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Cūḷakammavibhaṅga Suttaṃ

(M.iii.202)

The Lesser Discourse on the Analysis of Kamma

Introduction

This important discourse expounds the basic teaching on kamma that one is the owner of one’s kamma and will inherit its results. Deeds done with a wholesome intention lead to happiness and fortunate results, while deeds done with an unwholesome intention lead to suffering and misfortune.

No luck is involved, the law of kamma is not malicious, and the results are entirely in accordance with the deeds. Kamma can be done by body, speech, or thought, but it is the underlying intention that is called kamma, not the externally manifested action.

My translation is abridged slightly to remove repetitions. Two translations are available on the Access to Insight website, one by Ñāṇamoli Thera, and one by Ajahn Thanissaro.

To Whom Was It Taught?

The brahmin Todeyya was a miser who urged others not to donate anything as it would only dissipate one’s wealth. After his death, Todeyya was reborn as a dog in his own house. When the Buddha went to the house for alms the dog barked at him. The Buddha admonished him that due to his evil kamma he had been reborn as a dog, and would later be reborn in hell for having ill-will towards the Buddha. The brahmin’s son, Subha, heard about this and was angry. The Buddha told Subha to feed the dog well, and ask about the location of some buried treasure. He did so, and the dog led Subha to the buried treasure. Subha thus gained some faith in the Blessed One, and later asked him about kamma. This dialogue is recorded in the Cūḷakammavibhaṅga Sutta.

Introduction to the Discourse

Thus have I heard — at one time the Blessed One was dwelling at Sāvatthi, in Prince Jeta’s grove, in the monastery of Anāthapiṇḍika. The brahmin youth Subha, the son of Todeyya, approached the Blessed One, and having approached, exchanged friendly greetings. Having exchange cordial conversation he sat down at one side. Sitting there, the brahmin youth Subha, the son of Todeyya, spoke thus to the Blessed One:–

Q: Friend Gotama,¹ what is the root cause (hetu), what is the reason (paccaya), that among human beings one sees those in superior and inferior conditions? Friend Gotama, one sees those who are short-lived or long-lived; those with many ailments and those with few; one sees those who are ugly and those who are beautiful; one sees those with little influence and those with great influence; one sees those with little wealth and those with much wealth; one sees those in families of low status and those in families of high status; one sees those who are unwise and those who are wise. What, friend Gotama, is the root cause, what is the reason for these differences among human beings, for inferior and superior conditions?”

A: “Brahmin youth, living beings are the owners of their kamma, heirs to their kamma, are born from their kamma, they have kamma as their relatives, and kamma is their refuge. It is kamma that divides living beings into inferior and superior conditions.”

Q: “I do not fully understand the meaning of this brief explanation. It would be good if you would explain in detail what you have taught only in brief.”

A: “Then, brahmin youth, listen attentively, and I will speak.”

“Very well friend,” the brahmin youth Subha, the son of Todeyya replied to the Blessed One. Then the Blessed One said:–

“Here, brahmin youth, a certain woman or man is a killer of living beings, cruel, bloody-handed, established in killing. Due to that kamma, on the break-up of the body after death he or she arises in a state of woe, in a bad destination, in hell. If not reborn in hell, if he or she is reborn as a human-being he or she is short-lived. This, brahmin youth, is the result of killing living beings.

“However, brahmin youth, a certain woman or man abstains from killing living beings, having abandoned sticks and weapons, is scrupulous (lajjī) and dwells showing compassion to all living beings. Due to that kamma, on the break-up of the body after death he or she arises in heaven, in a fortunate destination. If not reborn in heaven, if he or she is reborn as a human-being he or she is long-lived. This, brahmin youth, is the result of abstention from killing living beings.”

“Here, brahmin youth, a certain woman or man is given to injuring living beings with the hand, stones,² sticks, or knives. Due to that kamma, on the break-up of the body after death he or she arises in a state of woe, in a bad destination, in hell. If not reborn in hell, if he or she is reborn as a human-being he or she has many ailments. This, brahmin youth, is the result of injuring living beings.

“However, brahmin youth, a certain woman or man abstains from injuring living beings with the hand, stones, sticks, or knives. Due to that kamma, on the break-up of the body after death he or she arises in heaven, in a fortunate destination. If not reborn in heaven, if he or she is reborn as a human-being he or she has few ailments. This, brahmin youth, is the result of abstaining from injuring living beings.

“Here, brahmin youth, a certain woman or man is wrathful and irritable. Even if criticised a little, he or she is offended, bears ill-will, becomes angry and sullen. Due to that kamma, on the break-up of the body after death he or she arises in a state of woe, in a bad destination, in hell. If not reborn in hell, if he or she is reborn as a human-being he or she is ugly. This, brahmin youth, is the result of being wrathful and irritable, easily offended,

“However, brahmin youth, a certain woman or man is not wrathful and irritable even when criticised a lot. He or she is not offended, does not bear ill-will, does not become angry and sullen. Due to that kamma, on the break-up of the body after death he or she arises in heaven, in a fortunate destination. If not reborn in heaven, if he or she is reborn as a human-being he or she is good-looking. This, brahmin youth, is the result of not being wrathful and irritable.

