- On Good and Evil
- Bhikkhu P.A. Payutto
The problem of good and evil
Because kamma is directly concerned with good and evil, any discussion of kamma must
also include a discussion of good and evil. Standards for defining good and evil are,
however, not without their problems. What is "good," and how is it so? What is
it that we call "evil," and how is that so? These problems are in fact a matter
of language. In the Buddha's teaching, which is based on the Pali language, the meaning
becomes much clearer, as will presently be demonstrated.
The English words "good" and "evil" have very
broad meanings, particularly the word "good," which is much more widely used
than "evil." A virtuous and moral person is said to be good; delicious food
might be called "good" food; a block of wood which happens to be useful might be
called a "good" block of wood. Moreover, something which is good to one person
might not be good to many others. Looked at from one angle, a certain thing may be good,
but not from another. Behavior which is considered good in one area, district or society
might be considered bad in another.
It seems from these examples that there is some disparity. It might
be necessary to consider the word "good" from different viewpoints, such as good
in a hedonistic sense, good in an artistic sense, good in an economic sense, and so on.
The reason for this disparity is a matter of values. The words "good" and
"evil" can be used in many different value systems in English, which makes their
meanings very broad.
In our study of good and evil the following points should be borne
(a) Our study will be from the perspective of the law of kamma, thus
we will be using the specialized terms kusala and akusala or skillful
and unskillful, which have very precise meanings.
(b) Kusala and akusala, in terms of Buddhist ethics, are qualities
of the law of kamma, thus our study of them is keyed to this context, not as a set of
social values as is commonly used for the words "good" and "evil."
(c) As discussed in Chapter One, the operation of the law of kamma
is related to other laws. Specifically, insofar as the inner life of the individual is
concerned, kammaniyama interacts with psychological laws (cittaniyama), while externally
it is related to Social Preference.
The meaning of kusala and akusala
Although kusala and akusala are sometimes translated as "good" and
"evil," this may be misleading. Things which are kusala may not always be
considered good, while some things may be akusala and yet not generally considered to be
evil. Depression, melancholy, sloth and distraction, for example, although akusala, are
not usually considered to be "evil" as we know it in English. In the same vein,
some forms of kusala, such as calmness of body and mind, may not readily come into the
general understanding of the English word "good."
Kusala and akusala are conditions which arise in the mind, producing
results initially in the mind, and from there to external actions and physical features.
The meanings of kusala and akusala therefore stress the state, the contents and the events
of mind as their basis.
Kusala can be rendered generally as "intelligent, skillful,
contented, beneficial, good," or "that which removes affliction." Akusala
is defined in the opposite way, as in "unintelligent," "unskillful"
and so on.
The following are four connotations of kusala derived from the
1. Arogya: free of
illness, a mind that is healthy; mental states which contain those conditions or factors
which support mental health and produce an untroubled and stable mind.
2. Anavajja: unstained;
factors which render the mind clean and clear, not stained or murky.
3. Kosalasambhuta: based
on wisdom or intelligence; mental states which are based on knowledge and understanding of
truth. This is supported by the teaching which states that kusala conditions have yoniso-manasikara,
clear thinking, as forerunner.
4. Sukhavipaka: rewarded
by well-being. Kusala is a condition which produces contentment. When kusala conditions
arise in the mind, there is naturally a sense of well-being, without the need for any
external influence. Just as when one is strong and healthy (aroga), freshly
bathed (anavajja), and in a safe and comfortable place (kosalasambhuta),
a sense of well-being naturally follows.
The meaning of akusala should be understood in just the opposite way
from above: as the mind that is unhealthy, harmful, based on ignorance, and resulting in
suffering. In brief, it refers to those conditions which cause the mind to degenerate both
in quality and efficiency, unlike kusala, which promotes the quality and efficiency of the
In order to further clarify these concepts, it might be useful to
look at the descriptions of the attributes of a good mind, one that is healthy and
trouble-free, found in the Commentaries, and then to consider whether kusala conditions do
indeed induce the mind to be this way, and if so, how. We could then consider whether
akusala conditions deprive the mind of such states, and how they do this.
