Types of Karmic Results

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Five Types of Results

We were speaking about the different types of causes and conditions, and in order to finish that discussion, let’s just list the five types of results.

First of all, there are ripened results. Ripened results are the unobstructive, unspecified items conjoined with the mental continuum of a limited being, such as the body, the consciousness, the feelings, which come from a ripening cause that was conjoined with his or her mental continuum. They do not obstruct liberation or enlightenment. This is one of the results of positive or negative karmic potential, which comes only from constructive and destructive actions. Unspecified actions – actions, like eating, that Buddha did not specify as being constructive or destructive – do not give any ripened result.

So, feelings, like happiness and unhappiness, are unspecified. That means that suffering, meaning unhappiness, is not something that is destructive. Something is destructive if it ripens into unhappiness or some further suffering; and suffering itself, or unhappiness itself, does not necessarily ripen into more suffering. Otherwise, if that were necessarily the case, it would be impossible to ever get rid of suffering. 

The same thing would be true of happiness. Happiness isn’t necessarily constructive. Happiness is unspecified. Something is constructive if it ripens into further happiness, and again, our ordinary happiness isn’t something that necessarily brings us more happiness. So, we have ripened results.

Then, we have results that correspond to their cause. These are of two types: the results that correspond to their cause in our behavior and the results that correspond to their cause in our experience. These are very much discussed in karma. They can arise from the karmic potentials and tendencies from either destructive, tainted constructive, or unspecified actions. So any of these are going to give rise to these, ripen into that. The ones that correspond to their cause in our behavior are the mental factor of liking to do an action in a particular moment, similar to what we’ve done in the past. That would be feeling like repeating the action. It could lead to wishing to do an action, in which case, it’s equivalent to an intention. 

The results that correspond to their cause in our experience would be our being unconsciously attracted to the experience of a situation in which something similar to our previous action happens back to us. For example, we hurt somebody, and so they hurt us back in some future life. From what I’ve heard, it’s quite specific with a specific individual being. It’s not that we hurt somebody and then, in the future, somebody totally different is going to hurt us back, but rather, we’re going to get into a situation in which we are hurt by them. The fact that they hurt us is coming from their karmic tendencies. The fact that we experience being hurt by them is the result of our karmic actions. 

The person involved is specific. We know this from the example of how many of us might have had the experience of meeting somebody, and instantly we feel some sort of karmic connection with them, either a positive one or a negative one. Although lust or hostility may also be involved here, the fact that the object for this is this particular person could in many cases be due to a previous life connection. So, it’s that specific; it’s not that we were friends with somebody in a previous life and now in this lifetime, we’re going to be friends with somebody else. It’s with that specific mental continuum. It’s the same thing if we’ve hurt another being, then in another lifetime, we’re going to experience being hurt by that other being. But we have to remember that we and everyone else has had beginningless lives and so we have done everything to everyone, and everyone has done everything to us. It’s not that only one specific person has ever hurt us. 

However, this is not so simple. There can be a lot of misunderstanding or confusion about this. Let’s say, for instance, we are in an accident. We go outside our house, cross the street and somebody driving a car at that time hits us. Is it that we caused the other person to hit us? Well, there are many things happening from their side. How did that person know that we were coming out of the house at just that time so that they would hit us? Well, it isn’t like that. Everything arises from all these different types of causes and conditions that we’ve discussed, and when the causes and conditions are appropriate and complete, then a certain karmic potential will ripen. This is why, for instance, in the 37 Bodhisattva Practices, it says that when in our homeland (or in our home village, or in our family home, or whatever) there are circumstances that are going to cause us to have attachment, or anger, or to stay naive, uneducated, and so on, it’s a bodhisattva practice to leave, so that we avoid the negative circumstances, the negative influences which would be the circumstances for more negative karmic potential to ripen.

The circumstances we are in are very important and, in many cases, we can change the circumstances. But, when circumstances are complete, then things happen. We might think, “How did the lightning know to strike me?” It’s not that the lightning knows to strike us; there are circumstances of weather, and so on, that are affected by so many other things. So, we have the experience of a situation in which something similar to our previous action happens to us. This is our experience of something, but the thing that is experienced by us is caused by its own prior causes and conditions. When we experience being hit by a car, this is a result that is similar to its cause. We experience it from having hurt, in some previous lifetime, that same person who hit us with the car. It’s not that we necessarily hit them with a car, but we certainly did cause harm to that person; it’s not just to any person, it’s to that specific person. It’s not that our karma has caused this person to decide on that day to drive their car. Our karma hasn’t created their car, and it hasn’t created the person. We need to understand these things.

