Most of us have heard the word Kamma or Karma. Generally, its usage points to a somewhat unfavourable or sad situation. Understanding of the word itself varies to a great extent because people tend to interpret the meaning based on their understanding and experience. Only a fully enlightened Buddha is capable of interpreting what kamma is, its diversity and its results. Therefore the interpretation of kamma should not be taken lightly as even the enlightened monks (Arahath’s) too didn’t possess the capability to interpret the complete spectrum of kamma.

A simple search on the internet will show us the interest that people have in knowing and learning more about kamma these days. Let’s see what the Buddha has said about kamma.

The Buddha gives a complete description of kamma in this teaching to the monks. The Buddha tells the monks about what kamma is, how it comes into play, its diversity, its result, its cessation and the path to follow to rid one’s kamma. Isn’t this interesting to know? Let’s look at it in a little detail so that we can understand what the Buddha has said.

What is Kamma?

The word kamma simply means action. The Buddha says one’s willful intention translates into bodily or verbal action or both. Your intention is the forerunner of your actions by body, speech and mind, good or bad.

How does kamma come into play?

The Buddha says contact is the cause of kamma. Lust, love, anger, hatred, ill will, jealousy, envy and the like come into your mind simply with a thought about someone. You have made contact mentally. It is the same with the other sense faculties. At the core of Buddha’s teachings are cause and effect. Therefore as long as there is contact as the cause, the effect is a form of kamma. It can be a good kamma or a bad kamma depending on your intention.

How diverse is kamma?

The Buddha says there‘s kamma to be experienced in hell, in the animal world, in the realm of the hungry ghosts, among humans and in the realm of divinity. If you think everything ends after you die, then it is not so. It’s so diverse that you have a number of destinations for your next life. This teaching shows that there are different realms to be born to experience different kammic results created due to continued existence.

What are the results of kamma?

Are there any? The Buddha says the results of kamma are threefold. There are results of kamma that have to be experienced in this life and now. You are experiencing the results of your own kamma right now. It can be a mixed bag of good and bad depending on your kamma. There’s kamma that will be experienced later in this life about which you are clueless right now. There’s also kamma to be experienced after your death. You carry your bag of kamma, good and bad, to your next life.

What is the cessation of kamma?

Can you do that? Yes. Buddha says it is by ceasing contact. How do you do that? It is possible only by following the noble eightfold path. It is the right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

Following this path, a disciple of the noble one sees kamma in this way, sees its cause in this way, diversity in this way results in this way, cessation in this way and then he sees this penetrative holy life as the cessation of the kamma. His past kamma is ceased, no more new kamma arises and no more future births for this disciple. That’s an arahant.


(Ref. Nibbedika Sutta – AN – The discourse on the penetrative intellect)