Is it possible to create kamma without intention?

In one talk, Ajahn Anan relates a story from the suttas that seems to contradict the understanding that kamma is intention:

The example of this is set in one of the suttas, is the story of a monk sewing a robe, then he accidentally kills an insect with the needle. He didn’t have that intention there to kill or harm an insect. And then in a future life he was reborn as a monk again and the insect was reborn as a hunter. The monk went to sit in the bushes and the hunter threw away his spear to hide it. The hunter accidentally killed the monk with that spear, which was the result of his past accidental killing of the insect.
Luang Por Anan
Mr. Walker and Mr. Wheeler – Wat Marp Jan

Does anyone knows which sutta it is? I’m curiouse to know in what context it is used.

The dhamma talk by Ajan Anan is about mindfullness, or the lack of it. So I assume that the monk was careless, without mindfulness while sewing the robe, which may have contributed to the bad kamma results.

What are your thoughts on it?


Hello. I doubt this story is directly from a “sutta”. “Sutta” (words of the Buddha) generally does not contain this simplistic type of doctrine.

This story may be from a Commentary about a sutta; from stories placed at a later time as appendages to suttas, such as Jataka Tales and Apadana Stories; or from the monk’s Vinaya. :slightly_smiling_face:


Fwiw, I agree. This sounds like a Jain story that at some point got mistaken for a Buddhist story.


I’ve seen the story quoted and discussed several times on Thai language Buddhist forums, (e.g., here and here), but I’ve never seen anyone able to cite a Pali source for it. It’s certainly not from the suttas, and since it so blatantly contradicts the Buddhist conception of kamma and vipāka it’s unlikely that it’s from the commentaries either.


Suppose we know that by driving a car a lot of insects are killed on the windowscreen. Or suppose that we know that by gardening we cause distress with certain small animals. We see that and know that. While removing leaves under which they seek protection. Of while digging in the ground. Or while removing snales etc.
Suppose we use products from which we know that while they are fabricated, there is a lot of abuse to workers or there is a lot of environmental harm.

Suppose we know this all as facts. That is not imagenary at all right?

Now suppose we think…'well i do not have any intention to kill while driving a car, so i drive a car, and while they are killed, i am blameless, because i have no intention to kill them’.
Or, …'well, i have no intention at all to harm beings in my garden, so i keep gardening. I am nothing to blame.
Or, 'well, it is not my intent that workers are abused and the environment is polluted by making cell phones, by digging for minerals, etc. so i am nothing to blame. while i use those products.

Does that really feel true to yourself ?

Hi. The suttas (here: SuttaCentral) refer to a fetter called sīlabbata-parāmāsa, for which I wholly agree with Ven. Sujato’s translation as “misapprehension of precepts and observances”.

This is more about Papañca. The mind just keep thinking/identifying things, eventually will lead to do nothing. Scare/afraid to act, don’t know what good is and/or what not good is.

I recommend hear more true dhamma from Sutta.

It has nothing to do silabbata paramasa.

Here in the Netherlands there are places (such as Afsluitdijk), near water, one must in certain periods of the year all the time spray the windows while driving the car. This is because otherwise one cannot even see the road anymore because of all death insects on the window. Really, this is not exaggerated. I even once stopped at a parkingplace. I did almost see nothing anymore and it was really scary too.

Now, this is the case. You know that this happens. You know this will be the result. You will kill insects. Oke, it is not your intent. You do not like it at all.

Can one really say…that within this circumstances one is not involved at all in the act of killing while one choices to drive the car and that route? Is this a choice to kill?

Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with your place/situation.

But let make it simple.

When you drive, do you think that “let me drive so i can kill all the insects/bugs/animal?”


When you drive do you think that"let me drive so i can go to work/market to do my work/shopping to meet my duties etc?"

If you are at the second one, surely there is little/no intention to harm.

Also, all beings whether it is an insects or animal will be born and die eventually. With this kind of thinking one should develop brahmavihara: metta, karuna, mudita and upekkha.

Also, If you already know that driving at this region cause harm, then maybe avoid this place if possible.

If it is not possible, then maybe avoid driving or drive less or use other transportation. Etc.

Anyway, at least do something. Don’t just become freeze and afraid to act. Eventually you are harming yourself more.

In case you want to learn more about morality/ethics. I recommend read SN 55.7 and MN 61.

Good luck.

Thank you Bhante, for the informative reply. It resoves most of my doubts about the story.


No this doesn’t feel right at all, and I don’t think that is the meaning of ‘intention’ when used in relation to kamma.

If we are making a ‘plan of action’ (intention) which involves the killing of animals with the full knowledge and expectation that this ‘plan of action’ will result in the death of animals, then I would suggest that there is intention of killing. At the very least it is supreme indifference to the suffering and death of others caused by our actions. Of course we can always choose to take the karmic hit, but it’s probably not a great idea to kid ourselves that there isn’t one.

This is of course very different to the example in the OP where there was an outcome that was wholely unexpected in the original plan of action, i.e. it was an accident.

Yes, it is more about the question of this topic.

I feel ‘will’ cannot be the only aspect in kamma and kamma-vipaka. That is my personal feeling.

For example, i just watered my plants in the garden. It will be 30-40 degrees next days. And it is allready very dry here. I did not even think about the little creatures like the ants and others, who will suffer from all this flooding of their homes. Maybe the nest of the ants is flooded and some are killed.

