Kamma and vipaka

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Sam Vara
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Kamma and vipaka

Post by Sam Vara » Tue Oct 18, 2011 8:22 pm

In many Suttas the Buddha presents kamma and vipaka as the idea that certain types of intentional action have certain experiential outcomes. For example, in AN IV 232 we have:

""And what is kamma that is dark with dark result? There is the case where a certain person performs a harmful act of body, speech, or mind. He rearises in a harmful world where he is touched by harmful contacts...he experiences feelings that are exclusively painful, like those of the beings in hell..."

There are lots of other versions. My specific question is about the mechanism that brings this about. I would like to know people's thoughts on how this occurs. I don't think it is a stupid question, as normally we think of intentions as bringing about an immediate mental change (as when I intend to think about an elephant, or recollect things that make me happy); or bringing about an immediate physical change (as when I intend to raise my arm, etc.). The rest of the universe seems immune and indifferent to my intentions. I cannot cause a change in the weather by means of an unmediated intention. Nor can I alter your thoughts by merely intending to.

But the Buddha talks often of contact and feeling arising as a result of kamma made a while before. Intention acts, as it were, at a distance.

"Wherever one's selfhood turns up, there that kamma will ripen. Where that kamma ripens, there one will experience its fruit, either in this very life that has arisen or further along in the sequence". (AN III 33)

This does not seem to be one of those questions that the Buddha said should not be asked. The "exploding head" questions about kamma seem to be about predicting vipaka from kamma, not this simple point of the exact constant relation between kamma as a class of phenomena, and vipaka as another class.

(Lots of contemporary Buddhists try to solve this one in purely psychological terms. They talk in terms of intentions and actions conditioning the mind which thereafter experiences contacts differently as a result. But the Buddha's formulations seem to go way beyond these, referring as they do to contact being vipaka, and the vipaka cropping up after the demise of this body. Contact obviously has a willed aspect in that we select objects for attention, but I am less interested in why I notice being run over by the bus, and more interested in what brings the bus as the other component of contact...)

If the answer is that this must be taken on faith, I am happy with this. I would in fact prefer it to sophistry intended to demonstrate that someone knows more than me. All vague ideas and admissions of bafflement are welcome, as they would reassure me!

My thanks and best wishes.

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daverupa
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Re: Kamma and vipaka

Post by daverupa » Tue Oct 18, 2011 8:36 pm

Sam Vega wrote:My specific question is about the mechanism that brings this about.
Isn't it idapaccayata?
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Sam Vara
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Re: Kamma and vipaka

Post by Sam Vara » Tue Oct 18, 2011 9:11 pm

Daverupa:

Idapaccayata is (as I understand it) the name for this process. My question is about how it happens; how we can make sense of an intention coming to fruition at a temporal distance.

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daverupa
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Re: Kamma and vipaka

Post by daverupa » Tue Oct 18, 2011 9:52 pm

MN 136 wrote:'After doing an intentional kamma by way of body, speech and mind (whose result is) to be felt as pleasure, he feels pleasure; after doing an intentional kamma by way of body, speech and mind (whose result is) to be felt as pain, he feels pain; after doing an intentional kamma by way of body, speech and mind (whose result is) to be felt as neither-pain-nor-pleasure, he feels neither-pain-nor-pleasure'
It doesn't seem to me that intention functions across temporal space, according to the Dhamma. This is because the idea of time as a container within which things occur is a view solidly rooted in substance metaphysics, which the Buddha rejects. Instead, idapaccayata insists on a processual view, on which "kamma" and "vipaka" are distinguished as an explanatory aid but not reified as discreet atomistic entities. In other words, "kamma whose result is to be felt as X" is referring to the process of idapaccayata, in this case with a beginning called kamma and an ending to be felt accordingly. There is no action between intention and result, there is simply that process in toto.

Let's hope this doesn't run afoul of your criteria for sophistry...
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: Kamma and vipaka

Post by chownah » Wed Oct 19, 2011 2:34 am

Imagine a pure stream of clear flowing water......this is the mind with no khammic fruitions......now imagine a herd of intentions marching through this stream and stirring up mud......the mud does not disappear immediately as the herd of intentions leaves the stream.....it lingers.....the stream bed has been conditioned by the herd of intentions and it will take a period of calm flow for the mud to subside......who can wait for the stream to settle?
chownah

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Re: Kamma and vipaka

Post by Sam Vara » Wed Oct 19, 2011 4:09 am

daverupa:

No, this certainly does not count as sophistry, and I thank you for it.

But the quote "After doing an intentional kamma by way of body, speech and mind (whose result is) to be felt as pleasure, he feels pleasure" seems to depict kamma-vipaka as a temporal process. There can only be an "after" if we have time. The same applies to the idea of process, which is a temporal series of events; and your phrase "a beginning called kamma and an ending to be felt accordingly" seems to support this. The ending must post-date the beginning, which in this case means that what is "felt accordingly" must come after the kamma.

