Thread: The Maha Kammavibhanga Sutta: The "Buddha's Box"

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    Forums Member stuka's Avatar
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    The Maha Kammavibhanga Sutta: The "Buddha's Box"

    The Maha Kammavibhanga Sutta is often read superficially as an affirmation and endorsement of karma-and-reincarnation beliefs, however, a closer examination reveals a critical examination of such speculative views, an indictment of the veracity of such beliefs and views, and a glimpse of the Buddha's approach to determining the veracity and ethical usefulness of such views.

    With regard to speculations about extant beliefs in karma and reincarnation, the Buddha sees four positions one can take, and frames his demonstration with the device of four hypothetical ascetics who each in turn, in meditative vision, comes to adopt one of the four positions. Each espouses that position and, not seeing the others, claims that his own is the only possibility.

    Passages that repeat themselves in this translation are redacted for brevity's sake. I am bolding relevant differences in each position for clarity, as



    The four types of persons, representing four speculative positions with regard to karma and reincarnation:


    6. "Ananda, there are four kinds of persons existing in the world. What four?

    (i) "Here some person kills living beings, takes what is not given, misconducts himself in sexual desires, speaks falsehood, speaks maliciously, speaks harshly, gossips, is covetous, is ill-willed, and has wrong view.[4] On the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in the states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell.

    (ii) "But here some person kills living beings... and has wrong view. On the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination, in the heavenly world.



    (iii) "Here some person abstains from killing living beings, from taking what is not given, from misconduct in sexual desires, from false speech, from malicious speech, from harsh speech, from gossip, he is not covetous, is not ill-willed, and has right view.[5] On the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination, in the heavenly world.

    (iv) "But here some person abstains from killing living beings... and has right view. On the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in the states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell.

    Four ascetics adopt the four views


    7. (i) "Here, Ananda, in consequence of ardor, endeavor, devotion, diligence, and right attention, some monk or brahman attains such concentration of mind that, when his mind is concentrated, he sees with the heavenly eyesight, which is purified and surpasses the human, that some person kills living beings here, takes what is not given, misconducts himself in sexual desires, speaks falsehood, speaks maliciously, speaks harshly, gossips, is covetous, is ill-willed, has wrong view. He sees that on the dissolution of the body, after death, he has reappeared in the states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell. He says: 'It seems that there are evil kammas and that there is the result of misconduct; for I have seen that a person killed living beings here... had wrong view. I have seen that on the dissolution of the body, after death, he had reappeared in the states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell.' He says: 'It seems that one who kills living beings... has wrong view, will always, on the dissolution of the body, after death, reappear in the states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell. Those who know thus know rightly; those who know otherwise are mistaken in their knowledge.' So he obstinately misapprehends what he himself has known, seen and felt; insisting on that alone, he says: 'Only this is true, anything else is wrong.'

    8. (ii) "But here in consequence of ardor, endeavor, devotion, diligence and right attention, some monk or brahman attains such concentration of mind that, when his mind is concentrated, he sees with the heavenly eyesight, which is purified and surpasses the human, that some person kills living beings here... has wrong view. He sees that on the dissolution of the body, after death, he has reappeared in a happy destination, in the heavenly world. He says: 'It seems there are no evil kammas, there is no result of misconduct. For I have seen that a person killed living beings here... had wrong view. I have seen that on the dissolution of the body, after death, he has reappeared in a happy destination, in the heavenly world.' He says: 'It seems that one who kills living beings... has wrong view will always, on the dissolution of the body, after death, reappear in a happy destination, in the heavenly world. Those who know thus know rightly; those who know otherwise are mistaken in their knowledge.' So he obstinately misapprehends what he himself has known, seen and felt; insisting on that alone, he says: 'Only this is true, anything else is wrong.'





    9. (iii) "Here in consequence of ardor, endeavor, devotion, diligence and right attention, some monk or brahman attains such concentration of mind that, when his mind is concentrated, he sees with the heavenly eyesight, which is purified and surpasses the human, that some person abstains from killing living beings here... has right view. He sees that, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he has reappeared in a happy destination, in the heavenly world. He says: 'It seems that there are good kammas, there is result of good conduct. For I have seen that a person abstained from killing living beings here... had right view. I saw that on the dissolution of the body, after death, he had reappeared in a happy destination, in the heavenly world.' He says: 'It seems that one who abstains from killing living beings... has right view will always, on the dissolution of the body, after death, reappear in a happy destination, in the heavenly world. Those who know thus know rightly; those who know otherwise are mistaken in their knowledge.' So he obstinately misapprehends what he himself has known, seen and felt; insisting on that alone, he says: 'Only this is true; anything else is wrong.'

