Karmic Impulses for Actions of the Body in Sautrantika

The founding of the Sautrantika tenet system is attributed to Kumaralata (Skt. Kumāralāta) (aka Kumaralabdha, Skt. Kumāralabdha) in the late first century CE. He rejected the Sarvastivada abhidharma sources in favor of relying exclusively on the Sarvastivada sutras. His views were rejected at the Fourth Buddhist Council in the early second century CE, where the Vaibhashika view, based on the Sarvastivada abhidharma sources, was codified with the compilation of The Great Extensive Commentarial Treatise on Special Topics of Knowledge (Skt. Abhidharma-mahāvibhāṣa-śāstra). 

At the end of the fourth century CE, Vasubandhu systemized the Vaibhashika presentation of karma in A Treasure House of Special Topics of Knowledge, Put in Verses (Chos mngon-pa’i mdzod-kyi tshig-le’ur byas-pa, Skt. Abhidharmakośa-kārikā). In his (Auto)commentary to “A Treasure House of Special Topics of Knowledge” (Chos mngon-pa’i mdzod-kyi bshad-pa, Skt. Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣyā), however, Vasubandhu not only elaborated upon the Vaibhashika presentation, but he also presented the Sautrantika objections to some of its points and the Sautrantika’s own explanations of them. Vasubandhu’s Autocommentary and another of Vasubandhu’s texts, A Discussion for the Establishment of Karma (Las-grub-pa’i rab-tu byed-pa, Skt. Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa), plus the Indian commentaries to both, are the main sources for the Sautrantika presentation of karma.

Exertional Impulses and Functional Impulses

An “impulse” (las, Skt. karma) is the most general meaning of the Sanskrit word “karma,” but not all impulses are “karmic” in the sense of their being true origins of suffering. In the Sautrantika section of A Discussion (Derge Tengyur vol. 136, 145A), Vasubandhu differentiates two types of impulses (1) exertional impulses (rtsol-ba-can-gyi las, Skt. vyavasāyakarma) and (2) functional impulses (byed-pa’i las, Skt. kāritrakarma): 

Buddha did not speak of the impulses of the eye and so on (as true origins of suffering) because here (in this sutra) he wished to speak only of exertional impulses, not functional impulses. What are exertional impulses? They are (the impulses) that affect the mind of an agent (of an action). What are functional ones? (They are) those (impulses that are involved with) the individual abilities of the eyes and so forth.
(Tib.) mig la sogs pa’i las ma gsungs pa ni/ ‘dir rtsol ba can gyi las kho na brjod par bzhed pa’i phyir/ byed pa’i las ni ma yin no/ rtsol ba can gyi las ci yin zhe na/ byed pa po’i yid mngon par ‘du byed pa gang yin pa’o/ byed pa ci yin zhe na/ gang la mig la sogs pa so so’i nus pa yod pa’o//

The late eighth-century CE Indian master, Sumatishila (Blo-bzang ngang-tshul, Skt. Sumatiśīla), glosses some of the words in the above passage in his Annotated Commentary on (Vasubandhu’s) “Establishment of Karma” (Las-grub-pa’i bshad-pa, Skt. Karmasiddhiṭīkā) (Derge Tengyur vol. 138, 101B):

Here, “exertional” means “something constructive and so on that affects (the mind of an agent).” ….. “Abilities” means “being able to cause eye consciousness and so on to arise.”
(Tib.) ‘dir rtsol ba can zhe bya ba ni dge ba la sogs pa mngon par ‘du byed pa zhes bya ba’i tha tshig go…. nus pa zhes bya ba ni mig gi rnam par shes pa la sogs pa skyed par byed pa nyid do zhes bya ba’i tha tshig//

Although not stated explicitly, Sautrantika asserts that both exertional impulses and functional impulses are the mental factor of an urge (sems-pa, Skt. cetanā). In his Autocommentary (Gretil ed. 54.20, Derge Tengyur vol. 140, 64B), Vasubandhu gives the definition of a mental urge, which Sautrantika also accepts:

A mental urge is something that affects the mind. [Skt. only: (It is) an impulse of the mind.]
(Skt.) cetanā cittābhisaṃskāro manaskarma.
(Tib.) sems-pa-ni sems mngon-par ‘du-byed-pa’o

Three Aspects of Karmic Impulses

In A Discussion (Derge 144A), Vasubandhu focuses his discussion on exertional impulses:

A karmic impulse is that which affects the mind of an agent (of an action). The karmic impulse that causes the body to move is a karmic impulse for (an action of) the body. The mental urges (that bring about that action of the body), however, are of three kinds: one that causes the coursing (‘gro-ba), (one that causes) the deciding (nges-pa) and (one that causes) the moving (g.yo-ba). 
(Tib.) /byed pa po'i yid mngon par 'du byed pa ni las so/ /lus g.yo bar byed pa'i las ni lus kyi las so/ /sems pa ni rnam pa gsum ste/ 'gro ba dang / nges pa dang / g.yo bar byed pa'o/ 

Sumatishila, Annotated Commentary (Derge 98A), explains:

When (Vasubandhu) says, “The mental urges (that bring about that action of the body), however, are of three kinds” and so on, this is, in fact, given as a retort, since some (claim that Sautrantika) differentiates only mental urges (that are all karmic impulses for actions of the mind). As for “the one that causes the coursing,” it is the (mental urge) that causes (the mind) to go. In other words, it is the mental urge that causes (the mind) to go to this and this (moment of the mental action of scrutinizing whether or not to commit an action of the body). As for “one that causes the deciding,” it (does that) because of its having engaged (the mind) in analyzing – for instance, “Shall I do something like this and this?” “Shall I not do something like this?” As for “the one that causes the moving,” it is that mental urge that occurs at a time that is “a later time, after having decided.” These indicate, “Those (mental urges) that are these (three types),” and so on.
(Tib.) sems pa ni rnam pa gsum ste zhes bya ba la sogs pa gsungs te/ 'dis kyang re zhig sems pa kho na rnam par 'byed pa de/ lan ni phyis 'debs so/ /'gro bar byed pa zhes bya ba ni gang gis 'gro bar byed pa ste/ 'di dang 'dis 'gro bar byed do zhes sems pa gang yin pa'o/ /nges par byed pa zhes bya ba ni 'di dang 'di lta bu zhig ni bya'o/ /'di lta bu zhig ni mi bya'o zhes de ltar dpyod pa'i rnam par zhugs pa'i phyir ro/ /g.yo bar byed pa zhes bya ba ni nges par byas nas dus phyis te zhes bya ba'i tshe'i sems pa gang yin pa'o/ /de nyid gang gis zhes bya ba la sogs pas bstan to/

Although the mental urges that cause the coursing to scrutinize committing an action of the body, the deciding to commit it and the moving of the body to commit it are all directed at the body, the mental urges for coursing and deciding are karmic impulses for actions of the mind, while the mental urges for moving the body are karmic impulses for actions of the body.

As for “some (claim that Sautrantika) differentiates only mental urges (that are all karmic impulses for actions of the mind), Sumatishila is referencing Vasubandhu’s teacher and critic Sanghabhadra (‘Dus-bzang). In his Extensive (Auto)commentary to “A Lamp for Topics of Knowledge,” A Subcommentary of Light (Abhidharmadīpa-vibhāṣāprabhāvṛtti) (Gretil ed., commentary to verse 158), Sanghabhadra rejected the Sautrantika position concerning karma, which he characterized as: 

How is the classification of these three (types of karmic impulse – a karmic impulse for the body, for the speech and for the mind) made? ....  If from their motivation (that makes them arise), they would all become one as a karmic impulse of (an action of) the mind because of all of them being something caused to arise by the mind. 
(Skt.) kathaṃ punareṣāṃ trayāṇāṃ karmaṇāṃ vyavasthānam / samutthānataścet, manaḥkarmaikaṃ prāptam / sarveṣāṃ manasotthāpitatvāt /

A Body Karmic Impulse: The Mental Urge That Causes the Body to Move

Vasubandhu, A Discussion (Derge 144A), continues:

As for that (mental urge that causes the moving of the body) that is possessed on a (mental) continuum, it is by means of that (mental urge) that the wind (element), which is the cause bringing (the body) to another place, actualizes (the movement of the body). 
(Tib.) /gang gis de dang ldan pa'i rgyud yul gzhan du 'byung ba'i rgyu'i rlung bsgrubs pas/ lus g.yo bar byed pa de ni lus kyi las zhes bya ste/ 

Sumatishila, Annotated Commentary (Derge 98A-B), explains:

Suppose you ask, “Because (nonstatic phenomena) are momentary, how can the body be caused to move by one (by another nonstatic phenomenon)?” Because of this (doubt, Vasubandhu) says “that is possessed on a (mental) continuum.” A mental urge that is connected to a (mental) continuum is one that is possessed on a (mental) continuum, and that which has it gives rise (to the movement of the body). The meaning is that the cause, in terms of what possesses that (mental urge), that produces (the body being) in another position is the wind (element), which, as the cause, actualizes (the movement). From dividing mental urges into its types, then as for “that (which causes)” and so on, this indicates how it is that the karmic impulse that causes the body to move is (called) a “a body karmic impulse.” 
(Tib.) /'o na skad cig pa yin pa'i phyir ji ltar des lus g.yo bar byed ce na/ de'i phyir/ de dang ldan pa'i rgyud ces bya ba la sogs pa gsungs te/ sems pa de dang 'brel pa'i rgyud gang yin pa de ni de dang ldan pa'i rgyud de gang yod na de skye ba'o/ /de dang ldan pa'i rgyu yul gzhan du 'byung ba gang yin pa de'i rgyur gyur pa'i rlung gang yin pa de bsgrub pas zhes bya ba'i tha tshig go/ /sems pa rnam par phye nas de ni zhes bya ba la sogs pas ji ltar na lus g.yo bar byed pa'i las lus kyi las yin pa de lta bur ston to/

Sautrantika asserts that nonstatic phenomena, being nonstatic, last only a moment. They do not endure for the several moments needed to accomplish motion. The mental continuum, however, has continuity and therefore the mental continuum that contains in each moment a mental urge – one of the ten great factors grounded in all mental states (sa chen-po-pa, Skt. mahābhūmika) – can sustain the motion of the body as a method for causing a karmic action of the body to occur. The consciousness and accompanying mental factors on a mental continuum are supported on the great elements – earth, water, fire and wind – of the body. It is the wind element of the body that actually accomplishes the movement since the nature of wind is motion.

Vasubandhu, A Discussion (Derge 144A), goes on:

As for that which causes the body to move being called a “a body karmic impulse,” it is (an ambiguous term) because the word “for” has not been made explicit, as in (the expressions) “medicinal treatment grain butter” and “dust wind.” 
(Tib.) lus g.yo bar byed pa de ni lus kyi las zhes bya ste/ bar gyi tshig mi mngon par byas pa'i phyir/ sman pa la'i 'bru mar lta bu dang / rdul gyi rlung zhes bya ba bzhin no/

Sumatishila, Annotated Commentary (Derge 98B), continues his explanation:

As for “it is (an ambiguous term) because the word ‘for’ has not been made explicit,” the meaning is “it is (ambiguous) because the words ‘for moving’ have not been made explicit.” As for “as in (the expression) ‘medicinal treatment grain butter,’” it is (like that) because “medicinal treatment” and “grain butter for applying as a medicinal treatment” are not made explicit in the expression “medicinal treatment grain butter.” As for the word “medicinal treatment,” here it should be known as being (short) for “for the sake of medicinal treatment.” As for “as in (the expression) ‘dust wind,’” wind for raising dust is called “dust wind.” Various examples are spoken of to make this meaning clear.
(Tib.) /bar gyi tshig mi mngon par byas pa'i phyir zhes bya ba ni g.yo bar byed pa'i tshig mi mngon par byas pa'i phyir ro zhes bya ba'i tha tshig go/ /sman pa la'i 'bru mar lta bu zhes bya ba ni sman pa la dang btsos pa'i 'bru mar la sman pa la'i 'bru mar zhes par gyi tshig mi mngon par byas pa'i phyir ro/ /sman pa la'i tshig gis ni 'dir sman pa ṭu la yin par rig par bya'o/ /rdul gyi rlung zhes bya ba bzhin no zhes bya ba bzhin no zhes bya ba ni rdul 'thul bar byed pa'i rlung ni rdul gyi rlung ngo / /dpe sna tshogs pa smos pa ni don 'di gsal bar bya ba'i phyir ro/ 

Thus, “a body karmic impulse” is to be understood as “a karmic impulse for moving the body” and thus as being the mental factor of an urge. The ellipsis is similar to that in “medicinal treatment grain butter” being short for “grain butter for applying as a medicinal treatment” and “dust wind” being short for “wind for raising dust.” 

Vasubandhu, A Discussion (Derge 144A), continues:

Suppose you ask, “When, out of the pathways of a karmic impulse, one asserts the three – taking a life, taking what has not been given, and engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior – as body karmic impulses, then how is it that mental urges get given these names (the names ‘killing’ and so on?)” It is because these (mental urges) cause the killing, the stealing and the engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior. That which the continuum of the body generated by them has done is referred to as “that which they (the mental urges) have done.” 
(Tib.) /las kyi lam rnams las srog gcod pa dang / ma byin par len pa dang / 'dod pas log par g.yem pa rnam pa gsum lus kyi las su 'dod na/ ji ltar na sems pa la de skad ces bya bar 'gyur zhe na/ des de gsod pa dang / len pa dang / log par g.yem par byed pa'i phyir ro/ /des bskyed pa'i lus kyi rgyud kyis byas pa ni des byas zhes bya ste/ 