I can understand (I think!) the bit that "There is no action between intention and result, there is simply that process in toto." But my point is not about any intervening bits in the process, but more about the fact that the result is not immediate. Normally, I experience the result of intention immediately. My intention to raise my hand or think happy thoughts is followed instantaneously by the hand going up or the happy thoughts arising. That is how I know that intention is involved. But the Buddha seems to be saying that if I form a strong intention then I can experience the result of that, as feeling, later in time. This is different from how I normally see intention working, and hence the puzzlement.

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Re: Kamma and vipaka

Post by cooran » Wed Oct 19, 2011 4:27 am

Hello Sam Vega, all,

This article by Nyanatiloka Mahathera is worth reading – particularly regarding Anatta and Kamma and Rebirth i.e. what it is that travels from 'life' to 'life':

Kamma and Rebirth
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... 4.html#ch2" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

with metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Re: Kamma and vipaka

Post by Sam Vara » Wed Oct 19, 2011 4:31 am

Chownah

Many thanks for the analogy, which is very useful. I probably need to think this one through a bit more (let the mud settle?) in order to get it fully, but here goes anyway.

In the analogy, mud is something which can be carried downstream, which lingers and pollutes the water. But although the mind is somewhat like a river in that things arising at one point will have their fruition somewhere downstream, intentions are not like the mud. Mud is something which of necessity is carried by the river. We can see it when it happens. But although I witness intentions fruiting immediately (as in my examples of intending to raise my hand or intending to think of an elephant) I cannot see them fruiting later in the process. Intentions seem to be part of another process (say, a change of light) which cannot be borne any distance by water.

There is also the spatial (as opposed to temporal) issue about the type of vipaka. The Buddha seems to say (as per my original quote) that vipaka can arise as contact, rather than our mental contribution to that contact (i.e. attention). To extend the riverine analogy, this would be the equivalent of the mud in the water resulting in something outside of the river dropping into the flow. Again, I would be happy to accept all this on faith, but would appreciate any pointers as to how vipaka at a temporal and spatial distance can make more sense to me.

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Re: Kamma and vipaka

Post by Sam Vara » Wed Oct 19, 2011 4:34 am

cooran:

Many thanks for the link. I will read it and return in a few hours. Work beckons (well, makes a few ugly but imperious gestures, actually).

Thanks to all of you.

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Re: Kamma and vipaka

Post by Sylvester » Wed Oct 19, 2011 5:25 am

daverupa wrote:It doesn't seem to me that intention functions across temporal space, according to the Dhamma.
But idapaccayata does, on both grammatical and doctrinal grounds, explain "arising" and "cessation" on both synchronic and diachronic bases.

This is because the idea of time as a container within which things occur is a view solidly rooted in substance metaphysics, which the Buddha rejects.


Sadhu! to that. But I think the Buddha was a practical "realist", ie to the extent necessary for us to accept that the external world is "out there".

It's a bit strange, but despite also possessing the Acinteyya Sutta, AN 4.77 parallel, the Sarvastivadins went the wrong way and decided to construct this massive metaphysical edifice in Tri-Temporal Materialism to explain kamma and vipaka.

Instead, idapaccayata insists on a processual view, on which "kamma" and "vipaka" are distinguished as an explanatory aid but not reified as discreet atomistic entities. In other words, "kamma whose result is to be felt as X" is referring to the process of idapaccayata, in this case with a beginning called kamma and an ending to be felt accordingly. There is no action between intention and result, there is simply that process in toto.


Here's something to ponder. What if idapaccayata as "dhammadhatu", "dhammaṭṭhitatā", "dhammaniyāmatā" (SN 12.20) is not so much a process, but simply a principle, ie statements of what is necessary for something to occur?

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Re: Kamma and vipaka

Post by Sam Vara » Wed Oct 19, 2011 7:57 pm

Sylvester:

If any aspect of conditionality were diachronic (and the Suttas quoted imply that a lot of it is) then we retain the problem of understanding the concept of "action at a temporal distance". And both synchronic and diachronic forms raise the problem of the link between kamma and vipaka. Kamma is cetana, and thus phenomenologically and ontologically different from vipaka, which is presented as - among other things - vedana, or feeling. Whence the change; how can one type of thing turn into another? That it does, can be taken on faith. But my original question is whether there is any further insight into the how of this change.

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Re: Kamma and vipaka

Post by Sam Vara » Wed Oct 19, 2011 8:19 pm

cooran

Thanks for the link to the Nyanatiloka article, which I have now had time to read, and which is excellent. I suppose the issue is essentially about the bhavanga-sota. I like the claim that without it, any memory or sequential thought would be impossible. Nothing to link anything to anything else as objects of awareness. I think I need a cup of tea and further thought about this.

It seems unlikely to answer my original question, however. As a stream of cause-and-effect, it merely reiterates the problem of how one type of phenomenon (intention) can result in another (feeling). We might just say that it does, and leave it at that. But this type of causality would be unique in human experience, and I wonder why Buddhists don't make more of it. My intentions produce immediate mental or physical results, some of which seem to be transmitted forward through the causal nexus to change things at a distance from me. But once I have "lost the thread", as it were - once my intentions seem to have no immediate result on my body and /or mind - there is no reason to suppose that future events are caused by them. Why would they be, any more than your thoughts would be, or the weather on an unknown planet, or events in the past?

