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Home Practice The Triple Refugee An Introduction to Kamma - Classification of Kamma

An Introduction to Kamma - Classification of Kamma

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Article Index
An Introduction to Kamma
The Nature of Kamma
The Power of Kamma
Classification of Kamma
What Kamma is Not
Bibliography and Notes
All Pages

Classification of Kamma

According to the time of giving results their are four kinds of kamma:

  1. Kamma that ripens in the same life-time.
  2. Kamma that ripens in the next life.
  3. Kamma that ripens indefinitely in successive births.
  4. Kamma that is ineffective.

According to function there are four kinds:

  1. Regenerative kamma, which conditions rebirth.
  2. Supportive kamma, which maintains the results of other kamma.
  3. Counteractive kamma, which suppresses or modifies the result of other kamma.
  4. Destructive kamma, which destroys the force of other kamma.

According to the priority of giving results there are also four kinds of kamma:

  1. Heavy kamma, which produces its resultant in this very life or in the next. The jhānas are heavy wholesome kammas. Crimes such as matricide, patricide, murder of an Arahant, wounding a Buddha and causing a schism .html" target="" title=""> schism .html" target="" title=""> schism .html" target="" title=""> schism .html" target="" title=""> schism in the Sangha are heavy unwholesome kammas.
  2. Death proximate kamma, which one does at the moment before death. If there is no heavy kamma then this determines the next rebirth.
  3. Habitual kamma is any action that one does very often. In the absence of death-proximate kamma this determines the next rebirth.
  4. Residual kamma is the last in the priority of giving results. This determines the next birth in the absence of habitual kamma.

A further classification of kamma is according to the realm in which the results are produced:

  1. Unwholesome kamma, which produces its effect in the four lower realms.
  2. Wholesome kamma that produces its effect in the sensual realm.
  3. Wholesome kamma (rupajhana) that produces its effect in the realms of form.
  4. Wholesome kamma (arupajhana) that produces its effect in the formless realm.

Ten Immoral Kammas and their Effects

  1. Killing (pānātipātā) is the intentional destruction of a living being. Causing accidental death even by negligence does not amount to killing, though negligence is unwholesome. The evil effects of killing are: having a short life, frequent illness, constant grief caused by separation from loved ones, and constant fear.
  2. Stealing (adinnādāna) is taking the property of others by stealth, deceit, or force. Tax evasion and infringement of copyright also amount to stealing. The evil effects of stealing are: poverty, wretchedness, unfulfilled desires and dependent livelihood.
  3. Sexual Misconduct (kāmesumicchācārā) is the enjoyment of sexual intercourse with unsuitable persons. A good rule of thumb for modern people is, "If my parents or my partner's parents know we are doing this, will they be unhappy?" The evil effects of sexual misconduct are: having many enemies, getting an unsuitable spouse, rebirth as a women, or rebirth as a transsexual.
  4. Lying (musavada) is the intentional perversion of the truth to deceive others. Telling a lie in jest, expecting not to be believed, comes under the heading of frivolous speech, rather than lying. The evil effects of lying are: being tormented by abusive speech, being subject to vilification, incredibility, and bad breath.
  5. Abusive speech (pharusavaca) is speech intended to hurt others. Though speech is hurtful to others, if the intention is to correct or prevent immoral or foolish conduct, it is not abusive speech. The evil effects are being detested by others, and a harsh voice.
  6. Slander (pisunavaca) is speech that is intended to divide others. To warn someone about another's bad character is not slander. The evil effect is the dissolution of friendship without sufficient cause.
  7. Frivolous speech (samphappalapa) is speech with no useful purpose. A lot of conversation, and nearly all modern entertainment falls into this category. The evil effects are disorder of the bodily organs and incredibility.
  8. Covetousness (abhijjha) is the longing to possess another's property, spouse, or children. This evil kamma, though arising in the mind only, is strong enough to cause rebirth in the lower realms. If one strives further to attain the object of one's desire then one will also have to steal or commit sexual misconduct. The evil effect is non-fulfilment of one's wishes.
  9. Ill-will (byapada) is hatred, aversion, or prejudice. This kamma is also only mental. The evil effects are ugliness, many diseases, and a detestable nature.
  10. Wrong View (miccha-ditthi) is of many kinds, but in essence all wrong views deny the law of dependent origination (paticcasamuppada), or cause and effect (kamma). The evil effects are base attachment, lack of wisdom, dullness, chronic diseases, and blameworthy ideas.