Then, there are overlord results, or overriding results, or comprehensive results. That’s the type of environment or society in which we drawn to be born in – being in a poor country, a rich country, these types of things, and the way it treats us and how it affects us. It also can ripen into what we experience with objects, such as our possessions. From stealing, we buy things, and they instantly break, this type of thing. They are called overlord results because, like an overlord, they extend over and dominate everything that we experience in a particular rebirth. In many cases, these results extend out to dominate the lives of many others who, for example, share an environment because of having built up the karmic causes for being born and living in it.

Then, there are man-made results or results made by a person, literally, and these are of two types: man-made results that are produced or develop and man-made results that are attainments. Both of them arise as a direct result of the effort of a limited being. They don’t ripen from karmic potential. For instance, when we bang our foot, the bruise is the man-made result of banging our foot. Or we do business and make a profit, the profit is the man-made result from the business. Why does one person succeed in business, and the other doesn’t succeed in business? Well, that’s a result that corresponds to their cause in terms of our experience, but here we’re talking about something different. In other words, whatever profit we make, that’s the man-made result of doing business. It doesn’t ripen as a karmic result from doing business. 

An example of the second type of man-made result – a man-made result that’s an attainment – would be the attainment of a seeing pathway of mind; in other words, a path of seeing, which would be non-conceptual cognition of voidness as the result of the prior moments or sequence of meditation with a conceptual understanding of voidness. That attainment is the man-made result of the meditation. It’s not something that ripens from the meditation as its karmic result. 

We have to bear in mind that man-made results are things that follow immediately from their causes in most cases. For instance, we bang our foot and get a bruise; or we sell something for a price higher than what we paid for it and make a profit; or we sit down and do a meditation and, at the end of the meditation, we achieve an attainment of another level of mind. These are things that follow immediately from the action that is their cause, and they’re not something that ripen through a long process of karmic tendencies or seeds and habits and so on that are imputation phenomena, from the Prasangika point of view, on the conventional “me” that, in turn, is an imputation phenomenon on an individual continuum of five aggregates.

Lastly, there are results that are states of being parted. These are static states that are attained by means of effort, but which are neither produced nor ripen from that effort. In other words, we meditate non-conceptually on voidness, and it acts as a circumstance for a true stopping – being parted from a portion of disturbing emotions. That being parted lasts forever and is static; nothing can affect or change it. Meditation on voidness is the circumstance for the attainment of that state, but it doesn’t create that state. A mental continuum has never been stained or tainted by the fleeting stains of the disturbing emotions and their tendencies. By nature, the mental continuum is pure of all these things; it is parted from all these things. 

When we meditate on voidness non-conceptually, that acts as a cause for an attainment, but what is that state that we attain? That state that we attain or that situation that we attain is the state that was always the case with no beginning and no end – that state of being naturally pure or parted from any type of fleeting stain or disturbing emotion is a static phenomenon. It’s not produced by anything; it doesn’t affect anything or produce any effects. It was always the case and will always be the case, so it’s not technically a result of anything. 

So here, when we call that state of being parted a “result,” that’s only giving the name of a result; it isn’t actually a result. All that we can say is that meditating is the cause for bringing about the attainment of this state, but that attainment is a man-made result. 

Summary of Causes, Conditions and Results

What we can see from this presentation of causes, conditions and results is that only some causes of things are karmic causes, referring to karmic potentials and tendencies that, after a long period of time, will ripen. We’ve also seen that only certain results are karmic results that come from such a mechanism. There are some causes that are not karmic, and there are some results that are not karmic. The whole process of causality is very complex, and not everything that happens is explainable by karma or is a hundred percent karmic. 

Moreover, one phenomenon can act as many different types of causes for many different things, and one result can be many different types of results of many different things. This is the point here. It’s not that one cause causes one result, or one result comes from only one cause. To be more precise, one karmic potential or tendency can be different types of causes for different things. And likewise, one thing that happens is different types of results of different types of causes. It could be one type of result of a karmic potential and also a different type of result of a karmic tendency.

All of this is very important for trying to understand why something happens to us. Do we explain it just in terms of our karma? Well, it’s far more complex, especially when we consider the whole issue of choice and that one phenomenon is the result of many other things and is the cause for many further things. As we saw, many of the causes are even simultaneous with the phenomenon, like the elements that make up a material object, or the mental factors that accompany a moment of cognition. 

