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Teachings of the Buddha: A Way to a Fortunate Rebirth and Kamma and Its Fruits

by Bhikkhu Bodhi
October 23, 2013
Wed, 10/23/2013 - 10:30 -- bbodhi

Today’s selection comes from the Cūḷakammavibhanga Sutta. This sutta specifies the underlying karmic causes for the manifest differences in human life. It does so with reference to a well-known saying of the Buddha: “Beings are owners of their kamma, heirs of their kamma; they originate from their kamma, are bound to their kamma, have their kamma as their refuge. It is kamma that distinguishes beings as inferior and superior.” The sutta proposes to explain this statement with regard to seven pairs of contrasting qualities observed among people. This text also introduces a distinction between two types of consequences that an unwholesome kamma can have: the more powerful is rebirth in a bad destination; the other is unpleasant fruits within the human state, for example, a short lifespan for one who in an earlier life killed living beings. An analogous distinction obtains among the consequences that a wholesome kamma can have: the more powerful is rebirth in a heavenly world; the other is pleasant fruits within the human state.

Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Sāvatthī in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park.

Then the brahmin student Subha, Todeyya’s son, went to the Blessed One and exchanged greetings with him. When this courteous and amiable talk was finished, he sat down at one side and asked the Blessed One:

“Master Gotama, what is the cause and condition why human beings are seen to be inferior and superior? For people are seen to be short-lived and long-lived, sickly and healthy, ugly and beautiful, uninfluential and influential, poor and wealthy, low-born and high-born, stupid and wise. What is the cause and condition, Master Gotama, why human beings are seen to be inferior and superior?”

“Student, beings are owners of their actions, heirs of their actions; they originate from their actions, are bound to their actions, have their actions as their refuge. It is action that distinguishes beings as inferior and superior.”

“I do not understand in detail the meaning of Master Gotama’s statement, which he spoke in brief without expounding the meaning in detail. It would be good if Master Gotama would teach me the Dhamma so that I might understand in detail the meaning of Master Gotama’s statement.”

“Then, student, listen and attend closely to what I shall say.”

“Yes, sir,” the brahmin student Subha replied. The Blessed One said this:

“Here, student, some man or woman kills living beings and is murderous, bloody-handed, given to blows and violence, merciless to living beings. Because of performing and undertaking such action, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell. But if on the dissolution of the body, after death, he does not reappear in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell, but instead comes back to the human state, then wherever he is reborn he is short-lived. This is the way, student, that leads to short life, namely, one kills living being and is murderous, bloody-handed, given to blows and violence, merciless to living beings.

“But here, student, some man or woman, abandoning the killing of living beings, abstains from killing living beings; with rod and weapon laid aside, gentle and kindly, he abides compassionate to all living beings. Because of performing and undertaking such action, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world. But if on the dissolution of the body, after death, he does not reappear in a happy destination, in the heavenly world, but instead comes back to the human state, then wherever he is reborn he is long-lived. This is the way, student, that leads to long life, namely, abandoning the killing of living beings, one abstains from killing living beings; with rod and weapon laid aside, gentle and kindly, one abides compassionate to all living beings.

MN 135

To continue reading the Cūḷakammavibhanga Sutta, click here.

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