Moral Kammas Producing Effects in the Sensual Realms

i. Charity (dana) is giving, or generosity. It is the volition of giving one's possessions to others, or sharing them liberally.
The intention is more important than the value of the gift. To get the best results one should give respectfully, while aspiring to attain nibbāna. When giving food to a monk, one should approach within arms-reach, putting the offering into his hands or onto something held by him. If it is after midday or before dawn, food should not be given into his hands, but it can be put down near him to be offered later. Money should never be given to a monk, nor put down near him, but it may be given to a lay person such as a temple attendant or trustee, with instructions to provide whatever the monk needs, or to provide whatever suitable things one wants to give. Alcohol, weapons, foolish entertainments, bribes, or anything else that corrupts morality should not be given to anyone, as this is unwholesome kamma (adhamma dana). The beneficial effects of giving are wealth, the fulfillment of one's wishes, long-life, beauty, happiness and strength.

ii. Morality (sila) is the volition of refraining from evil. It is the volition of right speech, right action, and right livelihood.
Lay Buddhists should observe the five precepts as a matter of course. Whenever possible they should observe the eight precepts to refine their morality, and to purify the mind for meditation. The monks' morality is extremely refined — the Visuddhimagga says that there are more than nine billion precepts to be observed. A lay person can undertake the monastic discipline for a short period, to practice meditation for example. In my view, a candidate should be given proper training before taking full ordination, and should resolve to stay for at least three months. If candidates lack proper training they may make unwholesome kamma, obstructing their spiritual progress.

To follow the novice's ten precepts is not so demanding, so it is appropriate to ordain for just a week or two, but it is still a serious undertaking; not just something to do for a weekend. There is no longer an order of Theravāda bhikkhunis, but women can ordain as eight precept nuns, shaving their hair and wearing white, pink, or brown robes depending on the tradition. The beneficial effects of morality are rebirth in noble families or in heavenly planes, beauty, fame, and having many friends.

iii. Mental Culture (bhāvanā) is the volition when one practices tranquility meditation (samatha); or it is the development of insight by repeatedly contemplating mental and physical phenomena.

Learning to recite suttas and gathas by heart is also included in mental culture. The beneficial effects of mental culture are development of wisdom, good reputation, and rebirth in higher planes.

iv. Reverence (apacayana) is the volition of paying respect to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha; to one's parents and elders, to teachers, to others who lead virtuous lives, or to shrines, images, and pagodas.

This wholesome kamma costs nothing. Whether entering a vihara, where people may be meditating, or a library where people may be studying, one can easily make good kamma by restraining one's actions and speech. The beneficial effects of reverence are noble parentage, commanding respect, and influential positions.

v. Service (veyyavacca) is the volition of helping virtuous people, those about to set out on a journey; the sick, the old, and the feeble.
This wholesome kamma also costs nothing. By serving a monk one gets many opportunities to learn the Dhamma and promote the Buddhadhamma. When living with virtuous monks it will be much easier to refrain from immoral deeds. The beneficial effects of service are having a large following and many friends.

vi. Transference of Merit (pattidana) is the volition of asking others to participate in wholesome deeds and thereby to share in the resultant merit.
When doing any wholesome deeds such as giving alms, listening to Dhamma, or practicing meditation, one can multiply the benefits by urging family and friends to participate. The beneficial effects of transference of merit is the ability to give in abundance.

vii. Rejoicing in Other's Merit (pattanumodana) is the volition of rejoicing in the good deeds or virtue of others.
When friends or family members do wholesome deeds, even if one cannot participate, one can make wholesome kamma by giving them encouragement. The beneficial effect of rejoicing in others' merit is finding joy wherever one is born.

viii. Listening to the Dhamma (dhammassavana) is the volition of listening to or reading Dhamma with a pure intention to gain morality, concentration, or insight; or to learn the Dhamma to teach others.

