Review of Karma and the Four Types of Karmic Results

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Brief Review

Definition of Karma

We have been discussing karma or, more fully karmic impulses, as a compulsiveness that is associated with our ways of acting, speaking and thinking. The karmic impulse for an action of the mind is the compelling urge that drives our thinking over and deciding to do or say something. The karmic impulse of an action of the body is the compulsive karmic impulse that is the motion of the body as a method implemented to cause the action to take place. The karmic impulse of an action of the speech is the compulsive karmic impulse that is the utterance of the sounds of syllables and words as a method implemented to cause the action to take place. In the case of the karmic impulses of actions of the body and speech, they both have revealing forms and, when strongly motivated, also nonrevealing forms.

Karmic Pathway

We also looked briefly at the pathways of karma impulses, which are equivalent to karmic actions, and we saw that karma is not the same as an action. A karmic pathway consists of: 

  • A basis at which our action is aimed, for example, some person.
  • A motivating framework, which consists of a distinguishing of the basis from possible other bases, an intention of what we wish to do to or with that basis, and a motivating constructive or destructive emotion.
  • An implementation of a method for causing the action to take place. 
  • A finale or outcome of the action when it reaches its goal.

The karmic pathway, and thus an action, is an imputation phenomenon that can only exist and be known together with all these components. The strength of the results of the action and the type of action that it will be end up being is dependent on how many of these factors are complete. For example, if we aim to kill somebody and we miss and kill somebody else by mistake, the strength of the karmic result is not as strong as if we killed the intended victim. If we only hit the person’s leg and they don’t die, we have not accomplished our intended goal of killing them. Our action has turned into an injuring of someone. Another example is if we yell nasty words at somebody and they didn’t hear us, then the action of speaking abusively is not complete. It has become idle chatter.

Revealing Forms and Nonrevealing Forms

In karmic actions of the body and speech, the motion of the body and the utterances of the sounds of speech as methods implemented to cause the actions to take place are revealing forms. They are forms of physical phenomena that reveal the ethical status of the motivation driving the actions, although not the specific motivation. The revealing form ends when the karmic pathway reaches its finale.

Karmic actions of the body and speech that are strongly motivated also have nonrevealing forms. These are subtle forms of physical phenomena that can only be known by mental consciousness. Their continuity begins with the start of a revealing form, but they continue with the mental continuum after the pathway has ceased and are only lost when, for instance, they are given up. For example, vowed restraints, as a nonrevealing form, cause us in each moment to refrain from committing an action that we have vowed to refrain from. 

Both revealing forms and nonrevealing forms are nonstatic phenomena – they change from moment to moment as they perform their functions. Karmic pathways of actions of the mind do not have either revealing forms or nonrevealing forms.

Karmic Aftermath 

We also spoke about karmic aftermath, which includes karmic potentials, karmic networks, karmic tendencies, and constant karmic habits. Karmic potential (or karmic force) may only be either destructive or tainted constructive. Thus, there is positive karmic potential and negative karmic potential. 

In the case of karmic actions of the mind, the karmic pathway as an imputation phenomenon is a karmic potential. But since the compelling karmic impulse (the mental urge) that drives the pathway is not a part of the pathway, the karmic impulse is not a karmic potential. When the karmic pathway reaches its finale, the karmic potential undergoes a phase transition and becomes a karmic potential having the essential nature of a karmic tendency.

In the case of karmic actions of the body and speech, again the karmic pathway as an imputation phenomenon is a karmic potential. However, the compulsive karmic impulses here, which are revealing forms and nonrevealing forms, are parts of the karmic pathway and so they too are karmic potentials. When the karmic pathway reaches its finale, the karmic potential that is the revealing form becomes a karmic potential having the essential nature of a karmic tendency. The nonrevealing form continues as a karmic potential after the pathway reaches its finale and undergoes this phase transition only when it is given up – for example, when one gives up one’s vows.

