Kanha (Dark) and Sukka (Bright) Kamma and Kammakkhaya

June 11, 2018; revised January 21, 2019; July 26, 2020; August 27, 2022

Kanha/Sukka Kamma Same as Pāpa/Puñña Kamma

1. Kanha (dark), sukha (bright), and kammakkhayāya kamma are important terms discussed briefly in the Kukkuravatika sutta (in the niddesa version). In this post, we will clarify these terms before discussing that sutta in the second post published today, “Kukkuravatika Sutta (Majjhima Nikāya 57) – Kammakkhaya“. June 19, 2018:  Siebe has sent me more suttā from Anguttara Nikāya that discusses these terms: AN 4.232- AN 4.238. Thanks, Siebe!

kammakkhayāya Kamma Same as Kusala Kamma

2. The term kammakkhayāya kamma means the same as kusala kamma.

  • Kammakkhayāya kamma means “kamma that will lead to nullify or overcome the effects of existing kamma vipāka.” It is important to note that we cannot take the literal meaning of “kammakkhaya” as “removing kamma/kamma vipāka.”
  • Note the difference between the words kammakkhayāya and kammakkhaya.
  • The Kammakkhaya stage is reached by purifying one’s mind by doingKammakkhayāya kamma,” or kamma that leads to kammakkhaya. These are the same as kusala kamma.
kammakkhaya Means Cultivating Paññā 

3. With a kamma done, its energy will be there for a long time until naturally worn out. But one can REMOVE the CONDITIONS under which that kamma can bring its vipāka. That is what is meant by “kammakkhaya.”

  • For example, Angulimala killed 999 people. Those actions created kamma bīja (energies that could bring appropriate vipāka), and some of those energies may still be out there.
  • However, within a couple of weeks of meeting the Buddha, Angulimala attained Arahanthood. At that point, Ven. Angulimala’s mind became pure and would not EVER make suitable conditions for such kamma vipāka to be “germinated.”
  • Just like seeds kept in a cool, dry place for millions of years will eventually become “duds” (will no longer germinate), Angulimala’s kamma bīja will one day become real duds.
  • Even though Ven. Angulimala’s kamma bīja were potent (active) when he died; they could not be “germinated in his mind” at his death (i.e., at the cuti-paṭisandhi moment). Therefore, they had become “effectively duds.” That is what is meant by “kammakkhaya.”
Without Upādāna Kamma Bīja Cannot Bring a New Bhava

4. One’s mind is where various kamma bīja germinate. It is fair to say that ANY average human will have many kamma bīja suitable to bring rebirth in the apāyā from previous lives, if not from this life. But just having such kamma bījā does not necessarily mean they will bring vipāka.

  • The key here is that a purified mind (like Ven. Angulimala’s) will not grasp (upādāna) bad kamma vipāka. Of course, his physical body endured kamma vipāka until death.


Let me take a different analogy to see why a purified mind will not grasp kamma bīja. Visualize the mind being a ball with a hook attached to it. The size of the hook is proportional to how corrupt or defiled the mind is.

And we can think about kamma bīja as rings of various sizes: rings of a wide variety of sizes ranging from very tiny to large (representing small to large kamma bīja that can bring kamma vipāka).

  • We will keep returning to this analogy in the future, so please ensure it is understood. That will make it easier to comprehend many other concepts like āsava, anusaya, and gati.
Upādāna is Like a Hook

5. Imagine a highly-defiled mind (i.e., with a large hook attached to it.) Also, imagine an area with many kamma bīja of various magnitudes (many rings of different sizes).

  • The hook is likely to pick up a ring of similar size: it cannot pick up small rings, and it cannot pick up too large rings.
  • In the same way, a highly-defiled mind will pick up a large kamma bīja, and a less-defiled mind will pick up only a smaller kamma bīja.
  • That is the same as saying that one’s mind will grasp a bhava (kamma bīja) that matches one’s gati. One who has killed other humans will grasp a bhava in the hell (niraya) corresponding to a “large ring.” It will not grasp a bhava in the human or deva realms, which would be too small to be entangled in the large hook (highly defiled mind).
  • That is also what is meant by “changing CONDITIONS in one’s mind, in #3 above. A fully-purified mind will have no “mental hooks”; that mind’s conditions have changed.

