Revised October 6, 2016; revised November 24, 2017
1. One can do immoral acts with the body, speech, and mind (leading to kāya, vaci, and manō sankhāra); see, “Sankhara, Kamma, Kamma Beeja, Kamma Vipaka“. Actually, one starts committing manō sankhāra first, some of which lead to vaci and kāya sankhāra. These are called ten immoral acts (dasa akusala). The ten immoral acts are divided into the three categories as follows:
Three manō sankhāra (immoral acts done with the mind):
- Abhijjā (covetousness; greed for other’s belongings)
Vyāpāda (ill-will, hatred)
Miccā Ditthi (wrong views)
Four vaci sankhāra (immoral acts done with speech):
- Musāvāda (Lying)
Parusāvācā (harsh speech)
Sampappalāpā (frivolous talk)
Three kāya sankhāra (immoral acts done with the body):
- Pānātipātā (killing)
Adinnādānā (taking what is not given)
kāmēsu miccācārā (not just sexual misconduct, but also excessive of sense pleasures)
2. In Buddha Dhamma (i.e., in nature) it is always one’s intention that really matters. Based on that, each of those dasa akusala can be expanded to 40. For example, it is not only stealing by oneself that matters. In addition, getting someone else to steal, helping another’s act of stealing, and praising such an action by another also are included.
- In another example, propagating miccā ditthi to others, encouraging another to cultivate miccā ditthi (say, for example, that the rebirth process is not valid), or praising such practices are also included. Similarly for all ten dasa akusala.
- As one starts avoiding more and more of these forty actions, one will start feeling early stages of Nibbāna or “nivana“, i..e, cooling down of the mind. The constant stress, excitedness of the mind will gradually ease. Also see, “Root of All Suffering – Ten Immoral Actions“.
3. First of all, it is important to realize that only an Arahant is totally free from doing any of these; even a Sōtapanna may commit some of these at least once -in-a-while. There are six things that a Sōtapanna is incapable of: killing mother or father, killing an Arahant, injuring a Buddha, knowingly causing schism in Sangha, and having miccā ditthi or wrong views.
- Thus it is inevitable that dasa akusala could be broken by anyone below the Sōtapanna stage. Even a Sōtapanna has completely removed only miccā ditthi. A Sōtapanna would not WILLINGLY commit any of the dasa akusala, but some COULD happen, except for those six mentioned above; see, “Key to Sōtapanna Stage – Ditthi and Vicikiccā“.
- What is important is to realize that these are to be AVOIDED if at all possible. It becomes easier as one learns Dhamma and see the benefits of avoiding them.
- However, it must be noted that a Sōtapanna has reduced lobha (extreme greed, especially for other’s belongings) and dōsa (hate) to reduced levels of rāga (craving for sense pleasures) and patigha (friction or tendency to get upset or angry); see, “Lobha,dōsa, Moha versus rāga, Patigha, Avijja“.
4. Most terms above are clear, but many people may not be aware of what miccā ditthi (wrong views) is. Miccā ditthi is basically not comprehending the basic characteristics of “this world” of 31 realms; see, “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma” and “Wrong Views (Miccā Ditthi) – A Simpler Analysis“.
- Because of the ignorance of the complete world view, one is likely to have three main wrong world views: (i) everything has sprung without a cause (ahētuka ditthi), (ii) good and bad produce no effect (akiriya ditthi), and (iii) there is no after-life (natthika ditthi).
- A common form of miccā ditthi is to assume that if one obeys the five precepts, then one will be exempt from birth in the apāyas. That belief itself can lead to the birth in the apāyas; see, “The Five Precepts – What the Buddha Meant by Them“.
5. If someone has these world views, one is likely to carry out immoral acts and acquire kamma vipāka that will lead to rebirth in the apāyas (the lowest four realms) at some point in the future, i.e., in future rebirths. There are ten such specific wrong views or miccā ditthi (sometimes just called ditthi):
- View that no such thing as: (1) kammic benefits in giving, (2) paying back debts (for what others have done for you), (3) benefits of respecting Noble Ones and also yogis with abhiññā powers, (4) kamma vipāka or kammic benefits of taking care of (5) mother and (6) father, (7) this world does not exist (“natti ayan lōkō“), (8) Paralowa does not exist (“natti parō lōkō“) , (9) ōpapātika birth (instant full-formed birth) in realms other than the human and animal realms, (10) Noble ones and yogis exist who can see past lives.
- For explanations on (7)-(10), see, “Micca Ditthi, Gandhabba, and Sotapanna Stage“.
- In particular, paralowa is where a human lives in between consecutive human births as a gandhabba; see, “Hidden World of the gandhabba: Netherworld (Paralowa)“.
6. What is akusala is to hold “niyata miccā ditthi” or “established wrong views”, i.e., one is not even prepared to consider, say, that there is a rebirth process. Thus if one has unwavering doubts about any one of the ten categories in the above paragraph, then one is said to have established wrong views (niyata miccā ditthi), which is said to lead to birth in the apāyas.
- The key point is that when one has established wrong views, one looks at the world differently without realizing that there are consequences for one’s actions. Without a Buddha explaining the true nature of the world (rebirth process, life in other realms, uncountable number of planetary systems like the Earth, etc), one would not be aware of that fact.
- As scientists are finding out, there are many things in nature that we do not experience/understand. For example, scientists can only account for 4% of the mass of the universe; they cannot account for the rest (Google “dark matter” or “dark energy”). Thus one needs to keep an open mind and learn more Dhamma to see whether all these make sense.