Sumatishila, Annotated Commentary (Derge 98B-99A), explains:

To indicate that only distinct types of mental urges are body karmic impulses and so on and to exclude them being other (than those – namely, from being mind karmic impulses), (Vasubandhu) says, “out of the pathways of a karmic impulse” and so on. As for “get given these names,” it (refers to the names) “taking a life and so on.” 
In reference to (mental urges being given) those names, (a question by Vaibhashika) is raised: “When, out of the pathways of a karmic impulse, one divides them into three types that are body karmic impulses – taking a life and so on – how is it that they (these body karmic impulses) are designating with those conventions (‘taking a life’ and so on. There is this question) because, in your (Sautrantika) system, even body karmic impulses are mental urges, despite (the fact) that they (the mental urges) do not enact the taking of a life or the taking what has not been given or the engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior with desired women, whereas it is the revealing forms of the body that enact them?” 
(In response to) “Suppose you ask” and so on, the masterful teacher (Vasubandhu) has answered. His explanation is (given with) these very words that he spoke, “(That which the continuum of the body) generated by them” and so on.
(Tib.) /sems pa'i khyad par kho na la lus la sogs pa'i las rnam par gzhag pa dang / 'dir yang gzhan gyis 'gal bar bstan pa'i phyir/ las kyi lam rnams las zhes bya ba la sogs pa smras so/ /de skad ces bya bar 'gyur zhe na zhes bya ba ni srog gcod pa la sogs pa zhes bya bar ro/ /'di skad du las kyi lam rnams kyi nang nas srog gcod pa la sogs pas lus kyi las rnam pa gsum du rnam par phye la/ khyed kyi lugs kyis ni lus kyi las kyang sems pa la bya bas de'i phyir ji ltar na de la de ltar tha snyad gdags te/ des ni srog gcod pa dang ma byin par len pa dang / 'dod pa bud med rnams la log par g.yem par mi byed kyi/ 'on kyang lus kyi rnam par rig byed kyis de lta bur byed do zhes bstan pa yin no/ /des de zhes bya ba la sogs pas ni slob dpon gyis lan bstan pa yin te/ des zhes bya ba ni sems pas so/ /des bskyed pa'i zhes bya ba la sogs pas ni tshig smos pa 'di nyid 'grel pa yin no/

Vaibhashika asserts that the karmic impulses for actions of the body and speech are not the mental urges that bring on these actions, but rather they are two types of forms of physical phenomenon – a revealing form (rnam-par rig-byed-kyi gzugs, Skt. vijñāptirūpa) and a nonrevealing form (rnam-par rig-byed ma-yin-gyi gzugs, Skt. avijñāptirūpa). The revealing form for an action of the body is the shape of the body as a distinct substantial entity (rdzas, Skt. dravya) separate from the physical body that has grown from the biological body with which one has been born. The revealing form for an action of the speech is the sound of the words that are uttered.

Vaibhashika asserts that the revealing form, as the method implemented for causing the action to occur – for instance, the shape of the body while stabbing someone to death – enacts the action of taking a life. As such, the revealing form is the pathway of the karmic action of the mind of thinking with malice that scrutinizes and decides to kill someone and is designated as “taking a life.” Vaibhashika does not consider the mental urge that brings on the karmic action of the body as the pathway of the karmic action of the mind of thinking with malice. Therefore, Vaibhashika queries how the mental urge can be designated as taking a life and so on as Sautrantika asserts.

To explain this point of Sautrantika, Vasubandhu, A Discussion (Derge 144A-B), adds:

It is like saying a brigand burned the village and grass fuel cooked the rice gruel.
(Tib.) ji ltar chom rkun rnams kyis grong bsregs pa dang / rtswas ‘bras chan tshos zhes bya ba lta bu’o/

Sumatishila, Annotated Commentary (Derge 99A), explains:

As for “It is like” and so on, just as, when it is a fire set by brigands that burns a village and, similarly, it is a fire made by (burning) grass that cooks the rice gruel, one says, “brigands burned the village” and “grass cooked the rice gruel,” the meaning is, “this (way of speaking about mental urges) is like that.”  
(Tib.) /ji ltar zhes bya ba la sogs pa ni ji ltar chom rkun gyis spar ba'i mes grong bsregs pa dang / de bzhin du rtswa las byung ba'i mes 'bras chan tshos pa na chom rkun rnams kyis grong bsregs pa dang / rtswas 'bras chan tshos zhes zer te/ 'di yang de bzhin no zhes bya ba'i tha tshig go/ 

When Sautrantika says “a mental urge, as a karmic impulse, takes the life of someone,” then, it is to be understood as an abbreviated way of saying “taking the life of someone is caused by a movement of the body that is caused by a mental urge,” just as “brigands burned the village” is an abbreviated way of saying “the burning of a village is caused by a fire that is caused by brigands.”

