The Law of Kamma
The subject of this lecture is the law of kamma. Many people who are not born as Buddhists are attracted to Buddhism by the doctrine of kamma because it explains such phenomena as the individual differences among human beings and also why good people suffer in this life.
I know of an Italian man. He pondered a great deal about the inequalities and individual differences among human beings. He was thinking about these things, asked many people about them, but did not get a satisfactory answer. One day, he took hold of a book on Buddhism and read about the law of kamma. When he read about the law of kamma, he was very satisfied with the explanations given according to that law. He decided to study more about Buddhism and then went to the East to receive ordination. He became a Buddhist monk and died at the age of eighty as a Buddhist monk. He was initially attracted to Buddhism by the doctrine of kamma.
Kamma is not moral justice. If one takes it as moral justice, then one suggests that someone is sitting in judgement over beings. There is no one who makes judgements over the doings of beings; there is just the moral law of kamma. Just as kamma is not moral judgement, so it is not reward and punishment. According to the law of kamma, if you do good deeds, you get good results, and if you do bad deeds, you get bad results.
However, these good and bad results are not given by anyone and are not given as reward and punishment. Kamma is a moral law which needs no lawgiver, a law which operates naturally. The inequalities among human beings-the individual differences between people-has troubled many thinkers in the past as well as in the present.
During the time of the Buddha, there lived a brahman named Todeyya. He was a very rich man, a millionaire. But he did not believe in generosity, in giving. He said, “If you give, then you become poor; so don’t give any-thing away “ He was so stingy that he became a millionaire, and he died a millionaire. But he was so attached to his riches that, after death, he was reborn as a dog in his own house.
One day, the Buddha went to that house, and the dog saw him and barked at him. The Budhha replied: “Oh, Todeyya! You showed disrespect when you were a human being, and now you show disrespect by barking at me. You will be reborn in hell.” When the Buddha said that, the dog thought, “Oh, recluse Gautama knows me,” and he was so distressed that he went to a heap of ashes and lay down on them.
The brahman had a son named Subha, and the dog, his father was his favourite. He had a special place for the dog, but when he saw that the dog had gone to the heap of ashes, Subha was alarmed. He was told that Gautama had said something to the dog which depressed the animal. So he went to the Buddha and asked him about it. The Buddha told him what happened. Subha said to himself: “According to the teachings of the brahmans, my father should have been reborn as a Brahma.
But Gautama has told me that he was reborn as a dog. Gautama speaks heedlessly “ He went back to the Buddha to argue with him. The Buddha asked him whether or not there were some riches not disclosed by his father, and Subha replied that, indeed, a great deal of money was missing and had not been disclosed by his father. Buddha told him to feed the dog late at night near bedtime and then ask the dog where the riches were.
Subha thought that if what the Buddha said were true, he could recover the riches, and if what he said were false, he could accuse the Buddha of falsehood. Subha fed the dog at bedtime and asked him about the undisclosed riches. The dog got up and took him to the place where the riches were hidden. Subha dug up the treasure and recovered it.
Subha then went to the Buddha and asked him why people are different from each other why some have long lives, while others have short lives. He also asked why some people are sickly and prone to disease, while others are healthy; why some are ugly, while others are beautiful; why some have few friends, while others have many; why some are rich, while others are poor; why some are born in favourable circumstances, while others are not; and why some are born with much intelligence, while others are dull-witted.
The Buddha answered his Questions: “Oh, young man! Beings are owners of their deed, heirs of their deeds, have deeds as their parents, their kin, their refuge. Deeds divide beings in lowness and excellence.” Buddha gave this very short answer, but Subha did not understand. So Buddha elaborated upon the law of kamma.
Some beings like to kill other beings and get in the habit of killing. ’After death, these people are reborn in four lower, woeful states - animal world, ghost world, demon world, and hell. But if they are reborn as human beings, their lives are short. Those who do not kill beings, who have com-passion for them, may be reborn in the deva (celestial being) world. If they are reborn as human beings, they have long lives.
The Buddha then explained about sickness and health. Some people cause injury to other beings; they like to inflict injury on others. On account of that, they are reborn in four woeful states. But if they are reborn as human beings, they are sickly and prone to disease. Those who do not cause injury to others are reborn as devas, or if they are reborn as human beings, they are endowed with good health.
Why are some people ugly, while others are beautiful? The Buddha explained that some people become angry very easily and owing to this anger, they are reborn in four woeful states. But if they are reborn as human beings, they are ugly. (Anger makes you look ugly so when you are angry look at yourself in the mirror and see how beautiful or ugly you are.)
But some people have no anger, do not become angry easily and have thoughts of loving kindness, or metta, towards people. These people are reborn as devas, or if they are reborn as human beings, they are beautiful. So if you want to be beautiful, at least in the next life, check your anger - don't get angry! Why do some people have no friends, while others have many? Some people are jealous, and on account of that jealousy they are reborn in the four woeful states. But if they are reborn as human beings, they have few or no friends.
Those who are not jealous are reborn as devas, or if they are reborn as human beings, they have many good friends. We can say, according to the law of kamma, that those who cannot have friends were jealous in a past life. Why are some people rich, while others are poor? Some people are stingy; they do not want to give anything. By being stingy, by not being generous, they may be reborn in four woeful states. But if they are reborn as human beings, they are poor. Those who are giving and generous become rich people. So if you want to become rich, give!
The Buddha also explained why some people are born into good circumstances, while others are born into unfortunate circumstances. Some people are very proud, look down on other people, and have little respect for others. On account of this false pride, such people are reborn in four woeful states, but if they are reborn as human beings, they are born into unfortunate circumstances. Those who have no false pride, who have humility, are reborn as devas, unless they are reborn as human beings, in which case they are born in favourable circumstances.
Why are some people dull-witted, while others are intelligent! Buddha explained that some people have no desire for knowledge, no desire to ask questions, no desire to know about the nature of things. With no knowledge of right conduct, these unknowing people perform wrong actions and thus may be reborn in four woeful states. If they are reborn as human beings, they are dull-witted. Those who desire knowledge, who ask questions about the nature of the things, are reborn in the deva world.
But if they are reborn as human beings, they are intelligent. So if you want to be intelligent in the next life, don’t hesitate to ask questions. I don't need to tell you to ask questions, especially you American people. You ask many questions and it is a good thing.
The Buddha gave these answers to Subha’s Questions. From the law of kamma, we can infer about a person’s past lives. Buddha said that beings are owners of their deeds, owners of their kamma. Kamma alone is their property; nothing else is Kamma is a very important subject in Buddhism.