Thursday, May 8, 2014

KARMA: The 10 Courses of Action

Seth Auberon, Ashley Wells, CC Liu (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly; Nyanatiloka (Anton Gueth)

Mental-karma is important as are deeds.
Karma: "Courses of Action" (kamma-patha) is a name for a group of ten kinds of either unwholesome or wholesome actions the Buddha taught. 

He was known in ancient India not as a "Buddhist" or a Brahmin but as a Karma-vadin ("Teacher of Karma"), one who teaches the efficacy of personal deeds. There are three kinds of unskillful deeds -- of body, speech, and mind -- and three kinds of skillful ones:
I. Ten Unwholesome Courses of Action
  • three bodily actions: killing, stealing, sexual misconduct;
  • four verbal actions: perjury, slandering, harsh speech, babble;
  • three mental actions: covetousness, ill-will, wrong views.
Unwholesome mental courses of action comprise only extreme forms of defiled thought: The greedy (rapacious) wish to appropriate others' property, the hateful (antagonistic) thought of harming others, and the holding or clinging to pernicious wrong-views.

While milder forms of mental defilement are also unwholesome, they do not constitute "courses of action."
Good Karma
Karma is following us everywhere we go.
Bhikkhu Bodhi (Tape 5: Rebirth and Kamma, "The Buddha's Teaching: As It Is") explains that these ten are called "courses" of action rather than ordinary karma because they have the power, in and of themselves, to lead to rebirth -- a course or corridor leading to a particularly unfortunate or fortunate state. 

For example, even a relatively minor good intentional-action can lead, IF it serves as the death-proximate karma (the thought passing through the mind right at the moment of passing away from one life to yet another) -- has the power to get one into a heaven. There are many heavens, and not a single one of them is eternal, so rebirth in heaven is not the goal of Buddhism. But it is a fortunate destination for rebirth in samsara, the ongoing Wheel of Rebirth and disappointment.

II. Ten Wholesome Courses of Action

  • three bodily actions: avoiding killing, stealing, sexual misconduct (or preserving life, protecting what belongs to others, avoiding harm);
  • four verbal actions: avoiding perjury, slandering, harsh speech, foolish chit chat (or honest, reconciling, gentle, and wise speech);
  • three mental actions: unselfishness, goodwill, right views.
Both lists repeatedly occur in the texts (e.g., in AN X.28, 176; MN 9), and they are explained in detail in MN 114 and in Commentary to MN 9 (R. Und., p. 14), Atthasālini Tr. I, 126ff.

Ven. Sivali: shining example of good karma
An enlightened monastic from the time of the Buddha, Venerable Sivali, is remembered and venerated as having unbelievably good karma -- a store of "merit" (punya) for everyone to emulate.
There is no reason to "envy" him his good fortune because we ourselves can also accrue a similar store of merit by good works (mental, verbal, and physical),  deeds that benefit ourselves and others that follow us through this life and from life to life until we find enlightenment.

We are always generating karma and always being reborn, but a human birth is extraordinarily rare, a precious opportunity to make merit with redounding pleasing and welcome karmic-results and effects (vipaka and phala).

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