Place because is embarrassed about being a fan of a show that is basically drek and should be beneath him. He takes a lie detector test to prove that he really doesn’t watch Melrose Place when he actually does.

The humor derives from the notion that it makes no sense to lie about something seemingly so trivial. But to Jerry it’s not so trivial. His sense of self and who he is rides on the impression he conveys to others about his cultural sensibilities and his tastes in TV shows. In fact, the lie is a reflection of his clinging to his conception of his self-worth in the eyes of others. He craves social approval, and therefore is willing to lie to reinforce to himself his sense of self-worth.

So the lie actually is not that trivial. Moreover, it creates a karmic reaction. His girlfriend breaks up with him, not because he watches Melrose Place, but because he is prideful. She could tolerate a boyfriend whose tastes run to trashy nighttime soap operas, but she refuses to be with someone who lies and does so out of a sense of insecurity about his self-worth.

Pretty deep for a sit-com!


I don’t think the karmic fruit/result is necessarily determined by how one feels about it (at the time of the action). Who knows how one is going to feel about telling that lie in the future? I have done many things in the past which seemed fine at the time, but I have regretted them later on. I even forgot (or should I say ‘didn’t think’) about them for years, but then they came back to me.

My understanding is that ‘intention’ is ones ‘plan of action’, not how one ‘feels’ about it.

In the case of the doctor vs the assailant there is either an overarching plan to help or an overarching plan to harm. Some parts of the plan may be negative but the general thrust is positive and the general thrust of the result of karma will be positive.

In the case of the lie, the intention is not to ‘get oneself out of a sticky situation’ - there is no plan of action there, just an end result that you wish to get to. The intention here is to ‘lie in order to get oneself out of a sticky situation’. One could make a different plan to get oneself out of the situation that didn’t involve telling a lie. That could be a better choice.

This is my current understanding. Great question.

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Ethical quality of the action is not determined by how one feels. It is determined by the underlying wholesome or un-wholesome root(mula).There are three wholesome roots and three un-wholsome roots.

Three unwholesome roots(Akusala mula)
Greed (loba)
Hatred (Dosa)
Moha (delusion)

Three wholesome roots(kusala mula)

Phenomena are preceded by the heart,
ruled by the heart,
made of the heart.
If you speak or act
with a corrupted heart,
then suffering follows you —
as the wheel of the cart,
the track of the ox
that pulls it.

Phenomena are preceded by the heart,
ruled by the heart,
made of the heart.
If you speak or act
with a calm, bright heart,
then happiness follows you,
like a shadow
that never leaves.


I think there should be a certain amount of ill will to give a death penalty to someone.
Even the executioner perform his duties does it with the ill will.
This is why Buddha recomend that people should chose right livelyhood.
The way I understand the household equanimity is a kind of ignorance.
Perorming acton with ignorance is not an excuse to avoid the result of kamma.

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When saying a lie, we might feel justified. However it’s still a lie. It might be black and white karma. Later, with development of the mind, we stop being so attached and needing to lie to get things, and also worry less about trying to please other people.