I cannot say i have never ever thought and seen this before. I have seen the little creatures having a hard time while i was watering in the past. I was troubled that this happens.

But for some reason, this evening i was not even concerned at all for their wellbeing. I was only thinking about my plants and the extreme temperatures. Those creatures were not on my radar.
I was not even indifferent about there well-being. I just did not think about them at all.

In this situations i did not have any intent nor will nor idea nor plan nor inclination to cause suffering. It really was totally abent. But is my lack of concern for others wellbeings an excuse? I think not.

I feel it is very well possible that i will reap the negative fruits of this deed while i had no intention nor will at all to harm anyone.

Perhaps some will be thankful for the water and you’ve managed to save some lives in your absent-mindedness.

I feel this is not so wrong. Fear of wrong doing.

I have become very aware that many daily activities which first seemed harmless to me, are not harmless at all.
Yes, i have become increasingly more anxious and worrying while practising Dhamma. For example gardening. I used to be unaware of the harm related to it. I enjoyed it. Buddhism has opened my eys that there are other creatures too who want to be happy, insects, ants, worms, snales etc. Now i cannot enjoy gardening anymore. I have not yet found a way.

I used to fish in my earlier years. I enjoyed it. Now it is for me pure terror. It is one of the most sadistic activities there are. In my younger years i also shoot at birds. Now i feel i was psychopath at that time, insensitive person. Not caring for the wellbeing of fish, birds, and worm.

Becoming more sensitive means more trouble, endless trouble. More burden. Only more burden. But i feel burden is better than being unburdened due to insensitivity, lack of awareness. That insensitivity is really a sickness, i see now.

My behaviour was (and often is) not really checked by senstitivity. Lacking sensitivity we are enemy of ourselves and others. I feel Nibbana is the state of ultimate sensitivity. A Buddha is an ultimate sensitive being.

Yes even good intentions can create bad karma

The Tibetan make a distinction in kamma created and kamma accumulated.

For example, a blind man accidently killing an ant creates kamma of killing but does not accumulate it. A condition for accumulating kamma is that (in this case the killing) it must be intended, willed. If kamma is accumulated it might have some (future) effect (vipaka) for the doer.

I am not sure about this. I think it is very well possible that the blind man may take another route, and prevent he accidently kills ants, when he is informed he accidently killed ants. But, it is also possible that one day he forgets. He had a busy day. He takes the ant-route again and crushes ants. His mind was somewhere else.

This is some kind of negligance. There is again no will nor intention to kill in the blind man.
My feeling with this is that such will have kammic consequences for the doer.
In this sense i doubt there must always be intention.

I think such kamma(blind man unintentionally killing ants) comes in category of that kamma which can be evaded and liberation be attained. I think the karma of killing 99 people done by angulimala shares context with this. He killed humans, but he achieved arhatship hence, he instead received wounds for example by stones from villagers. I remember reading that when he was experiencing such attack of stones from villagers, buddha said to him…bear with it angulimala as this is the vipaka of kamma which otherwise would have landed you in hell realm. So we can say that, that karma of killing 99 humans actually just lost the person who created that karma.

So I think we don’t directly experience effects from such unintentional but seemingly unavoidable karma(blind man killing ants by mistake or insects killed by car we driving). It’s like it’s there but it won’t directly affect us… though it has potential. Or Maybe it actually affects us in a very unseen way…like for example when we get cold due to atmosphere…maybe it’s this kind of karma playing it’s vipaka as support for cold…because it’s not the case that everyone gets cold because of atmosphere at the time when we got the cold. It seems to be in the same context of unexplored potential to me.

Based upon SN12.38, cetana sutta, i tend to believe that cetana does refer to quit general volitional activity that arises in the mind and instigates our behaviour. This volitional activity is in the sutta refered to as: intention, plans, and also (underlying) tendency.

That last kind of voltional activity might imply that cetana is not always that well-advised, deliberate,
like the word ‘intention’ and ‘plan’ suggest. If i plan or intent to give food to monks that is a very well-advised kind of volition. I have this ideas in a very conscious way. But i think cetana does not have to be like that always. It might also operate on a more subconscious level, as tendency, impetus, drive.

Just some thoughts

AN10.47 might also be relevant:

a fragment: “Greed is a cause, Mahāli, greed is a reason for doing bad deeds (bad kamma, Green), for performing bad deeds. Hate is a cause of bad deeds … Delusion is a cause of bad deeds … Improper attention is a cause of bad deeds … A wrongly directed mind is a cause of bad deeds … This is the cause, Mahāli, this is the reason for doing bad deeds, for performing bad deeds.”

When i did not pay attention to the little creatures like ants while watering the plants in the garden, and was only thinking about the plants, it can be said my mind was wrongly directed.

Although there was no intent, plan, tendency to create suffering, harm to the ants, i think this sutta explains that still bad kamma can be caused by wrong directed mind and unwise attention.

I think we also very often prioritise wrongly and that also becomes a cause for bad kamma.

1 Like

I think this is where wrong view comes in. As if when a young naive monkey sees a fish in the river and caught it and threw it into the shore. Another monkey witnessed it and asked the young monkey what he was doing? The young monkey answered that he saved the fish from drowning. Ignorance is not an excuse if you create destruction in the face of the earth. The deed has been done. This is why wrong view can be very dangerous.