Kamma and Intention (Split from topic linked below)

The fact here is without non of the kammas can be done without the intention. When there is no intention there is no kamma. When one walk he might accidentally step on insects and they could die, still that is not considered as a kamma becuase there is no intention.
When we consider above examples still the main part is intention but physical action should be there, just thinking to kill mother and even planing to kill may be a kamma but it is appasavajja kamma, It is not a kammapatha unless the victim is dead, in this case ānantariyakamma.

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Just, this is again a ‘philosophical’ approach to it. And we single out intention because of the Buddhist discourse. When we actually open our perspective there are several other aspects which ‘have to be there’ in order for kamma to be effective.

For example, in order to kill I need intention, ok. But I also need a body, I also need a consciousness (for example killing while sleep-walking might be intentional but not fully conscious). I also need moral accountability, so for example toddlers and people with certain severe disabilities might not have ‘killed’ in this sense. Also, there needs to be an ‘other’ - if I float around alone in space no killing is possible. Also, I need a memorized set of procedural knowledge - I need to know that if I lift the stone hammer intentionally and force it upon the animal that I kill it, whereas it wouldn’t happen with a foam hammer. Also I need a culturally transmitted sense of what ‘life’ is - early Buddhism for example didn’t consider plants as alive (see the research of Schmithausen), but some of us today do see plants as alive.

So I hope you see that we learned to focus on ‘kamma is intention’ because there is a certain Buddhist tradition, based on few sutta quotes, to philosophize like that. One reason might be pedagogical. But it’s not ‘the truth’ as such.

In the Buddha’s teachings Kamma means actions to the body, verbal and mental with volitional conditions, and explain intention with actions keep human beings provide to rebirth to the next life. What the Kamma means not only just actions also included intension. Therefore, the actions of physical, verbal and mental perform with intension, volition to the wholesome or unwholesome; they can be defined as Kamma.

Why did the Buddha define kamma as “intention” instead of as “intention and action”?
Why did he define it only in terms of intention if it meant more than just intention?
If the Buddha meant that kamma means “intention and action,” why didn’t he simply and directly state that “kamma means ‘intention-and-action’ or ‘intentional action’”?

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Because the action itself has no direct relation to dependant origination. It is the intention (cetanā) which can be related to the paticasamuppāda.
Because deeds are considered as sankhāra.
There is no deeds done when one attained enlightenment (arahant).

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This, in particular, is a very good point.

Doesn’t this ^ run contrary to what you said here:

i.e. that kamma means “only intention,” not “intention and action”/“intentional action” (“not only just actions also included intension”)?

Aren’t Arahants living proof that one can act by means of body, speech, and mind - i.e. do bodily, verbal, and mental actions - without doing kamma? This seems to refute the notion that kamma is “both intention and action” because Arahants seem to act without “intending” - or whatever the most English translation is for this Pali word, no?

Well, it is kind of complicated. To the kamma to be completed the action is necessary. Here we should understand what is cetanā. Thinking I should do this and that"; imagination, is not the cetanā. Cetanā is the driving force behind the act or the speech. Cetanā is the action-potential (motive?) behind each and every action. So without completing the process which involves act or speech the kamma is not complete. Thats why I stated the first argument. Intension however seems to be the kamma according to Upālisutta.
When a person giving food to a monk, a bowl of food is placed in the hands of the monk. Placing the food that belongs to him in the hand of the monk is dhāna. The Cetanā can be found when we look at how the donor handled the food bowl. If there was no driving force which is here claim to be cetanā, the bowl of food would remain wherever it was earlier.


Thank you very much for explaining, Bhante!

I see. So kamma has to occur by means of the body, speech, or mind - i.e. via bodily, verbal, or mental action?

This makes sense.

Still, is the action-potential (kamma in the sense of cetanā) and the action distinct?
I.e. according to the Buddha, even if kamma requires the action in order to be completed (as it seems like it does), does kamma refer to that “action-potential only” or to “both the action-potential and the action”?

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According to AN6.63 and MN 56 it should be cetanā (intention).



This was said according to SN12.38. (Please read the sutta)
The sutta explains that the intentions are the force that propels consciousness from one life to the next.