Mental Urges as Pathways of Karmic Impulses

In Revealing Karma (Las gdags-pa, Skt. Karmaprajñapti) (Derge Tengyur vol. 139, 200B-201A), Buddha’s disciple Maudgalyayana (Mau-gal-gyi bu, Skt. Maudgalyāyana) states:

Suppose you ask, “When what are called the ‘pathways of the karmic impulses that are the ten destructive actions’ have been spelled out fully, then out of these pathways of the karmic impulses that are the ten destructive actions, are there those that are also karmic impulses as well as pathways of karmic impulses, and are there some that are pathways of karmic impulses and not karmic impulses?” Well, it has been said that seven are karmic impulses as well as pathways of karmic impulses – namely, taking a life, taking what was not given, engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior, lying, speaking divisively, speaking harshly, and chattering meaninglessly. And three are pathways of karmic impulses but not karmic impulses – namely, covetous thinking, thinking with malice, and distorted, antagonistic thinking. 
(Tib.) /mi dge ba bcu’i las kyi lam zhes bya ba nas rgyas par sbyar te / mi dge ba bcu’i las kyi lam gang yin pa de dag las/ du zhig las kyang yin la las kyi lam yang yin/ du zhig las kyi lam ni yin la las ni ma yin zhe na/ smras pa/ bdun ni las kyang yin la las kyi lam yang yin te/ srog gcod pa dang / ma byin par len pa dang / ‘dod pa la log par g.yem pa dang / brdzun du smra ba dang / phra ma dang / tshig rtsub po dang / tshig kyal pa rnams so/ /gsum ni las kyi lam yin la/ las ni ma yin te/ brnab sems dang / gnod sems dang / log par lta ba rnams so/

In reference to this passage, Vasubandhu, A Discussion (Derge 144B), raises the question:

Suppose (Vaibhashika) then asks, “How is it, then, that mental urges (that cause the body to move) are pathways of karmic impulses?” (Well then, Sautrantika replies,) since it is the case that they (these mental urges) are karmic impulses as well as pathways (leading to) both better rebirths and worse rebirths, therefore they (these mental urges) are (called) “pathways of karmic impulses.” 
Furthermore, movements of the body are (also) pathways of the (mental urges that are) karmic impulses because the three kinds of karmic impulses (the ones that course, decide and cause to move) called “mental urges” engage (the body) from positioning themselves (to be directed at it). And it is also because it is by means of those (mental urges) that the taking of a life, the taking of what was not given and the engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior (take place). (Moreover) it is in accord with worldly (conventions) that (movements of the body) are indicated as “body karmic impulses.” 
(Tib.) /ji ltar na sems pa las kyi lam yin zhe na/ de ni las kyang yin la bde 'gro dang / ngan 'gro gnyis kyi lam yang yin pas na las kyi lam mo/ /yang na lus g.yo ba las kyi lam ste/ sems pa zhes bya ba'i las rnam pa gsum ni de la brten nas 'jug pa'i phyir ro/ /des kyang srog gcod pa dang / len pa dang / log par g.yem pa'i phyir ro/ /'jig rten dag gi rjes su mthun pa de ni lus kyi las zhes bya bar yang ston to/

When Sautrantika says that a karmic impulse engages the body to commit the taking of a life and so on, then as above, it is short for saying that the karmic impulse (the mental urge) affects the mind of the agent so that the mental urge together with the consciousness and other accompanying mental factors, in conjunction with the wind element, bring about the movement of the body as the method implemented for causing an action of the body to occur. The mental urge and so on are able to bring about the movement of the body by positioning themselves to be directed at the body. Thus, in affecting the mind and the wind element, the mental urge that causes the movement of the body is said to engage the body to commit the taking of a life and so on,

Sumatishila, Annotated Commentary (Derge 99A), brings up an objection made by Vaibhashika:

Concerning “How is it, then,” and so on, according to the thought of others (the Vaibhashikas), “Taking a life and so on are in the self-nature of karmic impulses of the body and of the speech, and being like that, (the revealing forms of) body and speech are in the self-nature of karmic impulses. Because of that, it is correct that they (the revealing forms of body and speech) are in the nature of karmic pathways that are the ‘(karmic pathways of the mental urges that are their) inciting karmic impulses.’ However, it is incorrect that something in the nature of a mental urge is a karmic impulse for (an action of) body and speech, and, being like that, it too is a pathway of an (inciting) karmic impulse.” 
(Tib.) /ji ltar na zhes bya ba la sogs pa la/ 'dir gzhan gyi bsam pa ni gang gi ltar na srog gcod pa la sogs pa lus dang ngag gi las kyi rang bzhin yin pa de'i ltar na ni lus dang ngag las kyi rang bzhin yin pa'i phyir las sems pa zhes bya ba'i las kyi lam nyid du rigs kyi/ gang gi ltar na sems pa nyid lus la sogs pa'i las yin pa de'i ltar na las kyi lam du mi rigs so zhes bya ba 'di yin no/

An inciting karmic impulse (sems-pa’i las, cetanākarma) is the karmic impulse of a mental urge that is congruent with the action of the mind with which one scrutinizes and decides to commit an action of body or speech. 

  • Vaibhashika says that although the pathway of a karmic impulse for an action of the body or speech is the pathway that follows from such an inciting karmic impulse, the mental urge that brings on the action of the body or speech is not that pathway. It is the revealing form of the body or speech that is both the karmic impulse for the action and the pathway of the inciting karmic impulse. 
  • Sautrantika asserts that it is this mental urge that drives the action of the body or speech, and not some revealing form, that is the karmic impulse for the action of the body or speech and, as such, it is the karmic impulse that this prior urging brings about – in other words, it is the incited karmic impulse (bsam-pa’i las, Skt. cetayitvākarma) and thus the pathway that follows from an inciting karmic impulse. This mental urge that is the incited karmic impulse can also be considered a pathway of a karmic impulse in another sense. It is a karmic pathway to one of the better rebirth states or to one of the worse ones.

Sumatishila then, Annotated Commentary (Derge 99A), explains the Sautrantika response given by Vasubandhu:

With “(Well then,) since it is the case that they (mental urges) are karmic impulses” and so on, the masterful teacher (Vasubandhu) then indicates his response. As for “they (mental urges) are karmic impulses,” it is because they are in the self-nature of being themselves karmic impulses. As for “as well as pathways (leading to) both better rebirths and worse rebirths,” it is because it is by means of these (mental urges) having the self-nature of being constructive and so on that (limited beings) go to better rebirths and worse rebirths.
As for “(Furthermore,) movements of the body” and so on, this establishes the existence of something else, besides mental urges, that are pathways of karmic impulses. Cognition in which the body appears to stir (indicates that) here there is movement of the body. That is a pathway of a karmic impulse, because a pathway of the body is a pathway of a karmic impulse. 
When (the question is asked), “How is it, then, that mental urges are pathways of karmic impulses?” it is because of this: (Vasubandhu) says, “the three aspects of karmic impulses (the ones that course, decide and cause to move) called ‘mental urges.’” In other words, (mental urges are called pathways of a karmic impulse) “because (these three types of mental urges) engage (the body) from positioning themselves (to be directed at it),” (which means) “because they focus on causing the body to move and (in this way) they engage (the body).” As for “and also by means of those (mental urges)” and so on, it is also because of this that they (mental urges) are pathways of a karmic impulse. In other words, “and also by means of those (mental urges)” (means that) it is by means of (the body) being stirred (into motion) by those (mental urges) that (the taking of a life and so on take place) by means of the movements of the body. 
(Tib.) /de ni las kyang yin la zhes bya ba la sogs pas ni slob dpon gyis lan bstan pa yin no/ /las kyang yin la zhes bya ba ni sems pa ni rang gi las kyi rang bzhin yin pa'i phyir ro/ /bde 'gro dang ngan 'gro gnyis kyi lam yang yin pas na zhes bya ba ni dge ba la sogs pa'i rang bzhin des bde 'gro dang ngan 'gror 'gro ba'i phyir ro/ /lus g.yo ba zhes bya ba la sogs pa 'dis ni sems pa las logs shig na las kyi lam gzhan zhig yod pa nyid du sgrub par byed de/ lus 'gul bar snang ba'i shes pa ni 'dir lus g.yo ba yin no/ /de ni las kyi lam yin te/ lus kyi lam ni las kyi lam yin pa'i phyir ro/ /ji ltar na de las kyi lam yin zhe na/ de'i phyir/ sems pa zhes bya ba'i las rnam pa gsum ni zhes bya ba la sogs pa gsungs te/ de la brten nas 'jug pa'i phyir ro zhes bya ba ni lus g.yo ba la dmigs te 'jug pa'i phyir ro/ /de ni des kyang zhes bya ba la sogs pa 'di'i phyir yang las kyi lam yin te/ des kyang zhes bya ba ni sems kyis bskyod pas lus g.yo bas so/

