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

June 11, 2018; revised January 21, 2019 (#11)

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

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.
  • Kammakkhaya stage is reached by purifying one’s mind by doing Kammakkhayāya kamma”  or kamma that leads to kammakkhaya. These are the same as kusala kamma.

3. Once a kamma is done, its energy is going to 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 kamma 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 the Arahanthood. At that point, Ven. Angulimala’s mind became pure and would not EVER make suitable conditions for those 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-patisandhi moment). Therefore, they had become “effectively duds”. That is what is meant by “kammakkhaya“.

4. One’s mind is where various kamma bīja germinate. It is fair to say that ANY normal human will have many kamma bīja suitable to bring rebirth in the apāyā from previous lives, if not from this life. But just having those kamma vipāka 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 was subjected to kamma vipāka until death; we have discussed this in the discussion forum.


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 coming back to this analogy in the future, so please make sure it is understood. That will make it easier to comprehend many other concepts like āsava, anusaya, and gati.

5. Imagine a mind that is highly defiled (i.e., with a large hook attached to it), sweeping across an area where there are a large number of kamma bīja of various magnitudes (rings of ranging from small to large).

  • 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.
  • This 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).
  • This 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. 

  • 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. They only purify the mind, and in the present analogy “wear out (or shrink) the mental hook”  that can grasp various good and bad kamma bīja rings.
  • Therefore, kammakkhaya means shrinking of the mental hook, in this analogy.
  • By the way, the biggest akusala kamma is micchā diṭṭhi.

7. Even before reaching the Sōtapanna Anugāmi stage, one’s mental hook may keep decreasing 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. This is a difficult point to understand for many. But that can be experienced. One may not realize it at that time, but one will be able to 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 potent kamma bīja that can give rebirth in the apāyā.
  • This is done by getting to the first factor on the Noble Path — Sammā Diṭṭhi — by removing the second layer of micchā diṭṭhi via comprehension of Tilakkhana.

8. As one goes through the Sakadāgāmi, Anāgāmi stages, the mental hook will shrink in size and when the Arahant phala is attained, the hook will disappear (avijjā is completely removed, paññā (wisdom) will peak).

  • So, you can see that “kammakkhaya”  does not mean getting rid of kamma bīja. One is just reducing one’s āsava (or gati), and 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 out the “mental hook” is the same as reducing āsava and anusaya and also getting rid of gati. As one keeps doing that, at one point the “mental hook” will disappear (and lead to asavakkhaya or Arahanthood).

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. This 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 will 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, even though all the “rings” are still there, more and more of them will not get “entangled” or “get hooked” to the shrinking “hook”.

10. Therefore, kammakkhaya happens at various levels.

  • Those that can bring rebirths in the Apayas 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 totally different “world view”.
  • Those that can bring rebirths in the human realm become”effectively duds” at the Sakadāgāmi stage. One would have no doubt that “owning stuff that gives sense pleasures” is totally 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.

11.  Now let us see what is meant by puñña and pāpa kamma. In order to clarify what puñña (sukka) kamma and pāpa (kanha) kamma, we need to understand how births in various realms arise.

  • There are six roots 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. In these thoughts, only asōbhana cetasika (bad or dark mental factors) can arise. 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”) kammaIn these thoughts, only sōbhana cetasika (good or bright mental factors) can arise. These lead to births in the “good realms (sugati), until one attains the Arahanthood.
  • A purified mind of an Arahant would have maximized sōbhana cetasika, including paññā (wisdom). Once that is done one would not grasp any bhava at the cuti-patsandhi moment, since one has fully comprehended the futility of any existence in the 31 realms.

12. Now, puñña (sukka) kamma generate “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 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, “Kusala and Akusala Kamma, Punna and Pāpa 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 vinipata realms), see, “Kukkuravatika Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 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 also doing a pāpa kamma by preventing snake of its meal.

13. Another critical point to understand is that one will not be able to do any kusala kamma and to wear out the “mental hook” when is born in the apāyā (beings in the 4 realms of the apāyā are incapable of doing kusala kamma and are hardly capable of doing puñña kamma too).

  • This is why it is important to do puñña kamma and stay away from pāpa kamma. This is critically important in order to be born in a good realm and to work towards Nibbāna
  • It is important 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 set the necessary background (āyu, vaṇṇa, sukha, bala, panna; 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 condensed (in niddesa version) in the Kukkuravatika Sutta (MN 57). A patiniddesa or a detailed analysis is realized by this post AND the accompanying post, “Kukkuravatika Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 57) – Kammakkhaya“.

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