Kamma, through what medium does it operate?

Kamma (volitional action) with Vipaka (result) can be loosely thought of as cause and effect.

All causes produce results through some medium or other. The first domino causes the others to fall through the medium of kinetic and potential energy. A match causes a fire through the medium of heat, etc., etc…

So what is the medium through which Kamma operates? Or, to put another way, what connects past Kamma with Vipaka now or in the future? If the Khandha are insubstantial and constantly arising and passing away simultaneously, how can they be the medium that links Kamma with Vipaka? Or, how can they be the repository for Kamma?


That’s one of the big and many mysteries of kamma. The Buddha didn’t expound on it, so at least we know this knowledge is not necessary or conducive to awakening. The Buddha did describe kamma as a field in which seeds are sown and may sprout under the right conditions. So this is how I see it, as a kammic field. In my mind it looks like an incredibly complex 3D domino field.


bhava is another step of your scenario, so a resulting existence or situation happens as well, then the next thing happens.

I don’t think you really have to know the answer to your question, but (unless maybe in the case someone had serious philosophical doubts about it)…

Isn’t it just the permutation of existent reality, including, but not just including, “atoms” and “brain connections” in this realm and others.

If you think physicalism contradicts life to life kamma, having looked into particle physics, it makes perfect sense that another realm could exist along side ours made out of other material we can’t easily interact with (although it’d clearly interact with gravity since we are reborn on the same planet and near where we died before geographically). Just the vague possibility is enough for me, and I can use seeing for the rest myself. To need to know more about the physics of other realms is only needed if you’re building a rocket there. Knowing how electrons work from a book doesn’t mean you don’t know how to not get shocked by an outlet like with hand eye coordination.

And just because there are subconscious parts of a being laying dormant does not mean at all that that part is self, so don’t be afraid to consider that. Getting attached to it would bring suffering, and it changes over time even though it’s not arising. Why does this being react with anger to that, but not this, and this other being doesn’t react with anger to that but does to this? Some amount of past training stored up, resulting in different future results. Even contacting anything at all changes this shape of consciousness, and you remember everything that happened to you. Having any sensation at all is like taking a substanceless mind altering drug; your impressionable mind is utterly altered and changed by it forever, forever effecting the future, and that’s been happening for so long, creating all of this blink of humanity, it’s so chaotic :nauseated_face:

Somewhere there is a sutta where it says kamma is intentions. Unfortunately, I don’t remember where.

You’re right,

“Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect.”

AN 6.63

this means that the intention of an action determines the kammic result, and not the action itself.


Why assume it operates through a medium? When you go and look can you find any such medium? :pray:

AN3.77 has

“So, Ānanda, deeds are the field, consciousness is the seed, and craving is the moisture. The intention and aim of sentient beings—shrouded by ignorance and fettered by craving—is established in a lower realm. That’s how there is rebirth into a new state of existence in the future.

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I think we can be clear that it is at least as complicated as the answer to the question “what is the medium through which physical forces operate.”

In MN101 (and I believe elsewhere) it’s described how things that we’d now describe as being mediated by very complex chains of events (eg exertion → lactic acid build up → cramps → pain) are present-life karma.

Why would between life karma be any simpler?

And given that this concern is largely about things imperceptible to the senses (e.g. the non-human non-animal realm), we’re not really able to break this down further with scientific methods. But even if we did, just like physical models have fundamental limits (three body problem, chaos theory, etc) so too would any cross world kamma model be imponderable.

There is a sutta: can someone recognize it? As I can recall the story went like: there was one person to which a meal was sent in a box, but by mistake an empty box was sent. However, due to his kamma the deities said that cannot happen and filled it with a meal.

And Bible:

reward is with me, to render to each man according as his work is (Rev 22:12)

I would just caution against this type of thinking.

It is this very assumption which led to the imagination of an ether for electromagnetic waves to propagate through and eventually, experiments shows that it’s not needed, and it led to special relativity.

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What if we say it like this, the way the first domino falls influences the way the next domino falls. When the last domino falls the first domino has long since fallen down. But if you were to have touched the first domino in a slightly different way, the way the last domino falls might be quite different. Along the sequence there might be some larger dominos that influence more the way last one falls.