    10. (iv) "But here in consequence of ardor, endeavor, devotion, diligence and right attention, some monk or brahman attains such concentration of mind that, when his mind is concentrated, he sees with the heavenly eyesight, which is purified and surpasses the human, that some person abstains from killing living beings here... has right view. He sees that on the dissolution of the body, after death, he has reappeared in the states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell. He says: 'It seems that there are no good kammas, there is no result of good conduct. For I have seen that a person abstained from killing here... had right view. I saw that on the dissolution of the body, after death, he had reappeared in the states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell.' He says: 'It seems that one who abstains from killing living beings... has right view, will always, on the dissolution of the body, after death, reappear in the states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell. Those who know thus know rightly; those who know otherwise are mistaken in their knowledge.' So he obstinately misapprehends what he himself has known, seen and felt; insisting on that alone, he says: 'Only this is true; anything else is wrong.'

    The Buddha analyzes each position and the statements of each ascetic and


    11. (i) "Now, Ananda, when a monk or brahman says thus: 'It seems that there are evil kammas, there is the result of misconduct,' I concede that to him.

    "When he says thus: 'For I have seen that some person killed living beings... had wrong view. I saw that on the dissolution of the body, after death, he had reappeared in states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell,' I concede that to him.

    "When he says thus: 'It seems that one who kills living beings... has wrong view, will always, on the dissolution of the body, after death, reappear in the states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell,' I do not concede that to him.

    "When he says thus: 'Those who know thus know rightly; those who know otherwise are mistaken in their knowledge,' I do not concede that to him.

    "When he obstinately misapprehends what he himself has known, seen and felt; and insisting on that alone, he says: 'Only this is true; anything else is wrong,' I do not concede that to him.



    "Why is that? The Tathagata's knowledge of the Great Exposition of Kamma is different.

    Note that the Buddha allows that the ascetic has seen a vision that supports the view he adopts, as this is a personal experience that the Buddha cannot share; it is not falsifiable. He also concedes the ascetic's conclusion that misconduct harbors [ill] results, because for one who believes this, he reckons that that one will conduct himself ethically due to this belief. He elaborates on this further in the Apannaka Sutta, MN 60.

    Also note that, even though the Buddha concedes this ascetic's basic position, he refuses to concede the claim that it is always the case.

    12. (ii) "Now when a monk or brahman says thus: 'It seems that there are no evil kammas, there is no result of misconduct,' I do not concede that to him.

    "When he says thus: 'For I have seen that a person killed living beings... had wrong view. I saw that on the dissolution of the body, after death, he had reappeared in a happy destination, in the heavenly world,' I concede that to him.

    "When he says thus: 'It seems that one who kills living beings... has wrong view, will always, on the dissolution of the body, after death, reappear in a happy destination, in the heavenly world,' I do not concede that to him.

    "When he says thus: 'Those who know thus know rightly; those who know otherwise are mistaken in their knowledge,' I do not concede that to him.

    "When he obstinately misapprehends what he himself has known, seen and felt; and insisting on that alone, he says: 'Only this is true; anything else is wrong,' I do not concede that to him.


    "Why is that? The Tathagata's knowledge of the Great Exposition of Kamma is different.[/b]
    In this case, the Buddha does not concede the conclusion that actions do not have consequences, but allows the ascetic the expression of his vision.


    13. (iii) "Now when a monk or brahman says thus: 'It seems that there are good kammas, there is a result of good conduct,' I concede that to him.

    "When he says thus: 'For I have seen that a person abstained from killing living beings here... had right view. I saw that on the dissolution of the body after death, he had reappeared in a happy destination, in the heavenly world,' I concede that to him.

    "When he says: 'It seems that one who abstains from killing living beings... has right view will always, on the dissolution of the body, after death, reappear in a happy destination, in the heavenly world,'[6] I do not concede that to him.