The mental urges that cause the movement of the body – in conjunction with the consciousness and other accompanying mental factors that this mental urge affects – are the mental urges for the mental actions of coursing (scrutinizing whether to commit an action of the body) and of deciding to commit it and the mental urge for moving the body to commit the action. All three mental urges position not only themselves, but also all these aspects of the mind that accompany them to be directed at the body. This does not mean that they take the body as the focal object that they cognize. Rather, it means that by positioning themselves in this way, they direct their effect at the body and, in this way, cause the body to move in such a way that it implements a method for causing an action of the body to occur. Thus, movements of the body are the pathways of all three aspects of karmic impulses (mental urges) – those that cause the mind to scrutinize and decide to commit the action and the mental urge that causes the body to move. 

Sumatishila, Annotated Commentary (Derge 99A-B), continues his explanation of these lines:

Moreover, as for “it is in accord with worldly conventions” and so on, it means that it is not only that (movements of the body) are just called “pathways of karmic impulses,” but also that they are called “body karmic impulses.” Suppose you ask how is it that they are called “body karmic impulses?” It is because of this. (Vasubandhu) says, “it is in accord with worldly conventions.” But although this matches how it appears to ordinary worldly beings, ultimately it is not like that (it is not that movements of the body are body karmic impulses) because only the distinct types of mental urges (that cause the body to move) can be spoken of in terms of those words (“body karmic impulses.”)   
(Tib.) /gzhan yang 'jig rten dag gi rjes su mthun par de ni zhes bya ba la sogs pas ni de ni las kyi lam zhes bya ba 'ba' zhig tu ma zad kyi 'on kyang lus kyi las zhes bya'o zhes bya ba'i tha tshig go/ /ji ltar na de lus kyi las zhes bya zhe na/ de'i phyir 'jig rten dag gi rjes su mthun par zhes bya ba gsungs te/ 'jig rten rnams la ji ltar snang ba dang bstun par yin gyi don dam par ni ma yin te/ sems pa'i khyad par kho na la de skad ces brjod pa'i phyir ro/

Worldly convention calls pathways of karmic impulses – specifically, movements of the body in the case of karmic actions of the body – “body karmic impulses.” This is similar to the convention of translating karma as “actions” as many translators into modern languages do. But ultimately, a body karmic impulse does not refer to the actions of the body. “A body karmic impulse” means a “karmic impulse for an action of the body,” and, in the Sautrantika system, it refers to the mental factor of an urge that stirs the body so as to bring about the movement of the body that is the method implemented for causing the actions of the body to occur. 

Even when, in the Vaibhashika system, “a body karmic impulse” refers to the revealing form, it is the revealing form of the body as the method implemented to cause the action to occur. That revealing form is merely a component member of the karmic pathway, whereas it is the entire pathway that is the action of the body, as in the expression “the three destructive actions of the body” (lus-kyi mi-dge-ba gsum). According to the Vaibhashika presentation, the pathway of a karmic action of the body includes not only the revealing form as a method implemented for causing the action to occur, but also a basis toward which the action is directed, a correct distinguishing of that basis, and the reaching of a successful finale of the action.     

Movements of the Body Are Designated as Constructive and Destructive in Accord with the Mental Urges That Bring Them About

Vasubandhu, A Discussion (Derge 144B), goes on:

Although they (movements of the body) are neither constructive nor destructive, they have been (so) designated because it is through their gateway that ordinary persons will be led to engage themselves in (following out) those mental urges (that are constructive) and to turn way from (following out destructive ones). 
(Tib.) /de la dge ba dang / mi dge ba ni med mod kyi/ 'dogs par ni byed de/ de'i sgo nas sems pa de la 'jig rten 'jug pa dang / log par gzud pa'i phyir ro/

The Sautrantika assertion counters the Vaibhashika explanation for how actions of the body, such as taking a life, are designated as constructive or destructive despite the biological body being an unspecified phenomenon that is neither constructive nor destructive. The biological body is the ripened result (rnam-smin-gyi ‘bras-bu, Skt. vipākaphalam) of constructive and destructive karmic force built up from previous lifetimes, and ripened results are exclusively unspecified phenomena. 

