Acting To Awaken – Karma Sutta

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Introduction

For a complete understanding of this sutta within the context intended by an awakened human being, please read the suttas linked inline and at the end of this article. ([x])

Everything the Buddha taught was taught in the context of Dependent Origination and the ongoing stress, suffering, and distraction that results from ignorance of Four Noble Truths.  [1]  Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta

The Buddha’s first teaching was taught to describe the results of this common ignorance and the singular path he taught to recognize and abandon ignorance. [2,3].  Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta | Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta

Many modern Buddhist teachers who misunderstand, misapply or outright dismiss Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths do so to dismiss or rationalize and validate confused and misleading views on karma and rebirth. The resulting “dharmas” are likewise confused and misleading.

“Karma” (Pali: Kamma) was a common word during the Buddha’s time. The common belief in “karma” is rooted in the Vedas and Upanishads that Siddartha Gotama studied prior to his awakening. (The Vedas and Upanishads are the scriptural foundation for modern Hinduism). The Buddha rejected these teachings as they did not lead to his goal of understanding the true nature of human life within an ever-changing environment. [4] The Noble Search For The Noble Path

Many modern Buddhists claim that the Buddha only mentioned karma and rebirth because it was a common teaching of his time and he only did so to be relevant. This is simply another fabricated strategy used by many to continue to ignore ignorance of Four Noble Truths. The Buddha used many common words such as karma, anicca, anatta, dukkha, and many others in new and unique applications to clearly teach the contrast between his Dhamma and common magical and mystical beliefs of his time. This common misunderstanding of karma and rebirth continues today. [5]  Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views

Rather than teach karma (and rebirth) as irrelevant anachronisms or magical and mystical “spiritual” attainments, the Buddha taught recognizing the cause and developing the cessation of Karma as the central theme of his Dhamma. Karma is not to be seen as a magical system of reward and punishment hoping for spiritual behavior modification based on gaining notice and favor from disincarnate beings. Karna is not the result of a lack of worship or improper or inadequate chanting or any other rite or ritual. Karma is the direct result of self-supported ignorance of Four Noble Truths.

Karma is the abstract word the Buddha used to describe the practical experience of Five Clinging-Aggregates within an impermanent environment – Thee Marks Of Existence  [6,7]  Five Clinging-Aggregates  |  Three Marks Of Existence – Anicca, Anatta, Dukkha

Karma is the “field of play” for wise Dhamma practitioners: “Karma is the field, consciousness the seed, and craving the moisture. The consciousness of human beings rooted in ignorance and bound by craving is established in wrong view. Established in wrong view, renewed becoming is produced. (Bhava Sutta) [8] Becoming Explained

Karma means “action.” Karma is the present-moment unfolding of past intentional actions moderated by the present level of mindfulness. It is from a well-concentrated mind that one is able to be mindful – to hold in mind – each factor of the Eightfold Path.

Right Mindfulness is remaining mindful of the Eightfold Path as the framework and guidance for Dhamma practice. The Eightfold Path develops the profound ability to recognize and abandon fabricated views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths. [9]  Fabrications

This is the entire purpose of the Buddha’s Dhamma: To recognize and abandon all fabricated views arising from ignorance of Four Noble Truths. Karma is the ongoing experience of ignorance. Ending ignorance of Four Noble Truths ends the unfolding of karma.

A mind rooted in ignorance is a mind distracted towards continued ignorance. The Buddha taught Shamatha-Vipassana meditation for the sole purpose of deepening concentration so as to support the refined mindfulness necessary to hold in mind the Eightfold Path. [10]  Right Meditation – Samadhi – Jhanas

Understanding karma is recognizing and abandoning all individual contributions to confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing disappointing and unsatisfactory experiences – Dukkha.

A well-informed analysis of karma shows that karma is an ongoing aspect of Dukkha and several significant themes of the Buddha’s Dhamma:

  • Karma arises from ignorance of Four Noble Truths.
  • Ignorance of Four Noble Truths results in painful consequences of one’s actions.
  • Five Clinging-Aggregates are the personal experience of dukkha driven by karma.
  • Wrong views of self – Anatta – is continued through ignorance of Four Noble Truths that is experienced as karma unfolding.

