Why does bad kamma result in bad rebirth?


Has anyone found a satisfactory answer in the suttas on why bad kamma results in bad rebirth or vice versa? I know ‘satisfactory’ is subjective but would like to hear from the forum, nonetheless;

Nature doesn’t seem to give any indication of a moral order; its generally survival of the fittest and even altruism/co-operation found in animals can be explained in evolutionary terms being advantageous for the group;

There are certain suttas which seem to address this though its not entirely clear/satisfactory to me;
They seem to hint at “similarity” in nature as a reason;

For example:

  1. Passages which say having done “sabyabajjha” (with affliction/harm) kamma, one is born in a loka(world/realm) with byabajjha; Having born there, one undergoes experiences which are with byabajjha - that is ekantadukkha (wholly painful/exceedingly painful) like in Niraya;
    (ref MN 57 - SuttaCentral)

  2. A person samsappati (is crooked/creepy) in thought, word and deed; He is born as a creeping creature.
    (ref AN 10.216 Samsappaniya sutta - SuttaCentral)

To my mind, these are not entirely satisfactory;
For example, the first sutta talks of world/realm which is ekantadukkha - exclusively /predominantly painful i.e. Niraya and contrasts it with realm which is exclusively/predominantly pleasurable i.e. of subhakinna devas; If they mean realms which are ‘exclusively’ painful or pleasurable as the context seems to imply, it is difficult to imagine them arising/evolving naturally; There are no such examples that we know of from nature;

For comparison, am giving the explanation that can be inferred from the samkhya (and samkhya influenced) texts from India

In Samkhya philosophy, there seems to be an explanation which is consistent, with its own framework, at least, on how beings move up & down the birth chain and why bad deeds lead to lower birth;

All creatures are said to possess three “gunas” (characteristic/trait/nature) - Sattva (knowledge/light), Rajas (passion/raga+dvesa/dust) and Tamas (ignorance/darkness/moha) in differing combinations.

Animals and lower creatures, by nature, are Tamas predominant; Devas are sattva predominant and humans are Rajas predominant.

Actions done in ignorance/without regard to consequences are tamasic including those harmful to others; Restrained knowledgeable actions are Sattvik and those involving raga/dvesa unrestrained are Rajasic.

So a human, who does Tamasic deeds and whose nature becomes Tamas dominant, is reborn as an animal - due to the likeness in “guna”; A human who is more sattvik is akin to devas and hence born in the deva realm;

Ref: Samkhya karika(non theistic), Bhagavad Gita(theistic), Manu smriti (theistic)

I noted this here to show that samkhya also seems to employ the principle of “similarity” in nature to account for rebirth phenomenon; (Whether guna is actual physical matter or a mental state is differently mentioned in different texts)

Any thoughts/comments?

PS: I do realise a simple answer to the question in title would be: because thats the way it is and Buddha observed it to be so :slight_smile:


MN 135 has the answer, perhaps you are expecting something beyond this explaination.

Student, sentient beings are the owners of their deeds and heir to their deeds. Deeds are their womb, their relative, and their refuge.
“Kammassakā, māṇava, sattā kammadāyādā kammayonī kammabandhū kammappaṭisaraṇā.


I don’t think you will find a “satisfactory” answer in the EBTs. There may be something in the Abhidhamma. There is the concept in the commentaries and Abhidhamma of the niyamas, or laws. If I recall, karma is a niyama similar to bija niyama. The idea being it is a law that if one plants a tomato seed, one will get a tomato. That’s just a law of nature. In the same way, if you plant a bad action, a bad result will grow. It’s not as direct as bija niyama. More like the law of weather. There are natural principles of how the weather works, but things work out in different ways, still adhering to the laws of nature.

But that just leaves you with “it’s that way because it’s that way,” which isn’t what your looking for.


Whatever kind of seed you sow,
Yādisaṃ vapate bījaṃ,

that is the fruit you reap.
tādisaṃ harate phalaṃ;

A doer of good gets good,
Kalyāṇakārī kalyāṇaṃ,

a doer of bad gets bad.
pāpakārī ca pāpakaṃ; SN 11.10

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I dont think you should ask about kamma in such a way, it is kind of brahmans net ,

Buddhism use this sutta as guideline SuttaCentral

Yes, friend,” he replied, and he went to the Blessed One, and after paying homage to him, sat down at one side. The Blessed One then asked him: “Sāti, is it true that the following pernicious view has arisen in you: ‘As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is this same consciousness that runs and wanders through the round of rebirths, not another’?”
“Exactly so, venerable sir. As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is this same consciousness that runs and wanders through the round of rebirths, not another.”
“What is that consciousness, Sāti?”
“Venerable sir, it is that which speaks and feels and experiences here and there the result of good and bad actions.”
“Misguided man, to whom have you ever known me to teach the Dhamma in that way? Misguided man, have I not stated in many ways consciousness to be dependently arisen, since without a condition there is no origination of consciousness? But you, misguided man, have misrepresented us by your wrong grasp and injured yourself and stored up much demerit; for this will lead to your harm and suffering for a long time.”
Then the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus thus: “Bhikkhus, what do you think? Has this bhikkhu Sāti, son of a fisherman, kindled even a spark of wisdom in this Dhamma and Discipline?”
“How could he, venerable sir? No, venerable sir.”
When this was said, the bhikkhu Sāti, son of a fisherman, sat silent, dismayed, with shoulders drooping and head down, glum, and without response. Then, knowing this, the Blessed One told him: “Misguided man, you will be recognised by your own pernicious view. I shall question the bhikkhus on this matter.”

