The following is an article adapted from a recording of a teaching given by a certain Luang Po, a Cambodian monk who was living and teaching in Thailand up until his death in 1993.
These teachings were not given as formal speeches or talks, planned and written down and arranged; Luang Po simply talked dhamma to whoever happened to be there, wisdom flowing as easily as breathing.
“If I talk, I die; if I don’t talk, I die. Therefore I talk,” he said. Most would not understand and would not apply what he told them. Maybe one would.
The following is taken from one of several hundred cassette tapes recorded by his students by stealth. (He did not approve of the recordings made of his teachings by his students and would scold them every time he caught them at it: “Sanna machaya panna! Memory is not wisdom.”)
I have adapted the translation of this recording somewhat to make it more accessible for a wider audience, but nevertheless, it is probably more useful for those who have already some familiarity with the teaching of the Buddha. Luang Po was teaching for the sake of those who already wished to complete the aim of the teaching; not to try to convert those who were not interested.
First, we have to know that kamma is the word for “action.” The same word is used for the action in the beginning at the moment it takes place, and action where it bears fruit later: Just as the grain when it is planted, the field waiting to be harvested, and the new grains when they are harvested, waiting to be made into flour, are all by the same name: “Wheat.”
And so, there is “old kamma” and there is “new kamma”
New kamma is the action as it takes place, like the grain of wheat when it is planted: the pulling of the trigger of a gun, out of fear, or out of anger, is new kamma that will give its own result in the future. The result follows according to the nature of that action: violent actions have violent results.
Old kamma is the fruit of past action, the result of past action, which means feeling comfortable or uncomfortable, experiencing pain or experiencing pleasure, according to the nature of the old kamma that was done.
When we plant a grain of wheat, we harvest wheat later; but if we plant a thistle seed, we will harvest nothing more thistles: by the same law, the pleasure or pain we feel in the present is due to the nature of our past actions. If we are living in peace and unharmed, it is the result of harmless old kamma, inoffensive past actions. If we are sick and suffering, it is harmful old kamma, cruel or ill-willed actions giving their result; felt in the present as pain and suffering.
According to the teaching of the Buddha, it is kamma (old kamma, the result of actions) that causes us to be born, kamma that causes us to die, kamma that causes pleasure or pain in our existence; that brings comfort or discomfort.
Types of kamma
According to the theory of the Buddha’s teaching, for one who is born human there are four types of kamma that are the cause of everything in this life.
The first is called Janaka Kamma. This is the kamma that produces birth. The birth of each person is their inheritance of Janaka kamma, and it is what decides where one is born, in what country, in what conditions, in what kind of family, in what race.
The second is called Upathambaka kamma – this is a type of kamma whose results are experienced constantly while one is alive. Upathambaka kamma is good kamma with pleasant results, producing comfort and pleasure. It supports the health, well-being and good conditions of our lives. If we are living in good conditions, it is the result of Upathambaka kamma.
The third, Upapalika kamma, also produces results continuously during life, but this is the kamma whose results are the painful, the unpleasant kind: the kind that causes one accidents, or ill-health, for example, or material loss – problems, sufferings of all kinds – but it does not cause death.
Upapalike kamma and Upathambaka kamma are the light and dark sides, different forms, but both fall into the same category called Patisarana Kamma, the kamma that is constantly giving fruit while you are alive. One’s comfort or discomfort in life is due to this cause.
It is the fourth kind, Upaghatakamma, which cuts off life and brings death. This kamma does its work through cutting off the current state of existence.
Thus, if it is bad kamma, the harvest of wrong actions and wrong view, which cuts off the life, then it cuts off and places lives in a bad destination: in hell, in the ghost world or in the animal world.
Yet it is not only bad kamma that cuts off lives, but also good kamma. If it is good kamma that cuts off the life; kamma born from good actions and right view, the next destination will be good, it can be a heavenly world.
For example, when the result of a sublime good kamma is ready to have its effect and bear fruit in the human world, and yet even living in the human world is not good enough for that effect, that kamma will cut off that life in the human world so that there will be a new birth in the heaven world. Life in the heavenly world is more agreeable than life as a human.