For easy reference, the various characteristics of kusala found in
the Commentaries can be compiled into groups, as follows:
1. Firm: resolute, stable, unmoving, undistracted.
2. Pure and clean: unstained, immaculate, bright.
3. Clear and free: unrestricted, free, exalted,
4. Fit for work: pliant, light, fluent, patient.
5. Calm and content: relaxed, serene, satisfied.
Having looked at the qualities of a healthy mind, we can now
consider the qualities which are known as kusala and akusala, assessing to see how they
affect the quality of the mind.
Some examples of kusala conditions are: sati, mindfulness
or recollection, the ability to maintain the attention with whatever object or duty the
mind is engaged; metta, goodwill; non-greed, absence of desire and attachment
(including altruistic thoughts); wisdom, clear understanding of the way things are; calm,
relaxation and peace; kusalachanda, zeal or contentment with the good; a desire
to know and act in accordance with the truth; and gladness at the good fortune of others.
When there is goodwill, the mind is naturally happy, cheerful, and
clear. This is a condition which is beneficial to the psyche, supporting the quality and
efficiency of the mind. Goodwill is therefore kusala. Sati enables the attention to be
with whatever the mind is involved or engaged, recollecting the proper course of action,
helping to prevent akusala conditions from arising, and thus enabling the mind to work
more effectively. Sati is therefore kusala.
Examples of akusala conditions are: sexual
desire; ill will; sloth and torpor; restlessness and anxiety; doubt[a],
anger, jealousy, and avarice.
Jealousy makes the mind spiteful and oppressive, clearly damaging
the quality and health of the mind. Therefore it is akusala. Anger stirs up the mind in
such a way that rapidly affects even the health of the body, and thus is clearly akusala.
Sensual desire confuses and obsesses the mind. This is also akusala.
Having established an understanding of the words kusala and akusala,
we are now ready to understand good and bad kamma, or kusala kamma and akusala kamma. As
has been already mentioned, intention is the heart of kamma. Thus, an intention which
contains kusala conditions is skillful, and an intention which contains akusala conditions
is unskillful. When those skillful or unskillful intentions are acted on through the body,
speech or mind, they are known as skillful and unskillful kamma through body, speech and
mind respectively, or, alternatively, bodily kamma, verbal kamma and mental kamma which
are skillful and unskillful as the case may be.
Kusala and akusala as catalysts
for each other
An act of faith or generosity, moral purity, or even an experience of insight during
meditation, which are all kusala conditions, can precipitate the arising of conceit, pride
and arrogance. Conceit and pride are akusala conditions. This situation is known as
"kusala acting as an agent for akusala." Meditation practice can lead to highly
concentrated states of mind (kusala), which in turn can lead to attachment (akusala). The
development of thoughts of goodwill and benevolence to others (kusala), can, in the
presence of a desirable object, precipitate the arising of lust (akusala). These are
examples of kusala acting as an agent for akusala.
Sometimes moral or meditation practice (kusala) can be based on a
desire to be reborn in heaven (akusala). A child's good behavior (kusala) can be based on
a desire to show off to its elders (akusala); a student's zeal in learning (kusala) can
stem from ambition (akusala); anger (akusala), seen in the light of its harmful effects,
can lead to wise reflection and forgiveness (kusala); the fear of death (akusala) can
encourage introspection (kusala): these are all examples of akusala as an agent for
An example: the parents of a teenage boy warn their son that his
friends are a bad influence on him, but he takes no notice and is lured into drug
addiction. On realizing his situation, he is at first angered and depressed, then,
remembering his parents' warnings, he is moved by their compassion (akusala as an agent
for kusala), but this in turn merely aggravates his own self-hatred (kusala as an agent
These changes from kusala to akusala, or akusala to kusala, occur so
rapidly that the untrained mind is rarely able to see them.
Gauging good and bad kamma
It has been mentioned that the law of kamma has a very intimate relationship with both
psychological laws and Social Preference. This very similarity can easily create
misunderstandings. The law of kamma is so closely related to psychological laws that they
seem to be one and the same thing, but there is a clear dividing line between the two, and
that is intention. This is the essence and motivating force of the law of kamma and is
that which gives the law of kamma its distinct niche among the other niyama or laws.