And also SuttaCentral

Because of paying attention to what they should not and not paying attention to what they should, unarisen defilements arise and arisen defilements grow.
This is how they attend improperly: ‘Did I exist in the past? Did I not exist in the past? What was I in the past? How was I in the past? After being what, what did I become in the past? Will I exist in the future? Will I not exist in the future? What will I be in the future? How will I be in the future? After being what, what will I become in the future?’ Or they are undecided about the present thus: ‘Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? This sentient being—where did it come from? And where will it go?’


Thanks for replying;
But I must say i’m more interested in understanding how karma could work than in nibbana :slight_smile:


Actions taken based on misinformation always lead to unpleasant surprises. If I drive on the wrong side of the road for the country I am in, then much harm comes to pass. Delusion tends to be detrimental to survival.

Per the EBTs, we know that the primary delusion is Identity View and that is abandoned with stream-entry. It is also not so easy to abandon identity view. One thinks that “there must be some evolutionary use for identity.” Richard Dawkins has expressed as much in his book, The Selfish Gene. So what then is the EBT basis for rejecting the kamma of identity view?

Genes belong to the animal realm. If our actions are based on the dictates of our genes, then we are simply homo sapiens as animals. Our kamma is eat or be eaten, kill for resources endlessly. In the wild, male lions kill cubs when taking over a pride. This is the rule of the gene and arises “naturally and endlessly”. For me, that existence is “exclusively painful and meaningless”. It is the animal realm. Let’s not be reborn there. Shall we agree to call this bad kamma?

AN6.45:12.1: That poor, penniless person has done bad things by way of body, speech, and mind. When their body breaks up, after death, they’re trapped in the prison of hell or the animal realm.

Being dissatisfied with the animal realm, we create ethics. We restrain killing. We acknowledge other genes. Our identity transcends the individual. We die for our nation, etc. We learn to give to others. That too is natural. And what happens naturally is that some are born to wealth and health again and again. Shall we agree to call this good kamma?

DN33:3.1.101: They think:
DN33:3.1.102: ‘If only, when my body breaks up, after death, I would be reborn in the company of well-to-do aristocrats or brahmins or householders!’
DN33:3.1.103: They settle on that thought, concentrate on it and develop it. As they’ve settled for less and not developed further, their thought leads to rebirth there.
DN33:3.1.104: But I say that this is only for those of ethical conduct, not for the unethical.
DN33:3.1.105: The heart’s wish of an ethical person succeeds because of their purity.

Yet the EBT’s clearly state that this also is dissatisfying. And they offer a way beyond:

AN4.237:5.1: And what are neither dark nor bright deeds with neither dark nor bright results, which lead to the ending of deeds?
AN4.237:5.2: Right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right immersion.
AN4.237:5.3: These are called neither dark nor bright deeds with neither dark nor bright results, which lead to the ending of deeds.


I see… you are caught in wrong view and maybe delight in the wrong view, thus create a self that goes on through lives, which bound to be dukha,birth, aging grief , lamentation, sorrow , death.

Maybe by analyzing the five clinging aggregates factors , I dont remember exactly which sutta though

Like suppose you’re clinged to body but you are not cling to mind, then you might be borned as animals who has no emotional brain, like fish

Or you like to collect money just to save it, you might end up as an ant

But if you want to be a brahman you must let go your identity also , no self going on through samsara, but only love and compassion and practise brahma vihara

Like a fire goes one from lighter to paper and from paper to others, only the fire goes on, so dont be surprised if someone find he end up in other realm which he doesnt wish, because of avijja

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This is one good explaination of the kammic process.
Only difference pointed in EBTs is that “everything comes from past deeds” is a wrong view.

Everything this individual experiences—pleasurable, painful, or neutral—is because of past deeds.’
yaṃ kiñcāyaṃ purisapuggalo paṭisaṃvedeti sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā sabbaṃ taṃ pubbekatahetū’ti (AN 3.61).

Six senses are from past deeds according toSN 35.146.

