Karma and Its Results

Karma and Its Results

Date of Advice:
April 2015
Date Posted:
October 2015

Rinpoche offered this advice about karma in a letter to a student. He emphasized the importance of living in pure morality and of understanding the suffering of this life.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche turns the prayer wheel at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, December 2015. Photo: Bill Kane.

My most dear, most kind, most precious wish-fulfilling one,

I would just like to inform you of a most important subject. When we die, the mind continues and the body separates. The consciousness continues or migrates in two ways. There is not a third way.

If the virtue collected is strong, the result is rebirth as a human or as one of the worldly gods, or rebirth in the pure land of a buddha, which has everything which is incredible, incredible and most beautiful. There we receive teachings from the Buddha and we see the Buddha. There it is zillions and trillions of times more beautiful than the beach, that people find beautiful in the world. It’s amazing, incredible. Once we are born there, for example in Amitabha’s pure realm, we are never again born in hell, or in the hungry ghost or animal realms. In some pure realms we become a buddha, having complete cessation and all realizations, peerless happiness. That’s the most perfect, peerless happiness. If we’re really looking for happiness and wish to cause numberless beings to achieve this peerless happiness, with higher wisdom we can achieve this.

The other way is if negative karma is stronger, we are born in the lower realms, the evil-gone realms. If there is the cause then we are born in hell, or as a hungry ghost or an animal. It is called “evil-gone” because “evil” is the cause and “gone” is the result. If we are born in the lower realms the suffering is most unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable. That result and why it is such a heavy result is because of karma, which is a Sanskrit word. The cause is a heavy negative action. For example, to give an idea, even if all the human beings’ fire is put together, a tiny fire spark of hell is sixty-six times hotter. Compared to one fire spark of hell, all the human fire put together is like an air conditioner, or a snowflake.

What is called karma in Sanskrit, is translated as action in Tibetan. There are the six principle consciousnesses of body and mind, and then there are secondary mental factors. There are four changeable, eleven virtuous, six root afflictions, twenty secondary negativities, five object-determining factors and five kun dro—meaning “all-following the principal consciousness”[five omnipresent mental factors]. These five are feeling, discrimination, intention, contact and mental engagement.

What is called action from these five; what follows the principal consciousness is intention, which causes the principal consciousness to act, to focus on the object. Therefore karma is a mental factor. To give you some more examples about karma, when the action of killing is done with the self-cherishing thought, the action becomes negative. That action becomes a complete karma when it has four things:

  • the motivation;
  • the base—a sentient being, having mind;
  • the action—it can be violent while externally looking peaceful, and
  • the goal—in the case of killing, the being dies before you die.

Motivation, you can see, comes from the mind, hence we create negative karma which results in suffering.

A complete negative karma has four suffering results. One result is rebirth in the lower realms, suffering for an incredible length of time. Then there are the three results in the human realm. The possessed result is to do with the place. The place is totally dusty and depressed, or the food, like fruit and so on, is somehow defective and the medicine is no good. The medicine is correct but it has a side effect, though not for everyone, just for some people. Like that.

Experiencing the result similar to the cause is, for example, when we have harmed others in the past, we get harmed in this life. For example, [extremists] kill Westerners by cutting the throat slowly with a knife. There is so much pain and dying is not immediate. This is what they did in past lives to others. Whatever suffering we experience in this life is always the result of past karma, the harm that we did to others or  to ourselves. Whatever happiness or harm, everything has a reason to prove its existence if we know karma.

Buddha knows every single phenomenon of the past, what will happen in the future and also the present. His knowing is unmixed and he can directly read others’ minds, he can know countless universes and countless beings, for example, countless ants, while reading their minds at the same time.  Buddha knows the hell beings, animals and gods, suras and asuras at the same time. Buddha also sees their intelligence and their karmic capacity and he sees every method that fits them. He gradually frees them from suffering by freeing them from the cause of suffering and guiding them to achieve everlasting happiness—the total elimination of negativity and total realization.

Using another example, in America, one man killed so many people in a theatre. People thought he was crazy but actually he was normal with a normal job. Only on that day he had a different thought, a thought to kill, because he had created the cause in past lives, zillions of lives before or just a few past lives before. I’m not sure. That karma became strong and suddenly it happened, and people were killed.

If we practice Dharma, that is how we can purify all those past lives’ karma, thus we don’t have to experience the result. Without Dharma it is not purified. Similarly, as a human, if we have met Dharma, our negativity can be purified. If not, then we cannot purify.