6. What happens when one follows the Noble Path of the Buddha is that one’s “mental hook” will get smaller in size, in this analogy. That means growing paññā.

  • One does this by doing kusala kamma. Kusala means removing defilements from one’s mind (“ku” + “sala,” where “ku” is defilements and “sala” means “removal”).
  • A kusala kamma does not directly affect the existing bad or good kamma bīja. A kusala kamma only purifies the mind, and in the present analogy, “wear out (or shrink) the mental hook” can grasp various good and bad kamma bīja rings.
  • Therefore, kammakkhaya means shrinking the mental hook in this analogy.
  • By the way, the biggest akusala kamma is micchā diṭṭhi.
Reduction of Upādāna

7. Even before reaching the Sōtapanna Anugāmi stage, one’s mental hook may keep decreasing in size, but not that significantly. Of course, the kamma bīja or rings will remain almost the same.

  • When one attains the Sōtapanna stage, the mental hook will become drastically smaller in one thought moment (at the Sōtapanna phala moment), just by comprehending the unfruitful and dangerous nature of this world, in particular the dangers in the apāyā.
  • One’s avijjā will drop by orders of magnitude. That is a difficult point to understand for many. But that can be experienced. One may not realize it at that time, but one can see the change within days or weeks by comparing one’s change in behavior.
  • The mind of a Sōtapanna will no longer be able to catch large rings corresponding to potent kamma bīja that can give rebirth in the apāyā.
  • One becomes a Sōtapanna by removing the second layer of micchā diṭṭhi via comprehension of Tilakkhana.

8. As one goes through the Sakadāgāmi and Anāgāmi stages, the mental hook will shrink in size. At the Arahant phala stage, the hook will disappear with avijjā wholly removed and paññā (wisdom) peaked.

  • So, you can see that “kammakkhaya” does not mean getting rid of kamma bīja. One is just reducing one’s āsava (or gati); thus, one’s mind will not grasp “bad bhava” corresponding to large kamma bīja.
  • In the case of Ven. Angulimala, all his rings (including those large ones for killing people), were there at the time of his death. It is just that his mind got purified, and the “mental hook” disappeared. His mind could not grasp any bhava in the 31 realms at his death.
  • Therefore, wearing the “mental hook” is the same as reducing āsava and anusaya and getting rid of gati. As one keeps doing that, at one point, the “mental hook” will disappear (and lead to asavakkhaya or Arahanthood).
Kusala Kammā Do Not Remove Existing Kamma Bīja

9. Kammakkhayāya kamma (or kamma that lead to kammakkhaya) or kusala kamma do not directly remove existing kamma bīja. They lead to a state of mind where existing kamma bīja are UNABLE to bring vipāka. That is a VERY IMPORTANT point to understand. Please come back and read this post as many times as needed to comprehend this point (and ask questions at the discussion forum).

  • This is based on “Anantara and Samanantara Paccaya“.
  • As one keeps doing kusala kamma, one’s wisdom (paññā) will grow and become increasingly capable of comprehending the true nature of this world (the unsatisfactory nature) or Tilakkhana. That will lead to kammakkhaya in four stages of Nibbāna.
  • Kammakkhaya via kusala kamma will lead to the shrinking of the “mental hook” (āsava/anusaya/gati), and therefore, more and more kamma bīja (rings in our analogy) will become “effectively duds”; see #4 and #5 above.
  • In terms of our analogy, the following happens. Even though all the “rings” are still there, more and more of them will not get “entangled” in the shrinking “hook.”

