Kamma and irresponsible actions

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Kamma and irresponsible actions

Post by Tex » Fri Apr 17, 2009 9:48 pm

This question was sparked by a story I read in the news today. A young man killed three people in a drunk driving accident last week. The father of the drunk driver said that his son was a good person and didn't mean to hurt anyone.

And I'm sure that's true. He didn't mean to kill anyone, but because he made an irresponsible decision three people died. Is he accruing negative kamma for this, even though he didn't "intentionally" kill those people?

As another example, I think we'll all agree that if I'm driving mindfully and a squirrel darts out leaving me no chance to hit the brakes, and I run over him, there's no kamma there. What if we change that slightly, and I'm talking on my cell phone and admiring a jogger instead of watching the road, and I hit a squirrel that I could have avoided had I been driving more mindfully? I still didn't "intentionally" kill the squirrel -- so is there unwholesome kamma being generated by this action?

My gut instinct is to say, "yes, there is" to both examples. I don't see how those examples could be considered the the same as a complete accident in terms of kamma. But given that neither example was an "intentional action", I don't know if that is correct? Perhaps since they intentionally acted in an irresponsible way their kamma is bound with whatever results from their irresponsibility?

Anything in the suttas on this, or anything similar?
"To reach beyond fear and danger we must sharpen and widen our vision. We have to pierce through the deceptions that lull us into a comfortable complacency, to take a straight look down into the depths of our existence, without turning away uneasily or running after distractions." -- Bhikkhu Bodhi

"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man." -- Heraclitus

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Re: Kamma and irresponsible actions

Post by Ben » Fri Apr 17, 2009 10:11 pm

Hi Tex

Indeed, kamma is intention!
In the first instance, the young man who killed three people acrues the kamma of being intoxicated and getting behind the wheel of the car. It appears that the intoxication didn't wipe out all his ability to make decisions.

If you are talking on your mobile phone and driving - you naughty boy - and 'enjoying' the view of a jogger, then you are going to accrue the negative kamma of relishing the sensory impressions that were occurring at that time.

In both situations the intention put the person in a situation where the accidents were inevitable. I would argue that the driver will not accrue the kamma of killing because the intention was not there but that doesn't assuage the person's responsibility for those deaths (in the mundane sense).
Sorry Tex, its a little early in the morning to pull out some sutta or commentarial references.

“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Re: Kamma and irresponsible actions

Post by Ngawang Drolma. » Fri Apr 17, 2009 10:20 pm

I would tend to agree with Ben. It's still problematic that the kid got drunk and chose to get behind the wheel, even if he didn't intend on taking life. But we don't know the degree of culpability or the outcome when it comes to kamma.


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