A network of karmic potential – specifically, a network of positive potential – is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of all the positive karmic potential on one’s mental continuum. The individual karmic potentials network together so that they reinforce each other. The more frequently we commit a constructive action, the more karmic potential we build up and the stronger the karmic network becomes. 

The second type of karmic aftermath is karmic tendencies. They are unspecified phenomena, neither destructive nor constructive. They can go either way depending on other factors that will accompany their ripening. These are the so-called “seeds of karma.” 

Both karmic potentials and karmic tendencies give results intermittently, which means only sometimes and not all the time. However, we also have karmic constant habits, which give their result every moment of our existence until we become enlightened. They produce our limited awareness, our limited minds. 

This is a lot of information and unless we go over it and work with it a long time, it’s difficult to remember it all. If we just get the main idea that it’s very complicated and that karma and its aftermath have many parts that are changing every moment, strengthening and weakening, that is enough to start with.

Introduction to Karmic Results

Now we need to add one more list about karma, the list of the various types of karmic results. When we speak about karma and who is to blame, what we experience are both karmic impulses and their results. Karmic impulses bring about karmic aftermath, and karmic aftermath ripens into karmic results. 

Of course, karma doesn’t explain everything. There are more things involved with what we experience than just karmic factors. For instance, there are the tendencies of our emotions, both the disturbing ones and the positive ones. These tendencies are also imputation phenomena going along with our mental continuum, and they give intermittent results that contribute to the incredible network of variables involved with what we experience each moment. 

There are also material causes of some components of our experience like, for instance, the sperm and egg of our parents giving rise to our body. There are things that other people do as a result of their karmic aftermath. One of the karmic results of our karmic aftermath is being drawn into experiencing our being taken as the basis in the karmic pathways of others. But our karmic aftermath doesn’t cause others to do what they do to us; their karmic aftermath causes them to do what they do. Therefore, what we need to overcome is this very narrow-minded, restricted view of “me” as being to blame for whatever happens to “poor me.” We need to deconstruct the whole picture to get a much wider view. 

Whatever happens to us is something that arises dependently – remember the term “dependent arising” – on an unbelievable number of factors that are changing all the time, and each variable is affected by different causes and conditions. Even if we don’t know all these variables, just to appreciate the complexity of causality of what we experience helps us to loosen this constrictive idea of “Me, poor me, I am to blame; I am so guilty.”

An Opponent to Naivety about Karma

If we have naivety – a form of ignorance with which we are naive about karmic cause and effect and think we are to blame for everything that happens to us, independently of anything else – then two of the opponents we need to apply are gross detection and subtle discernment. These are mental factors employed in the development of shamatha and vipashyana. Shamatha is a stilled and settled state of mind, having perfect concentration. We won’t go into all the details. Vipashyana is an exceptionally perceptive state of mind gained on top of a state of shamatha. 

With shamatha, we rid ourselves of mental dullness, mental wandering, and flightiness of mind. At least some level of this is necessary in order to analyze our experience in terms of karma and other affecting variables. This is why I was saying that it’s very helpful to start with focusing on a general idea of how unbelievably complex what we experience is; it’s made up of so many changing different parts all networked together, all with their own causes. Just to have shamatha focused on that is very beneficial. Vipashyana adds on top of that an exceptional perception of all the details, simultaneously, within the context of the general idea. With gross detection we become aware of the main factors involved, and with subtle discernment we add the specific details. 

Let me give an example of the difference between these two mental factors. Last night, I went to the Bolshoi Ballet and aside from the fact that it was fantastic, it really gave me a very good example of the difference between gross detection and subtle discernment. If we are watching the stage with a lot of dancers on it, something similar to shamatha would be to focus with concentration and a wide scope of vision on the whole scenario of all the dancers. However, while concentrating on the whole scenario of all the dancers, it’s very difficult to discern any specific dancer or the expression on their face and all the details. If we focus on one of the dancers, we lose the whole picture. With shamatha, we focus on the whole stage. While focusing with concentration on the whole stage, then with something similar to vipashyana we would be aware of each of the dancers simultaneously with gross detection and, with subtle discernment, we would be aware simultaneously of all the details of every single dancer. Not exactly easy to do.

