Tuesday, January 28, 2014

More On Collective Kamma

In my  previous post I discussed the notion of collective kamma. I  maintained that the idea is not mentioned in any classical Buddhist literature. However, at least one story from  pre-modern times that I know of could be interpreted to imply collective kamma - a story  about the Sakyans, the Buddha’s kinsmen. Viduudabha, the King of Kosala, massacred “all the Sakyans” including even “the suckling babes”, and they suffered this fate supposedly because “the Sakyans” had sometime previously poisoned a river in a dispute over water (Ja.IV,152). In reality, only a few Sakyans could have committed this evil deed, and although the Sakyan chiefs  may have authorized it and  a number of others may have approved of it, the majority, particularly the babies and children, would have had nothing at all to do with it. Thus the collective kamma idea is implicit  in this  story. How are we to explain this?
The story is not in the Tipitaka but comes from the  Paccuppannavanna of the Jataka, a text of uncertain but late date. Some scholars consider it to have been composed in Sri Lankan rather than India. But whoever the author was   it seems  likely that he was just storytelling, rather than positing the idea of collective kamma as a specific doctrine. The fact that no later commentators took the story as a cue to develop the idea of collective kamma strengthens this assumption. Also, another retelling of the story, from the Mahavamsa Tika, says that there were survivors of the massacre, thus undermining that claim that “all Sakyans” suffered the negative vipaka of the kamma created by others.
That version of collective kamma which maintains that the consequences of deeds done by some within a group can be experienced by others within the same group, contradicts  one of the most fundamental Buddhist concepts, that each individual is responsible for themselves. 


alimin said...

Bhante, I am not in the position to support or not about the notion of collective kamma, but perhaps if we go back to the kamma-vipaka that a condition is needed for a fruit of a kamma to arise - be it wholesome or unwholesome, then maybe the notion of collective kamma maybe somehow understood in the same way that it is true for each individual is responsible for themselves but given a particular condition arise that those individuals with same or similar wholesome or unwholesome kamma may experience the result at the same time and same place (same condition), although within that same group of individuals some may not suffer or enjoy the fruit of the kamma to the same degree as the others (in this case some survivors in the story you mentioned). So maybe it is not so much about 'collective kamma' but rather 'the condition' which should be paid attention to.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Alimin, thanks for your comment. Sorry I can’t give you an answer because it is by no means clear what you are trying to say. However, over the next month I will be posting some thoughts on kamma which may, if not answer your question, then at least clarify my understanding of some aspects of kamma. However, as for collective kamma, the fact that the Buddha nowhere mentioned it is for me a very strong reason to doubt it. If there is such a thing it would be of considerable importance and the Buddha would have mentioned it.
What happened to Oblivion? Seems it disappeared into oblivion!

alimin said...

Dear Bhante, I am looking forward to reading your posts about kamma. Sorry if my earlier post was not clear enough. From my basic understanding of the Buddha's teachings, each individuals (sentient beings) have their own kamma and are responsible for it. Whatever deeds they sow, be it wholesome or unwholesome, the same can be expected what they will reap as a result. But, in order for a deed to be fruitful there has to be a right condition preceding it. So, in this case what some consider as collective kamma is not really the kamma itself being collective, rather it is the same condition under which individuals with same of similar deeds gather together at the same time and same place and they experience the result of their kammas. The degree of their experience is then dependant upon the strength of that particular wholesome or unwholesome deeds they did and also dependant upon other deeds which may protect them or even exagerate the result of the current kamma which comes into fruition.

So, in this case I tend to agree with you in doubting about the notion of collective kamma. I tend to see it more as the same condition under which individuals experience the fruition of their own kammas.

There is one passage in a Sutta if I am not mistaken where the Buddha mentioned about thinking too much about kamma could drive a puthujana crazy. Could you please clarify about this as well in your next posts about kamma? Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Bhante, I have read a few of your writings in this blog, and I am impressed. I have been studying nikayas for years with intention to follow Buddha's dhamma and not someone else's comprehension of it. Without intention to sound arrogant, I have already noticed some progress and I am enjoying the benefits of this approach.
I haven't noticed anyone even talking let alone placing importance on Ganaka Mogallana sutta - the 107th in Majjima collection. This sutta is explicitly defining gradual training, recommending mindfulness and cross-legged meditation only to those who have purified actions, mastered guarding the doors of sense faculties, and another three skills. Numerous other suttas - I can easily provide a list - are implicitly following this order.
And yet, everyone is talking about and spending time and effort on mindfulness and jhanas, yet we hardly ever hear of stream enterers, let alone higher achievers.
I wonder if you have an explanation of this curious phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

My name is Dragan and I am from Hobart in Australia.