For example, while we’re hitting somebody, there’s anger as well, and also we’re seeing the person. What is the cause of something similar to this happening again in the future? Is it the anger? Is it the hitting? Is it the seeing? Is it the combination of the three? Do each of them come from different causes? How can we affect the result of hitting somebody? Can we affect the bruise that it gives to the other person? Well, obviously, no. Can we affect the karmic results of what we did? Well, then we have to analyze. Can we affect the result of the anger? Can we affect the result of the hitting? Can we affect the result of the seeing? How much choice do we have in each of these, and how much choice did we have in terms of the anger arising, and how much choice did we have in the hitting arising or in acting out that anger or in meeting and seeing the person? Where are the gaps in this whole process where we can actually affect the situation? What can we actually do?

All of this gets very interesting, doesn’t it? Of course, it’s extremely complex. Now to understand this, we have to bring in everything that we’ve discussed so far, particularly voidness. Let’s say we see a person and our seeing is accompanied by pleasant contacting awareness of them – it’s a nice experience. We consider them beautiful. Now, of course, they’re not inherently beautiful; it’s our own way in which we consider them beautiful, depending on our concept of beauty. A pig wouldn’t consider them beautiful, and the one that the pig considers beautiful, we probably wouldn’t consider beautiful. So, there’s the pleasant experience of seeing of the person and then there’s the conceptual cognition of them in terms of considering them beautiful. Is there a gap between the two? Maybe it’s too fast to notice.

But then the thought arises to go over to this person and start talking to them in a seductive type of way in order to try to seduce them into having inappropriate sexual behavior with us.

In English, we would describe that as “we feel like doing that.” We are automatically drawn into thinking that as a result that corresponds to its cause in our behavior. We like flirting with and seducing others as the result of having done it repeatedly before. This thought may lead to the wish or intent to actually go over and try to seduce the person. But there is a gap between when the thought arises and when we wish to act on that thought. We could evaluate that thought, discriminate that we don’t really want to act it out and so the wish to do it doesn’t arise.

But we might still want to go over and try to seduce the person anyway. At this point, we could think over whether to do it or not and decide to do it. The karmic impulse of an urge drives that action of the mind. We may decide, “Yes, I’m going to go over to this person, and I’m going to engage them in conversation with the seductive aim to get them to commit a certain sexual act with me.” Of course, we could decide not to do it. But there’s a gap there; we don’t actually have to start thinking that way even though we would like to go over and speak to the person. There’s a difference between that wish to go over and then actually thinking, “Yes, I’m going to go over.” There’s a gap between the two. At that point, we could either start thinking in that way or not think in that way. So, which one is going to happen? Which one are we going to choose to do, and is this ripening from something?

Even if we decide to go over to the person, there is yet another gap between when we make that decision and when we actually go over to the person and speak with them. But even then, we could stop our actions of body and speech before they reach their finale. There are so many gaps. 

Let’s look at it a little bit more carefully in terms of what has already ripened here and what will ripen next. There’s meeting the person, which is the result of not only own karmic potential that draws us into situations in which we will repeat certain actions, but also the karmic potential of the other person that draws them into situations in which something happens to them similar to something they did before. But of course, meeting them is also the man-made result of walking and whatever reasons each of us had for being where we met. Seeing the person arises from a whole list of causes and conditions for a cognition to arise. Seeing them is accompanied by pleasant contacting awareness and a feeling of happiness. These mental factors arise from other karmic potentials. Considering the person beautiful comes from its own tendency, as does longing desire.

Then there are various karmic causes for the wish, or intent, to arise to go over and try to seduce the person. That comes from its own karmic tendency. There could be the influence of other people that are involved here as well. A friend says, “Ah, go over and try to pick up this person in a sexual liaison.” There are many, many different things that could influence our wanting to do it. There’s a gap there, however, before we think over whether to actually go over. We could dismiss the thought to go over before we even start to consider whether to act on it. Our thinking it over and deciding is driven by a karmic impulse, a mental urge. As a result of having thought about it and having decided to go over, we now think decisively, “Yes, I’m going to go do it.”

Then, there’s another gap between when we think to do it, and when karmic urges drive our body to we actually go and do it. There’s another gap there when many other things could happen and influence what we do. We could remember the teachings on karma. We could remember the teachings on the dirtiness of the human body, or our cell phone rings, or the other person’s cell phone rings, or somebody comes up to the other person, or the other person walks away, or it starts to rain. I mean, all sorts of things could happen. 

