How to Evaluate Weights of Different Kamma

 Revised February 21, 2018

In the previous essay, “Ten Immoral Acts (Dasa Akusala)“, we looked at the ten different types of acts that will have bad kammic consequences. Here we will discuss the relative weights of different kamma and some misconceptions people have about them.

1. First of all, the most potent of all is micchā diṭṭhiThe only akusala completely removed by a Sotāpanna is the micchā diṭṭhi and in doing that he/she removes an unimaginably huge amount of defilements; see, “What is the only Akusala Removed by a Sotāpanna?“.

  • 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.

2. We can see that many akusala are with “acts” that are directed towards other beings, whether it is done bodily, verbally, or just by thought.  In principle, a being could be in any one of the 31 realms (see, “Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma“).

3. The severity of the consequence of any misdeed (ie., kamma vipāka) involving another living being depends strongly on the “level of existence” of the living being from lowest level of realm 1 (niraya) to the highest at the 31st realm (fourth arupa loka); Any “Ariya” or a Noble Person (who has attained one of the four stages of Nibbāna), are at the highest levels regardless of the realm.  A hurtful word against an Ariya carries thousand-fold bad kamma vipāka compared to killing thousand ants.

  • 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.

4. It is difficult to identify whether a given human is just an immoral human or an Arahant by just looking at that person. Human realm is unique in many ways.

Thus, we can try to sort out the kammic consequences of a given immoral act on the “level of consciousness” of the being that act was directed to:

  • Regardless of the realm, the highest four levels are Arahant, Anāgāmi, Sakadāgāmi, and Sotāpanna.  Humans can attain all four levels.
  • Out of the 31 realms we can directly experience only the human and animal realms. Thus, normally we need only to evaluate how our actions affect other humans AND animals.
  • Since any animal is inferior to any human, we need to pay special attention to how we interact with other human beings.
  • In particular, it is not possible to judge whether a given human has attained a Nibbanic state. Even by directing hurtful words to an Ariya (one who has attained at least the Sotāpanna stage), one could be acquiring thousand-fold more bad kammic potential compared to doing the same to a normal human.
  • In some cases, even the person in question may not know that he/she is a Sotāpanna. There may be “jāti Sotāpannas“, i.e., those who had attained the Sotāpanna stage in a previous life and thus born as a Sotāpanna, and may not realize it.
  • Thus we need to be very careful with dealing with fellow humans in particular.

5. When we say killing is immoral it is implicit that killing is taking the life of any  living being. But killing a human has a kammic consequence that is much higher compared to killing an animal. Killing a Sotāpanna has a even more drastic consequences, Sakadāgāmi even higher, Anāgāmi even higher, and killing an Arahant will have the highest, and is of the strongest kind at par with killing a parent (an ānantariya kamma that will cause the very next birth in an apāya).

6. Similarly other immoral acts will have consequences depending on the  “consciousness level” of the living being. It is not a matter of one particular living being is “better” than another.

  • Rather it is a matter of how valuable that “level” is, and how difficult it is to attain that “level”. One has been born a human because of the merits one has acquired in previous lives; it is extremely difficult to get a human birth as we will discuss in a separate post; see, “How the Buddha Described the Chance of Rebirth in the Human Realm“.
  • One becomes a Sotāpanna by cultivating moral behavior and by purifying one’s mind; thus a life of a Sotāpanna is much more valuable compared to a normal human being.

7. Even among humans who have not attained any Nibbanic state, there are “different levels of consciousness”: One who has more wisdom (panna) is at a higher level than one with less wisdom.

  • Here wisdom does not mean book knowledge, but knowledge of Dhamma; understanding of the true nature of “this world”, or anicca, dukkha, anatta. Thus the possibility of that person attaining a Nibbanic stage is more likely, compared to one who has less wisdom.

8. Another important thing is not to worry about things that one does not have any control over. Everyday, we kill so many small animals unintentionally: stepping on them while walking, cleaning the yard, cleaning the house, and even while boiling water.

  • We need to remember that “kamma is intention”. We are not boiling water to kill any unseen life forms, rather we boil water to make sure we do not get sick by drinking contaminated water.

9. It is not even possible to live “in this world” without harming other beings unintentionally, even though we may be aware that our acts may lead to the destruction of many life forms.

  • Once a bhikkhu who had developed abhiññā powers was getting ready to drink a glass of water, and with his ability to “see” finer things saw that there were numerous microscopic beings in the water glass. He tried to filter them out, but they were too small. The Buddha then explained to him that it is not possible to live without doing things that are necessary to sustain one’s life.
  • In another example, suppose one has a wound; if left alone it could lead to one’s death. Thus one needs to apply medication to the wound. However, that wound is infested with numerous microscopic living beings, and they will be killed by the medication.
  • Walking on the ground (especially grass) kills many insects; but we cannot live our lives without going places. What matters is our INTENTION. When one is walking, there is no intention of killing living beings.

10. What we need to do is to be careful not to do any harm to even the smallest of the creatures with a hateful or greedy mind. It is the intention, or the state of the mind, that counts.

  • There is this story about an old woman who was very careful about not breaking the five precepts. But she was extremely greedy; she was quite stingy, did not give much to charity, and kept all her money under her pillow. Because of that greed, she was born a peta (a hungry ghost).
  • It is relatively easy to keep the five precepts. What is harder is to purify one’s mind of greedy, hateful, and ignorant thoughts. This is what needs to accomplished in true “anapanasati bhavana“; see, “What is Anapana?“.
  • Even though we may not be greedy or hateful in this life, we may have acquired such bad kamma in previous lives. This is why the Buddha said even if one lives morally in this life that does not guarantee a good rebirth unless one has attained the Sotāpanna stage of Nibbāna; see, “Why a Sotāpanna is Better off than any King, Emperor, or a Billionaire“.
  • Buddha Dhamma is all about the mind. Purifying the mind is the key, not just to follow set rules. Just following precepts will not be enough

11. Finally, it is important to remember that hate is worse than greed. Excessive hateful actions lead to rebirth in the lowest realm, the niraya. Excess greed lead to rebirth mainly as petas (hungry ghosts).

  • Mixture of hate and greed lead to rebirth in all four lowest realms, the apāyā. Even if one does not carry over the hateful or greedy thoughts to speech or bodily actions, they still count especially if one thinks about them most of the time.
  • This is why it is important to develop good meditation habits; see, “Bhavana (Meditation)“. A mind free of hate and greed becomes less agitated and peaceful; then it leads to wisdom (panna).

More details on weights of different kamma at: 12. Key Factors to be Considered when “Meditating” for the Sotāpanna Stage. Also see, “What is Kamma? – Is Everything Determined by Kamma?“.

Next, “The Four Bases of Mental Power (Satara Iddhipada)”, ..

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