Kamma and its effect on the physical form

Dear Bhantes,

Anjali: :pray: Thank you in advance for your time and guidance:)

In the suttas, it is said that kamma affects how we are reborn (i.e. beautiful, ugly, wise, dullard, wealthy, or poor). I have developed confidence in this teaching from my own personal observations.

Now as far as my practice have taken me, from my own observation of my mind, I’ve seen how this could be as all the emotions affect my physical appearance especially the facial features. I observed just how the mind feels when it is feeding on joy from kindness and compassion and generosity. That to me is what the Buddha meant by wealth and beauty, with the mind being bright, on the next birth, the new physical form and character tends to be pleasant.

Emotions project out via facial, speech, and bodily expressions and everyone experiences them. But the real danger I found is the mind getting overcome by negative emotions. Negative emotions becomes deeply ingrained when one hasn’t developed enough awareness of them. I have a friend whose life outlook isn’t that great and negativity is so ingrained in her mind that she doesn’t see it at all. I’ve tried my best to uplift her world view but not luck at all. Now to me, this is what the Buddha meant by ugliness and being poor, the mind clouded, on the next birth, the new physical form and characteristics tends to be just mediocre and at worst unpleasant.

Would it be right understanding to say that the mind, with its accumulated characteristics from previous kamma, is the forming and conditioning force behind the physical body upon rebirth? This also brings memory of a sutta where the Lord Buddha refers to the physical body as past kamma.

Have I approached this teaching and contemplated it in the right way?

Katannyu :pray:

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Dear Russell,

That’s an interesting point you are making, and there may well be much truth to that. Your mind is certainly powerful, and its influence is enormous.

However, I think there is a tendency for people to think of the results of kamma too much physical terms, such as one’s physical appearance or one’s wealth. But the really important issue is one’s mental life, and it is this that kamma really is all about. You do good things and you feel good. The result is a rebirth where you feel good. Part of this can be physical factors, since there is obviously some degree of happiness to be derived from good material circumstances. But we all know of cases of people who are wealthy but who have miserable lives, including depression and all sorts of personal problems. If you are truly depressed, how much use is your wealth to you?

With metta.

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Dear Ajahn Brahmali,

Anjali :pray: Thank you very much for your response!

Anjai :pray:

with gratitude and metta,

Ajahn Brahmali (and everyone else…),

Your response helped me to make some peace with a subject which I’m finding to be quite troubling for me during this course, and I thank you for that.

But then I decided to do some of the suggested reading for Workshop 3… and some of my doubts came back after I finished MN 135. I guess I’m having some trouble to understand if I should or shouldn’t take literally the relation between, for instance, killing now and being short-lived later, harming now and being sickly later, being ill-tempered now and ugly later, not giving now and being poor later, etc.

Also in MN 129 I find it interesting when it says that if the fool (fallen in hell) would regain his humanity, he would be born in a low clan, into a poor family and with a deformed body. I’ve encountered other passages in other discourses that say similar things… How literally should we take this kind of idea? Was it merely a way that the Buddha found to convey and spread the notion of an ethical kamma? I’m confused.

Finally I’d like to thank you for today’s (it’s still Friday where I live!) amazing Dhamma talk about (the illusion of) free-will. It was indeed very helpful.

With metta,

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Dear Fabiola,

It seems to me that this sort of connection between the ethics of our actions and physical results is to be taken as part of the Buddha’s teaching. I think a major reason we find it hard to accept this is our contemporary notions of how the world works. If we come to accept that mind is more fundamental than matter, rather than the other way around, then all sorts of possibilities open up, including, I believe, the sort of connections mentioned in MN135 and MN129.

It is also possible that these suttas, which have a popular kind of feel to them, only really came into existence after the Buddha. But it would have had to be soon after the Buddha, because they exist in several different Buddhist schools.

My sense is that the former is correct, although I am also open to the latter possibility.

With metta.

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Hi Fabiola!

Today I started reading the suggested material for WS1 (just the right time, I know :smiley:) and the book by Bhante Dhammika has some ideas on this matter in the chapter “Kamma and Physical Form” on this page: http://www.bhantedhammika.net/what-exactly-is-kamma/so-what-is-kamma

So if you by any chance hadn’t read it either, I’d recommend you do.

May you be happy and well!

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Thank you, Ajahn, for your kind reply.

Although (at least for now) I’m able to understand better the effects of kamma on one’s mental life, I’ll try to keep reading and studying with an open mind to those other possibilities as well.

Much metta.

Hi Raivo,

Thank you for your reading tip! I had already read that book for WS1, but it was nice to revisit this subject after reading Ajahn Brahmali’s response to my question.
Actually my confusion first started when I read that book and Bhikkhu Bodhi’s “Questions on Kamma”, also suggested for WS1. Before that I had no knowledge that kamma could cause things such as poverty and uglyness. I thought kamma could only affect the realm one is reborn into, one’s mental life and maybe some illnesses…
As I replied to Ajahn Brahmali, I think this looks like one of those things that won’t be fully answered. So I’ll try to keep an open mind to both answers, yes and no, at least for now :wink:

May you as well be happy!