This weekend we’re going to be speaking about karma, and although the topic is announced as “karma: free will versus predetermination,” that will be just a part of what we’ll talk about. I’d like to go into some detail about what karma is, and what the various mental factors are that are involved with karma, and how karma works, so that we have a general idea of how does the question of free will versus predetermination fit into the Buddhist presentation of karma. Also I know that there are many questions that people have about karma and so I’d like to try to weave different themes here into our weekend. But we need to be quite clear from the very beginning that Buddha mentioned himself that karma is the most difficult thing to understand in his teachings, far more difficult to understand than voidness. So if it’s complicated and if there are many aspects in it that we can’t understand, then that’s not something which we should be surprised at. That is of course the way that it is. Also we should realize that there are many explanations of karma within Buddhism. There’s not just one explanation, and so this means that we can understand how karma works in many, many different ways, and the different systems will give us different insights into how karma works.
There’s a presentation in the Theravada system which is very different from the presentations that we have in the systems that the Tibetans studied from India and it’ll be just, I think, too confusing and complicated to try to cover the Theravada presentation as well; but we should at least be aware that it’s quite different. Within those presentations that Tibetans study and follow, we have the Vaibhashika one which comes from Vasubandhu, an India master, in his text Abhidharmakosha. But in his commentary, he modified that and gave a Sautrantika position. And in other texts that he wrote, he modified it even more and gave a Chittamatra explanation. So this is a good example of how one master can develop in his life different systems and explain things from different ones.
In addition to Vasubandhu’s texts, the Tibetans study Asanga’s texts. One of them is Abidharmasamuccaya, but he wrote several others as well, and they take material from all of them. And this presents karma from the Chittamatra point of view, and it has many points I should say that are similar to what the Sautrantikas accept, and it’s also what the Svatantrika Madhyamaka accepts as well and, in the non-Gelugpa schools, also Prasangika Madhyamaka. When we get to the Gelugpa version of Prasangika, they accept something similar to Vasubandhu’s Vaibhashika position, but changed according to the Prasangika understanding of voidness. So for those of you who are familiar with these different tenet systems, that makes a little bit of sense. For those of you who are not, then it doesn’t really matter, don’t worry. It’s just that there are several distinct systems for explaining karma and we can gain insights from all of them. And consequently, because of that, of course it’s complicated and can be confusing because there are so many different explanations.
But I think there is enough in common in Vasubandhu and Asanga’s systems, and the way that Gelug Prasangika interprets that, that we can look at a common store of explanations about karma so that we can actually work with it in our daily lives. And so I’ll try to explain from that point of view of the common material, but in certain points indicate the main different positions. Also I should point out that it is not just the Tibetans that follow a course of studying both Vasubandhu and Asanga’s approach to karma. The Chinese did that as well in the Chinese traditions that actually emphasize studying the Indian literature.
Okay. Now karma has basically two varieties – this is what all these schools say. There is the karma that relies on the mind (this is mental karma) and it is equivalent to the mental factor of an urge (bsam-pa). It’s the mental factor that moves the primary consciousness and its accompanying mental factors to an object. And because it’s a mental factor, it is differentiated here from the energy-wind or the lung that performs the same function. So there’s an energy-wind that moves the package of the primary consciousness – let’s say the visual consciousness – with all its attendant mental factors: attention, concentration, etc., disturbing emotions or whatever – it moves it to an object. So energy-wind does that and also a mental factor does that; and that mental factor is an urge, it’s called, and that’s equivalent to karma, mental karma. This is called urging karma. And then the second type is a karma that relies on either the body or speech. This is physical or verbal karma, and it’s driven by and based on the karma of an urge, and it’s what draws the body or the speech into an action. That’s called urged karma. So there’s one that draws the mind to an object and there’s one that derives from that, that draws the body and speech into an action.