Since the World Cup is going on now in Russia, when we are watching it on TV, notice the difference between when we see the whole field and all the players running around, and how it is very difficult to focus on what each player is doing. We see the whole general picture and that would be shamatha. What we really want to achieve, which is much more advanced, is vipashyana on top of that to be able to see and know very clearly each player and what each is doing in each moment.

Therefore, starting with the general idea of karma is good enough. Later, we will add in the details. It’s exactly the same when we do a very complicated tantric visualization. We get the general picture and then later add in all the details. It’s the same process.

Overview of the Complexity of Types of Causes and Effects

There is a very complicated analysis of different types of causes and different types of effects. It’s very sophisticated. Each causal factor can function as many different types of causes simultaneously. Each causal factor can also give rise to several different types of results. Any result that arises is the result of several different causes together. We never have a one-to-one correlation, that one cause gets one result. These cause-and-effect relationships also don’t just happen one time. Causes can give results many times.

In addition, results don’t sit inside the karmic aftermath as their cause, already fixed and unchangeable, and just waiting for the circumstances to arise so that they can pop out. Karmic aftermaths are nonstatic phenomena and are affected by everything that we do. By being affected by what we do subsequent to their causes, the results that can ripen from them also change. No karmic result is predetermined and fixed.   

Without knowing all the details – because the specifics are unbelievably complicated – just having a general idea is enough. Remember the whole purpose of all of this is to deconstruct the grasping for everything we are experiencing to be so solid and one big, horrible mess. We want to deconstruct that grasping. By understanding merely the fact that there is complexity, we start to deconstruct it.

For example, a big solid “me” thinks, “What I am experiencing is so horrible, poor ‘me.’ I am experiencing it because I’m guilty, because it’s my fault.” This is such a solid view of what we are experiencing, we need to deconstruct it and see that what we are experiencing is arising dependently on so many different factors. The way that things appear and feel like to us doesn’t correspond to reality. That’s what voidness is all about. There is a total absence of something that corresponds to what we imagine. There is nothing backing up our projections.

Types of Karmic Results

I will go through the list of karmic results fairly quickly.  

Ripened Results

Ripened results are always unspecified, meaning that they can become either destructive or constructive depending on what accompanies them. By themselves, they are ethically neutral. These refer to the unspecified items in the five aggregates of the rebirth state into which we are born. When a set of karmic potentials gets activated at the time of our death, a throwing karmic impulse arises. This throwing karmic impulse propels our mental continuum to the sperm and egg, for instance, of that rebirth state. With the activated karmic potential serves merely as the ripening cause. The actual unspecified aggregates, for instance the body with which we are born – whether a human body or a fly body – comes from the elements, DNA and so on of the parents as their obtaining cause. Our dying consciousness serves its simultaneously acting condition. Both human and fly bodies are neither constructive nor destructive. The critical thing is what we do with our bodies.

A lot of things come together with the package of the body, don’t they? For instance, our instinctive responses. If we have a human body and we’re happy, we smile. If we have dog body and we’re happy, we wag our tail. This comes with the package of the DNA of the body. Also, the type of body we have comes with a specific type of cognitive sensors and their capacity – are they human eyes or fly eyes? Flies see things quite differently from the way humans see them. Also involved is the range of the consciousnesses that we have. Dogs can smell and hear much more than humans can. 

Additionally, the ripened results include the range of the feelings of happiness and unhappiness that we can experience. These too are neither constructive nor destructive. Hell beings can experience far greater suffering than humans. 

Ripened results also include other unspecified mental factors, like concentration, that go with the hardware. The capacity of the concentration we can have as a human or a fly differs greatly just because of the limitations of the type of brain we have. Basically, we are talking about the hardware of the body that we are drawn to take and thrown into by throwing karma. 

Not all the components of the five aggregates with which we are born, however, are ripened results. The constructive and destructive emotions, for example, are not ripened results, since ripened results are only unspecified phenomena. The types and intensities of the emotions come from their own individual tendencies.