7. The only akusala completely removed by a Sōtapanna is the miccā ditthi; see, “What is the only Akusala Removed by a Sōtapanna?“. As explained there, an unimaginably huge amount of defilements is removed at the Sōtapanna stage, just via getting rid of miccā ditthi, mainly through the comprehension of aniccā, dukkha, anatta.
8. A lot of you may be thinking “How do I know all this is true? Is there any evidence for the existence of rūpa/arūpa lokas, apāyas (hell), or spontaneous birth?”.
- There are a lot of things we do not know about “this world”. We cannot rely on just science to verify/confirm these. Only within the last 50 years or so that science has accepted that our world is bigger than a few galaxies (now science has confirmed that there are billions of galaxies). Whereas the Buddha stated that chakrawata (star systems or planetary systems) come into existence all the time, science has confirmed that only within the past 100 years; see, “Dhamma and Science – Introduction“.
- Furthermore, the newest findings (yet unconfirmed) in string theory indicate that we live in a 11-dimension world, not the 4-dimension world that we experience. For a look at different dimensions, see, “What Happens in Other Dimensions“. Thus, more of Buddha’s teachings will be confirmed with time.
9. It is easy to see that all immoral deeds start as manō sankhāra (bad thoughts) in the mind. Any of the vaci sankhāra (speech) or kāya sankhāra (bodily actions) are done with greed, hate, or not knowing the true nature of the world (ignorance). In particular, the basis for moral behavior comes out of the correct world view. Let us examine this below:
- The fact that there is no discernible beginning to life (see, “Sansaric Time Scale“) means all of us have been going through this rebirth process for an unimaginably long time. Thus we have been born in most of the 31 realms of existence. Not only that, we have been born innumerable times in EACH of those realms (except the realm that is reserved for the Anāgāmis).
- The above fact means each sentient being had been related to any other sentient being at some point in this long sansāra (or samsāra, rebirth process). The Buddha said, “it is difficult to find ANY sentient being that was not you father, mother, or a sibling at some point in this long sansāra“. Infinity is a concept that is hard to grasp; see, “Infinity – How Big Is It?“.
- An interesting book that talks about such hard to grasp ideas (in science) involving infinity is, “The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World” by David Deutsch.
- Therefore, we, meaning not only us humans but ALL sentient beings, are connected/related to each other. This is why it is wrong to kill any living being, steal from anyone, verbally abuse anyone, etc. This is the basis for morality. This is WHY it is not good to do any of the ten immoral acts.
Intention is An Important Factor
1. The Buddha said, “Cētana ham Bhikkhavē kamman vadāmi“, i.e., “Bhikkhus, I say that kamma is intention”. We always need to look at the intention to pinpoint whether or what kind of kamma was committed.
- Let us take an example: if someone shoots a dog that is attacking a child, one’s intention there is to save the child. On the other hand, if someone is shooting a dog for “target practice”, then there is no excuse. The life of a human is million-fold more precious than that of an animal; see, “How to Evaluate Weights of Different Kamma“.
- Sometimes it is not possible to judge the kammic consequences just by looking at the particular act. Only the person committing the act will know whether it is a good or bad intention. Thus normally it is not wise to judge other people’s actions.
- If it is a manō sankhāra (bad thoughts), the only person who even knows about that is the one who is committing it.
2. In many cases, it is possible for others to “see” when one is committing vaci or kāya sankhāra. But not always. Disciplinary actions against a child by a parent may appear to be kāya sankhāra (spanking) or vaci sankhāra (verbal threats) , but the parent is likely to have good intentions for the child in most cases.
- Also, in many cases, it is not possible for any person to advice another on what to do when conflicting issues are involved. Is it OK to steal some food to feed one’s own kids when they are crying in hunger? Is it OK to spank a child when the child is misbehaving? Only the parent can make that decision based on the circumstances.
Also see, “What is Intention in Kamma?“. This post has been updated on February 21, 2018, and provides a simple two-step process to evaluate a given situation.
Relative Weights of Kamma
1. One critical problem many people have is that they try hard to avoid actions with relatively small kammic consequences, while unknowingly doing things that have stronger kammic consequences. Let us take an example: Suppose we have a large tank of water which is losing water due to many holes at the bottom. Some holes are pin holes, some are a little larger, and there are a few holes that are big and losing water fast. Obviously, one would want to plug those large holes first. Then one would fix the medium-size holes and those pin holes are the last to be fixed.
- Relative weights of ten immoral acts are not easy to quantify. However, we can clearly see that kāya sankhāra have higher “kammic potantial” compared to vaci sankhāra if they are directed to the same living being; hurting someone physically is worse than verbal abuse.
- Another example: Say someone has hateful thoughts of a particular person all day long. That could be worse than just saying something to that person and “getting the load off the mind”. However, even that is not necessary. The best solution is to develop mettā (loving kindness) towards that person, and get rid of those hateful thoughts. We always need to realize that we all are trapped in this constant struggle to find happiness in a world that is not setup to provide lasting happiness; see, “Aniccā, Dukkha, Anatta“.
2. Kammic consequences also depend strongly on the “consciousness level” of the living being against whom the immoral act was committed.
- Killing a human will have far more stronger consequences compared to killing an animal. This is discussed in the essay, “How to Evaluate Weights of Different Kamma“.
3. Dasa akusala and relative weights of different kamma are discussed in the following desana:Download
- This desana is in the post, “Root of All Suffering – Ten Immoral Actions“, where you can find the relevant posts mentioned.
Related post: Origin of Morality (and Immorality) in Buddhism
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