    "When he says: 'Those who know thus know rightly; those who know otherwise are mistaken in their knowledge,' I do not concede that to him.

    "When he obstinately misapprehends what he himself has known, seen, and felt; and insisting on that alone he says: 'Only this is true: anything else is wrong,' I do not concede that to him.


    "Why is that? The Tathagata's knowledge of the Great Exposition of Kamma is different.
    Again, the Buddha concedes the ascetic's position and his claim of a vision, but refuses to concede the claim that it is always the case.


    14. (iv) "Now when a monk or brahman says thus:'It seems that there are no good kammas, there is no result of good conduct,' I do not concede that to him.

    "When he says thus: "For I have seen that a person abstained from killing living beings here... had right view. I saw that on the dissolution of the body, after death, he had reappeared in the states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell," I concede that to him.

    "When he says thus: 'One who abstains from killing living beings... has right view will always, on the dissolution of the body, after death, reappear in the states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell,' I do not concede that to him.

    "When he says thus: 'Those who know thus know rightly; those who know otherwise are mistaken in their knowledge,' I do not concede that to him.

    "When he obstinately misapprehends what he himself has known, seen and felt; and insisting on that alone, he says: 'Only this is true; anything else is wrong,' I do not concede that to him.


    "Why is that? The Tathagata's knowledge of the Great Exposition of Kamma is different.

    Now the Buddha provides exceptions for each case:



    15. (i) "Now, Ananda, there is the person who has killed living beings here... has had wrong view. And on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in the states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell.[7] But (perhaps) the evil kamma producing his suffering was done by him earlier, or the evil kamma producing his suffering was done by him later, or wrong view was undertaken and completed by him at the time of his death.[8] And that was why, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappeared in the states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell. But since he has killed living beings here... has had wrong view, he will feel the result of that here and now, or in his next rebirth, or in some subsequent existence.

    16. (ii) "Now there is the person who has killed living beings here... has had wrong view. And on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination, in the heavenly world.[9] But (perhaps) the good kamma producing his happiness was done by him earlier, or the good kamma producing his happiness was done by him later, or right view was undertaken and completed by him at the time of his death. And that was why, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappeared in a happy destination, in the heavenly world. But since he has killed living beings here... has had wrong view, he will feel the result of that here and now, or in his next rebirth, or in some subsequent existence.[10]

    17. (iii) "Now there is the person who has abstained from killing living beings here... has had right view. And on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination, in the heavenly world.[11] But (perhaps) the good kamma producing his happiness was done by him earlier, or the good kamma producing his happiness was done by him later, or right view was undertaken and completed by him at the time of his death. And that was why, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappeared in a happy destination, in the heavenly world. But since he has abstained from killing living beings here... has had right view, he will feel the result of that here and now, or in his next rebirth, or in some subsequent existence.

    18. (iv) "Now there is the person who has abstained from killing living beings here... has had right view. And on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in the states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell.[12] But (perhaps) the evil kamma producing his suffering was done by him earlier, or the evil kamma producing his suffering was done by him later, or wrong view was undertaken and completed by him at the time of his death. And that was why, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappeared in the states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell. But since he has abstained from killing living beings here... has had right view, he will feel the result of that here and now, or in his next rebirth, or in some subsequent existence.[13]

    And the Buddha sums it all up, concluding that any speculative theory of karma cannot hold water:

    19. "So, Ananda, there is kamma that is incapable (of good result) and appears incapable (of good result); there is kamma that is incapable (of good result) and appears capable (of good result); there is kamma that is capable (of good result) and appears capable (of good result); there is kamma that is capable (of good result) and appears incapable (of good result)."[14]


    Thoughts? Comments?

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    Forums Member Element's Avatar
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    Greetings Stuka

    First of all, thank you for your excellent post. It was an enjoyable read.

    By right and wrong view, is the Buddha referring to mundane right view or supramundane right view?

    For me, the sutta is about mundane dhamma.

    It follows there will always been heaven (happiness) and always be hell (unhappiness) when attention is not given to the supramundane.

    So I can practise good mundane kamma, by acknowledging there is gift, by being grateful to my benefactors (mothers and fathers), by keeping the five precepts and by honoring monks.

    But when I am parted from these loved ones, can my mind remain happy?

