By Nyanaponika Thera
It is, however, not only these extraneous conditions which can cause modification. The ripening also reflects the karma's "internal field" or internal conditions — that is, the total qualitative structure of the mind from which the action issues. To one rich in moral or spiritual qualities, a single offense may not entail the weighty results that the same offence will have for one who is poor in such protective virtues. Also, analogously to human law, a first offender's punishment will be milder than that of a re-convicted criminal.
But even this does not exhaust the existing possibilities of modifications in the weight of karmic reaction. A glance into the life histories of people we know may well show us a person of good and blameless character, living in secure circumstances; yet a single mistake, perhaps even a minor one, suffices to ruin one's entire life — one's reputation, career, and happiness — and it may also lead to a serious deterioration of one's character. This seemingly disproportionate crisis might have been due to a chain-reaction of aggravating circumstances beyond one's control, to be ascribed to a powerful counteractive karma of one's past. But the chain of bad results may have been precipitated by the person's own action — decisively triggered by one's initial mistake and reinforced by subsequent carelessness, indecision or wrong decisions, which, of course, are unskillful karma in themselves. This is a case when even a predominantly good character cannot prevent the ripening of bad karma or soften the full force of the results. The good qualities and deeds of that person will certainly not remain ineffective; but their future outcome might well be weakened by any presently arisen negative character changes or actions, which might form a bad counteractive karma.
Consider too the converse situation: A person deserving to be called a thoroughly bad character, may, on a rare occasion, act on an impulse of generosity and kindness. This action may turn out to have unexpectedly wide and favorable repercussions on one's life. It might bring about a decisive improvement in one's external circumstances, soften one's character, and even initiate a thorough "change of heart."
- BuddhaNet: The Theory of Karma
Copyright © 1994 Nyanaponika Thera