Vaibhashika asserts that the actions of the body are designated as constructive or destructive because the karmic impulse that enacts the actions is the revealing form (the shape) that the body takes on when committing the action and not the biological body (the ripened body). The revealing form of the body and the ripened body constitute two separate substantial entities. The revealing form of the body is transparent like light and fits in the interstitial spaces between the particles of the ripened body. The revealing form is constructive, destructive or unspecified in accord with the disturbing or constructive emotion and/or attitude that accompanies the consciousness and other mental factors that cause it to arise (that motivate it). Thus, there is no contradiction between the ripened body being unspecified and the revealing form of the body being constructive, destructive or unspecified.

Sautrantika also asserts that the ripened body is an unspecified phenomenon, but does not accept revealing forms as being types of karmic impulses. It explains that actions of the body, and not the ripened body itself, are designated as constructive, destructive or unspecified in accord with the ethical status of the mental urges that cause them to arise (that motivate them) and those mental urges are karmic impulses. These mental urges are constructive, destructive or unspecified in accord with the disturbing or constructive emotion and/or unspecified attitude that accompanies them.

Sumatishila, Annotated Commentary (Derge 99B), explains:

Here, the words must be filled in that “Movements (of the body) are (in and of themselves) neither constructive nor destructive” because, ultimately, (their being) constructive or destructive comes about only in terms of differences in the mental urges (that bring them about). When (Vasubandhu) says, “They have been (so) designated,” (it means that) although they (the movements) are not (like this), they have been so designated (as constructive or destructive). 
Suppose you ask, why? (Vasubandhu) says, “It is through their gateway” and so on. As for “It is through their gateway,” this means, “It is through the gateway of the movements of the body (brought about) by the (three kinds of) mental urges positioning themselves (so as to be directed at the body).” As for “in (following out) those mental urges,” it is in (following out) constructive mental urges and so on that are in conjunction with movements of the body. As for “Ordinary persons will be led to engage themselves and to turn way,” it is because they will be led to engage in (following out) constructive (mental urges) and will be led to turn away from destructive ones.
(Tib.) /de la dge ba dang mi dge ba ni yod kyi zhes bya ba ni don dam par na sems pa'i khyad par kho na la dge ba dang mi dge ba la sogs pa yong ba'i phyir lus g.yo ba la ni de lta bu med do zhes bya ba'i tha tshig go/ /'dogs par ni byed de zhes bya ba ni med mod kyi 'on kyang 'dogs par ni byed do/ /ci'i phyir 'dogs she na/ de'i phyir/ de'i sgo nas zhes bya ba la sogs pa gsungs te/ de'i sgo nas zhes bya ba ni sems pa'i rten lus g.yo ba'i sgo nas zhes bya ba'i tha tshig go/ /sems pa de la zhes bya ba ni lus g.yo ba dang 'brel pa'i sems pa dge ba la sogs pa la'o/ /'jig rten 'jug pa dang ldog par gzud pa'i phyir ro zhes bya ba ni dge ba rnams la ni 'jug par gzud pa'i phyir la/ mi dge ba rnams la ni ldog par gzud pa'i phyir ro zhes bya ba'i tha tshig go/ 

Ordinary persons will not be led to engage in following out constructive mental urges and turning away from following out destructive mental urges if merely the mental urges are designated as constructive or destructive. They will, however, be led to do this by designating as constructive or destructive the movements of the body brought about by the mental urges that position themselves to be directed at the body. In other words, by designating movements of the body, such as when refraining or not refraining from taking a life and so on, as constructive or destructive, ordinary persons will be led to engage in refraining from doing them and turn away from not refraining. 

Summary

  • The exertional mental urges for karmic actions of the body, speech and mind are karmic impulses and thus are true origins of suffering; the functional mental urges for the cognition of objects are not karmic impulses and thus are not true origins of suffering. 
  • The karmic impulses in actions of the body and speech are not revealing forms or nonrevealing forms.
  • The karmic impulses that drive karmic actions of the body and speech are incited karmic impulses and thus the pathways of the inciting karmic impulses that are congruent with a preceding karmic action of the mind to scrutinize and decide to commit that action of the body or speech.
  • The movements of the body in karmic actions of the body are pathways of the karmic impulses (mental urges) that cause the mind to scrutinize and decide to commit the action and the karmic impulse (mental urge) that causes the body to move.
  • Karmic impulses (mental urges) are constructive, destructive or unspecified in accord with the constructive emotion, disturbing emotion or unspecified disturbing attitude that accompanies it. 
  • Movements of the body, as methods implemented for causing karmic actions of the body to occur, are designated as constructive, destructive or unspecified in accord with the ethical status of the karmic impulse (mental urge) that drives them.  
Top