Thoughts, intentions, deeds and kamma

Hello everyone,
I would like to ask about kamma. What actually creates a new kamma during our lives? What I know is that act itself (like generosity for example)creates new kamma, but what about unperformed thoughts, intentions or wishes (both good or bad)? Does these creates kamma too or not because they weren’t performed?

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Hi Kraty,

I would recommend following the workshop Bhante Sujato did on Karma and Rebirth. It really goes into what karma is and what it isn’t. The workshop will take some time to go through completely but you will get a good overview of the workings of karma from an early buddhism perspective.


Hi @kraty,

Kamma is all about choices.
Choices are effective either internally, externally or both.

Choices made towards or within the pursuit and development of the eightfold path fall under the category of choices which lead to the cessation of choices (i.e. the extinguishment of nibbana / nirvana).

Everything else are choices which only lead to more choices.

According to the Buddha, internal choices are key for causing suffering or happiness.

These internal choices relate to the way we see and think ourselves and the world as a whole.

For example, it is exactly because choices we make and have made under the influence of the fundamental ignorance of the four Noble truths, that suffering is perpetuated birth after birth. The Buddha did not see a first point for that.

Now, let’s think of an act of generosity. If that act, or choice, stems from a misunderstanding of the role and importance of letting go, it will still be a positive choice but not necessarily one that leads to the end of suffering.

It is like the generosity of a moral and kind hedonist. He sees that good act or choice as a way to get something back, either a favor later on or the perks which come when you have a fame of being generous and kind.

Or like the generosity of a utilitarian theist which would be based on an expected divine reward post or pre mortem by one or many eternal or semi-eternal gods.

Now, the generosity of an ideal Buddhist, in turn, would in theory stem from a proper and deep cultivation of ethics both internally and externally and in context of the eightfold path.

Under the light of the four Noble truths, a generous act would be a function and reinforcement of the aspects of renunciation at the right thought factor and doing the opposite of stealing at the right action factor of the path.

And a key foundation to that ideally and liberating form of generosity would have been a strong and steady internal cultivation of the right view and right thought factors of the path.

Does the above help with context and meanings?


Thank you for answers. One of the reasons why I was asking this question is because of some discussion I had in the past and because thoughts are:

  • impermanent
  • unsatisfactory
  • not self

So if there are just a thoughts in mind both bad or good I think that kamna isn’t active (until we act and actually do something).
For example:
A bad thoughts or wish (still only in mind). But after unskillful act like harsh speach to someone (thoughts or wishes were performed) so after that there is kammic result.

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Thoughts by themselves have karmic effects:

“To understand the implications of this form of right view (mundane) we first have to examine the meaning of its key term, kamma. The word kamma means action. For Buddhism the relevant kind of action is volitional action, deeds expressive of morally determinate volition, since it is volition that gives the action ethical significance. Thus the Buddha expressly identifies action with volition. In a discourse on the analysis of kamma he says: “Monks, it is volition that I call action (kamma). Having willed, one performs an action through body, speech, or mind.”[7] The identification of kamma with volition makes kamma essentially a mental event, a factor originating in the mind which seeks to actualize the mind’s drives, dispositions, and purposes. Volition comes into being through any of three channels — body, speech, or mind — called the three doors of action (kammadvara). A volition expressed through the body is a bodily action; a volition expressed through speech is a verbal action; and a volition that issues in thoughts, plans, ideas, and other mental states without gaining outer expression is a mental action. Thus the one factor of volition differentiates into three types of kamma according to the channel through which it becomes manifest.”—Bikkhu Bodhi


The issue is that the internal choices we call thoughts are effective and bundled in and within the five grasping aggregates we like to consider as ourselves and made of.

They are effective in the sense they shape our words, actions, livelihood, efforts.

Hence, our thoughts, as much as our views determine whether or not we have the mindfulness and stillness required to bring the insight which could free us from rebirth and associated suffering and pain.



If you think about the 5 Hinderances, they affect your meditation even if you don’t act on them. So not attaining any samadhi would be the result of the kamma of having angry thoughts, for example. Kamma can work in very subtle ways.


Unexamined and unchallenged thoughts which arise, re-arise and become entrenched in the mind become the fertile ground for the seeds of misperceptions, views, opinions and beliefs to run wild and become rooted. If you study the suttas where the Buddha relates the details of his awakening process, he is constantly examining his thoughts, abandoning the thoughts which lead away from the path to awakening and nibbana.

From the Meghiyasutta, Ud 4.1:

21.1But then, a mendicant grounded on these five things should develop four further things. They should develop the perception of ugliness to give up greed, love to give up hate, mindfulness of breathing to cut off thinking, and perception of impermanence to uproot the conceit ‘I am’. When you perceive impermanence, the perception of not-self becomes stabilized. Perceiving not-self, you uproot the conceit ‘I am’ and attain extinguishment in this very life.”