Personally I have no clue what you mean by kinetic and potential energy as a medium.

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I think instead of discussing metaphysical claims it is better to examine something that we can observe and experiment.
Since “intentions” are karma, then how does an intention work and how does the effect come about?

Intention: " Desire to inflict pain on others"
Effect: Regret, Pleasure, Pain, Anger, More intentions to inflict pain

There are immediate causes and immediate results. And there are recurring or long time effects.

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Yes, but these relations are also not that simple as in: good intentions—> good results.
This is described in AN1.314 and the next sutta.

Intentions always arise in a mind, have mind as forerunner, like every phenomena (dhp1). If mind has wrong view at a certain moment, there might be good intentions, but still things will turn out not like one wishes.

This matches reality. The Path to Hell is paved with good intentions. Good intentions alone do not guarante good results, often it is even opposite. I have seen this so many times for myself.

It also makes clear that the sutta-Buddha does not teach that good intentions are always based upon right views.

That must be mind, i think.

There is a sutta (AN10.60) that teaches that afflictions can be caused by kamma or there are other causes. Some reject this, i have seen, and believe any sickness is related to past actions. I believe this is the view worked out in Abhidhamma in which any initial sense vinnana is treated as kamma-vipaka. So, whatever one feels, perceives is kamma-vipaka. I think this is not related to the sutta’s which seem to avoid that people start seeing any affliction, all misery, pain, sickness as ripening result of former bad deeds.

I personally believe kamma is like whiskey. With whiskey, the penance is in the bottle. Being a mean spirited person makes you miserable because being a mean spirited person is dukkha and if that fails, natural consequences will come back to bite you. I don’t think anyone has a satisfactory explanation of how kamma would work between lives. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen, but until we fully understand the solution to the hard problem of consciousness, it’s a matter of faith. I suspend judgment on it.

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Yes I agree and we can see that effects in reality doesn’t match with their intentions. But one thing to notice is that

intentions(A) → more intentions of the same kind(B)

We can see A as cause and B as an effect. Although B may not occur immediately or at all, it is evident A leads to B.

But suppose you notice that intentions A do not really lead to good result, then one stops that intentions right or at least start to reflect upon them and maybe even see these intentions as unskillful?

IMO, kamma operates through Sentient beings… more specifically the Mindstream… even more specifically, Sanna and Sankhara that form the basis of intention… still more specifically, Idapaccayata.

I am the owner of my karma, the recipient of my karma, born from my karma, bound to my karma, inseparable from my karma.

What this means is that no aspect of the aggregates is permanently fixed/eternal. They are changing indeed - but this change is not random, it is linked to the previous state as well as to countless other codependent contributory factors. All phenomena are interconnected in a vast network - Indra’s Net. A change in one place such as for example a malicious action by one individual, resonates through the network until it feeds back as vipaka to that individual.

Before we can answer how the metaphysical understanding of khamma for an individual should work, we first have to enter into evidence for the metaphysical existence of an individual. Without that evidence, the question is presuming knowledge that has not been demonstrated and thus the question is invalid.


Sure. What I have used the conventional term ‘individual’ for may be thought of as a single network node, comprised of various inter related processes, conventionally termed as the aggregates - which themselves are processes, changing and flowing between the vertices of the network wherein they seem to accumulate (like a whirlpool), giving the appearance of a network node.

:rose: :grin:

I understand. Your reference to Indra’s Net sutta is well taken, but the point I’m trying to make is the question that is being asked in this thread - seems to me - to assume the metaphysical existence of an individual. It presupposes this existence and then based upon that presumed existence it asks how kamma works.

This question presupposes a metaphysical existence that is not in evidence and an answer to this question was not given by the Teacher in any of the Pali canon as far as I’m aware. I don’t think you’re likely to find it in any sutta studied under this website.

In fact, I’d go further and say that presumptions underlying the question itself is something that the Teacher has instructed should be let go of. It is kind of like asking the Teacher, “assuming the self exists in a metaphysical sense - if such were the case, then how would kamma operate?” To which I think he would either be silent or rebuke the questioner for the inappropriate presumptions underlying the question.


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