From the point of view of Asanga, both of these are mental urges. Vasubandhu and the Prasangika have a slightly different explanation of the urged karma and that’s a little bit more complicated – there, it’s actually a form of energy, in their system. But what’s interesting here to note if we look at Asanga’s system as the basic system, if we look at Gyaltsab Jey’s commentary – the way he describes it is that karma is like a magnet, and the mind (or the speech, or the body, whatever it is) is like a piece of iron, and the karma is what moves, by its own power, the mind to an object. So it’s not that the karma (the urge) comes first and then the mind moves; it’s what actually is moving the mind. It’s like a force in physics, but it’s a mental force and of course there’s an energy there as well.
For the physical and verbal, Vasubandhu and the Prasangika are saying that it’s more an energy. Asanga says both of them (both the urging and the urged) are mental factors and Theravada agrees with that – that both are mental urges. And so it’s very important in this presentation to realize that karma is not at all an action – it’s the motivating urge that brings on an action. So that’s really a very misleading translation of the word karma, to call it an action. The question is, is that a literal meaning? Not really. Karma is from the verb kr (“to do”), that’s true, but it’s not so much the action – it’s what does or makes; it’s the maker, the doer. And so what does it do? It brings the mind to an object, or the body and speech to an action.
Now, also, the usual English rendering of the word “urge” as “volition” and then speaking of karmic actions as volitional actions, that’s also misleading. We have to correct that and be a little bit more precise. “Volition” implies will, or an act of will, and thus it’s closer to the actual word “intention,” and so this also we have to clarify. An urge and an intention are two quite distinct mental factors. Asanga defines intention (‘dun-pa) as the wish to possess a desired phenomenon; it serves as the basis for undertaking something with joyful perseverance. The phenomenon here could be objects, states of mind, or actions. And then Gyaltsab Jey comments on the definition – he says that it is a mental factor that’s aimed at a phenomenon that has been thought about, and which has keen interest in it. The intention could be the wish to meet with something that you’ve previously cognized or done – you’ve thought about it and there’s the wish to meet with it again – that’s intention. Or the wish not to be parted from something that’s presently cognized or presently being done – the intention not to stop eating. Or it could be keen interest in something to be attained or done in the future – an intention to go to the movies later. So there can be no intention concerning something, without having previously thought about it. That indicates that we need to have become certain about a phenomenon before having an intention about it.
So it’s actually, when we talk about what ripens from the karmic aftermath, it’s usually this intention – that’s one of them: the wish to do something. The urge (karma) doesn’t ripen from karmic aftermath. It’s the wish to do something that then brings on an urge – the intention that then brings on the urge to do it. It’s not the urge to do it. It’s the urge that brings us into the action of doing it. What ripens from karma – one of the things that ripens – is the wish to do something. So it would be an intention. And it’s from that, that we get an urge which actually brings the mind and then, based on that, brings the body and speech into an action – based on that intention. According to Vasubandhu there is an intention with every moment of cognition, but he doesn’t stipulate (as Asanga and Gyaltsab Je do) that the intention has to be about something that you have thought about and ascertained (in other words, become certain of beforehand). It’s not that you have to have become certain about a certain object, or a certain action, before you can have an intention to acquire it or not let go of it, and so on. Nevertheless, in each moment there is still a general intention, which is a wish to do something. And this is what Vasubandhu says is present in each moment.
Now, if we look at the analysis that Vasubandhu gives to intention, then it gives us a whole different insight or picture into what does it mean when, in the West, we speak about certain actions that are intentional and certain actions that are unintentional. So let’s say you drive your car and you hit somebody. Well, you had no intention to hit the person, but you did have the intention to drive the car. So then you get into the discussion of whether or not the result of the action is what you intended. That’s a different discussion. But everything has an intention, otherwise you wouldn’t do it.