Cittaniyama, on the other hand, governs all mental activity, including the unintentional.
Human intention, through the law of kamma, has its own role distinct
from the other niyama, giving rise to the illusion that human beings are independent of
the natural world. Intention must rely on the mechanics of cittaniyama in order to
function, and the process of creating kamma must operate within the parameters of
Using an analogy of a man driving a motor boat, the
"driver" is intention, which is the domain of the law of kamma, whereas the
whole of the boat engine is comparable to the mental factors, which are functions of
cittaniyama. The driver must depend on the boat engine. However, for the "boat
engine" to lead the "boat," that is, for the mind to lead life and the
body, in any direction, is entirely at the discretion of the "driver,"
intention. The driver depends on and makes use of the boat, but also takes responsibility
for the welfare of both boat and engine. In the same way, the law of kamma depends on and
makes use of cittaniyama, and also accepts responsibility for the welfare of life,
including both the body and the mind.
There is not much confusion about this relationship between the law
of kamma and cittaniyama, mainly because these are not things in which the average person
takes much interest. The issue that creates the most confusion is the relationship between
the law of kamma and Social Preference, and this confusion creates ambiguity in regard to
the nature of good and evil.
We often hear people say that good and evil are human or social
inventions. An action in one society, time or place, may be regarded as good, but in
another time and place regarded as bad. Some actions may be acceptable to one society, but
not to another. For example, some religions teach that to kill animals for food is not
bad, while others teach that to harm beings of any kind is never good. Some societies hold
that a child should show respect to its elders, and that to argue with them is bad
manners, while others hold that respect is not dependent on age, and that all people
should have the right to express their opinions.
To say that good and evil are matters of human preference and social
decree is true to some extent. Even so, the good and evil of Social Preference do not
affect or upset the workings of the law of kamma in any way, and should not be confused
with it. "Good" and "evil" as social conventions should be recognized
as Social Preference. As for "good" and "evil," or more correctly,
kusala and akusala, as qualities of the law of kamma, these should be recognized as
attributes of the law of kamma. Even though the two are related they are in fact separate,
and have very clear distinctions.
That which is at once the relationship, and the point of
distinction, between this natural law and the Social Preference is intention, or will. As
to how this is so, let us now consider.
In terms of the law of kamma, the conventions of society may be
divided into two types:
1. Those which have no direct relationship to kusala and
2. Those which are related to kusala and akusala.
Those conventions which have no direct relationship to
kusala and akusala are the accepted values or agreements which are established by
society for a specific social function, such as to enable people to live together
harmoniously. They may indeed be instruments for creating social harmony, or they may not.
They may indeed be useful to society or they may in fact be harmful. All this depends on
whether or not those conventions are established with sufficient understanding and wisdom,
and whether or not the authority who established them is acting with pure intention.
These kinds of conventions may take many forms,
such as traditions, customs or laws. "Good" and "evil" in this respect
are strictly matters of Social Preference. They may change in many ways, but their changes
are not functions of the law of kamma, and must not be confused with it. If a person
disobeys these conventions and is punished by society, that is also a matter of Social
Preference, not the law of kamma.[b]
Now, let us consider an area in which these social
conventions may overlap with the law of kamma, such as when a member of a society refuses
to conform to one of its conventions, or infringes on it.[c] In so doing,
that person will be acting on a certain intention. This intention is the first step in,
and is therefore a concern of, the law of kamma. In many societies there will be an
attempt to search out this intention for ascertaining the quality of the action. That is
again a concern of Social Preference, indicating that that particular society knows how to
utilize the law of kamma. This consideration of intention by society is not, however, in
itself a function of the law of kamma. (That is, it is not a foregone conclusion --
illegal behavior is not always punished. However, whether actions are punished or not they
are kamma in the sense that they are volitional actions and will bring results.)
As for the particular role of the law of kamma, regardless of
whether society investigates the intention or not, or even whether society is aware of the
infringement, the law of kamma functions immediately the action occurs, and the process of
fruition has already been set in motion.
