Revised March 24, 2016
Here we discuss the difference between kusala kamma (abstaining from immoral deeds or akusala kamma) and punna kriya (doing meritorious deeds). One should try to do both.
1. The immoral actions described in the previous post (“Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala)”) are the ones that accrue “bad kamma” and will bring “bad results” including rebirth in the lower four realms.
- The word “kusala” (“ku“+”sala” where “ku” is for “kunu” or defilements and “sala” means “drop” or “get rid of”) means getting rid of defilements. Thus kusala kriya are actions that help remove greed, hate, and ignorance.
- Akusala kriya do the opposite, i.e., they help accumulate greed, hate, and ignorance. Strong versions of akusala kriya are called päpa kiriya, or päpa kamma.
- There is another set of actions called punna kriya; such an action leads to the joy in the heart and are opposite to akusala or päpa kriya; they help purify the mind.
- Punna kriya are meritorious actions like giving, but depending on the intention MAY NOT necessarily lead to the elimination of greed, hate, and ignorance. For example, one may give to charity, but may be hoping for a “return” by expecting good rewards for that action (akusala kriya). Thus depending on the intention, a punna kriya may become a kusala or akusala kriya). Either way, the Buddha encouraged punna kriya.
- One will always gain merits with punna kriya, but those merits will be much enhanced if one does those with understanding of the anicca nature (here they become true kusala kriya).
2. Acts done with avoidance of any akusala kamma is kusala kamma. Thus the ten kusala kamma are those that avoid the ten akusala kamma without any ulterior mundane motive, i.e., to attain rewards in the 31 realms.
- Any punna kriya makes one’s mind joyous. For example, one who may not have even heard of Buddha Dhamma may give food to a hungry person and feel the “joy of heart” because it is a punna kriya. It also makes one’s mind susceptible to comprehend the true nature, i.e., anicca, dukkha, anatta.
- When one does a punna kriya with increasing understanding of true nature, it starts becoming a kusala kamma with more merit. As the level of understanding improves the merits of any such act will be higher too.
- When one truly understands anicca, dukkha, anatta, one prevents from stealing or lying (for example) not just as a guideline for moral behavior, but because IT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE to gain anything in this unfruitful world by doing such harmful things: that the consequences are much more dire compared to any short-lived enjoyment that results from such activity.
3. The following ten meritorious actions (punna kriya) will accrue “good kamma”, and will bring about “good results” including rebirth in the human and higher realms. When done with right intentions, they become more powerful kusala kriya and thus such acts can lead to the Sotapanna stage; see, “Kusala-Mula Paticca Samuppada“.
These meritorious actions (punna kriya) are divided into three groups: däna (generosity), sila (moral behavior), and bhavana (meditation).
Däna (Generosity) group includes:
- Däna (giving)
- Transfer of merits to others (pattidäna)
- Rejoicing (accepting or participating) in other’s merits (pattanumodana)
Sila (Morality) group includes:
- 4. Sila (morality), i.e., observing 5, 8, or 10 precepts
- 5. Reverence to elders and holy persons (apacayana)
- 6. Pay homage to religious places, take care of such places, etc (veyyavacca)
Bhavana (meditation) group includes:
- 7. Meditation (bhavana)
- 8. Listening to Dhamma discourses (Dhamma savana)
- 9. Teaching Dhamma (Dhamma desana)
- 10. Correcting one’s wrong views, especially on kamma (ditthijukamma)
On the latter, see, “What is Kamma? – Is Everything Determined by Kamma?“.
4. Therefore, dana, sila, bhavana constitute the “base” of a life of a moral person.
- The “dana group” helps one overcome one’s greed (lobha).
- The “sila group” helps removing hate (dosa) from one’s mind.
- The “bhavana group” helps removing ignorance (moha) from the mind by learning Dhamma and getting rid of the wrong views (micca ditthi).
5. Since Nibbana is removing greed, hate, and ignorance from one’s mind, it is clear how these ten actions pave the way for Nibbana. As one engages in these activities more and more, the “cooling down” or “niveema” can be experienced; see, “How to Taste Nibbana”.
- In the sila group of activities, one starts by observing the five precepts, i.e., abstaining from killing living beings intentionally, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and getting intoxicated. This last one is normally taken to be intoxication with alcohol or drugs, but it also includes intoxication with money, beauty, power, position, etc.
6. It is always a good idea to keep in mind why these are to be moral actions: Because they help purify one’s mind:
- Most people, in order to avoid breaking the five precepts abstain from drinking, but do not hesitate to show off their wealth, beauty, power, etc.; they are “drunk” too.
- Others pay a lot of attention not to lie, but do not hesitate to gossip, slander, or verbally abuse others.
- Also one should realize that a human life has much more weight compared to an animal life; see, “How to Evaluate Weights of Different Kamma”.
- Most of all, the tenth one is the most potent one that most people neglect to consider. Having established wrong views (niyata micca ditthi) is a very potent immoral action, and thus one needs to understand this clearly; see, “Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala)”.
7. This is why learning Dhamma has a prominent place in the bhavana section. As one learns the deeper concepts of Dhamma gradually, wrong views are gradually removed. It is not enough to just say, “I will not have these views anymore”, even though making such a determination is good. The mind needs to see evidence to get rid of the wrong views it has. The feeling of the niramisa sukha when one starts on the Path will make it easier to remove wrong views; see, “Three Kinds of Happiness – What is Niramisa Sukha?”.
The High Value of Meritorious Acts Done with Understanding
1. If one performs a wholesome deed with the knowledge of kamma and its effects and also of anicca, dukkha, anatta, then the wholesome roots will be associated with understanding. The volition is accompanied with all three wholesome roots: non-greed, non-hate, non-delusion. So three-root (tihétuka or “ti” + “hetu“) wholesome kamma is acquired.
- On the other hand, if one performs a wholesome deed without any knowledge of Kamma and its effects or the basic unfruitful nature of this world, he is doing it without any understanding. Then the volition will not be accompanied by non-delusion, but only the two roots of non-greed and non-hate. So two-root (dvihétuka = “dvi“+ “hetu“) kamma is acquired. These are less meritorious compared to the three-root (tihetuka) kamma.
2. A detailed discussion can be found at, “A Simple Way to Enhance Merits (Kusala) and Avoid Demerits (Akusala)“. We will discuss these effects in detail in the Abhidhamma section too. But it is important to realize that the strength of the kamma vipaka for a given meritorious act will vary depending on the level of understanding. For example, while just writing check for charity will have its results, much more stronger results will be gained by someone who spends the same amount of money but involves more with giving by thinking about it before and afterwards, and “getting involved” in the process, for example preparing meals for the hungry etc.
3. To acquire this type of superior kamma, one should think of the moral action in advance and feel glad for having the chance to do it. Again after performing the action, one should reflect on it and be full of joy thinking about the good aspects of the deed. Furthermore, one can gain more merits by doing a punna anumodana or pattidana (transfer of merits to others, #2 kusala kamma above) because this amounts to paying off sansaric debts; see, “Kamma, Debt, and Meditation”.
- On the other hand, if one feels lazy or reluctant or jealous or stingy before a moral action such as giving charity, and regrets doing the moral action afterwards, then the moral volition of giving to charity will be surrounded by other unwholesome intentions (cetana) and consequently its potentiality will be weakened. The wholesome kamma acquired in this case is inferior.
Thus is the importance of learning Dhamma in order to grasp such details and to realize the full benefits one’s meritorious actions. Plus, it is interesting to see how all these details “fit into the big picture”; see, “The Importance of Purifying the Mind”.