Kamma determines the state into which a being is born. It the chief cause of inequalities in the world. Some are born into happy circumstances, with good health, wealth, mental and physical characteristics, while some others are born into abject misery.
to the Buddha, Kamma is one of the universal laws that determine
the state of existence of all sentient beings. There are four other natural
laws (Niyamas*) that govern universal processes.
Any kind of intentional action, whether mental, verbal or physical is regarded as Kamma. Inherent in kamma is the potentiality of producing its due effect, which operates in its own field without the intervention of any external, independent ruling agency. Kamma produces results (Kamma vipaka) which the doer has to experience. This is a reaction in accordance with the natural law of cause and effect.
does not support the view that kamma is a law of 'moral justice'
or 'reward and punishment', as there is no external agency that metes
out justice. Neither it is to be regarded as 'sin', as sin is regarded
as the breaking of God's commandments.
may be categorised as wholesome, skilful (kusala) or unwholesome,
unskilful (akusala) or neutral. It follows that wholesome kamma
will produce a beneficial result and unwholesome kamma will produce
a negative or detrimental effect on the doer of the deed. Neutral kamma
will not produce an effect.
ancient texts describe some of the probable consequences of unwholesome
kamma as follows:
Even before the time of the Buddha, the belief was that the soul (atman) which was the permanent entity of a living being transmigrated after death to be reincarnated in a new life. This process of death and reincarnation went on indefinitely, until such time that the soul was purified by spiritual development to be re-absorbed into the creative force.
The Buddha said that one of the fundamental characteristics of existence is its transient nature (impermanence). All things are in a perpetual state of change and nothing exists permanently. This remarkable insight is confirmed by modern physics by observing the behaviour of matter at sub-atomic level, where the fundamental particles of matter are seen to exist only momentarily and disappear. The ever changing nature is particularly true of our bodies, where millions of cells die every minute and are replenished continuously.
A sentient being (this includes animals), according to Buddha, is an ever changing, interdependent process of mind and body (nama-rupa). Therefore a permanent soul cannot exist in this ever-changing mind-matter combination.
Absence of a permanent soul or entity (anatta) is one of the three fundamental characteristics of existence. Hence Buddhists use the term rebirth in preference to reincarnation, as there is no transmigration of a soul. Death is just one phase of this continuous cycle of existence, linking our present life and the next, and is a direct result of our accumulated kamma (see Wheel of Life).
The past accumulated kamma acts in a subtle way to condition the new life. A person who has acquired wholesome kamma may well be born into happy circumstances, enjoying good health, wealth and family connections. Although the inherited genes from parents play an important part in determining physical and some mental characteristics, kamma may be considered as the driving force. It may well be that rebirth to particular parents was the appropriate result of past kamma.
If there is no permanent soul, how does one life link to another? It is said to be due to the momentum of the accumulated kamma resulting in the continuation of the 'stream of consciousness'. Re-birth is simply a continuation of this process.This is explained in terms of a famous simile of the flame: if one were to light a flame (oil lamp or a candle) from a flame already burning but about to go out, what has been passed on? Is the new flame the same as the old one or different?.
Using modern terminology, some might say rebirth is a result of an energy transfer from the existing life to the new. However one has to be cautious in using such terminology, as the term energy has a specific meaning in science.What is becoming apparent is that consciousness and related phenomena such as rebirth and kamma cannot be explained in terms of the laws of classical physics as we understand them now.
Buddha emphasised that birth as a human being is precious**, and provides
the best opportunity for highest development of the mind leading to the
attainment of Nibbana.
to the texts, there are 31 planes of
existence where beings exist in the universe. Human plane is just
one of them. Planes of existence below human are classed as woeful states.
Beings born into such planes are unable to aquire wholesome kamma
due to the nature of their unhappy state. Therefore these beings may remain
trapped in that plane until the unwholesome kamma that caused
the birth is exhausted.