Pāpa Kamma Versus Akusala Kamma

November 14, 2018; revised November 16, 2018; August 29, 2022

Difference Between Akusala and Pāpa Kamma

1. While akusala kammā are “immoral deeds,” pāpa kamma are “highly immoral deeds.” That is the main difference.

  • In some English translations, I have seen that both pāpa kamma and akusala kamma are translated as “bad deeds.” However, there is a huge difference.
  • It is critical to understand that if one has not removed the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi, one can commit pāpa kamma.

2. Mōha is the stronger version of avijjā. If one has mōha, then one also has lōbha and dōsa, which are stronger versions of rāga (kāma rāga, rūpa rāga, arūpa rāga) and paṭigha; see, “Lōbha, Rāga and Kāmaccanda, Kāmarāga” and “Lōbha, Dōsa, Mōha versus Rāga, Patigha, Avijjā“.

  • We know that akusal-mūla Paṭicca Samuppāda cycles start with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra“, and NOT “mōha paccayā saṅkhāra“.
  • Before one starts focusing on understanding Paṭicca Samuppāda cycles, one must have reduced mōha to avijjā level.

3. Paṭicca Samuppāda (starting with avijjā) describes processes that lead to births in the sugati or “good realms” (human realm and above), as well as births in dugati or “bad realms” or apāyās (the four lowest realms).

  • One does need to apply Paṭicca Samuppāda to determine births done with pāpa kamma, but it is not even necessary: they INVARIABLY lead to births in the apāyās.
  • Put it in another way, pāpa kammā done with highly potent apuñña abhisaṅkhāra ALWAYS leads to births in the apāyās.
  • The bottom line is that one is capable of doing pāpa kamma (which does not mean one will always do it) as long as one has one or more of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi. When one gets rid of all those micchā diṭṭhi, one does not have mōha anymore; it is reduced to avijjā. 
Sutta Descriptions – What Are Pāpa Kamma?

4. Pāpa kamma are described in several suttā, but let us focus on the “Pathama Pāpadhamma Sutta (AN 4.207).”  I will just provide the translation to save space.

Bhikkhus, who is a highly immoral person (pāpō)? One who is engaged in the destruction of life or initiates, encourages, praises, helps destruction of life (in a habitual way) is a highly immoral person destined to be born in the apāyās…”.

  • The rest of the sutta lists six MORE deeds in the same way: Taking what is not given, sexual misconduct, immoral speech, Intoxication (drinking, taking drugs, etc.), and micchā diṭṭhi
  • For example, the full description of the last one is: One who has micchā diṭṭhi or initiates, encourages, praises, and encourages others to have such views (in a habitual way).
  • It is important to note that just one action does not make one a pāpō” or a “highly immoral person.” There is a second related sutta: “Dutiya Pāpadhamma Sutta (AN 4.208)“.

5. The “Ducca­rita­ Vipāka­ Sutta (AN 8.40)” is another sutta that state eight immoral actions that could make one born in the apāyās.   “Duccarita” means “highly immoral character,” so a “duccarita puggala” means the same as “pāpō” or “a highly immoral person.”

Here is the translation of that sutta.

(1) “Bhikkhus, the destruction of life, repeatedly pursued, developed, and cultivated, is conducive to rebirths in hell, to the animal realm, and the sphere of hungry ghosts; when one is born as a human after paying off most of the vipāka, one will also have a short life span.

(2) “Taking what is not given, repeatedly pursued, developed, and cultivated, is conducive to rebirths in hell, to the animal realm, and the sphere of hungry ghosts; when one is born as a human after paying off most of the vipāka, one is likely to face loss of wealth.

(3) “Sexual misconduct, repeatedly pursued, developed, and cultivated, is conducive to rebirths in hell, to the animal realm, and the sphere of hungry ghosts; when one is born as a human after paying off most of the vipāka, one will also be exposed to enmity and rivalry.

(4) “False speech (per Dhamma, not strictly lying), repeatedly pursued, developed, and cultivated, is conducive to rebirths in hell, to the animal realm, and the sphere of hungry ghosts; when one is born as a human after paying off most of the vipāka, one will also be exposed to false accusations.

(5) “Divisive speech, repeatedly pursued, developed, and cultivated, is conducive to rebirths in hell, to the animal realm, and the sphere of hungry ghosts; when one is born as a human after paying off most of the vipāka, one will also be exposed to being separated from one’s loved ones.

(6) “Harsh speech, repeatedly pursued, developed, and cultivated, is conducive to rebirths in hell, to the animal realm, and the sphere of hungry ghosts; when one is born as a human after paying off most of the vipāka, one will also be exposed to disagreeable sounds.

(7) “Idle chatter, repeatedly pursued, developed, and cultivated, is conducive to rebirths in hell, to the animal realm, and the sphere of hungry ghosts; when one is born as a human after paying off most of the vipāka, one will also be exposed to others distrusting one’s words.

(8) “Intoxication (drinking, taking drugs, etc.), repeatedly pursued, developed, and cultivated, is conducive to rebirths in hell, to the animal realm, and the sphere of hungry ghosts; when one is born as a human after paying off most of the vipāka, one will also be exposed mental problems.”