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Re: Kamma and vipaka

Post by daverupa » Wed Oct 19, 2011 8:52 pm

Sam Vega wrote:Whence the change; how can one type of thing turn into another? That it does, can be taken on faith. But my original question is whether there is any further insight into the how of this change.
Sam Vega wrote:...one type of phenomena...
This appears incorrect to me, as it still reifies kamma-vipaka as "one type of thing" and "another type of thing", each of which "exists in time". Thus is substance metaphysics, and ought to be rejected. Therefore, asking a further "how" question with this foundation in place is unwarranted.
Sylvester wrote:But I think the Buddha was a practical "realist", ie to the extent necessary for us to accept that the external world is "out there".
I don't think the Buddha intended that we accept an external world out there, I think he was practical insofar as he accepted it as the naturally-occurring human perception of things (avijja, anyone?) and was at great pains to distinguish the Dhamma in contradistinction to those natural assumptions. This is why paticcanirodha is described as "against the grain", and as hard to see.

It may help to consider the "three phases of matter" in the Dhamma, as it were: arising is manifest, ceasing is manifest, change while standing is manifest. Here's the Pali for us:
Rūpassa [Vedanāya; Saññāya; Sankhārānam; Viññānassa] kho āvuso uppādo paññāyati, vayo paññāyati, thitassa aññatthattam paññāyati.
There is no change of one thing into another thing, there is simply conditionality. The fact that the order is not "arising - change-while-standing - ceasing" is logically significant, despite the fact that this order would seem to make more sense. If it were "arising-changing-ceasing", it would make sense as a characteristic of a thing-in-time that arises-changes-ceases.

Rather, there is arising OR ceasing OR change-while-standing - i.e. a process 'beginning', a process 'ending', or a process '-ing'. If you like, the nature of ones experience is such that the process is not perceived as a whole, but it is perceived piece-meal - which is to say, "over time". However, it is illegitimate to infer ontological entities on that basis.
MN 136 wrote:'After doing an intentional kamma by way of body, speech and mind (whose result is) to be felt as pleasure, he feels pleasure; after doing an intentional kamma by way of body, speech and mind (whose result is) to be felt as pain, he feels pain; after doing an intentional kamma by way of body, speech and mind (whose result is) to be felt as neither-pain-nor-pleasure, he feels neither-pain-nor-pleasure'
It's that "to be felt as" component which is bracketing kamma-vipaka together as a process in toto, rather than as two discreet events. Of note here is that suffering is not a required component - after doing kamma, there is concomitant vipaka, but dukkha is not a requisite component of that vipaka.
Last edited by daverupa on Wed Oct 19, 2011 9:51 pm, edited 2 times in total.
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Sam Vara
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Re: Kamma and vipaka

Post by Sam Vara » Wed Oct 19, 2011 9:48 pm

daverupa:

"This appears incorrect to me, as it still reifies kamma-vipaka as "one type of thing" and "another type of thing", each of which "exists in time". Thus is substance metaphysics, and ought to be rejected. Therefore, asking a further "how" question with this foundation in place is unwarranted."

I'm not sure what you mean here by "substance-metaphysics", but it does seem to be the case that the Buddha talks of vipaka occurring after the kamma; as in your MN 136 quote. If so, and given your reference to idapaccayata requiring a processual view, then we are talking about something taking place over time. The can be no atemporal processes that I can make sense of.

If your concern around substance metaphysics is that kamma and vipaka are not two ontologically distinct substances, then that may well be the case. I am happy to take it on faith, as something required in order to prevent falling into error. But this merely shifts my problem into one of perception. If it is true that cetana as kamma leads to vedana as vipaka, then whence these categories of experience? Back in the real world, my intentions certainly seem to be different from my feelings.

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daverupa
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Re: Kamma and vipaka

Post by daverupa » Wed Oct 19, 2011 9:54 pm

Sam Vega wrote:If it is true that cetana as kamma leads to vedana as vipaka, then whence these categories of experience? Back in the real world, my intentions certainly seem to be different from my feelings.
I was just editing the following:
Rather, there is arising OR ceasing OR change-while-standing - i.e. a process 'beginning', a process 'ending', or a process '-ing'. If you like, the nature of ones experience is such that the process is not perceived as a whole, but it is perceived piece-meal - which is to say, "over time".
If you're asking why we perceive things piece-meal rather than all at once, I think we can only answer "because that's the case". "Why do we see only the visible spectrum, and no other wavelengths?" would be a similar question.

In any event, yes intentions seem to be different than feelings, just as the color red and the color orange on a rainbow are different - yet, demarcating where one stops and the other begins is a matter of drawing lines where there are none, even if we must do so for the sake of discussing red and orange.
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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