Simply speaking, the deciding factor in the law of kamma is whether
the intention is kusala or akusala. In most cases, not to conform with any Social
Preference can only be said to constitute no intentional infringement when society agrees
to abandon or to reform that convention. Only then will there be no violation of the
This can be illustrated by a simple example. Suppose two people
decide to live together. In order to render their lives together as smooth and as
convenient as possible, they agree to establish a set of regulations: although working in
different places and returning from work at different times, they decide to have the
evening meal together. As it would be impractical to wait for each other indefinitely,
they agree that each of them should not eat before seven pm. Of those two people, one
likes cats and doesn't like dogs, while the other likes dogs and doesn't like cats. For
mutual well-being, they agree not to bring any pets at all into the house.
Having agreed on these regulations, if either of those two people
acts in contradiction to them, there is a case of intentional infringement, and kamma
arises, good or bad according to the intention that instigated it, even though eating food
before seven pm., or bringing pets into a house, are not in themselves good or evil.
Another couple might even establish regulations which are directly opposite to these. And
in the event that one of those people eventually considers their regulations to be no
longer beneficial, they should discuss the matter together and come to an agreement. Only
then would any intentional nonconformity on that person's part be free of kammic result.
This is the distinction between "good" and "evil," and
"right" and "wrong," as changing social conventions, as opposed to the
unchanging properties of the law of kamma, kusala and akusala.
The conventions which are related to kusala and akusala in
the law of kamma are those conventions which are either skillful or unskillful.
Society may or may not make these regulations with a clear understanding of kusala and
akusala, but the process of the law of kamma continues along its natural course
regardless. It does not change along with those social conventions.
For example, a society might consider it acceptable to take
intoxicants and addictive drugs. Extreme emotions may be encouraged, and the citizens may
be incited to compete aggressively in order to spur economic growth. Or it might be
generally believed that to kill people of other societies, or, on a lesser scale, to kill
animals, is not blameworthy.
These are examples where the good and evil of Social Preference and
kusala and akusala are at odds with each other: unskillful conditions are socially
preferred and "good" from a social perspective is "bad" from a moral
one. Looked at from a social perspective, those conventions or attitudes may cause both
positive and negative results. For example, although a life of tension and high
competitiveness may cause a high suicide rate, an unusually large amount of mental and
social problems, heart disease and so on, that society may experience rapid material
progress. Thus, social problems can often be traced down to the law of kamma, in the
values condoned and encouraged by society.
Social Preference and the law of kamma are separate and distinct.
The fruits of kamma proceed according to their own law, independent of any social
conventions which are at odds with it as mentioned above. However, because the convention
and the law are related, correct practice in regard to the law of kamma, that is, actions
that are kusala, might still give rise to problems on the social level. For example, an
abstainer living in a society which favors intoxicating drugs receives the fruits of kamma
dictated by the law of kamma -- he doesn't experience the loss of health and mental
clarity due to intoxicating drugs -- but in the context of Social Preference, as opposed
to the law of kamma, he may be ridiculed and scorned. And even within the law of kamma
there may arise problems from his intentional opposition to this Social Preference, in the
form of mental stress, more or less depending on his wisdom and ability to let go of
A progressive society with wise administrators uses the experience
accumulated from previous generations in laying down the conventions and laws of society.
These become the good and evil of Social Preference, and ideally they should correlate
with the kusala and akusala of kammaniyama. The ability to establish conventions in
conformity with the law of kamma would seem to be a sound gauge for determining the true
extent of a society's progress or civilization.
In this context, when it is necessary to appraise any convention as
good or evil, it would best be considered from two levels. Firstly, in terms of Social
Preference, by determining whether or not it has a beneficial result to society. Secondly,
in terms of the law of kamma, by determining whether or not it is kusala, beneficial to
Some conventions, even though maintained by societies for long
periods of time, are in fact not at all useful to them, even from the point of view of
Social Preference, let alone from the point of view of the law of kamma. Such conventions
should be abandoned, and it may be necessary for an exceptional being with pure heart to
point out their fault.
