Kamma, Debt, and Meditation

Revised April 7, 2016; September 4, 2019

1. “This world” of 31 realms is very complex; see, “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma.” Nothing happens due to a single cause, and nothing happens just by itself: Multiple causes lead to multiple effects.

2. In a perfect world, everyone will share everything equally, and everyone will be happy. But people are born with different levels of not only wealth but also different levels of health, physical appearance, capabilities, etc. These are the results of kamma (good and bad) accrued over very long periods in the past.

3. No one has everything “just right.” So, we try to get what we don’t have or like to have. Every time we crave something and try to acquire those things by immoral means, knowingly or unknowingly we get into debt.

  • When those akusala kammā (immoral deeds) involves another living being, we get into some “sansāric relationship” with that being; this is how we have friends, family, AND enemies. These things do not happen by chance.

4. NOTHING in this world happens by chance. Everything happens due to a cause, a reason. But since results (vipāka) can materialize later, even in future lives, we cannot see this “cause and effect” in most cases. When we do something harmful to another being we become indebted to that being; that debt will have to be paid with interest that is many many times over. Thinks about the following:

  • When we get a loan, we have to pay back the loan with interest. If we promise to pay back and do not fulfill that commitment, we will have to pay it with interest sometime in the future. Imagine how much interest we would have to pay on a $1000 loan at 6% interest over, say just 200 years, which is insignificant in the sansāric time scale. You can use the “72 rule”. That means if you do not make any monthly payments, the amount you have to pay will double every (72/interest rate) year. In this case, it will double every 12 years. It will double again in another 12 years, i.e., after 24 years you will have to pay $4000. After only 40 years, the amount will be $10,000. Only after 200 years it will a billion dollars!
  • Can you imagine how much money we may have to pay to settle even small loans that we took a long, long time ago?
  • We have to pay back not only monetary transactions. Imagine how much would it cost to bring up a child, as a mother does? It is unimaginable over long times.
  • When we have such debts, nature has set up many ways to pay off such debts. Many times the same group of people is born to the same families, paying back
    “old debts.” Or one may become a servant for another.
  • Many relationships that we have in this life arise from “long-term debt” from many lives in the past. For example, people are born in the same family, same community, or same geographical locations, for many, many lives. That is for just paying back debts and for claiming old debts. In Sinhala, relationships are called “sanbandha” (=”san” + “bandha” where “san” is defilement (sankhara), and “bandha” is a connection; thus connection due to sankhara). Sometimes old creditors come back even in the form of annoying mosquitoes, ants, bugs, etc.
  • Now if one takes another’s life, one may have to sacrifice one’s own life many times over. That is scary stuff, but we need to know that our actions will have consequences.

5. Instead of paying off such “old debts” that way, there is another way to pay back old debts. When one does a good deed, one could transfer the merits of that good deed to old creditors called “pattidana” (this is commonly called “punna anumodana“; see, “Transfer of Merits (Pattidana)- How Does It Happen?“).

6. In this beginning-less sansara, we have been indebted to unbelievably many beings. Thus we transfer the merits to all living beings. We think in our mind, “May the merits of this good deed be shared by all beings.”

  • If one does this genuinely, it will be quite beneficial in the long term. The Buddha said that this is the most efficient way to pay back old debts. However, one needs to do this with sincerity, truly understanding the suffering caused by one’s actions to others.

7. One could accrue good merits not only by good deeds but also with insight meditation. The Buddha stated that if one cultivates vipassanā meditation on anicca, dukkha, anatta, that leads many more merits compared to even donations or giving. After the meditation session, one transfers the merits to all beings.

  • The beautiful thing is that one does not “lose any merits” either. Giving merits itself is meritorious. Also, one should forgive old debts from other beings. The mind is very powerful. If done with the right intention, also these thoughts will have beneficial consequences for oneself and other living beings.

8. Therefore, we must try to alleviate the kamma vipāka from past kamma by using the methods mentioned above. But the main purpose of such methods is actually to purify one’s mind.

  • We can pay off past debts gradually this way. However, bigger chunks are paid off by attaining Sōtapanna, Sakadāgāmi, Anāgāmi, and Arahant stages of Nibbāna. (Actually, the Buddha has said that if one does the Ariya metta mediation frequently, one could pay off the debts associated with the kāma lōka (first 11 realms). See, “5. Ariya Metta Bhavana (Loving Kindness Meditation).”
  • When one attains the Sōtapanna stage, all those kamma vipāka that could have given rebirth in the lowest four realms (apāyās) become nullified. When one reaches the Arahanthood, only those kamma vipāka that get a chance to come to fruition during the remaining time in that life will be paid off. Since there is no more rebirth, all remaining kamma vipāka do not get a chance to come to fruition.

9. The first step in purifying one’s mind is to avoid dasa akusala; see, “Ten Immoral Action (Dasa Akusala).” One does not need to try to do all at once (especially for those who are new to Buddha Dhamma).

  • It is a life journey, and one can start slowly. First, try to avoid bad actions, and then do things that can be done without much stress. See the posts in the “Bhävanä (Meditation)” section and in particular, “2. The Basics in Meditation“.
  • There is no one watching, and only you know what your intentions are: whether they are moral or immoral.
  • You will feel the benefits in terms of a less-stressed mind over time. It takes time, especially in the beginning. Then it will accelerate when one starts seeing the benefits. When one starts understanding that miccha ditthi (wrong views) play a big role, one’s tendency to do some immoral acts will automatically reduce. See, “Wrong Views (Miccā Ditthi) – A Simpler Analysis.”

10. The Buddha said one could become indebted in four ways:

  • Engaging in dasa akusala.
  • Getting someone else to do such acts.
  • Helping another in carrying out such acts.
  • Praising someone who is doing such acts.

Thus one can become indebted in 40 ways. By avoiding all that will make one joyful (adhimokko or sense of well being). That will give impetus to accelerate one’s efforts. Also, see, “Habits and Goals,” and “The Four Bases of Mental Power (Satara Iddhipada).”

Another more in-depth analysis at, “Difference Between Giving up Valuables and Losing Interest in Worthless “, ………….

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