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Sīvaka Suttaṃ

(S.iv.230)

A Discourse to Sīvaka

269. At one time the Blessed One was dwelling at Rājagaha in the Bamboo Grove, in the Squirrels’ Sanctuary. Then the wanderer Moḷiyasīvaka approached the Blessed One, and having approached, exchanged friendly greetings. Having engaged in polite conversation, he sat down at one side. Sitting at one side, the wanderer Moḷiyasīvaka said to the Blessed One: “Friend Gotama, there are some recluses and priests who teach this doctrine, who hold this view: ‘Whatever an individual experiences, whether pleasant, painful, or neutral, all of that is due to a former action.’ Herein, what does the Venerable Gotama say?”

“Some feelings, Sīvaka, arise that are caused by bile. This is something that one can know for oneself, Sīvaka, and it is agreed upon as true in the world. Those recluses and priests, Sīvaka, who hold the view: ‘Whatever an individual experiences, whether pleasant, painful, or neutral, all of that is due to a former action,’ go beyond what one can know for oneself, and what is agreed upon as true in the world, therefore I declare that those recluses and priests are wrong

“Some feelings, Sīvaka, arise that are caused by phlegm. … by wind. … by an imbalance of bodily humours.² … by extremes of climate.³ … by careless behaviour.⁴ … by an assault or accident.⁵ [231] Some feelings, Sīvaka, arise that are caused by the fruition of kamma.⁶ This should be known by oneself, Sīvaka, and that is agreed upon as true in the world, therefore, Sīvaka, those recluses and priests who teach this doctrine, who hold this view: ‘Whatever an individual experiences, whether pleasant, painful, or neutral, all of that is due to a former action,’ go beyond what one can know for oneself and what is agreed upon as true in the world. Therefore, Sīvaka, I declare that those recluses and priests are wrong.”

When this was said, the wanderer Moḷiyasīvaka said to the Blessed One: “It is wonderful, good Gotama! It is marvellous, good Gotama! It is as if, good Gotama, someone had set upright what had been overturned, revealed what was hidden, pointed out the path to one who was lost, brought a light into the darkness so that those with eyes can see. Thus, the good Gotama has explained the Dhamma in various ways. I go for refuge to the Blessed One, to the Dhamma, and to the Saṅgha. May the Blessed One regard me as a disciple who has taken refuge from today for as long as I shall live.”

“Bile, phlegm, and wind, imbalance of bodily humours and extremes of climate.
Careless behaviour and assault or accident, with the fruition of kamma as the eighth.”

Notes:

1. Here, the Blessed One refutes the fatalistic view of kamma, which views everything as determined by previous kamma. It is one of three extreme wrong views (pubbekatahetu-diṭṭhi). He does not deny that kamma done in previous lives gives effects in this existence, nor that kamma done in this existence gives results in future existences. As the Venerable Ledi Sayādaw says in his Manual of the Excellent Man: “Kamma is like seed-grain. Joy or sorrow (pleasant or unpleasant feeling) are like the paddy, making an effort is like the fertility of the soil, knowledge or skill are like the rain or irrigation water. The same seed-grain yields a good or poor crop depending upon the fertility of the soil, the supply of water, and most of all, effort exerted at the right time and in the right way. Indeed kamma is highly dependent on present effort. The seed-grain is no more signifi­cant than good soil and regular watering of a paddy field. Even the best of seeds, such as the Abbhantara fruit’s stone, will not thrive in poor soil and in dry condi­tions. A successful birth can result only when proper prenatal care is given and arrangements have been made for the birth. Again, present results also depend on skill, discretion, and prompt effort.”

2. Many diseases are caused by imbalances in bodily functions: vitamin deficiencies, hormones, toxins in food or water, unsuitable food, and so forth. Although it is also true that the fruition of the kamma of cruelty in a previous life results in being subject to many diseases in this life, most diseases can be treated by a change of diet, exercise regime, or medicine. The kamma of previous lives is only one factor, the actions done in this life are more important. What one has done in the previous life one does not usually know; and what one knows that one has done in this very life cannot be undone. To resolve oneself to one’s fate is ignorant and negative.

3. Climate and air pollution also have a significant effect on health. One can use heating, air-conditioning, air-filters, and suitable clothing to ward off many diseases and ailments. In severe cases one can even move to a different country or region where the climate is better for one’s condition, e.g. by the seaside may be better for those who suffer from asthma or hay-fever.

4. Mindfulness is a great protection from injury, but however careful one is, sooner or later one will trip or injure oneself. We should not blame our past bad kamma, but our present actions. One should train oneself in safe working practices; not rushing, but working systematically and with clear comprehension.

5. In the Siṅgāla Sutta the Buddha warns the youth Siṅgāla about the six ways of dissipating wealth. Clearly, if one goes out late at night to night-clubs and bars, or to festivals and theatres, etc., one puts oneself at greater risk of assaults or robbery. Stay safe and don’t give past bad kamma too many opportunities to bear fruit. If it is heavy, it will bear fruit anyway, but protect yourself by avoiding bad friends and crowds where thieves prey on the unwary. Similarly, if one goes skiing one is more likely to meet with accidents than if one meditates.

6. If the past kamma is heavy, it will give its results, and nothing can prevent it. One prime example is the murder of Mahā-Moggallāna. In a previous life he murdered his blind and elderly parents due to the nagging of his wife, who was weary of caring for them. As a result, he was reborn in the Avīci hell. When he was reborn in the lifetime of the Buddha, some of the residual effect of that evil kamma had to give its results. Even his own powerful psychic powers were unable to prevent his murder, and the Buddha, knowing that the result was inevitable, did nothing to intervene.