So it’s these kinds of differences that we have to be very, very careful about in trying to understand the consequences of unintentional actions, and so on, and not be misled by some of the English (and probably the German) translations of these terms: of karma as “actions” and urges as “volition.” And thinking that karma is just volitional actions – and if you didn’t intend it, it’s not karma. It’s not like that. It’s much more complicated. And it’s not really that complicated – it’s fairly precise. It’s just one has to keep the definitions clear. That’s always the problem in understanding this material: we just go by the words that the early translators have chosen and we’re not aware of the definitions. And so we think that these words mean what they mean in our own language and they don’t.
Could you explain once more the order between the intention and the urge? What’s happening here? And is there a gap somewhere in which we can make choices?
Well, let me explain. First there is an intention – you wish to do something. You know: I want to do something; I want to repeat what I did in the past; I want to continue and not stop what I’m doing now; or I want to do something next, in the future. And then we speak about the mental karma. The mental karma would be: then, there’s the urge that draws my mind into thinking, “Yes, I’ll do that.” Now, there is a gap here between the intention and the urge. In other words, the intention or wish comes up to, for instance, go to the refrigerator and take something to eat. We would experience that as a feeling comes up – I feel like going to the refrigerator and getting something to eat. And then there’s a gap between that and the urge which actually draws our mind into thinking, either verbally or nonverbally, “I am going to go to the refrigerator and get something to eat.” Now, after that may come another intention or wish, which would be the wish to actually move my body toward the refrigerator, and move my hand to open the refrigerator, and take something out of it to eat. Now here comes another gap between that and the urge which would actually drive us to go to the refrigerator and follow out that wish or feeling to actually go there. And so, these are two gaps that we experience between the intention and the urge; and it is here where the choice comes in. You often ask about: is there a gap where we can make a choice between when the feeling comes up to do something and we actually do it? And this is where it is. This is how we would explain it.
How is it with some things, for example, the urge to go to bed?
First, you feel like going to bed – that’s the intention. I feel like going to bed. I notice that I’m sleepy – so some information comes in. And then: I feel like going to bed, I have interest in going to bed – that’s the intention. Then there’s an urge (mental karma) that causes me to think: “I’m going to go to bed now.” So we make the decision: “I’m going to go to bed now.” And then there’s an urge that brings the body into the action of getting into bed – that’s the physical karma.
But what you’re saying is that there could be another intention going on – that actually I don’t want to go to bed. I want to stay up and meditate all night.
Right, so then we have – so this is interesting – so then another intention comes up, a wish to stay up all night. So now two things are ripening from two different groups of karmic aftermaths. One is feeling like going to sleep; the other is feeling like staying up and meditating. Then you have a mental factor that is, you know, consciousness is aware of this. And then you have a mental factor of indecisive wavering (the-tshoms): which shall I do, this or that? And then, eventually, you would get – if you make a decision – you would get the mental factor of discriminating awareness (shes-rab) that discriminates between – this is what I want to do, and this is what I don’t want to do. And then conviction (mos-pa), which actually makes the decision that definitely this is what I’m going to do and what I’m not going to do. And then an urge – and you think: “Yes, now I’m going to meditate” – so it’s the mental karma that draws the mind into thinking that. And even then you have a gap – you might decide that you don’t, or that the telephone rings or something. And then you would have the physical karma, which is the urge that actually moves your body into sitting down and starting to meditate.
And then you fall asleep!
So what is that? Sleepiness arises as a mental factor that accompanies the meditation. Then the intention or feeling like: “I feel like going to sleep.” And then it’s not so much that you think to go to sleep – it’s that the mental karma would draw the mind into a state of sleep.
What’s the role of discriminating awareness here?
Discriminating awareness discriminates this is what I want to do from this is what I don’t want to do – that’s what it discriminates. This is beneficial; this is not beneficial. Then if we follow Asanga’s definition of intention (which is that it’s based on having thought about something and come to a decision), then we have, based on this discriminating awareness, for instance, that I discriminate that this is what I want to do: I want to go to sleep and I don’t want to stay up and meditate. Then comes the intention, which would be the wish or feeling to go to sleep which is based on this decisiveness. Now it’s after this that an urge would come with which your mind would actually think: “Yes, I am going to go to sleep.”
