- THE LAW OF KARMA IN BUDDHISM
- Shanti Bhik.shu Shastri
- © Copyright retained by the author
1. Everything that happens here is an effect of a cause or causes and
this effect itself is the cause of some other effects. This is the Universal Law of the
continuity of individuals and phenomena. For the role of God or Creator, Buddhism
substituted the rule of the Law of Karma. This Law is active in every department of the
universe, this cannot be broken. Both happiness and sorrow of the man are the result of
the Karma. One, therefore, must do good and discard evil. The Buddha says: "An evil
deed left undone is better, for an evil deed causes suffering later. A good deed done is
better, for doing it does not cause suffering".
2. God cannot interfere with the Law of Karma. None can overcome it by
means of prayers, ceremonies, offerings, tapas (i.e., self-torture, rites and all of the
celebrations of the priest). No one is able to disregard the Law of Karma. A reward for
the good deed and the penalty for bad deed are inevitable according to this Law. Nothing
is exempt from the influence of Karma. No one is free from operation of this active
principle. As Fate in Greek Mythology stands even above Jupiter, so Karma is above all
things, they may be human or divine. A man is man due to the force of his Karma. The gods
are gods due to the force of their Karmas. Whatever happens is the effect of an anterior
Karma and what is going to happen will be an effect of a Karma of today. The Karma leads
one to a good position or places one in a bad position. Our Lord says: "Some enter
the womb, that is, are re-born on earth. Evil-doers go to hell. The good go to heaven.
Those free from worldly desires attain Nirvaa.na."
3.The Karma is thus the ethical autonomy of man. He (man) is absolutely
independent, entirely self-dependent. This may give shock to theistic prejudices.
According to Buddhism one should make one-self responsible for one's happiness and misery.
For a Buddhist, the terms used by Non-Buddhists, viz., the God or the Creator, Fate and
Chance are either non-significant or they stand for special modifications of Karma. Karma
is the supreme authority in this world.
Bhart.rhari says: "We worship gods but they are under the control
of the Creator, a worthless deity. The Creator is Venerable but he gives an award
according to the self-governed Karma. If an award be resting with Karma, then what is the
use of the Creator and others for us? We, therefore, pay our homage to the Karma, that is
not under the Control of the Creator even".
4. By Karma our Lord considers the position of men noble and ignoble.
He says: "A man is not noble because he injures living beings. He is called noble
because he does not injure living beings, that is, he has compassion for all living
5.According to the Buddhist practice Karma never aims at conquering
other men, millions and millions in a battle, but it aims at self-conquering. A
self-subdued and well-disciplined person has to accomplish himself perfect and pure by
means of meditation and by the attainment of wisdom, in the form of discernment of the
Law. He, ever happy in faith firmly rooted in himself, works with energy preceded by
boundless forbearance, commanding his own temper and suffering for others. He, being
well-established in moral, performs charity. His practice of charity, moral, forbearance,
energy, meditation and wisdom makes him a great being. It is the great path of the
Buddhas, says Naagaarjuna.. Holding this great path, the conqueror of self is
Conqueror, the Great. Our Lord says: "No one could turn into defeat the victory of
such a man who has conquered himself. Not even a deity could do this nor a gandharva
(fairy) nor Maara (Satan) along with Brahmaa the Creator
6. All beings have Karma as their own property-'sabbe sattaa
Kammassakaa'. Our Lord, therefore, advises: "Not to do evil, to fulfil the good
deed and purify one's mind, this is the teaching of the Awakened one.". There are
beings that create here evil Karma in countless ways and produce their enemies. Hatred is
strong in the world. But we cannot survive by doing destructive works under the influence
of hatred. Our Lord says: "Not at any time are enmities appeased here through enmity
but they are appeased through non-enmity, this is the eternal Law". This sentiment
we find translated in the famous utterance of Lord Jesus Christ, "Love Your
The duty, Buddhism enjoins, is formulated in a verse of venerable
'Saantideva. He says:
- "Give freely for all creatures' sake
- thy person, thy enjoyments too,
- thy merit's store throughout all time;
- guard each and grow in holiness".
He further says:
- ---When both my neighbours and myself
- hate fear and pain, what difference then
- has that self really, so that I
- preserve it, not my fellow man?"
7. Thus stands Buddhism for the suffering persons. A Buddhist cannot
refuse to give water to the thirsty as Abraham does to the rich sinner in Hell who cries
for mercy and asks to send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger water and cool
the sufferer's to unique. Buddhism aims at removing sufferings. And a good
Niiti-'saastra supports it.
It says: "What is the merit of him who does to his benefactors?
The wise call him good who does good to his harm-doers". Let us be good for the
good of the people.
1. Cf. Dhammapada, verse No. 314.
- Akata"m dukkata"m seyyo pacchaa tapati dukkata"m,
- Kamma"m ca sukata"m seyyo ya"m katvaa naanutappati.
2. Cf. Ibid., 126.
- Gabbhameke upapajjanti niraya"m paapakammino,
- Sagga"m sugatino yanti parinibbanti anaasavaa.
3. Cf. Bhart.rhari-subhaa.sita-sa"ngraha, verse No.
- Namasyaamo devaan nanu hata"ndhestepi va'sagaa,
- Vidhirvandya.h sopipratini yatakarmaikaphalada.h,
- Phala"m karmaayatta"m yadi kimaparai.h ki"mca vidhinaa,
- Namastat karmebhyo Vidhirapi na yebhya.h prabhavati.
4. Cf. Dhammapada, verse No. 270.
- Na tena ariyo hoti yena paa.naani hi"msati,
- Ahi"msaa sabbapaa.naanam ariyo ti pavuccati.
5. Cf. Ratnaavali of Naagaarjuna, 3, 81.
- Paraartho daanaa'silaabhyaa"m k.saantyaa viryena caatmana.h,
- Dhyaana"m praj~naa ca mok.saaya Mahaayaanaarthasa"ngraha.h.
6. Cf. Dhammapada, verse No. 105.
- Neva devo na gandhabbo na Maaro saha Brahmunaa,
- Jita"m apajita"m kayiraa tathaaruupassa jantuno.
7. Cf. Ibid., verse No. 183.
- Sabbapaapassa akara"na"m kusalassa upasampadaa,
- Sacittapariyodapana"m eta"m Buddhaana saasana"m.
8. Cf. Ibid., verse No. 5.
- Na hi verena veraani sammantiidha kudaacana"m,
- Averena ca sammanti esa dhammo sanantano.
9. Cf.Ssik.sasamuccaya, p. XL.
- Aatmabhaavasya bhogaanaam tradhvai.rtt.h 'subhasya ca,
- Utsarga.h sarvasattvebhyastadrak.saa'suddhivardhana"m.
10. Cf. 'Sik.sasamuccaya, p.XXXIX.
Bodhicaryaavataara, VIII, 96.
- Yadaa mama pare.saam ca bhayam duhk.ha"m ca na priya"m,
- Tadaatmaana.h ko vi'se.so yatta"m rak.saami netara"m.
11. Cf. Luke XVI.
12. Cf. Pańcatantra, Story VIII of Tantra one.
Transcribed for Buddhism Today by Bhikkhuni
- Upakaari.su ya.h saadhu.h saaddutve tasya ko gu.na.h,
- Apakaari.su ya.h saadhu.h sa saadhu.h sabhirucyate.