The eye is old action. It should be seen as produced by choices and intentions, as something to be felt.
Cakkhu, bhikkhave, purāṇakammaṃ abhisaṅkhataṃ abhisañcetayitaṃ vedaniyaṃ daṭṭhabbaṃ … pe …

The ear … nose … tongue … body … Mind…


You might find the following Dhamma talk by Ven Punnaji relevant

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There is a book published in Sri Lanka called “expansion of rebirth and karma” or something in sinhalese, with a view that explains genes are units of kamma that later causes new life forms.
That explains how we started as primodial beings and developed into humans. But this does not tally with the facts explained in Aggaññasutta.
Evolution; a process that develops beings from primodial level (virus-like) to advanced beings.
Aggaññasutta explains it started from superior and ended up with humans (less developed).
This book failed to explain mental factor, and is a materialistic approach of explaining the kamma which is more closer to ahetuappaccayavāda; everything arised with no reason, a random process, random mix of molecules creating life on earth.


Richard Dawkins discussed the mental factor in his own book. His perspective is that a gene is basically an idea. It is a form. The actual AGCT molecules are irrelevant since what is transmitted is the form of the gene. New molecules assemble themselves into the replicated form. Prof. Dawkins invites the reader to consider that human social interaction relies on the expression and adoption of ideas. Essentially, humans have evolved to speak their “genes” as memes and ideologies.

In this sense, the EBTs themselves could be considered as virtual genes for transferring Dhamma. I’ve been happily brainwashed. :laughing:

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Thanks for the thoughts so far; Wanted to add that both the Suttas I refer to have a common passage;
“bhūtā bhūtassa upapatti hoti. Yaṃ karoti tena upapajjati. Upapannamenaṃ phassā phusanti”

Just found a good discussion on this phrase here by Piya Tan:

This phrase and the quoted anguttara commentary seem to refer to similarity in nature (sabhava of kamma?) as having something to do with how rebirth works;

If there are more references to this passage or explanations in the Sutta or para canonical literature, would like to read up on that…

Commentary quoted in the article : bhūtā bhūtassa upapatti hotîti bhūtasmā sabhāvato vijjamāna,kammā sattassa nibbatti


I would say that the following…

MN57:3.5: So if the dog observance succeeds it leads to rebirth in the company of dogs, but if it fails it leads to hell.”

…is an explicit example of the principle of dependent origination, which describes the how and why of kamma:

SN12.23:4.5: You should say: ‘Rebirth.’
SN12.23:4.6: I say that rebirth has a vital condition.
SN12.23:4.7: And what is it?
SN12.23:4.8: You should say: ‘Continued existence.’
SN12.23:4.9: I say that continued existence has a vital condition.
SN12.23:4.10: And what is it?
SN12.23:4.11: You should say: ‘Grasping.’
SN12.23:4.12: I say that grasping has a vital condition.
SN12.23:4.13: And what is it?

In other words, craving and grasping at dog ethics leads to rebirth in bad places. Dogs can be loyal and loving (rebirth in animal realm) or they can be vicious and cruel (rebirth in hell).

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I also don’t think you’ll find a satisfactory answer in the EBTs as well. As you say, it’s just “the way it is.” But I think “similarity” is as good an answer as any and can be observed in our experience on so many levels.

I’d also add that you can only extrapolate so far from one realm to another, especially big transitions like hell being -> human, or human/lower deva -> higher deva. There’s just too great of a contrast in their experiences. It’s virtually impossible to imagine unless maybe you’ve got a really painful condition and you’ve done really bad things in your life that you regret so you can imagine the existence of a hell being, or maybe you are truly adept in the jhanas and you can imagine the higher devas. We’ve all felt this to some degree when we’ve been in a lot of pain/despair vs very happy, but this degree is on a much lower level compared to those aforementioned examples. And this is just the human realm. Animal (nature) -> human is a little closer but there’s still such a huge gulf between us.

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I think it is worth highlighting SN42.8 in which we see the Buddha contrasting what he taught on the subject of how bad deeds and habits and the refraining from those yields results to the more simplistic, deterministic and inflexible approach by the Jains (nigaṇṭhasāvako) to the same subject.

The interesting aspect of this discourse is that it is mostly because one holds to the speech and thought, and view of “because I do/did such and such bad thing hence I will be reborn in hell” that he/she is caught in being reborn in hell.

It is also a key discourse to understand the preliminary steps leading to the acquisition of right view and how that then leads to the release of heart via the four divine abodes.



Mind and matter not divisible . Analysis arrive at not analysable .

Not really… See mind is enery, a range of activity, based on cause and effect

While matter which occupy time and space, which is our body.

What Buddha achieved is very clear, which is matter and which is mind.
So according to what Buddha achieved, mind is free energy, but because of “you”, believing you have a self, this body , this mind, thus you caught in Dukkha

So what Buddha did is to free “you” from the matter/body you caught up.

Nibbana is an experience where “you” is not. Thus the energy free to flow, mind unbound by ‘you’ no more, the highest happiness.

Found the sutta which said the viewing from past life from observing upadanas