Is it a rationally thought out intention or not?
Gyaltsab Je says very clearly that it has to be something you’ve thought about before, deliberated about. And then you have a whole discussion of actions that you enter into without having deliberated it before, those that you have deliberated before – what are the results of each of them – and so on. If you haven’t deliberated it before, like I haven’t thought: “Ah, I’m going to drive my car in order to kill insects.” I didn’t think it out and decide that’s what I’m going to do. I just had the intention to drive the car. Then that’s an example of a karma about which there’s no certainty of when it will ripen. It’s not that there’s no certainty whether it will ripen at all. One has to make this differentiation. I mean these are the things I want to get into in this weekend.
There’s a difference between karma that there’s no certainty that it will ripen at all, and karma which is what they’re mostly talking about – which is that there’s no certainty about when it will ripen: this lifetime, next lifetime, or in some lifetime after that. And that can be really weakened further and further, so it’s really very distant; like doing a lot of Vajrasattva mantra. So the whole thing is a fairly complex system, but once you get the idea it’s not so difficult, actually, to get the general principles of what’s involved. But one has to be quite precise about the mental factors and the steps that are involved.
But sometimes the process seems to be fairly unconscious, without thinking – for instance, there can be some cookies on the table and we think I’m not going to take one, but then we take one anyway.
This is a differentiation between the mental karma and physical karma. It has to do with the causal motivation and the contemporaneous motivation. Causal motivation could be one thing: I have the thought to not eat it. But then what actually drives me to eat it is a completely different motivation which drives the body to actually take it – it’s another one. So the urging karma doesn’t have to lead to the urged karma being the same thing. As I say, it’s fairly complex. And what I wanted to add was this thing about when we had the discriminating awareness – I’m going to do this and not do that; I’m going to meditate and not sleep – and then there is the mental factor of conviction, in which you definitely decide that you are going to do that – decisiveness (nges-pa) is added to the thing.
Now you ask, well, where does the “me” come in who has made this choice? And this is what we have to be: I mean this is – I’m jumping ahead of our discussion, but we might as well bring it in here as an introductory prelude – that you have to remember there’s no independent “me” from the system. We think: “I am independent from the whole thing and then I’m going to choose one or the other.” That’s a completely false view of “me” as totally independent from the aggregates. The “I” is what is labeled onto this whole process. And so from an experiential point of view, it’s experienced as “I made the decision,” but it’s not that there’s a separate “me” from the whole system making the decision. The decision has happened, it has arisen, based on many, many, many, many factors. We can get into the whole discussion of causality. One discussion of causality – that is called the acting cause – in which everything except what actually happens is the cause for it, either directly or indirectly. So everything is interconnected in the universe. All of history, the development of this universe, is responsible for the cookies being on the table that I have the urge to eat. Everything is involved in the causation process.
Alright, so it’s not my fault! I mean, this gets into another thing – that again there’s an independent “me” from the whole system that’s to blame. The dinosaurs are responsible for the cakes being on the table. They are to blame. So the understanding of this whole issue of who makes decisions, and is there free will and determination, and so on, has to be understood in terms of the Buddhist explanation of how the self exists. And the fallacies all come up from thinking that there is a “me” independent from the whole system of what’s going on. So then one really has to understand the relationship between the “me” and the aggregates. So karma is so complicated and difficult to understand – more than voidness, because voidness is just one little piece that you have to understand in order to understand karma.
Let me just add with this example of taking the cookie; Asana gives a long list of different types of constructive and destructive actions, and that taking the cookie doesn’t have to necessarily be motivated by greed or desire for the cookie. It can arise simply from strong habit. I am not hungry; there’s not this – I have longing desire for this cookie – but just out of habit you stuff it in your mouth.
Concerning certain actions that we do in our life, we intend something to happen; so we commit an action that we hope is going to bring about that aim, but it doesn’t bring about that aim at all. What is this?