In the case of a convention which is seen to be helpful to society
and to human progress, but which is not in conformity with the kusala of the law of kamma,
such as one which enhances material progress at the expense of the quality of life, it
might be worth considering whether the people of that society have not gone astray and
mistaken that which is harmful as being beneficial. A truly beneficial custom should
conform with both Social Preference and the law of kamma. In other words, it should be
beneficial to both the individual and society as a whole, and beneficial on both the
material and psychic levels.
In this regard we can take a lesson from the situation of society in
the present time. Human beings, holding the view that wealth of material possessions is
the path to true happiness, have proceeded to throw their energies into material
development. The harmful effects of many of our attempts at material progress are only now
becoming apparent. Even though society appears to be prosperous, we have created many new
physical dangers, and social and environmental problems threaten us on a global scale.
Just as material progress should not be destructive to the physical body, social progress
should not be destructive to the clarity of the mind.
The Buddha gave a set of reflections on kusala and
akusala for assessing the nature of good and evil on a practical level, encouraging
reflection on both the good and evil within (conscience), and the teachings of wise beings
(these two being the foundation of conscience and modesty).[d] Thirdly,
he recommended pondering the fruits of actions, both individually and on a social basis.
Because the nature of kusala and akusala may not always be clear, the Buddha advised
adhering to religious and ethical teachings, and, if such teachings are not clear enough,
to look at the results of actions, even if only from a social basis.
For most people, these three bases for reflection (i.e.,
individually, socially, and from the accepted teachings of wise beings) can be used to
assess behavior on a number of different levels, ensuring that their actions are as
circumspect as possible.
Thus, the criteria for assessing good and evil are: in the context
of whether an action is kamma or not, to take intention as the deciding factor; and in the
context of whether that kamma is good or evil, to consider the matter against the
- Inquiring into the roots of actions, whether the intentions for them arose from one of
the skillful roots of non-greed, non-aversion or non-delusion, or from one of the
unskillful roots of greed, aversion or delusion.
- Inquiring into the effects on the psyche, or mental well-being, of actions: whether they
render the mind clear, calm and healthy; whether they promote or inhibit the quality of
the mind; whether they encourage the arising of skillful conditions and the decrease of
unskillful conditions, or vice versa.
1. Considering whether one's actions are censurable to oneself or
2. Considering the quality of one's actions in terms of wise
3. Considering the results of those actions:
a. towards oneself
b. towards others.
It is possible to classify these standards in a different way, if we
first clarify two points. Firstly, looking at actions either in terms of their roots, or
as skillful and unskillful in themselves, are essentially the same thing. Secondly, in
regard to approval or censure by the wise, we can say that such wise opinions are
generally preserved in religions, conventions and laws. Even though these conventions are
not always wise, and thus any practice which conflicts with them is not necessarily
unskillful, still it can be said that such cases are the exception rather than the rule.
We are now ready to summarize our standards for good and evil, or
good and bad kamma, both strictly according to the law of kamma and also in relation to
Social Preference, both on an intrinsically moral level and on a socially prescribed one.
1. In terms of direct benefit or harm: are these actions in
themselves beneficial? Do they contribute to the quality of life? Do they cause kusala and
akusala conditions to increase or wane?
2. In terms of beneficial or harmful consequences: are the effects
of these actions harmful or beneficial to oneself?
3. In terms of benefit or harm to society: are they harmful to
others, or helpful to them?
4. In terms of conscience, the natural human reflexive capacity:
will those actions be censurable to oneself or not?
5. In terms of social standards: what is the position of actions in
relation to those religious conventions, traditions, social institutions and laws which
are based on wise reflection (as opposed to those which are simply superstitious or
Prior to addressing the question of the results of kamma in the next chapter, it would
be pertinent to consider some of the points described above in the light of the Pali
"What are skillful (kusala) conditions? They are the three roots of skillfulness
-- non-greed, non-aversion and non-delusion; feelings, perceptions, proliferations and
consciousness which contain those roots of skillfulness; bodily kamma, verbal kamma and
mental kamma which have those roots as their base: these are skillful conditions.