All karma is rooted in ignorance. There is no “good” karma. A mind conditioned towards self-identification and continued conceit is a mind clinging to Five Clinging-Aggregates – form, feelings, perceptions, mental fabrications, and ongoing thinking rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths. The  Five Clinging-Aggregates describe the ongoing personal experience of stress and suffering arising from ignorance. Attempting to manipulate future “karma” is always rooted in ignorance and continued “I-making” and can only;y continue and prolong dukkha. [5]

Rebirth and reincarnation are also central themes of the Buddha’s Dhamma and closely related to karma. The Buddha understood that fabricating a view of the birth/death cycle is cruel. He understood that doing so would only provide a strategy for continuing ignorance by establishing a “self” in speculative and imaginary non-physical realms. He avoided fabricating yet another foolish explanation of commonly held views that insist on seeing “self” in some way as eternal. The Buddha teaches to bring to cessation any moment rooted in ignorance so as not to “give birth” to continued ignorance and continue dukkha.

It is at the point of contact between what is held in mind and what is currently arising in thought, word, and deed that a well-concentrated mind can apply the guiding principles of the Eightfold Path through wise restraint. It is in this present moment that karma is unfolding and it is in this present moment that the guiding framework of the Eightfold Path is applied. [11]  Wisdom Of Restraint

Karma and rebirth are simple understandings made overly-complicated by confused and irrelevant “wrong” or ignorant views. In relation to Karma And Rebirth, the Buddha concisely teaches: “I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions. I am born of my actions and related through my actions. My actions will determine the fortune or misfortune in my life.” (Anguttara Nikaya 10.176)

Any actions motivated by ignorance of Four Noble Truths – fabricated actions – will directly impact one’s experience of what is currently arising. A mind rooted in continued ignorance can only “give birth” to another moment rooted in ignorance. This is karma.

A mind whose views are framed by the Eightfold Path can “give birth” to a moment inclined towards becoming free of karma. This is awakening. In this way, the Buddha is not dismissing the notion of future physical births, nor is he placing any value on future physical births. He simply teaches that future lives are at best irrelevant speculation and to be mindful of what one is giving birth to in this moment.

The Buddha’s Dhamma and the Noble Eightfold Path provides the complete framework and continual guidance to recognize and abandon all fabricated views arising from ignorance of Four Noble Truths and so end all karma.

My comments below are in italics.

Acting To Awaken – Karma Sutta

Samyutta Nikaya 35.145

On one occasion the Buddha addressed those gathered: “Listen and pay close attention friends, and I will teach you past and current karma, the cessation of karma, and the path and practice leading to the cessation of karma.

“Past karma is to be seen as the six-sense-base. Karma is fabricated by intention and experienced by sense-contact. The six-sense-base is past karma.

A mind rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths is constantly reacting to ordinary phenomena arising and passing away. This contact with phenomena occurs and is experienced through the six senses – five physical and one mental. A distracted mind stuck in self-referential views continually reinforces ignorance and continues confusion, deluded thinking, and stress and suffering. Karma arises from ignorance of Four Noble Truths.

“Current Karma is fabricated thoughts, words, and deeds arising and passing away. This is current karma.

Dependent Origination shows that it is ignorance of Four Noble Truths that establishes fabricated views all manner of stress and suffering – karma. [1]

“Cessation of karma is the release from ignorance (of Four Noble Truths) and the three forms of stress and suffering of bodily, verbal, and mental fabrications. This is the cessation of karma.

“The path leading to the cessation of karma is precisely the Noble Eightfold Path.

  1. Right View
  2. Right Intention
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Meditation

“This is the Noble Eightfold Path of practice leading to the cessation of karma.

“Friends, I have now taught you past and current karma, the cessation of karma, and the Noble Eightfold Path leading to the cessation of karma (Dukkha).

“Whatever any teacher would do out of true sympathy and compassion for their students I have done for you (with this teaching.)

An authentic Dhamma teacher knows the cruelty of teaching false and misleading “dharmas.” [12]  Teaching An Authentic Dhamma

“Don’t be mindless. Don’t be foolish. Do not fall into regret (for not developing the Dhamma). Over there are roots of trees and empty huts. Establish seclusion and practice Jhana. [10]

“This is my teaching to you.”

End Of Sutta

 

  1. Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta
  2. Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
  3. Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
  4. The Noble Search For The Noble Path
  5. Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views
  6. Five Clinging-Aggregates
  7. Three Marks Of Existence – Anicca, Anatta, Dukkha
  8. Bhava Sutta
  9. Fabrications
  10. Right Meditation – Samadhi – Jhanas
  11. Wisdom Of Restraint
  12. Teaching An Authentic Dhamma

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My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings  (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Acharya Buddharakkhita, Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.

I have made edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain contextual relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.

 

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