    In good karma, there is no guarantee of maintaining happiness with the Three Characteristic come into play.

    With metta.



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    Forums Member stuka's Avatar
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    Hello, Element,

    The Buddha is using examples from what he referred to as "right view with defilements" (sammaditthi sasava), but is actually teaching discernment and critical thinking, which is "noble right view". He is demonstrating how to analyze metaphysical speculations (using karma-and-reincarnation beliefs as a case study) from an objective point of view. I have seen folks claim that this sutta is about the consequences and workings of karma-and-reincarnation, but it is actually a refutation of such beliefs. He shows that such beliefs have a moral usefulness if not taken as hard-and-fast rules, but he also shows that they are merely speculations that cannot be shown to adequately describe the real world. But all of that is just the example material, and what he is teaching is how one should approach speculative views critically and objectively.

  4. #4

    Just in case, like me, anyone else might find it helpful to read the sutta straight through to begin with, I looked at Access to Insight for a translation - and then also found this introduction to MN 136 (Nanamoli Thera translation) by Bhikkhu Khantipalo, followed by the sutta. There are also some notes after the translation.


    This celebrated sutta shows some of the complexities of kamma and its results. Beginning with a strange view expressed by a confused wanderer and a confused answer given by a bhikkhu, the Buddha then gives his Great Exposition of Kamma which is based upon four "types" of people:

    the evil-doer who goes to hell (or some other low state of birth),
    the evil-doer who goes to heaven,
    the good man who goes to heaven, and
    the good man who goes to hell (or other low birth).

    The Buddha then shows how wrong views can arise from only partial understanding of truth. One can see the stages of this:

    (1) a mystic "sees" in vision an evil-doer suffering in hell,
    (2) this confirms what he had heard about moral causality,
    (3) so he says, "evil-doers always go to hell," and
    (4) dogma hardens and becomes rigid when he says (with the dogmatists of all ages and places), "Only this is true; anything else is wrong."

    The stages of this process are repeated for each of the four "persons," after which the Buddha proceeds to analyze these views grounded in partial experience and points out which portions are true (because verifiable by trial and experience) and which are dogmatic superstructure which is unjustified.

    Finally, the Buddha explains his Great Exposition of Kamma in which he shows that notions of invariability like "the evildoer goes to hell" are much too simple. The minds of people are complex and they make many different kinds of kamma even in one lifetime, some of which may influence the last moment when kamma is made before death, which in turn is the basis for the next life.

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipit....136.nymo.html

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    Forums Member stuka's Avatar
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    I found Kantipalo's assessment to be skewed by "re-birth-view", and unhelpful.


    The misapprehension of the Buddha's final assessment betrays a failure to grasp the lesson of a paradigm shift away from blind faith in speculative views, and toward critical thinking and rational empiricism.


    The uncertainty and hesitancy of the following declarations indicate to me that the writer is merely guessing about what he knows he does not truly understand, because he is unable to see outside the box of his own k/r superstition beliefs.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by stuka
    I found Kantipalo's assessment to be skewed by "re-birth-view", and unhelpful.

    He does say "The minds of people are complex and they make many different kinds of kamma even in one lifetime" and I take the part about post mortem rebirth to be irrelevant if we are looking at the issue of what's important -- i.e. this present lifetime.

    One can interpret this as the birth of different mental states within one lifetime, . ...eg one can be suffering 'in hell' or be in a temporary 'heaven' mentally, or have various other kinds of emotional reactions to experiences that one has .These frequent reactions can also be strengthened over time if we're not aware of the process. This is what happens to most people - but the outcomes aren't necessarily all exactly the same.

    If we're committed Buddhist practitioners,however, our development of mental tranquility, clarity and wisdom, governs whether we suffer or not. As well as through intellectual analysis, this is very much dependent on mindfulness and the regular practice of meditation.

    Anyway, I'm just rambling now, sorry !

    Regarding kamma, how about this quote from Ajahn Buddhadasa from "Kamma in Buddhism" ?

    ... as Buddhists let’s try to do only the kamma that is the end of kamma. When we see that kamma has occupied and ruled our lives, we will strive to practice, improve ourselves, and fight in every possible way to triumph over both good and evil kamma, so that none of them will oppress our minds. Let’s develop minds that are clean, clear, and calm because no kamma and no results disturb it.

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