Kamma, the inheritance of our actions, follows us just like a shadow. This is the way that actions create results. Death is disagreeable, but if we understand well, we see that it is simply the kamma that is giving its result; it is nothing but the harvest of one’s action.
Comfort and ease – being comfortable in and of itself – has no effect, no benefit, no result whatsoever. It is kamma that directs everything, kamma that gives results.
Being able to eat, or not being able to eat, is due to kamma. Having money or not, is due to kamma. It isn’t true that it is ‘normal’ or that we should have a “right” to such things.
Being comfortable or uncomfortable is decided by kamma. It is not the case that we are in good conditions by ourselves without any cause or effect, without kamma. That is wrong view.
Those who have wrong view live in the belief that there is no kamma. There are three types of wrong view:
- Akiriyaditthi: the view of no kamma and nothingness. It means we are what we are by our own will, we live by our own will, we are clever and important and can be proud of ourselves. A businessman is called a “self-made man.’’
Those who subscribe to this wrong view will believe that we ourselves are responsible for whether we live or die – and so if others die it is only because they are careless, do not take good enough care of their health or have a bad immune system. We often think this way without realising it: for example, although in theory we know we will die, and we don’t know when, we are always surprised if we learn that someone close to us has died young, or if we have a life-threatening disease, we ask ‘Why me?’
If we understood that it is not our decision and that we have no right, no guarantee whatsoever to live to the age of 90, then we would not be surprised by this, would not ask ‘why me?’
- Ahetukaditthi: the view that there is no cause or consequence, there is only “I.” We could also say it as “All is One” or “All is God” “all is eternal.”
- Katthikaditthi, the view that there is not even an effect that exists, what exists is only “self.” This particular wrong view denies all ideas of kamma and all ideas of the other views; it says that there is no right or wrong, no good or bad, I was simply born from my mother and my father: it is the scientific view of things.
So how can we explain to those who think in this way that our parents are not the cause of our birth; rather it is kamma that brings our birth to our parents?
The Buddha said that no matter where you are born, there are three conditions needed for birth: the kamma one has inherited, a mother in her season, and the union of the mother and father.
The first and foremost is the kamma one has inherited. For example, to be born as a human, one must have done some right action before, such as keeping at least some of the precepts of morality. Without keeping any of the precepts, you will assuredly be born in hell or as an animal. To be born in the human world or one of the heaven worlds, at minimum you have to keep some precepts of morality.
The precepts bring you to the level of a human being.
If we are born to our parents it is the kamma of having kept precepts that brings our birth to them, not their being together that causes our birth. It is like when there is a battery connected to two wires, one positive wire and one negative wire, when you touch the two wires together there will be a spark. Just touching two wires together does not cause a spark, and if we were to say that touching two wires together is the cause of the spark, we are wrong. The source of the spark is electricity. In this case it is the battery that is the source of electricity, but it requires two wires, conductors for the electricity that makes the spark appear. If we believe in the Buddha’s teachings, already it means that we have to know our life is not there by itself, we are not simply born from our mother and father, rather they are the conductors of the kamma that brings our birth to them.
Simply being born human, then, is intimately entwined with good and bad, right and wrong. If we had not done something good, we would not be born here.
And yet, having done some good actions in the past does not guarantee that one will continue to do them; it does not mean we know the difference between right and wrong. If we don’t know what is right and what is wrong, if we have wrong view, then we will continue to do fall back into doing wrong, no matter where we are born, no matter in what conditions we are born.
The mind is deeply lazy – and the mind with wrong view is self-centred, selfish. If we have enough food to eat, surrounded by an abundance of good food, we don’t see it as the result of kamma, we take it for granted as our right. In fact it is not there by itself and it is not our right, it is the result of our old kamma. But when we have food, we don’t feel like giving it away, giving it up, or working more – we usually just want to eat and enjoy, we want to consume. As, when we are starving, we work and work to survive, to gain better conditions for ourselves, but as soon we have good conditions, comfort, we become fat and lazy; in the same way, if we have no faith and no understanding of right and wrong, being in good conditions makes it easy to do wrong.
