Pre-2016 post; revised July 18, 2022
Our lives and existence are based on constantly getting into debt and then paying off debts. This latter is done by Nature whether we like it or not. When we steal, kill, lie, or do any of the dasa akusala, we get into debt, and nature keeps track of that via kammic energy.
- We are reborn to pay debts. This is another way of looking at the cycle of rebirth. Nature will automatically ensure that the largest debts are paid off first; this is how the next existence (bhava) is determined.
- During a given lifetime, debts are paid off when suitable conditions appear; see “Anantara Samanantara Paccaya.”
- Nature is the final arbitrator. A criminal may get away with a crime by hiring a good lawyer but must pay for the crimes in nature’s court. Similarly, when we do something good, we will get the rewards regardless of whether we wish for anything in return or not. Most people do not realize this because of the delay between the act (kamma) and its result (kamma vipāka).
1. When we do either a moral or an immoral act, it is done with an intention and has associated energy. That is the kammic energy produced in javana citta. That energy resides in the universe until spent or otherwise reduced by some means (this is related to quantum entanglement; see, “Quantum Entanglement – We are All Connected“). It is the principle of energy conservation in physics.
- We can become indebted to a living being or the “world as a whole.”
- There were no Vinaya rules in Buddha säsana for about 20 years after the Buddha attained Enlightenment. When Buddha Dhamma started flourishing, unscrupulous people started becoming monks to live comfortable lives depending on the devotees’ kindness. The Buddha admonished them about the consequences of becoming indebted and started setting up the Vinaya (“vi” + “naya”, where “naya” in Pāli or Sinhala means debt) rules to rein in those people.
2. When there is an energy imbalance, nature tries to bring it to balance. For a given individual (in the conventional sense), i.e., a life-stream (absolute sense), the biggest imbalances are settled first.
- Thus at the death when patisandhi takes place, the biggest kamma seed with the highest imbalance comes into play and releases that energy by initiating the next birth in the corresponding “bhava“; see, “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein“. Thus the next “bhava” is determined by the biggest kammic seed at the end of the current “bhava” (this is a simple interpretation of a complex process).
- During a lifetime (pavutti vipāka), in addition to the energy content, the prevailing conditions also come into play for delivering kamma vipāka or releasing kamma seeds. This is why we can prevent many bad kamma vipāka from coming to fruition by acting with yoniso manasikara or “being mindful”; see, “What is Kamma? Is Everything Determined by Kamma?“.
- In both cases (patisandhi and pavutti vipāka), “matching conditions” plays a big role; see “Annantara and Samanantara Paccaya.” For example, a seed does not germinate if it is in a dry place; it needs to be in the ground with water and sunlight to germinate.
3. Getting back to the issue of coming to equilibrium, a stone is in equilibrium when it stays on the ground. If we pick it up and throw it up, it goes up because we gave it some energy. But now, it is not in equilibrium and will fall to find its equilibrium position on the ground. The only difference with kammic energy is that the kammic energy could be released much later; it has to find suitable conditions to release that energy; see “Saṅkhāra, Kamma, Kamma Bīja, Kamma Vipaka,” and “Paṭicca Samuppāda – Overview“; Thus the release of kammic energy is more akin to the process of germination of a seed; there is a time lag until suitable conditions appear.
- When placed in the ground, a seed germinates and becomes a tree according to the “blueprint” in the seed. The energy for the tree’s growth comes from the soil (through the roots) and the Sun (through the leaves.) But the tree, like any other saṅkhata, has a finite lifetime.
- Unless the tree made more seeds during its lifetime, that tree is the only “result” of that original seed.
4. Through numerous lives in the past, we have accumulated innumerable numbers of both good and bad kammic energy packets, or kamma bīja, or kamma seeds, and we keep producing them in this lifetime, too; some are big, and some are small (actually, those done beyond 91 mahā kappā have lost their energy; like everything else in this world, kammic energy is not permanent either). The small kammic seeds bring in results (vipāka) during any lifetime, and the really big ones (kamma patha) are the ones that determine “bhava” for a new life at the cuti-patisandhi moment.
- Does that mean we must remove all kamma seeds to stop rebirth, i.e., to attain Nibbāna? No. A new “bhava” is grasped at the “upādāna paccayā bhavo” step in the Paṭicca Samuppāda cycle; see “Akusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda.” If one has removed ignorance (avijjā) and understood the true nature of the world, then there is no “tanha,” and thus there is no upādāna at the “tanha paccayā upādāna” step, and thus no “bhava,” and no “jāti” or rebirth.
- However, to remove ignorance (avijjā), we must purify our minds. For that, we need to understand the true nature of “this world,” i.e., anicca, dukkha, and anatta. We need to eliminate the five hindrances (pañca nīvaraṇa) that cover our minds and not let the mind comprehend anicca, dukkha, and anatta. That is where the removal of bad kamma seeds and the accumulation of good kamma seeds (i.e., doing good deeds and avoiding bad deeds) become important; of course, “deeds” include actions, speech, and thoughts.
5. The point is that every time we do a moral or an immoral act, we generate a kamma seed that embeds the “javana power” of the thought that led to the act; see, “Javana of a Citta – The Root of Mental Power.” The kammic power associated with a moral act can be considered surplus in one’s “account” that can be used to enjoy things in life; an immoral act leads to debt, i.e., it appears on the negative side of the ledger. If one acts immoral against another living being, one is in debt to that being until it is paid off; see “Kamma, Debt, and Meditation.”
6. Nature tries to keep things in balance: the good kamma brings good results, and bad kamma brings bad results when nature implements this balancing act. We can take advantage of both by arranging conditions for good kamma seeds to germinate and not letting bad kamma seeds germinate; see, “What is Kamma? Is Everything Determined by Kamma?“. The development of good habits and getting rid of bad habits go along with this process; see “Habits and Goals” and “Saṃsāric Habits and Āsavas.” Please review these links carefully. All these tie up together.
7. Thus, we are bound to this saṃsāra or the cycle of rebirths because we do things to make an “imbalance” either via moral or immoral deeds: good deeds lead to good rebirths and bad ones to bad rebirths. They both extend the sansaric journey. However, it is essential to engage in moral deeds to avoid birth in the four lowest realms (apāyā), where the suffering is great, AND there is no opportunity for moral deeds. Thus one MUST do moral deeds until one attains Nibbāna.
- Moral deeds WILL have consequences (they add up in the “plus side of the ledger”), whether or not one wishes for anything in return, i.e., nature will pay back. However, if one does a moral deed AND wishes for something other than Nibbāna, then that is done with greed, and thus one is simultaneously doing an immoral act.
- Only Arahant does not do any moral or immoral deeds with kammic consequences that are potent enough to bring rebirth. All an Arahant does is low-level saṅkhāra or “kriya” (like walking and talking) and is “in equilibrium” with nature.
8. When one goes “off the equilibrium,” greed and hate intensify, and one is likely to do immoral acts to become indebted. On the other hand, when one is in some kind of samadhi, the mind is close to equilibrium, and thus greed and hate are under control. If one attains rupavacara and then arupavacara jhānā, the mind gets even closer to equilibrium. Samadhi attains perfection when one becomes an Arahant.
- This is why one needs to avoid doing immoral acts if one wants to get results in meditation. A purified mind can easily get to samadhi; see “The Basics in Meditation.”
- One becomes indebted via greed, hate, or ignorance (here, ignorance means not knowing the true nature of the world or anicca, dukkha, anatta); thus, there is lobha Vinaya, dosa Vinaya, and moha Vinaya.