The CNN presenter, Anderson Cooper, enquired why things happen because normally people don’t have an answer. He knew that, but he wanted to ask anyway. Most people in the world don’t know why these things happen because they don’t know karma and they don’t know past lives, so they can’t answer or explain that. Even the scientists can’t explain it. One day the mind is normal then it changes. It is difficult for the scientists to answer, so they just leave it.

The last [of the four ripening results] is [the action of] creating the result similar to the cause. This is like the man who suddenly changes his mind and kills others. Due to the past habit of his mind he kills again. Or like knowing that stealing is bad but the force of habit makes us do it again, even if we know it’s bad. This is from our past lives’ habit.

Here’s another karma story. If we kill one insect, as is mentioned in the teachings of the kind, compassionate Buddha, then for five hundred lives we are born as an insect. Depending on how we kill, it can be more than that. So we have to be really careful not to harm others. We must abandon harming others as much as possible. Refuge in Buddha has as its basis not harming others and on top of that we should benefit others.

 Also, if we cheat one sentient being then in the future we are cheated for one thousand lifetimes. The continuity of cheating someone remains due to taking rebirth. Therefore practicing Buddhadharma really means to stop harming others.

The essence of the Buddha’s teaching, both Hinayana and Mahayana, is to stop harming others. On the basis of that, in Mahayana sutra, comes the focus of benefitting others. On top of that comes the practice of Mahayana tantra, the quickest way to bring all beings to peerless happiness, buddhahood.

Using another example, sexual misconduct done in a complete way becomes negative karma because it is motivated by the self-cherishing thought. The basis is another sentient being; someone who doesn’t belong to you but belongs to another. The action, roughly speaking, even it’s your own husband or wife, is through his or her mouth, like that. Of course there are more details. The ripening aspect result is rebirth in the lower realms and if the action is heavy, then the rebirth in the hells is for an incredible length of time.

From sexual misconduct, there are three suffering results as a human. For the possessed result, the place is incredibly dirty, excrement-filled and smelly. Even that experience for five minutes comes from a past life’s karma of sexual misconduct.

Now we are in a beautiful place, with gardens, flowers and countryside. This is the result of past morality and also prayer, dedicated for a beautiful environment, a clean place. We can see the result of practicing the morality of not harming others.

As for experiencing the result similar to the cause, in this life we are abused by others. Without choice, we are forced into sex or dictated to. Totally, what we experience is the result of harming others. So totally, there’s no need to harm back. Harming back has no end and brings only suffering from life to life without end.

The basis of Buddhism is not to harm others, by taking refuge in Buddhadharma. Buddha is unbelievably wise. In Mahayana we take the loss and defeat, when it exists, upon ourselves. We give it to the self-cherishing thought from where it came and then we offer the victory to others. By doing this one time, then one hundred times, one thousand times, from life to life, we have unbelievable success, like sunshine. It is not just for one life. Wow! Amazing! We have this from life to life, up to full enlightenment.

When we accept defeat and offer the victory to others, though for ordinary people who don’t know Dharma it looks foolish, in reality it is unbelievably wise. We don’t want to suffer, tomorrow or in the next lives, up to enlightenment. Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! What the Buddha taught is unbelievably wise. Only those knowing Mahayana Dharma know this. It is a very wise and interesting practice.

Regarding the action similar to the cause, what we did before we will do again. As with sexual misconduct, we do it again and we get the result again. These are only some examples.

In the five lay precepts the last one is not drinking alcohol and to just say a few words about it, the mind becomes uncontrolled even though  we are usually shy and feel ashamed by nature. We become disgraceful, tell secrets and say bad things and then we fight outside and inside the family. We destroy all the things gathered through effort, education and by collecting wealth. From drinking, car accidents happen which destroy things and destroy lives. Many people can’t control themselves and are kicked out of the house and family. They can’t stay there. Even if we have education from school and university, we become a mess and can’t help the family and on top of that, we create worries and fears for them.

With regards to spiritual development, alcohol is a big obstacle. It pollutes the channels and drops that are used for practicing Vajrayana Buddhism, the means to quickly attain enlightenment and bring all sentient beings to peerless happiness, enlightenment.

Regarding smoking, these days even non-believers stop and now you find, for example at airports, only specific rooms for smoking. Doctors recognize that smoking causes some diseases and contributes to others. They are just talking about this life.

By drinking alcohol and giving it to others, we are born in the crying and great crying hells. Suddenly we are born there and in that house we are constantly burned but we don’t die. Then outside that house there is another. We suffer like that. Spiritual development needs the body and mind to be healthy. So we cannot smoke and drink. There are many shortcomings, even in this life.