Mendicants, what you intend or plan, and what you have underlying tendencies for become a support for the continuation of consciousness.
Yañca, bhikkhave, ceteti yañca pakappeti yañca anuseti, ārammaṇametaṃ hoti viññāṇassa ṭhitiyā

Commentary says,
Ettha ca cetetīti tebhūmakakusalākusalacetanā gahitā, pakappetīti aṭṭhasu lobhasahagatacittesu taṇhādiṭṭhikappā gahitā,

Here ceteti means good and bad intentions (cetanā) that belong to one of the three realms; kāma, rūpa, arūpa. yañca pakappeti means craving and the view (diṭṭhi) in craving based eight thoughts. (These are from abhidhamma classifications). yañca anuseti means 12 demerit thoughts( abhidhamma).
In the sutta, the word ārammaṇa means “cause” / reason. ārammaṇametaṃ (etaṃ ārammaṇaṃ)

When there is tendancy / motive to do merits or demerits that leads to formation of more and more merits or demerits due to craving and the view. Development of those deeds leads to another birth.

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An important and subtle point that is very easy to overlook and very relevant to this OP.
Not everything is due to kamma - thus, one cannot necessarily conclude that homeless is caused by one’s own past kamma - it could be potentially caused by kamma or other causes and conditions.

Astute observation/distinction.

The Buddha seems to have re-defined this term to mean something differently than what it meant before.
However, you raise some good points.
I am still confused about this topic myself.
Does kamma mean:
a) action?
b) intention?
c) intentional action?

Option © might be tempting, but the Buddha explicitly defines kamma as:

If the Buddha wanted “kamma” to mean “action” or “intentional action,” why didn’t the Buddha simply specify that directly? If it means more than just intention, why didn’t the Buddha clarify this in his definition?

:pray: :pray:

Very good point :thinking: I don’t know.
It occurred to me that the four brahmaviharas and even just developing metta alone seems to lead to objectively heavenly results without say, physical or verbal actions necessarily accompanying it.
Also, I am curious because I myself have wondered if developing the quality of generosity in one’s own mind would still lead to happy outcomes even if one does not physically give anything. :thinking:

Even here, I wonder if kamma is still purely mental.
The means by which kamma expressed might be physical or verbal, but doesn’t that still mean that kamma is purely mental and not physical and verbal?

Very good point!

Even here, the decisive action seems to be mental, not physical.
For example, accidentally taking physical actions that directly lead to the death of one’s father, mother, Arahant, etc. - especially in the Jain sense of physically killing another without the intention to do so, the way one might unintentionally kill an insect that they were unaware of while walking - does not seem to lead to the phala expected for one who committed patricide, matricide, etc.
Thus, it seems like the decisive aspect is mental, not physical.
Furthermore, perhaps the mere intention to kill one’s mother, father, a Buddha, etc. alone is enough to reap harm. This might have been the case for Devadatta, who committed the kamma to trying to kill the Buddha in three or more stretches - even though he did not succeed, I think that he would likely still reap what he sowed in those cases despite no physical actions - whereas the mere action of killing one’s father, mother, Arahant, etc. might lead to no harm at all to oneself if done completely accidentally.

Can you show any definitive proof for this? So far, this claim seems inferential at best - and unsupported at worse.

Good point. I had a very similar thought.

What do you mean “philosophical” - as opposed to what?

Aren’t non-human beings who do not possess a body incapable of killing? So is a body absolutely necessary? How can those who do not possess a body commit kamma if a body is necessary for kamma to occur? If they are incapable of kamma, that seems to imply that they are Arahants, which does not seem consistent with the Dhamma.

What other factors must be there besides kamma in order for kamma to lead to a phala/result?
Can you reference anything to support this view?

What do you mean by this?

Sure, but that does not mean “kamma” is not possible. If one floats around in space developing the four brahmaviharas among other good qualities, wouldn’t that be an example of committing kamma with the absence of other beings being present?

I still haven’t seen any conclusive evidence that “kamma” is anything besides “intention.”
The only “evidence” provided seems to be the absence of evidence: The Buddha didn’t say kamma is intention…only.
However, I haven’t see anything that suggests what else kamma might be besides intention.
Even “intentional action” - one can use the same reasoning used above to say “Buddha didn’t say kamma is intentional actions.” In fact, this point is stronger because the Buddha literally could have defined it in any way that he wanted, but he chose not to define it as “intentional action” and to define it as “intention.”

Of course, the translation of the word that he used to define kamma could be open to interpretation, and I haven’t seen any definitive conclusive proof that kamma is intentions only. The Buddha could have said “kamma is intentions only,” but he did not. If kamma is anything in addition to intention (which we all seem to agree on), where is the conclusive evidence of what else it includes?