"What are unskillful (akusala) conditions? They are the three roots of
unskillfulness -- greed, aversion and delusion -- and all the defilements which arise from
them; feelings, perceptions, proliferations and consciousness which contain those roots of
unskillfulness; bodily kamma, verbal kamma and mental kamma which have those roots of
unskillfulness as a foundation: these are unskillful conditions."
* * *
"There are two kinds of danger, the overt danger and the covert danger.
"What are the 'overt dangers'? These are such things as lions, tigers, panthers,
bears, leopards, wolves ... bandits ... eye diseases, ear diseases, nose diseases ...
cold, heat, hunger, thirst, defecation, urination, contact with gadflies, mosquitoes,
wind, sun, and crawling animals: these are called 'overt dangers.'
"What are the 'covert dangers'? They are bad bodily actions, bad verbal actions,
bad mental actions; the hindrances of sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor,
restlessness and doubt; greed, aversion and delusion; anger, vengeance, spite, arrogance,
jealousy, meanness, deception, boastfulness, stubbornness, contention, pride,
scornfulness, delusion, heedlessness; the defilements, the bad habits; the confusion; the
lust; the agitation; all thoughts that are unskillful: these are the 'covert dangers.'
"They are called 'dangers' for what reason? They are called dangers in that they
overwhelm, in that they cause decline, in that they are a shelter.
"Why are they called dangers in that they overwhelm? Because those dangers
suppress, constrict, overcome, oppress, harass and crush ...
"Why are they called dangers in that they cause decline? Because those dangers
bring about the decline of skillful conditions ...
"Why are they called dangers in that they are a shelter? Because base, unskillful
conditions are born from those things and take shelter within them, just as an animal
which lives in a hole takes shelter in a hole, a water animal takes shelter in water, or a
tree-dwelling animal takes shelter in trees .. "
* * *
"When greed, aversion and delusion arise within his mind, they destroy the evil
doer, just as the bamboo flower signals the ruin of the bamboo plant ..."
* * *
"See here, Your Majesty. These three things arise in the world not for welfare or
benefit, but for woe, for discomfort. What are those three? They are greed, aversion and
* * *
"Monks, there are these three roots of unskillfulness. What are the three? They
are the greed-root, the aversion-root and the delusion-root of unskillfulness ...
"Greed itself is unskillful; whatever kamma is created on account of greed,
through action, speech or thought, is also unskillful. One in the power of greed, sunk in
greed, whose mind is distorted by greed, causes trouble for others by striking them,
imprisoning them, crushing them, decrying them, and banishing them, thinking, 'I am
powerful, I am mighty.' That is also unskillful. These many kinds of coarse, unskillful
conditions, arising from greed, having greed as their cause, having greed as their source,
having greed as condition, persecute the evil doer.
"Hatred itself is unskillful; whatever kamma is created on account of hatred,
through action, speech or thought, is also unskillful. One in the power of hatred ...
causes trouble for others ... that is also unskillful. These many kinds of coarse,
unskillful conditions persecute the evil doer ...
"Delusion itself is unskillful; whatever kamma is created on account of delusion,
through action, speech or thought, is also unskillful. One in the power of delusion causes
trouble for others ... that is also unskillful. These many kinds of unskillful conditions
persecute the evil doer in this way.
"One who is thus caught up, whose mind is thus infected, in the coarse, unskillful
conditions born of greed, hatred and delusion, experiences suffering, stress, agitation
and anxiety in this present time. At death, at the breaking up of the body, he can expect
a woeful bourn, just like a tree which is completely entwined with a banyan creeper comes
to ruin, to destruction, to decline, to dissolution ...
"Monks! There are these three roots of skillfulness. What are the three? They are
the non-greed root, the non-aversion root and the non-delusion root ..."
* * *
"Monks! There are three root causes of kamma. What are the three? They are greed
... hatred ... delusion ...
"Whatever kamma is performed out of greed ... hatred ... delusion, is born from
greed ... hatred ... delusion, has greed ... hatred ... delusion as its root and as its
cause, that kamma is unskillful, that kamma is harmful, that kamma has suffering as a
result, that kamma brings about the creation of more kamma, not the cessation of kamma.
