SN 42.8, The Conch Blower

Hello all,

I am curious if the forum has opinions on this fascinating sutta that deals with how certain kamma can be “overcome”. Briefly, the sutta is taught to a follower of another sect (Niganthas) who believe that any kamma that goes against the precepts leads to a unfavorable destination. The Buddha contests that in a few ways and the teaching ends with how certain kamma can be overcome by the practice of absorption (cetovimutti) accompanied by the brahma viharas. I quote:

“Just as a strong conch blower can easily send his signal to the four quarters, so too when the liberation of mind (cetovimuttiyā) by loving kindness…is developed and cultivated, any limited kamma (pamāṇakataṁ kammaṁ) that was done does not remain there, does not persist there.”

So my questions:

  1. Is there any other sutta in the Canon with a similar theme/message?
  2. What is implied by “limited” kamma? The footnote in the Bhikkhu Bodhi translation explains it as kamma that is of the sense sphere and that kamma created by the brahma viharas (form sphere kamma) trumps the sense sphere kamma. Are there other interpretations of this?



I take this as just referring to the easy and natural letting go that happens when the Brahma-vihāras are developed. You let go of petty grudges and so on from the past. Those knots which used to entangle you loosen. Hope that helps!

There are several suttas connected with SN 42.8 but from the spatial view, such as SN 46.54. That is where the emphasis should be as the sutta makes clear. When the mind is developed spatially, then a different range of responses result, situations are seen in a different way and former unwholesome states cannot arise. This relates to the third foundation of mindfulness which discerns whether the mind is enlarged or not. The progressive stages in working to develop spatial mind states are listed in MN 121.


Venerable, I am not sure if what the sutta is conveying is a simple letting go of petty grudges, etc. The sutta is given in the context of rebirth and it gives the impression that the teaching is geared toward something more dramatic. There are other suttas where the Buddha has talked about abiding in the Brahma Viharas (along with jhana) as being a state where Mara is not able to access a being. It seemed to me that this was along the same lines, in that kamma of the form realms (Brahma Viharas) can help modulate that created in the sense sphere realm. Do you not get that sense? Thanks.

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@paul1 I am constantly amazed by the depth of your knowledge of the suttas. Thank you for your contributions. Very much appreciated.
With metta,

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Sure, that’s there too.

I just often find it helpful (myself) to bring such heady discussions on cosmology down to their human-sized currents and eddies. When we’re tuned in to the unfoldings of karma that are (more) easily visible here and now, then we’ll be on a (more) solid ground when we try to extrapolate to larger time scales. Otherwise, I think we run the risk of falling into superstitious thinking.

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Thank you for your thoughts.

In your opinion, does “superstitious thinking” include the idea that kamma transcends this current existence?

No. I’m thinking more of e.g. the corrupt police officer who donates a little rice to the local temple thinking this wipes his bad karma clean. Something like that.