Ven. Ñāṇavīra wrote:
Verses 651, 652, and 653, of the Suttanipāta are as follows:
651 Kassako kammanā hoti, sippiko hoti kammanā,
vānijo kammanā hoti, pessiko hoti kammanā.
By action is one a farmer, by action a craftsman,
By action is one a merchant, by action a servant,
652 Coro pi kammanā hoti, yodhājīvo pi kammanā,
yājako kammanā hoti, rājā pi hoti kammanā.
By action is one a thief, by action a soldier,
By action is one a priest, by action a king.
653 Evam etam yathābhūtam kammam passanti panditā
In this way the wise see action as it really is,
Seeing dependent arising, understanding result of action.
Verse 653 is sometimes isolated from its context and used to justify the 'three-life' interpretation of the twelve-factored formulation of paticcasamuppāda as kamma/kammavipāka—kamma/kammavipāka, an interpretation that is wholly inadmissible (see PATICCASAMUPPĀDA
and A NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPĀDA
). When the verse is restored to its context the meaning is clear: kammam paticca kassako hoti, sippiko hoti, and so on; in other words, what one is depends on what one does. And the result (vipāka) of acting in a certain way is that one is known accordingly. For vipāka used in this sense see Anguttara VI,vi,9 <A. iii,413>
: Vohāravepakkāham bhikkhave saññā vadāmi; yathā yathā nam sañjānāti tathā tathā voharati, Evam saññī ahosin ti. Ayam vuccati bhikkhave saññānam vipāko.
('Perceptions, monks, I say result in description; according as one perceives such-and-such, so one describes: 'I was perceptive thus'. This, monks, is called the result of perceptions.') (For the usual meaning of kammavipāka as the more or less delayed retribution for ethically significant actions, see e.g. Anguttara III,iv,4 <A.i,134-6>
[The P.T.S. numbering has gone astray here].)
The question of kamma or 'action'—'What should I do?'—is the ethical question;; for all personal action—all action done by me—is either akusala or kusala, unskilful or skilful. Unskilful action is rooted in lobha (rāga), dosa, moha, or lust, hate, and delusion, and (apart from resulting in future dukkha or unpleasure) leads to arising of action, not to cessation of action—tam kammam kammasamudayāya samvattati na tam kammam kammanirodhāya samvattati. ('That action leads to arising of action, that action does not lead to ceasing of action.') Skilful action is rooted in non-lust, non-hate, and non-delusion, and leads to cessation of action, not to arising of action. (Anguttara III,xi,7&8 <A.i,263>
) The puthujjana does not understand this, since he sees neither arising nor cessation of action;[a]
the ditthisampanna does understand this, since he sees both arising and cessation of action—Yato kho āvuso ariyasāvako akusalañ ca pajānāti akusalamūlañ ca pajānāti, kusalañ ca pajānāti kusalamūlañ ca pajānāti, ettāvatā pi kho āvuso ariyasāvako sammāditthi hoti ujugatā'ssa ditthi, dhamme aveccappasādena samannāgato, āgato imam saddhammam
('In so far, friend, as a noble disciple understands unskill and understands the root of unskill, understands skill and understands the root of skill, so far too, friend, the noble disciple has right view, his view is correct, he is endowed with tried confidence in the Teaching, he has arrived at this Good Teaching') (Majjhima i,9 <M.i,46>
)—; the arahat not only understands this, but also has reached cessation of action, since for him the question 'What should I do?' no more arises. To the extent that there is still intention in the case of the arahat—see CETANĀ [f]
—there is still conscious action, but since it is neither unskilful nor skilful it is no longer action in the ethical sense. Extinction, nibbāna, is cessation of ethics—Kullūpamam vo bhikkhave ājānantehi dhammā pi vo pahātabbā pageva adhammā
('Comprehending the parable of the raft, monks, you have to eliminate ethical things too, let alone unethical things') (Majjhima iii,2 <M.i,135>
). See MAMA [a].
For a brief account of action see NĀMA; for a definition see RŪPA .