"Monks! There are these three root causes of kamma. What are the three? They are
non-greed ... non-hatred ... non-delusion ...
"Whatever kamma is performed out of non-greed ... non-hatred ... non-delusion, is
born of non-greed ... non-hatred ... non-delusion, has non-greed ... non-hatred ...
non-delusion as its root and its cause, that kamma is skillful, that kamma is not harmful,
that kamma has happiness as a result, that kamma brings about the cessation of kamma, not
the creation of more kamma ..."
* * *
"Listen, Kalamas. When you know for yourselves that these things are unskillful,
these things are harmful, these things are censured by the wise, these things, if acted
upon, will bring about what is neither beneficial nor conducive to welfare, but will cause
suffering, then you should abandon them."
"Kalamas, how do you consider this matter? Do greed ... hatred ... delusion in a
person, bring about benefit or non-benefit?"
(Answer: Non-benefit, Venerable Sir.)
"One who is desirous ... is angry ... is deluded; who is overwhelmed by greed ...
hatred ... delusion, whose mind is thus distorted, as a result resorts to murder, to
theft, to adultery, to lying, and encourages others to do so. This is for their
non-benefit and non-welfare for a long time to come."
(Answer: That is true, Venerable Sir.)
"Kalamas, how say you, are those things skillful or unskillful?"
(Answer: They are unskillful, Venerable Sir.)
"Are they harmful or not harmful?"
(Answer: Harmful, Venerable Sir.)
"Praised by the wise, or censured?"
(Answer: Censured by the wise, Venerable Sir.)
"If these things are acted upon, will they bring about harm and suffering, or not?
What do you think?"
(Answer: When put into practice, these things bring about harm and suffering, this is
our view on this matter.)
"In that case, Kalamas, when I said, 'Come, Kalamas, do not believe simply because
a belief has been adhered to for generations ... nor simply because this man is your
teacher, or is revered by you, but when you know for yourselves that these things are
unskillful, then you should abandon those things,' it is on account of this that I thus
* * *
The following passage is from an exchange between King Pasenadi of Kosala and the
Venerable Ananda. It is a series of questions and answers relating to the nature of good
and evil, from which it can be seen that Venerable Ananda makes use of all the standards
King: Venerable Sir, when foolish, unintelligent people, not carefully
considering, speak in praise or blame of others, I do not take their words seriously. As
for pundits, the wise and astute, who carefully consider before praising or criticizing, I
give weight to their words. Venerable Ananda, which kinds of bodily actions, verbal
actions and mental actions would, on reflection, be censured by wise ascetics and
Ananda: They are those actions of body ... speech ... mind that are
unskillful, Your Majesty.
King: What are those actions of body ... speech ... mind that are unskillful?
Ananda: They are those actions of body ... speech ... mind that are harmful.
King: What are those actions of body ... speech ... mind that are harmful?
Ananda: They are those actions of body ... speech ... mind that are
King: What are those actions of body ... speech ... mind that are oppressive?
Ananda: They are those actions of body ... speech ... mind which result in
King: What are those actions of body ... speech ... mind which result in
Ananda: Those actions of body ... speech ... mind which serve to torment
oneself, to torment others, or to torment both; which bring about an increase in
unskillful conditions and a decrease of skillful conditions; Your Majesty, just these
kinds of actions of body ... speech ... mind are censured by wise ascetics and Brahmins.
Following that, Venerable Ananda answered the King's questions about skillful
conditions in the same way, summarizing with:
"Those actions of body ... speech ... mind which result in happiness, that is,
those actions which do not serve to torment oneself, to torment others, nor to torment
both; which bring about a decrease in unskillful conditions and an increase in skillful
conditions; Your Majesty, just these kinds of actions of body ... speech ... mind are not
censured by wise ascetics and Brahmins."
* * *
"One in the power of greed and desire ... hatred and resentment ... delusion ...
with mind thus distorted ... does not know as it is what is useful to oneself ... what is
useful to others ... what is useful to both sides. Having abandoned desire ... aversion
... delusion, one knows clearly what is useful to oneself ... useful to others ... useful
* * *
"Bad kamma is like freshly squeezed milk -- it takes time to sour. Bad kamma
follows and burns the evil doer just like hot coals buried in ash."