Whether or not there’s longing desire here is something else. It could just be that we were goaded on by our friends; you know, “Go do it; go do it!” We have to be a man and have to do it, but we don’t actually have the desire. There are many, many factors that come up. So, there are these gaps that are there in which many different circumstances also have to come together, and depending on lots of different circumstances, different things will ripen at that time: whether or not we remember the teachings, whether there’s the influence of others around us, the external circumstances, and what the other person does, the one that we find attractive. There are lots and lots of things that affect what happens here.

So, there are many gaps in the sequence of moments in which the outcome could be different. Then, we get back into our whole discussion of choice, but this is the whole point of our discussion of the causes and conditions and the different types of results. Everything that’s happening in each moment is the result of so many different types of causes, and there are so many different causes and conditions happening in each moment that it’s enormous. What we do is affected by all of these.

Can meditation make that gap, that interval longer, so that we can actually affect what’s going on?

Sure, that’s exactly the point of meditation here. So, during any of those gaps, we could, for instance, remember the teachings on ethical self-discipline and the disadvantages and negative consequences that come from acting on the basis of the disturbing emotions. But still we might think, “Oh, this person looks so pretty to me,” and then, even though we remember these teachings, we might go anyway and try to seduce the person. In that case, having remembered the disadvantages of acting on the basis of disturbing emotions, the strength of our motivating emotion will be less, and if the strength of the motivating emotion is less, that affects the result of what will ripen from an action based on it. Many other things will also affect the result as well. A tremendous number of things affect the result not only during the action, but afterward as well.

What we want to do, through what’s called in the West, “mindfulness meditation,” is to try to notice that when we feel like doing something, there is this interval. We feel like doing something – for instance, we feel like getting up from meditation and going to the refrigerator. When we actually decide to do it, we might have deliberated and thought about it, “Yeah, I’m going to get up and go,” or we might not even have deliberated. We might have thought, “I feel like it,” and we just went to the refrigerator. However, there was a gap there between those two steps, and during that gap, other variables could occur, other states of mind could arise, and we would experience that as a choice. We decide (there’s decisiveness) to really think about it and decide to go or not. We could decide not even to think about it, or having thought about it, we could decide not to go, or even without consciously deliberating about it, we could decide not to go. When that happens, that decision occurs on the basis of many, many, many different causes and conditions. So, choice is actually the process of going from indecisive wavering between several possibilities and decisiveness about one.  

It’s not, as we were explaining before, that there’s a separate “me” from the whole incident, and there are separate choices that are existing somewhere sort of in front of us, that we can push a button and choose this one or choose that one. That’s not the way that it exists, but choices do occur, decisions do occur. Decisive discriminating awareness between two alternatives occurs when we have indecisive wavering and we come to a conclusion. Decisiveness occurs. Also, even if we think about it and decide, “Okay, I’m going to get up,” still, between when we decide to get up and when we actually do get up, there’s another gap in which we could affect what we do and change. When we have that piece of chocolate in our hand, are we really going to put it in our mouth or not?

This is where so-called mindfulness meditation is helpful. If we can notice each moment in the sequence, then we notice that at any of these moments, we could change what we do or, at least, we could change the way in which we regard the object. Let’s say if it’s to eat the chocolate, we could think about how that really isn’t going to bring us ultimate happiness, and how, once we chew it several times, it’s going to turn into vomit. If we change the way in which we regard the object, then the motivating emotion or attitude with which we actually eat the chocolate, with which we actually put it into our mouth, is going to be far less disturbing than that original motivating emotion of greed with which we decided that we were going to eat it and went over to the refrigerator and actually put it in our hand. Consequently, the karmic results of eating this piece of chocolate with greed are going to be far lighter.

This is why there’s such an importance placed on making a difference between the causal motivation that initially drives us to do a certain action and the contemporaneous motivation, which is the motivation with which we actually enter into the action. It is in all these various gaps in which we actually are able to make choices that can affect what we do and can also affect the outcome or result of what we do.

This brings us to the end of our discussion of karma, free will, predetermination and determinism. We’ve seen that this is not a very simple topic. This is something that requires a deep understanding of voidness: voidness of the self and voidness of the choices that we have, and that none of these exist independently from the entire system. It’s a complex system of causes and effects that are occurring in each moment, some of which are karmic, and some of which are not karmic, some of which we can affect, and some of which we can’t affect. It’s on the basis of these choices that we can make, within the context of voidness and karma, cause and effect, that we can actually make the choices to work toward enlightenment for the benefit of all.