Correcting the mind
Correcting our mind is an urgent matter. Unless we correct it and find a way to believe in what is the truth and the reality, then we will continue to fall back in suffering for this very reason: becoming lazy in good conditions, we waste the comfort we have, we simply consume it and do not do any further work, until there is no more kamma to support the good conditions we have and we fall back again into suffering. It will continue like this as long as we have not corrected our mind, as long as we still have wrong view.
How can we correct our mind, when we cannot believe in Kamma, or when we believe that there is no cause and effect, when we believe it is ‘I’ that eats, ‘I’ that drinks, ‘I’ that drives the car, ‘I’ that decides everything, ‘I’ that does everything?
Let’s test it: is there really no cause and effect, as those who have wrong view believe?
The Buddha says that for everything there is a cause.
But one having wrong view denies this, and says that it is “I” that does everything. This is where we can start, at this point, this difference.
The Buddha said that the eyes are from old kamma, the ears, the nose, the tongue, the body and the mind are old kamma, basically everything that we have in this life is old kamma. Wrong view would say that this is not true, but do we know, do we decide our own birth, what we will be and what we are? What can we see, what can we find that is not caused by something outside of our control?
Where is this “I”? According to wrong view, “I am” – then “I” should exist.
But we die!
We die so easily, it takes only lack of food, lack of suitable temperature, no consciousness, no kamma to further support our lives. Where is the self?
For example, when we have cancer, and there is no kamma causing our death yet, what’s the point of suffering and dying if the self exists? Why would we do that? There’s no reason to feel pain or to die. Where is the “self” and why can’t it endure this painful feeling? Why do we have to take a pain-killer when the self should be able to resist all that; if it is “I” how come it hurts?
Because this is not our “self.” All is just the result of old Kamma – the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue and the body – they are all the result of kamma. If the body is the self, we must not be sick.
Or else we should say the sickness too is “self,” the cancer is self. The cancerous cells are the same cells of the same body. We say that our hair is ours, our nails are ours, though we cut them off regularly. Why don’t we say that the cancer is ours? The fact that we don’t want to admit is this: that the five aggregates of body and mind truly exist – and they in themselves by themselves, in their nature – are painful.
If you don’t believe in kamma, then the most important thing for you when you are driving a car is to save your life. But driving while believing in kamma is driving carefully to avoid accidents, but at the same time admitting that there is always the possibility of an accident. It is up to the Kamma that there might be an unavoidable accident.
Although we don’t hit another car, someone might hit us. Someone prefers to switch a seat with his friend, but might die from an accident right after that switching. It is the kamma that organises all this. This is how kamma makes its result on the mind – not anywhere else but the mind. It creates the result that the mind lives or dies. Nothing at all is decided by “self” – all is only the result of kamma, the result of our actions.
The ones with wrong view will think that life goes on by itself. They will always be trying to survive – “Me, I have to do the surviving.” When there is an accident, they see the doctor as the most important factor – not the kamma, the harvest of right or wrong actions. Their view is therefore that right and wrong has no effect, no consequence. They have to see the emergency doctor so they can survive.
The person who believes in kamma will also go to the doctor, but not with the same attitude: they go to the doctor to help relieve the pain and the symptom – not with the aim of forcing themselves to live. The way that the medicine heals and relieves lies in fact in its quality, its character – for example, hot quality, cold quality, dissolving quality or expelling quality, to dissolve or drive away the symptom. How does the medicine cure the symptom such as the pain of stomach-ache? – Its character creates the balance of elements, not too hot, not too cold; not too acidic, not too alkaline. When we feel cold, the medicine is warmth to balance the cold. The stickiness of sugar is balanced by the thing that dissolves stickiness, which is water. Whoever believes in kamma creates the balance of elements by using the opposite character, the opposite quality. The aim is not to continue to live; this is up to kamma.
Those with wrong view think that life goes on by itself, that it is to be expected that life will continue, normal that life continues and abnormal when it is cut off.
Those who see with right view know it is not to be expected that life will continue and death is not strange. There is no reason to fear or regret, since life goes on due to kamma, not by itself, there is no “itself.”
There is no such thing as “self” in life – all is led only by kamma, driven only by kamma.
It is made only by kamma.