* * *
"One who previously made bad kamma, but who reforms and creates good kamma,
brightens the world like the moon appearing from behind a cloud."
* * *
"To make good kamma is like having a good friend at your side."
* * *
"Ananda! For those bad actions through body, speech and mind, which are
discouraged by me, the following consequences can be expected: one is blameworthy to
oneself; the wise, on careful consideration, find one censurable; a bad reputation
spreads; one dies confused; and at death, on the breaking up of the body, one goes to the
woeful states, the nether realms, hell ...
"Ananda! For those good actions through body, speech and mind recommended by me,
the following rewards can be expected: one is not blameworthy to oneself; the wise, after
careful consideration, find one praiseworthy; a good reputation spreads; one dies
unconfused; and at death, on the breaking up of the body, one attains to a pleasant realm,
to heaven ..."
* * *
"Monks, abandon unskillful conditions. Unskillful conditions can be abandoned. If
it were impossible to abandon unskillful conditions, I would not tell you to do so ... but
because unskillful conditions can be abandoned, thus do I tell you ... Moreover, if the
abandoning of those unskillful conditions was not conducive to welfare, but to suffering,
I would not say, 'Monks, abandon unskillful conditions,' but because the abandoning of
these unskillful conditions is conducive to benefit and happiness, so I say, 'Monks,
abandon unskillful conditions.'
"Monks, cultivate skillful conditions. Skillful conditions can be cultivated. If
it were impossible to cultivate skillful conditions, I would not tell you to do so ... but
because skillful conditions can be cultivated, thus do I tell you ... Moreover, if the
cultivation of those skillful conditions was not conducive to welfare, but to suffering, I
would not tell you to cultivate skillful conditions, but because the cultivation of
skillful conditions is conducive to welfare and to happiness, thus do I say, 'Monks,
cultivate skillful conditions.'"
* * *
"Monks, there are those things which should be abandoned with the body, not the
speech; there are those things which should be abandoned with the speech, not the body;
there are those things which should be abandoned neither with the body, nor speech, but
must be clearly seen with wisdom (in the mind) and then abandoned.
"What are those things which should be abandoned with the body, not through
speech? Herein, a monk in this Dhamma-Vinaya incurs transgressions through the body. His
wise companions in the Dhamma, having considered the matter, say to him: 'Venerable
Friend, you have incurred these offenses. It would be well if you were to abandon this
wrong bodily behavior and cultivate good bodily behavior.' Having been so instructed by
those wise companions, he abandons those wrong bodily actions and cultivates good ones.
This is a condition which should be abandoned by body, not by speech.
"What are the things which should be abandoned through speech, not through the
body? Herein, a monk in this Dhamma-Vinaya incurs some transgressions through speech. His
wise companions in the Dhamma, having considered the matter, say to him: 'Venerable
Friend, you have incurred these offenses of speech. It would be well if you were to
relinquish this wrong speech and cultivate good speech.' Having been so instructed by
those wise companions, he abandons that wrong speech and cultivates good speech. This is a
condition which should be abandoned by speech, not by body.
"What are the things which should be abandoned neither by body nor speech, but
which should be clearly understood with wisdom and then abandoned? They are greed ...
hatred ... delusion ... anger ... vindictiveness ... spite ... arrogance ... meanness.
These things should be abandoned neither by the body or speech, but should be clearly
understood with wisdom and then abandoned."
a. These first five qualities are called the Five
Hindrances (nivarana), so named because they are obstacles to the successful
development of meditation or a clear mind. [Back to text]
b. Examples of such conventions are social codes of
dress: before entering a Buddhist temple in Thailand, for example, it is appropriate to
remove shoes and hat, whereas to enter a Christian church it is often required to wear
both. [Back to text]
c. -- such as by refusing to remove one's shoes in a
Buddhist temple or to wear a hat in a Christian church. [Back to text]
d. Hiri: sense of shame; ottappa:
fear of wrong doing. [Back to text]