To become a nun, to take vows, the basis is not to harm others. And as Buddha did, you wear robes and cut the hair to cut your attachment. You need to abandon attachment, anger and ignorance. The greatest is attachment to this life, which brings all the problems and the expenses in the world.

When the economy goes down, we think to steal and cheat others, creating so much negative karma. All good things that happen, like happiness and success, are the result of past good karma. To be human is good karma resulting from morality, from not harming and from benefitting others. All wealth comes from charity, done sincerely, and also from prayers done for this result. It’s from the past good karma or action of charity.

Practicing morality leads to happiness, a good rebirth and success in this and future lives, and not just for one life, but for many hundreds and thousands of lives, so much temporal happiness.

Regarding morality, precepts are taken with renunciation, a satisfied and content mind, understanding how samsara is in the nature of suffering. By living in this morality we make the mind positive, happy and healthy, and the body also becomes happy and healthy. Therefore it helps us to be free of the pain of birth, old age, sickness and death.

The second level of suffering is the suffering of change—all the samsaric pleasures that we cannot continue, for example, music and so forth, which by the first, second or third day, month or year degenerate to become the suffering of pain. They can’t increase.  By comparison, Dharma happiness increases and continues until buddhahood, and that comes from morality.

The first two sufferings come from pervasive, compounding suffering. This body and mind are under the control of karma and delusion, hence they are pervaded by suffering. Why? Because in past lives, we didn’t eliminate the cause of the oceans of samsaric suffering, delusion and karma and it’s root, ignorance, not knowing the I.

I’m not saying there is no I. There’s I merely labelled by mind. That exists but to our hallucinated mind, I appears to exist from its own side. In actuality it never existed that way since beginningless lives, since beginningless mind. It’s just that we trusted and believed it did. This is the root of experiencing all the sufferings of samsara—cancer, AIDS, depression, diarrhoea, stomach ache or headache, small or big—and any new disease in the world. We didn’t eliminate the root, ignorance, therefore karma and delusion again compound suffering and produce future suffering.

Living in pure morality helps to control the mind and the harmful actions of body and speech that come from that. By achieving shinä, calm abiding, perfect meditation, we are able to control the mind that creates hell, nirvana, samsara, everyday happiness and problems. This completely cuts the sinking thought and attachment thought, thereby achieving the greatest ecstasy of body and mind.

After achieving shinä, we realize emptiness only, the ultimate reality of the I, aggregates and so forth, then we can eliminate the root of suffering, ignorance. After that, we can do analysis on emptiness in our meditation, then we experience rapturous ecstasy of body and mind. We gain insight, the right-seeing path, directly realizing emptiness, the ultimate wisdom that ceases the seed of delusion, ignorance, which is the creator of the suffering and samsara. We cease the seed of ignorance and we cease delusion and karma, thus we can be free of the oceans of samsaric suffering, the six realms. We achieve nirvana, which is free from suffering forever and we never come back [to the experience of suffering] again. No matter how difficult it is to bear hardship for this, it is extremely worthwhile.

We can then actualize infinite compassion, by seeing how other beings suffer. We can  achieve bodhicitta and actualize enlightenment, seeing the unbelievable need of all the sentient beings, like our father and mother, who are caught in the fire. We can’t stand it, so we do everything for them in order to bring them to full enlightenment, buddhahood. In order to accomplish this, we need buddhahood ourself, free of obscurations and complete in all the realizations. The thought to achieve this comes, bodhicitta comes and then we engage in the six perfections, the five paths and the ten bhumis within Mahayana sutra or the stages of generation and completion in Mahayana tantra. All this comes from the power of morality.

The last thing to actualize is the total elimination of the two obscurations, whereby we do perfect work, not just free of obscurations but bringing with it all the qualities and realizations of enlightenment.

The purpose of becoming a nun is for this. Just thinking of this life, we can talk about AIDS, sexual problems, killing and anger due to attachment to others. As a nun, you become the subject of rejecting attachment and killing, which you do secretly.

These above-mentioned problems are great problems in the West and also in the East. They are unbelievable, unbelievable problems. After staying one, two or three weeks, months or years with someone, then life becomes more and more boring. First there’s unbelievable attachment, so much bliss and skies of happiness if we have a wished-for person. Then after living together and seeing more faults and mistakes, living together becomes like living in a fire.

Even scientists with high degrees from university but without Dharma knowledge don’t know all the levels of happiness up to enlightenment. They have a great university education but they don’t know of the great happiness up to enlightenment, based on pure morality.

Thank you very much.