This is very thoroughly analyzed in the Buddhist presentation of karma. For a certain pathway of karma (it’s called the pathway of impulse), the actual action itself has to be initiated and has to reach its conclusion. Now you can initiate an action, but it doesn’t reach its conclusion. You shoot somebody with the wish to kill them and it doesn’t reach their conclusion, you’ve missed. Or you shoot them in the arm and they don’t die. So in fact the act that’s completed, which is of wounding somebody, is different from the act that was initiated. So then you haven’t committed the action of killing somebody – although that was your intention – you’ve committed the act that wounded somebody. So the consequences follow from a mental karma of thinking to kill somebody and from a physical karma of wounding somebody. So one has to start to analyze much more precisely what’s going on. It’s not the case that we initiate an action and it reaches the conclusion that we intend. Not at all. So often when – and we’ll get into this on the weekend – but all the different factors have to be complete for a certain action to have happened. When some of the factors aren’t there, what happens is that it deconstructs into a different action. So this example of shooting somebody to kill them – because it didn’t reach the conclusion (the person didn’t die) then it deconstructs into just wounding somebody. Or they say that, “Well, you didn’t kill the person so there’s no karma of killing.” Yes, there’s no karma of killing, it’s true, but there is the karma of thinking to kill, and there is the karma of wounding somebody. It’s not that there’s no karma. “Karma” I’m using here in a very loose sense.
I was thinking of a cowboy film I saw recently and somebody whose father was killed by the “baddie.” And he spent the next twenty years training to be the best shot in the West, so that he eventually killed the baddie. So presumably that’s all tied in as well. If I try to shoot somebody but I just haven’t learned how to shoot, then that’s different from if I have spent the last ten years learning.
Right, as in the cowboy film, somebody who spends ten or twenty years training to be a good shot so that they can actually kill somebody – the karmic results of that killing is much heavier than somebody who, without any training, just shoots and happens to hit the person and kill them. Sure. This goes into the big long discussion of all the factors that make the ripening of karma heavier or lighter. So how much you planned it, and how much effort you put into it, and how long, and so on, affects, of course, the ripening. So eventually, the more we think about karma, the larger and larger our minds become because you have to bring in so many different factors. Eventually, you have to bring in everything. That’s why it’s the most difficult thing to understand. That only a Buddha can understand it fully because only a Buddha has the omniscience of knowing everything. And it’s based on a Buddha knowing everything (being omniscient) and specifically knowing all the factors of karma, that a Buddha knows all the causal factors of why somebody is in a certain mental state that they’re in, and what would be the effect of teaching them something, and then what would be the best thing to teach, and the effect that that would have on everybody that this person meets with, forever.
When somebody shoots somebody and they miss, then this is the result of whose karma?
Well, everything that happens is the result of many, many different factors, not just the result of one thing. Buddha said a bucket is filled not by the first drop or the last drop, but by a whole collection of drops of water. So the person could shoot and because their hand moved, or they sneezed, or something like that, they got distracted at concentration. That could be the reason why they missed. Or it could be that the person that they were aiming at moved, and for that reason they missed. These are the various circumstances that are coming up. So let’s say, for instance, you move – what is that the result of? You would have to say that’s the result of an unspecified action; that’s not the result of a constructive or a destructive action. So you might have the karma to be killed, but you have many other karmic factors that arise. So it’s not that a factor arises of “not to be killed,” although it could be. In other words, what I’m saying is that there are many, many different factors which are involved in why an action wouldn’t reach its intended conclusion – some of which are happening from our side, some of which are happening from the other person’s side.
This is the difficult question: Let’s say I cross the street and I am hit by a car – did my karma cause the car to hit me? Well, you can’t really say that. Then you get into a very solipsistic view of the universe: that everything is caused by me. I didn’t cause the other person to drive the car at that time. Does my karma ripen for me to cross the street at just the time that the other person is going to be driving? Well, no, you can’t say that either, because that again seems that I am influencing the other person driving. So you have to say that there are many, many causes and circumstances that are ripening from the other person’s side for them to drive the car at a certain time. And here is another circumstance from my side: that I’m crossing the street. Now, these can act as circumstances for my karma to be hit and the other person’s karma to hit somebody to ripen. But you have to differentiate between a cause of something and a circumstance.