10. Therefore, kammakkhaya happens at various levels.

  • Those that can bring rebirths in the apāyā become “effectively duds” at the Sōtapanna stage. At this stage, one’s mind has clearly understood the dangers of akusala kamma that can lead to rebirth in the apāyā. It is a “drastic change in one’s mindset,” a different “world view.”
  • Those that can bring rebirths in the human realm become “effectively duds” at the Sakadāgāmi stage. One would not doubt that “owning stuff that gives sense pleasure” is unnecessary and dangerous.
  • Those that can bring rebirths anywhere in kāma lōka become “effectively duds” at the Anāgāmi stage. Now, one knows “deep inside” that sense pleasures ARE dangerous.
  • Those that can bring rebirths anywhere in 31 realms become “effectively duds” at the Arahant stage.
Puñña and Pāpa Kamma

11.  Now, let us look at the meanings of puñña and pāpa kamma. To clarify what puñña (sukka) kamma and pāpa (kanha) kamma are, we need to understand how births in various realms arise.

  • There are six root causes that give rise to bhava (and therefore jāti) in the 31 realms: lōbha (greed), dōsa (hate), mōha (ignorance), and alōbha (non-greed), adōsa (non-hate), amōha (without ignorance). It is important to note that amōha does not mean paññā (wisdom); it just means one is acting without being foolish or morally blind.
  • When one acts with any combination of the three “bad roots” (lōbha, dōsa, mōha), one is doing pāpa kamma. They are also called kanha (“dark”) kamma. Only asōbhana cetasika (bad or dark mental factors) can arise in these thoughts. They are also akusala kamma. These lead to births in the apāyās (dugati).
  • When one acts with any combination of the three “good roots” (alōbha, adōsa, amōha), one is doing puñña kamma. They are also called sukka (“bright”) kamma. Only sōbhana cetasika (good or bright mental factors) can arise in these thoughts. These lead to births in the “good realms (sugati) until one attains Arahanthood.
  • A purified mind of an Arahant would have maximized sōbhana cetasika, including paññā (wisdom). Then one would not grasp any bhava at the cuti-paṭisandhi moment since one has fully comprehended the futility of any existence in the 31 realms.

12. Now, puñña (sukka) kamma generates “good kamma beeja” that can give rise to rebirths in the good realms (at and above the human realm). They also can bring “good vipāka” during a lifetime.

  • Pāpa (kanha) kamma generate “bad kamma bīja” that can give rise to rebirths in the bad realms (those below the human realm, i.e., apāyā). They also can bring “bad vipāka” during a lifetime.
  • As we discussed in the post, “Kilesa – Relationship to Akusala, Kusala, and Puñña Kamma“, there are also kamma (or actions) that lead to both pāpa (kanha) and puñña (sukka) kamma bīja. The Buddha called them “kanhasukka” kamma and their vipākakanhasukka vipāka” in the Kukkuravatika sutta.  Such “kanhasukka vipāka” give rise to both good and bad vipāka in some realms (human, deva, and vinipāta realms); see, “Kukkuravatika Sutta (Majjhima Nikāya 57) – Kammakkhaya“.
  • An example is when one prevents a snake from catching a frog. One is doing a puñña kamma by saving a frog’s life, but one is also doing a pāpa kamma by preventing the snake from its meal.
Kusala/Puñña Kamma Not Possible in Apāyā

13. Another critical point to understand is that one will not be able to do any kusala kamma and wear out the “mental hook” when one is born in the apāyā (beings in the four realms of the apāyā are incapable of doing kusala kamma and are hardly capable of doing puñña kamma too).

  • This is why it is essential to do puñña kamma and stay away from pāpa kamma. This is critically important to be born in a good realm and to work towards Nibbāna
  • It is crucial to contemplate and understand this. Even though puñña (sukka) kamma leads to rebirth, that will be in a “good realm” where one can work towards Nibbāna, i.e., do kusala kamma and wear out the “mental hook.”
  • Furthermore, puñña kamma sets the necessary background (āyu, vaṇṇa, sukha, bala, paññā; see “Two Versions of 37 Factors of Enlightenment“). Not all in the human realm have those: if one is born extremely poor, unhealthy, etc., one will not have the right mindset to comprehend Dhamma.

14. The above explanation is a condensed (niddesa) version of the Kukkuravatika Sutta (MN 57). A patiniddesa or a detailed analysis is realized by this post AND the accompanying post, “Kukkuravatika Sutta (Majjhima Nikāya 57) – Kammakkhaya“.

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