The Results that Correspond to Their Cause in Our Behavior

Some people think that the second type of result – a result that corresponds to its cause in our behavior – refers to repeating actions we have done before. But karmic impulses do not ripen from other karmic impulses or directly from karmic aftermath. There is always some sort of intermediary.

This result refers to the mental factor of instinctively liking to commit a certain type of karmic action similar to what we have done before. Because of instinctively liking to yell at people, for example, then when certain circumstances are present, the thought arises to yell at someone. We feel like yelling at the person. Then, with the intention of wanting to yell at them, we might take the time to think it over and consciously decide to yell at them. But we might also skip that step. Only then would the compulsive karmic impulse arise of a revealing form – in this case, the form of the utterances of words as the method we would employ to cause the act of yelling to take place. With that revealing form, we yell.

If we can slow down this sequence and become aware of each of the steps, we gain a tremendous insight. We realize that there are gaps between when we feel like doing something, when we decide to do it, and when we actually do it. We can catch and take advantage of those gaps to apply discriminating awareness. When we feel like saying something stupid, we realize that it is stupid, so why say it? With discriminating awareness, then, we don’t say it.

The Results That Correspond to Their Cause in Our Experience

The results that correspond to their cause in our experience refer to the unconscious attraction that we have to get into situations in which something happens to us similar to what we have done to others. For example, we are unconsciously attracted to getting into relationships in which the other person will verbally or physically abuse us. Our karmic aftermath doesn’t ripen into them hitting us, for instance, but into getting into a relationship with that kind of person in the first place. It is the result of their karmic aftermath that they like to abuse and hit people they are in a relationship with.

That’s a very important difference. The other person has some responsibility for hitting us. It’s not our fault that someone hits us. We may contribute to the circumstances that cause the other person to hit us, like by saying something or doing something that triggers the other person’s anger and response. However, the fact that the person responded by hitting us is from their karmic aftermath.

The objects that we experience, like the pain of being hit and the bruise that comes from that, arise from their own causes. Those are mechanical causes that arise because of this type of body that we have that can experience pain and get a bruise. We have nerves and very thin skin. 

But if we had leprosy, for example, we wouldn’t feel the pain.

An amusing example of this type of karmic result in my own life is that, inevitably, almost every time that there are queues or lines at check-out counters in the supermarket or when going through customs and checking a passport and things like that, I almost always choose the slowest line. The fact that the line is slow isn’t being caused by me. However, it’s unbelievable how almost every time I choose the worst line to go on. That’s a karmic result. There can be many examples of this type of result and if we understand it like this, actually we can laugh at it. It makes it much easier than getting angry and swearing. The lesson for me to learn from this is to have more patience when I have to wait on a line.

The Dominating or Comprehensive Results

Along with the throwing karmic impulse a completing karmic impulse also arises from the activation of karmic potential at the time of death. As a result, the throwing karmic impulse propels our mental continuum to the aggregates of a rebirth in a rebirth state that is in circumstances that are shared in common with others, for example being born as a human in a polluted environment. 

The fact that the environment is polluted is merely the dominating result of our karmic potential. It’s also the result of many other causes, not to say that we couldn’t have helped pollute it in a previous life. Another example is being born in a place where the quality of manufactured products is poor, so that whatever we buy quickly falls apart and breaks. In addition, as an example of the previous type of result, unknowingly we are drawn to choosing and buying the one item on the shelf that turns out to be defective. 

A Level of Happiness or Unhappiness

The mental factor of feeling a level of happiness is defined as the manner in which we experience the ripening of our karmic aftermath. In other words, the feeling is some level on the spectrum spanning happiness and unhappiness that accompanies our experience of the above four types of karmic results. Happiness is what ripens from constructive karmic potential and unhappiness is what ripens from destructive karmic potential. Thus, we could experience any of the above karmic ripenings with any level of happiness or unhappiness, because the feeling and the karmic ripening are coming from different karmic potentials.