“Here, brahmin youth, a certain woman or man is envious; he or she envies the gains, influence, honour, respect, and homage given to others. Due to that kamma, on the break-up of the body after death he or she arises in a state of woe, in a bad destination, in hell. If not reborn in hell, if he or she is reborn as a human-being he or she is without influence. This, brahmin youth, is the result of being envious.

“However, brahmin youth, a certain woman or man is not envious; he or she does not envy the gains, influence, honour, respect, and homage given to others. Due to that kamma, on the break-up of the body after death he or she arises in heaven, in a fortunate destination. If not reborn in heaven, if he or she is reborn as a human-being he or she has great influence. This, brahmin youth, is the result of not being envious.

“Here, brahmin youth, a certain woman or man does not donate either food, drinking-water, clothes, vehicles, flowers, perfumes, cosmetics, furnishings, dwellings, or lamps to recluses and priests.³ Due to that kamma, on the break-up of the body after death he or she arises in a state of woe, in a bad destination, in hell. If not reborn in hell, if he or she is reborn as a human-being he or she has little wealth. This, brahmin youth, is the result of being not donating to recluses and priests.

“However, brahmin youth, a certain woman or man donates food, drinking-water, clothes, vehicles, flowers, perfumes, cosmetics, furnishings, dwellings, or lamps to recluses and priests. Due to that kamma, on the break-up of the body after death he or she arises in heaven, in a fortunate destination. If not reborn in heaven, if he or she is reborn as a human-being he or she has great wealth. This, brahmin youth, is the result of donating to recluses and priests.

“Here, brahmin youth, a certain woman or man is obdurate and conceited — he or she does not pay homage to those deserving homage, does not stand up, does not offer a seat, does not step aside from a path, does not show honour, respect, reverence, or worship to one who deserves it. Due to that kamma, on the break-up of the body after death he or she arises in a state of woe, in a bad destination, in hell. If not reborn in hell, if he or she is reborn as a human-being he or she is reborn into a family of low status. This, brahmin youth, is the result of being obdurate and conceited.

“However, brahmin youth, a certain woman or man is compliant and humble — he or she pays homage to those deserving homage, stands up, offers a seat, steps aside from a path, shows honour, respect, reverence, or worship to one who deserves it. Due to that kamma, on the break-up of the body after death he or she arises in heaven, in a fortunate destination. If not reborn in heaven, if he or she is reborn as a human-being he or she is reborn into a family of high status. This, brahmin youth, is the result of being compliant and humble.

“Here, brahmin youth, a certain woman or man, having approached a recluse or priest, does not question him, ‘What, venerable sir, is wholesome, what is unwholesome? What is blameworthy, what is blameless? What should be cultivated, what should not be cultivated? Doing what would conduce to my harm and suffering for a long time, and what would conduce to my welfare and happiness?’ Due to that kamma, on the break-up of the body after death he or she arises in a state of woe, in a bad destination, in hell. If not reborn in hell, if he or she is reborn as a human-being he or she is unwise. This, brahmin youth, is the result of not questioning recluses and priests.

“However, brahmin youth, a certain woman or man, having approached a recluse or priest, questions him, ‘What, venerable sir, is wholesome, what is unwholesome? What is blameworthy, what is blameless? What should be cultivated, what should not be cultivated? Doing what would conduce to my harm and suffering for a long time, and what would conduce to my welfare and happiness?’ Due to that kamma, on the break-up of the body after death he or she arises in heaven, in a fortunate destination. If not reborn in heaven, if he or she is reborn as a human-being he or she is wise. This, brahmin youth, is the result of not questioning recluses and priests.

“Thus, brahmin youth, is the path leading to short life and long life, to having many ailments or few, to being ugly or good-looking, to having little or great influence, to having little or great wealth, to being reborn in a family of low or high status, to being unwise or wise. Brahmin youth, living beings are the owners of their kamma, heirs to their kamma, are born from their kamma, they have kamma as their relatives, and kamma as their refuge. It is kamma that divides living beings into inferior or superior conditions.”

When this was said, the brahmin youth Subha, the son of Todeyya, said this:– “Excellent, friend Gotama, magnificent, friend Gotama! It is as if, friend Gotama, what was overturned was set upright, what was hidden was revealed, the right way was pointed out to someone who was lost, or a light was lit in the darkness so that those with eyes could see. Thus, the truth has been explained in various ways by the dear Gotama. I go for refuge to the Venerable Gotama, to the Dhamma, and to the Saṅgha of monks. May the venerable Gotama regard me as a disciple gone to him for refuge from today onwards for as long as I live.

Notes:

1. “Bho Gotama” is a familiar term of address. Subha was being polite, but did not show deep reverence. On the conclusion of the discourse he took refuge, but did not gain realisation of the Dhamma or ask for the going-forth.

2. “Leḍḍunā” with stones or clods of earth.

3. “Samaṇassa vā brāhmaṇassa vā,” a stock phrase referring to homeless wanderers (samaṇa) of various kinds, of which the Buddha and his disciples were one, and those priests (brahmaṇa) who followed the householder’s life, performing rituals and teaching the vedas.

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