The traditional way to listen to Dhamma is to sit on a lower seat than the speaker, with eyes downcast and hands held together in añjali, with one's feet pointing away from the speaker. Shoes, head coverings, and weapons should be removed. If the speaker is standing, then one should also stand. The essential point is to be attentive and respectful. The beneficial effect of listening to the Dhamma is the development of wisdom.

ix. Teaching the Dhamma (dhammadesana) is the volition of teaching Dhamma motivated by compassion, without any ulterior motive to get offerings, honor praise, or fame.

Reciting suttas is also dhammadesana. When preaching, or reciting suttas and gathas, it is most improper to elongate the sound, as singers and orators do, to arouse the emotions. While reciting, one should concentrate on the meaning of the words, not on the sound. One should not shout, nor recite hurriedly, but keep in harmony with others, enunciating each syllable clearly with reverence for the Dhamma. When learning by heart one may recite very quickly since the purpose is different. The beneficial effects of teaching the Dhamma are a pleasing voice and the development of wisdom.

x. Straightening One's Views (ditthijjukamma) is the volition to establish right understanding (samma ditthi).
If one does not understand what a monk says, or disagrees, one should ask pertinent questions. When buying gold or gems people question the seller about their purity. The beneficial effect of straightening one's views is intelligence and the attainment of nibbāna.

Right view is of two kinds: mundane and supramundane. Mundane right view means belief in kamma; or the belief that as we sow, so shall we reap. This right view is found in all religions. An educated Buddhist will also believe in the tenfold mundane right view as follows: 1) there is a benefit in giving alms, 2) there is a benefit of grand offerings, 3) there is a benefit of trivial gifts, 4) there is a result of good and evil deeds, 5) there is special significance of deeds done to one's mother, 6) there is special significance of deeds done to one's father, 7) there are spontaneously arisen beings such as deities, ghosts, and brahmas, 8) there is this human world, 9) there are other worlds, such as heaven and hell, 10) there are some people who, by the power of concentration, can see beings reborn in other worlds.

Supramundane right view means right understanding of the four noble truths, which includes the realization of nibbāna, eradication of self-view or ego, attaining permanent stability in morality and unshakeable confidence in the Triple Gem.

Moral Kamma Producing Effects in the Realms of Form

These powerful wholesome kammas transcend the sensual realm. Sensual desire is one of the five hindrances to concentration, so to attain jhana one has to overcome sensual thoughts. The jhanas are difficult to attain, and difficult to maintain. They are not usually attained when practicing the pure insight method, but insight meditators do experience states comparable to jhana. Insight cuts off defilements at the root, jhana only cuts them off at the base, so insight meditation is preferable.

i. The First Jhana — Absorption of the mind with initial application, sustained application, rapture, bliss, and one-pointedness.

ii. The Second Jhana — Absorption of the mind with sustained application, rapture, bliss, and one-pointedness.

iii. The Third Jhana — Absorption of the mind with rapture, bliss, and one-pointedness.

iv. The Fourth Jhana — Absorption of the mind with bliss and one-pointedness.

v. The Fifth Jhana — Absorption of the mind with equanimity and one-pointedness.


Moral Kammas Producing Effects in the Formless Realms

These jhanas are extremely refined and must be developed after the preceding ones.

i. Moral consciousness dwelling on the infinity of space.
ii. Moral consciousness dwelling on the infinity of consciousness.
iii. Moral consciousness dwelling on nothingness.
iv. Moral consciousness wherein perception is so extremely subtle that it cannot be said whether it is, nor that it is not.


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" In one who constantly sees the faults of others and is always disparaging them, moral intoxicants (asavas) increase; he is far from extinction of moral intoxicants (i.e., he is far from attainment of arahatship). "

The Dhammapada

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