Then, knowing the meaning of this, on that occasion the Buddha expressed this heartfelt sentiment:

“With thoughts whether low or fine,
excitement in the mind arises.
Not understanding these thoughts in the mind,
one with mind astray runs all over the place.

Having understood these thoughts in the mind,
an awakened one—keen, restrained, and mindful—
has given up them all;
excitement in the mind no longer arises.”


Thank you very much for explain. It helped me.
What I had on mind were unintentional thoughts. Like when a person is thinking about doing only good things, not wrong. But then like if mind by itself sends unskillful thoughts (again unintentionally which i didn’t wanted).
Does it mean the same like in your previous answer?

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Those unintentional thoughts are the course of the mind. When the practitioner can watch the mind like that then that is mindfulness. That is a good skill they have. When they watch the mind remembering to correct it in line with the dhamma that is right mindfulness.


I think that sort of thing is the result of engaging in unskillful thoughts in the past. It’s the result of that kamma. I forget which sutta it is in, but the Buddha talks about how the mind inclines towards what it’s familiar with. So the more angry thoughts you have now, the more often your mind will automatically (or “unintentionally”) go to angry thoughts in the future. It’s one of the simplest, yet most profound and beautiful teachings of the Buddha, I think.


It is MN19:

“Whatever a mendicant frequently thinks about and considers becomes their heart’s inclination.
If they often think about and consider thoughts of renunciation, they’ve given up sensual thought to cultivate the thought of renunciation.
Their mind inclines to thoughts of renunciation.
If they often think about and consider thoughts of good will … their mind inclines to thoughts of good will.
If they often think about and consider thoughts of harmlessness … their mind inclines to thoughts of harmlessness.”



Thank you very much. :anjal:
From both your and other answer I understand that thoughts should be guarded well.

Now correct me please if I understand incorrectly:
After reading some text for example, mind will create some thoughts and imagines (good or bad). If I will then think about them, try to remember and to understand what happened, even if one will then create some new thoughts, this time intentionally but without ill will, hatred etc. Just watching them and try to understand them, then it is alright without bad kamma because there is no intention to actually act them out.

Thank you again.

You are welcome.

I am not sure I fully understand your question. Can you try to rephrase it?

I think however you are trying to confirm the validity and role of reflection, which is in turn a more active aspect of mindfulness.

Yes, active and careful reflection is useful as long as you have enough clarity so to reflect wisely on how these unwholesome thoughts fit in the four Noble truths and it’s respective ennobling tasks.

In that case, it is all about acknowledging and learning that these mental events pertain to the “basket” of the things to be let go.

This is because they are cause for suffering. And the ennobling task related to the cause or origination of suffering is to let it go.

Moreover, as one reflects and understand the value and suitability of letting go, he/she will realise that there is probably an aspect of the path to be developed or strengthened further.

This is about the fourth noble truth, of the path, and its associated task of developing the path.

In that case I would say that the factor of the path requiring some “homework” is exactly that of right thought.

And right thought is threefold development, based on kindness, letting go and compassion.

Hope it helps.


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I think this is where the four Right Efforts also comes into play in parallel. Every limb on the Path is geared for end of kamma, eventually. In that sense, while the exact working of every type of kamma may be inscrutable and we are analyzing a really tiny portion of accumulated kamma anyway, the Path tells us what needs to be done with regard to ending of kamma, good or bad.


Yes, very well noted @trusolo

The link between the reflection and recognition of the internal echo to previous unwholesome choices and the changes needed to bring all that to an end is exactly the development of right effort.



If you can ask questions in terms of this sutta, it will make them easier to understand and respect the rules of the site regarding not discussing personal practice. It explains the Buddha-to-be’s thought process before attaining awakening, and includes the formation of right thought (path factor), the action of investigation of the results of wholesome and unwholesome thoughts (second and third noble truths), and right effort (path factor). So it can be seen at this time the Buddha-to-be was developing the structures of the path. The practitioner must observe for themselves whether any thought has a beneficial or detrimental effect, that’s why investigation is the second factor of awakening after mindfulness. The sutta makes it clear that thought is the determinant, the Buddha-to-be attained awakening by developing some thoughts and eliminating others, not by action :

"The Blessed One said, "Monks, before my self-awakening, when I was still just an unawakened Bodhisatta, the thought occurred to me: ‘Why don’t I keep dividing my thinking into two sorts?’ So I made thinking imbued with sensuality, thinking imbued with ill will, & thinking imbued with harmfulness one sort, and thinking imbued with renunciation, thinking imbued with non-ill will, & thinking imbued with harmlessness another sort.

"And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with sensuality arose in me. I discerned that ‘Thinking imbued with sensuality has arisen in me; and that leads to my own affliction or to the affliction of others or to the affliction of both. It obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding.’

“As I noticed that it leads to my own affliction, it subsided. As I noticed that it leads to the affliction of others… to the affliction of both… it obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding, it subsided. Whenever thinking imbued with sensuality had arisen, I simply abandoned it, dispelled it, wiped it out of existence.”—MN 19