There are always plenty of circumstances for something to ripen. So then it gets into the very difficult discussion of what causes this to ripen, and this circumstance and not that. And there has to be sufficient circumstances for something to ripen, in addition to the mental factors on our side of craving and grasping for an identity and all this stuff which causes a karmic aftermath to ripen. So there are many, many factors that are involved. And then the question is how far are you going to take it? Because then you have to start asking how did the karma know that the other person was going to be driving the car at just that time, so that you crossed it at just that time – and that gets pretty weird. So it’s just a dependent arising on many, many things.
What is the relationship between karmic causes and the circumstances for karmic causes to ripen?
Let’s say I drive my car and there is a rainstorm, and the road is slippery, and I have an accident – I smash into a tree. Did my karma cause the rainstorm? You can’t really say that. The rainstorm came from many, many other causes. It acted as a circumstance. So you live in a place that has rainstorms; you happen to feel the strong intention and urge to drive at that time – but it didn’t cause the rainstorm.
So all of this is dealing with the very complicated question: is everything that happens in the universe the result of my karma? This example of everything that happens in the universe is my fault. I am reminded of someone that I knew, that when they would go to a football game and their team lost, they would say that my team lost because I was there. Because I went there, it was my fault. This type of real paranoia – maybe paranoia isn’t the correct word here, but really sick.
Chittamatra doesn’t say that I’m the only one that exists in the universe and that everything is created from my mind. It talks about collective karma, shared karma, and so on, but there’s no findable basis outside that we’re all sharing. But of course the Chittamatra position of no external phenomenon and then how you account for the existence of other sentient beings is rather difficult. It certainly doesn’t say that everybody exists in my head and my karma’s the sole thing that’s influencing everything that happens in the universe. Certainly not. Everything is interconnected. So you can say, well, every being who is going to be reborn in a certain universe – that’s the result of their collective karma that the universe evolves in a certain way.
But then this brings us into another topic, which we probably don’t have time to do tonight, which is: what are karmic actions and non-karmic actions, and are there certain things that happen that are not karma?’ And this we have to look at quite carefully. And we have – Vasubandhu has a presentation, Asanga has a presentation, and Theravada has a presentation as well (we can bring in the Theravada system also here; it’s useful). So the question is really quite complex. But the fact that the person moved when I shot is not due to my karma. It’s the other person’s karma that they moved. So the circumstance was not complete for my karma to kill somebody to be completed. Although I had the intention to kill, the circumstance wasn’t completed. And the circumstance is provided by many, many, many other karmic factors of many other beings, and non-karmic factors as well. The weather – lightning went off, or it thundered and I got startled, and so I missed. You haven’t gotten rid of your karmic tendency to kill somebody – that’s still there – but the circumstance wasn’t complete for it to ripen fully now.
It’s not your fault, so now you have less karma to deal with?
No, it’s not that you have less karma to deal with; it’s not that you’ve won. It’s just you’ve postponed it, you’ve postponed it. The man is not dead, so that particular action has not been an action of killing; but you still have that tendency to kill, so it will come up in a different situation.
Okay, I’ve been using “karma” in our discussion here in a very loose, popular sense to refer to the entire process. But that’s not precise. In Asanga’s system the karma is the urge that brings us into an action. Then there is the actual action: it’s called the “pathway of the karma.” And that action itself acts as a karmic force – either a positive karmic force (bsod-nams, Skt. punya), or a negative karmic force (sdig-pa, Skt. papa), or an unspecified karmic force. A positive karmic force is called “merit,” usually. A negative karmic force is called “sin,” or something like that. And then, after the action is finished, there’s a continuity of that karmic force; but now the karmic force is in the nature of a karmic legacy (sa-bon), I think I’d call it.