6. There is also a set of suttā (AN 10.211 through AN 10. 220) that state that dasa akusala (taking a life, stealing, abusing sense pleasures, speaking untruth, slandering, harsh speech, gossiping, greed, ill-will, wrong views or micchā diṭṭhi) lead to rebirth in the apāyās.

  • Therefore, pāpa kamma are the same as dasa akusala done with micchā diṭṭhi. That means having micchā diṭṭhi makes one’s mind “covered,” i.e., one has mōha.
  • It is important to note that some dasa akusala can be done without micchā diṭṭhi, and those are done with just avijjā.
Description of Pāpa Kamma

7. Those immoral actions in #4 through #6 above are all pāpa kamma.

  • It is important to note the emphasis on” repeatedly pursued, developed, and cultivated.” 
  • For example, those who habitually go fishing and hunting would belong to this category. Also, see #14 below.
  • Another way to say that is to say “cultivating (abhi)saṅkhāra.” One does such an action because it becomes one’s gati, i.e., it becomes a habit and contributes to one’s character. 
  • These are essentially the same as the descriptions in #4 above.

8. I want to emphasize that all of the following four actions contribute to each of the above listed immoral actions in #4 through #6 above (If done regularly):

  1. Doing it.
  2. Assisting another person to do it.
  3. Ordering (or instructing) another person to do it.
  4. Praising someone who is doing it.

9. When one has mōha, one can do pāpa kammā without remorse. That means one is not even close to being released from the apāyās.

  • This very simple fact can save many people a lot of wasted time. It is absolutely a waste of time even to try to understand Paṭicca Samuppāda if one still has any of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi, some of which are commonly held; see “Miccha Diṭṭhi, Gandhabba, and Sōtapanna Stage.”
  • I know I will make many people unhappy by making these statements. But it is better to learn the truth as soon as possible. We all have been trapped in this suffering-filled rebirth process for an unimaginable time simply because we have not been able to understand this key point.
  • More information in “Kilesa – Relationship to Akusala, Kusala, and Puñña Kamma.”
Nature’s Laws, Not Buddha’s Rules

10. These are not rules made up by the Buddha. Reducing mōha to avijjā level means one is not ignorant of the wider world of 31 realms. That REQUIRES an understanding of the laws of kamma, which in turn REQUIRES an understanding of the wider view of the Buddha (existence of 31 realms) AND a belief in the rebirth process.

  • That is because, without that wider worldview, the laws of kamma can’t be effective: If there is no rebirth process, many things cannot be explained; see “Vagaries of Life and the Way to Seek “Good Rebirths.”
  • Nothing happens without causes and conditions. Explanation of what happens around us REQUIRES the wider worldview. Only a Buddha with a perfectly purified mind can discover these hidden laws of Nature.
  • Many people, especially in the Western world, have difficulty believing the above. They think Buddha is just “a better philosopher” who came up with his own “worldview.” However, it will become clear if one can spend time examining Buddha Dhamma, including Abhidhamma.

11. Buddha Dhamma is self-consistent. The Buddha did not make up the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi. They go against the nature of this world: kamma (actions) have consequences (vipāka); there is a rebirth process; there is a para lōka where gandhabbā live; there are instantaneous births in realms that we do not see, etc.

Sorting Out the Priorities

12. As I have discussed, making progress is a step-by-step process. Before starting on the Noble Eightfold Path, one must complete the mundane eightfold path where one gets rid of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi; see, “Is It Necessary for a Buddhist to Eliminate Sensual Desires?“.

  • A critical aspect of attaining the Sōtapanna stage is the comprehension of Paṭicca Samuppāda, how root causes lead to their effects where conditions (paccayā) play a key role.

13. These days, many people start by trying to understand deep suttā that REQUIRE an understanding of Paṭicca Samuppāda and Tilakkhana.

  • However, many of them (including many bhikkhus) do not believe in rebirth or that the concepts of para lōka and gandhabba are valid. They erroneously believe that gandhabba is a Mahāyāna concept, but neither they nor Mahāyānists understand what is meant by antarabhava; see, “Mental Body – Gandhabba.”
  • Getting to the Sōtapanna stage CAN NOT be done by just reading a few posts. One has to make a real effort to understand the key concepts and live a moral life.

14. Making progress on the Path requires working on two fronts:

  • One needs to understand the key basic concepts in Buddha Dhamma like dasa akusala and micchā diṭṭhi, before tackling Tilakkhana and Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • One needs to live a moral life, and “the level of morality” will automatically increase as one’s understanding gets deeper and deeper.
  • Therefore, those two aspects go hand-in-hand. One cannot just focus on one aspect. Both are necessary.

15. It is also a good idea to understand some key details of how the laws of kamma work.

  • Just because one kills some insects when doing yard work does not contribute significantly. The intention plays a key role, as discussed in: “What is Intention in Kamma?“.
  • Furthermore, killing a human is much more significant than killing many animals because human life is much more difficult to get; see “How to Evaluate Weights of Different Kamma.”
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