Good and Bad Kamma

Kamma is classified into different groups and different kinds. One of the classifications of kamma is into good kamma and bad kamma. There are ten good kammas, ten good volitions or deeds. They are good because they appear with good mental states, good mental components, and they give good results.

The first good kamma is generosity, or giving. We have to practice generosity because by giving what we have to others, we acquire kusala, also known as, merit. This kusala kamma will give results in future lives.  Generosity also helps us practice detachment. For example, I may be attached to this tape recorder. If I give it away to another person, I not only give up the machine, but I also give up attachment to it. I get rid of attachment, known as Iobha, and when your mind is free from lobha, it is liberated, clear, and tranquil. Thus, people are encouraged to practice giving (dana) as often as possible.

The second good kamma is morality. Morality means taking precepts and keeping them. For lay Buddhists, five precepts are the minimum requirement: not to kill, not to steal, not to indulge in sexual misconduct, not to lie, and not to take intoxicants. On retreats, we add three more precepts for a total of eight. The additional three are abstention from eating after noon, from music and adornments, and from high and luxurious beds and seats. Morality known as sila, is the foundation of samadhi, or meditation.

The third good kamma is meditation, mental culture. This is the best kamma you can do in this life: to practice vipassana meditation. The fourth good kamma is reverence, giving respect to others, especially to older people. In the East, it is taken for granted that younger people give respect to older people. In this way, the relationship between parents and children, and teachers and students, are governed by rules of reverence.

The fifth good kamma is service, to do something good for someone, such as helping a lady cross the street or helping her carry some heavy things. Another type of service is giving service to the Buddha, to the Dhamma, and to the Sangha. When you are cleaning or renovating the monastery, that is very good service.

The sixth good kamma is the sharing of merit. When you have acquired some merit, you must share this merit with other beings. Sharing of merit is itself merit, and we share merit with all beings. Sharing of merit does not mean that we give a portion of our merit to other beings. It means that we let them get a chance to acQuire merit themselves. Once a man asked Pacceka Buddha whether the merit decreases if a person shares it with other people.

The Pacceka Buddha told him: “If you have a candle, and if you light another candle from the lighted one, the light of the first candle does not decrease when it lights the other one. Actually it becomes brighter with the help of the newly lit candle. In the same way when you share merit, your merit does not decrease but actually increases because you get new merit.”

The seventh good kamma is rejoicing at another’s merit. This means saying, “Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu,” which means “well done” when others do meritorious deeds. When other people share merit with you, you say “Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu.” This means that you rejoice at their merit, and by rejoicing at their merit, you get merit yourself.

The eighth good kamma is listening to the Dhamma. This is good merit, a good deed. By listening to the Dhamma, you will come to know the Dhamma, and when you come to know the Dhamma, you can avoid doing unwholesome acts and do wholesome acts instead.

And related to the eighth good kamma is the ninth, speaking on the Dhamma, giving talks on the Dhamma. So we are both doing good kamma right now. The tenth and last good kamma is called the straightening of one’s view. This means that one has the knowledge that kamma is entirely one’s own property that we alone the owner of our deeds, and that no one else is responsible for our actions, our kamma.  Thus we have these ten good kammas. Actually, they can be categorized into three: generosity, morality, and meditation.

1. Paying respect and service are included in morality (sila);
2. Sharing of merit and rejoicing at another’s merit are included in generosity (dana); and
3. Listening to the Dhamma, talking on the Dhamma, and straightening of one’s views can be classifed under meditation, or mental culture (bhávaná).

Let us now look at the bad kammas. Bad kammas are those deeds which give bad results, deeds which go with unwholesome mental states.

The first of these bad kammas is killing, the killing of beings.
The second is stealing, taking what is not given.
The third is sexual misconduct.
Fourth is telling lies.
Fifth is slandering, backbiting.
Sixth is harsh language. Harsh speech, words of abuse-all bad kamma.
Seventh is frivolous talk, fruitless talk which has no value or meaning.
Number eight is covetousness, which is wanting to possess another per-son’s property.

In Pali, we call this visama lobha, which means distorted greed. This is not the greed you have for your own property. Covetousness here means that you want to possess another person’s property, and this is a very bad form of greed.

The ninth form of bad kamma is ill will, or dosa. That is wanting to hurt people, wanting to cause injury to others.

Finally, we come to the tenth bad kamma, which is wrong view. Wrong view is having the belief that things are permanent, satisfactory, and in possession of a soul or self.  These are the ten bad kammas which give bad results and which we must’ avoid if we do not want those results.

Refraining from these kammas is said to be good kamma; refraining from killing, stealing, and all the other bad kammas is actually good kamma. We must have knowledge of the law of kamma, the knowledge that kamma is entirely one’s responsibility. This is very important in Buddhism and is part of the good kamma we call the straightening of view.

Knowledge of kamma is conducive to tranquillity, which is one of the seven factors of enlightenment. In order to experience tranquillity, one has to do many things, and reflecting upon kamma as one’s own is one of them.  Sometimes you are agitated and restless because you do not have what you want, or you have what you do not want. In such a situation, reflecting upon kamma will help you to be rid of restlessness and thereby gain tranquillity because you cannot do anything to change kamma from the past. You have to put up with what you deserve as the result of past volitions, past kamma.

Reflecting upon kamma is a good way of getting rid of resentment. Sometimes when you practice loving-kindness meditation, you ironically begin to feel resentment because you are being asked to send thoughts of loving kindness tò someone who is, perhaps, hateful to you. One way to get rid of the resentment is to reflect upon kamma as your own: You reflect:

“I am reborn here as the result of my own kamma, and the other person is reborn here for the same reason, and there is nothing I can do about it. But by being resentful towards the person, I am accomplishing new akusala kamma, which will give me bad results in the four woeful states.”

By so reflecting upon kamma, one can get rid of resentment. Knowledge of kamma also promotes self-reliance. Since kamma is your own, you are the architect of your life. You must rely on yourself, not on others, to get good results; you must do good kamma yourself. Since beings get results according to their kamma, no one can help another in getting those results.

In addition to teaching self-reliance, knowledge of kamma teaches a sense of individual responsibility. We are responsible for ourselves, and whatever we have or have made in this life, we alone are responsible for it. When we meet with good circumstances, it is a result of what we have done in the past. In the same way, when we find ourselves in unfavourable circumstances, we are responsible.

So if you want to get good results, then you need only do good kamma in this life. In this way, knowledge of kamma gives consolation and hope because we can rely on ourselves to shape our future lives by doing good kamma here. Thus kamma is not fate or destiny, for we can avoid the results of bad kamma by doing good kamma in this life. We do not have to be afraid of anyone who sits in judgement over us or of anyone who can send us to hell.

According to Buddhism, no one can send us to hell but ourselves, but we can send ourselves to the deva world.  Knowledge of and belief in the law of kamma is a basic requirement for a Buddhist. Tanungpulu Sayadaw has stressed this point. With this belief and knowledge, one does meritorious deeds, and these meritorious deeds are the best meritorious deeds if they are done with knowledge of kamma and its results in mind.

If you invoke the knowledge of kamma when you do meritorious deeds, then your deeds are said to have three wholesome roots, which are non-attachment, non-anger and non-delusion. When your meritorious deeds are accompanied by three wholesome roots, they will give results in future lives, and you will be reborn as a person endowed with those roots. Those born with the three wholesome roots are able to attain jhana or Nibbana in their present life. Thus it is very important to have knowledge of kamma in us at the time of doing meritorious deeds.