So there are two types of karmic legacies. There’s one which is the continuation of the karmic force – you have to have different words for these so I call it the “karmic potential.” And then there’s the one which is usually called the “seed,” which is the karmic tendency. So, anyway, you have karmic force (that would be the positive karmic force or the negative karmic force) and there is the karmic tendency. These are slightly different. Then there is also karmic constant habit (bag-chags), which is asserted only in the Mahayana systems, which continues to make appearances of true existence and limit the mind.
Why don’t we make it more simple, an abstraction. The karmic force has two phases – one is the action and one is an abstraction afterwards which continues to be the karmic force. So after the action you have the second phase of the karmic force, which is an abstraction, plus you have an abstraction which is the karmic tendency. Plus you have another abstraction which is the constant habit, which is just labeled – it’s not something physical that you can find; it’s just labelled on the mental continuum. So it’s the combination of these, which altogether I call the karmic aftermath (because there’s no word in the traditional texts to cover all of them) – it’s these that are going to ripen.
And so how do they ripen? They ripen when there is – it’s described in the twelve links: craving; and then some obtainer attitude, like basically identifying “me” with what’s going on). Craving to be parted from unhappiness, for not to be parted from happiness, or to remain in a neutral state – that’s the craving. Then the obtainer attitude identifies with what’s going on. And then you get the activated karmic aftermath. That becomes activated, and that you have to have circumstances, external circumstances as well, and then it gives the ripening. And the ripening, there is many, many different things that it ripens into: a feeling of happiness and unhappiness, wanting to repeat something similar, experiencing things happen similar to what one did before, and then a more general, comprehensive thing of being in an environment and so on. So, when we talk about what happens, it’s a ripening of the karmic aftermath; it’s not the ripening of the karma itself. There’s the karma that brings on the action, there’s the action, there’s the karmic aftermath and then there’s the ripening.
So sometimes in a loose way you can use the word karma for both?
Yes even in the texts, when we talk about “lendray” karma and its results, they use the word “karma” very loosely to cover the whole process up to the result. But that’s really not technically what it means. But that’s the popular usage of it. So one has to remain mindful when talking about it to use the technical terms correctly, and not make it confusing when saying that karma ripens, although that is an easier way of saying it. It’s the aftermath of the actions that are brought on by karma.
Ok, so now after an action, karmic aftermath, you have three abstractions. In other words, they are just labeled – you can’t actually find them; they’re not physical; they’re not a way of being aware of something. So the karmic force, karmic tendency – these two together are called the karmic legacy (the term I use). They ripen only sometimes, intermittently, not all the time. I don’t feel like killing somebody every single moment. I don’t feel like eating every single moment. Only it ripens intermittently, sometimes. Then you also have a karmic constant habit that ripens all the time – every moment, we have limited cognition. The other one: we get angry only some of the time; we don’t get angry all the time. Note that what ripens here is our experience of something, not the thing itself that we experience.
What ripens is my experience of seeing this room. The room itself doesn’t ripen from my karma. My experience of being hit by the car ripens, not the car, not the car driving on the road – that doesn’t ripen from my karma. My experience of being hit ripens from my karma. And after the result, then you can get another karmic impulse. But you don’t get a karmic impulse (a karmic urge) as a result of ripened karmic aftermath. Karma can’t ripen from karmic aftermath. You see how that works?
What ripens is seeing a beautiful person and the feeling of happiness and, from the aftermath of the disturbing emotions, longing desire. These are all ripenings. Then based on that, you could have the urge to think: “Oh I’ll say something to this person in order to have some sort of union with this person.” Then that could bring on another urge with which you actually go and say something, or go and do something. What ripens is just the experience and the feeling of happiness. And of course from that feeling of happiness, you crave not to be parted from it, and then you identify with the whole thing, and all of this is going to be involved here.