I’ve found it helpful to view intention, not as an on/off thing but one of gradations - from 0 - the first flicker of a thought/intention right through to 100 - which is determined, purposeful action.

As such, at a specific point along this continuum, Kamma gets activated. This is enough information to guide practice, without having to try to find greater specificity eg. that ‘kamma is activated at 6.5’ on the scale :smiley:



For me ‘intention’ (as a word) is bound together with ‘action’. As I see it, intention means ‘plan of action’. I don’t see how there can be intention that is devoid of action? The only reasons to have the phrase ‘intentional action’ is to distinguish between that and an accident (failure of planning or lack of planning), or perhaps a ritual (where the planning is preordained by tradition).

So for me, if you fail in your ‘plan of action’ it is by necessity of definition going to have less weight than if you succeed in it. If I plan to kill someone and then fail, am I going to have to hold such an extreme burden as a result as I would if I had succeeded in the plan? If I plan to save a friend’s life and I fail, am I going to be as happy compared to having succeeded?

The answer to Seven Across in the 22 November Mini Crossword in the New York Times was “KARMA.” The clue was “Concept of universal justice.” Doubtless not everyone would agree that the answer is an appropriate response to the clue. Any thoughts?

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Kamma (Pali) is cause and effect which acts not only on a physical, but also a mental level. The first stage of right view in the noble eightfold path is belief in kamma, and it is therefore fundamental to the whole practice that when wholesome or unwholesome thoughts or actions are performed, there is a corresponding result. Some of these results (vipaka) are observable in this lifetime, and to consolidate understanding of right view observation of the action of kamma should be undertaken.

Relevant text:

[1] "Of those, right view is the forerunner. And how is right view the forerunner? One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one’s right view. And what is wrong view? ‘There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no contemplatives or brahmans who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.’ This is wrong view.

"And what is right view? Right view, I tell you, is of two sorts: There is right view with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions [of becoming]; there is right view that is noble, without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path.

“And what is the right view with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions? ‘There is what is given, what is offered, what is sacrificed. There are fruits & results of good & bad actions. There is this world & the next world. There is mother & father. There are spontaneously reborn beings; there are contemplatives & brahmans who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.’ This is the right view with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions.” —Majhima Nikaya 117

Here Bikkhu Bodhi is explaining this text about the two levels of right view, beginning at 15.11. Mundane right view is connected with lay life, where the goal is acquisitions both physical and spiritual, and the ambition is rebirth in a fortunate destination. In Bikkhu Bodhi’s book “In the Buddha’s Words,” the chapters and relevant suttas are divided into those relevant to lay life, and those for aspirants with the goal of nibbana. In the course of the talk he mentions Ven. Nanamoli, and that relates to his background as an author as part of a group of western monks living in Sri Lanka who translated the foundation works of western Buddhism. MN 117 is unique and particularly relevant to western Buddhists who have nibbana as a goal because it indicates that is available to those “developing” the path and is not exclusive to arahants (23 m). A description of how the “establishment” of the linear path leads to its functional cyclic operation called “development” is discussed at 34 m.

If intention is the seed and kamma the fruit, then indeed perhaps all we have done is skipped ahead to a the arising of another conditioned form. And yet…

Denying the seed its germination, the fruit never appears, and in that very negation, kamma is indeed only intention, restrained. The kamma of mindful restraint is part of all our shared practice. And that mindful intention does bear indeed bear fruit in extinguishment. Relishing is the root of suffering. Intending to not relish is the escape.

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I think we are overly using the word intetion. As the english word intention has another synonyms called volition. we interchange this word for cetna.
But volition is different from intention. volition is matured intention. and itention is prior state of volition.

Now buddhist term cetna can be applied to both … but the kamma is only matured ietntion or volition.
Otherwise there will not be any end . and no nibbana… because inetntion rise unconsciouly but can be prevented to get matured into vitaka , vicara, chanda ,adhimokkha.

I remember reading that according to Sautrantika philosophy, intention (cetana) alone is not karma, even it is not mind action (manokarma), because according to the sutta quoted above, intention should be done with mind, speech, and bodily action or karma. But according to the proponents of Abhidharma (Vaibhasika), intention itself is a kind of mind karma.

That’s why there is a passage in Jains text which ridiculed Buddhist concept of karma with saying that according to Buddhist, if one accidentally kills a living being because of thinking it is not a living being, he is free of bad karma consequence (he doesn’t have intention to kill a living being).

Just fyi…

Kamma works like money, sometimes you need to spend money to get more money/profit.