Buddha’s Words: #10 Instant Karma

Today’s post sheds a little light on Buddha’s words from The Dhammapada chapter 10 which is all about negative and instant Karma.

Popular definitions and beliefs in Karma include expressions such as “what goes round comes round” or ” it comes back to haunt you” or the ultimate belief in going to heaven following a good life or to hell after a bad life. In other words your Karma/actions build up as in a credit and debit account and woe betide you if you are in the red!

Buddha’s teaching in The Dhammapada chapter 10 is usually titled “The Rod” and is all about the effect during our actual lifetime/existence of bad deeds. The rod referred to by Buddha is a stick, a switch or lathi that most of you will have seen wielded by the police in Asian countries, especially viciously in Singapore, though I have seen it used in Kathmandu up close. Here are a couple of verses from Chapter 10 which are very clear:

“The one who desires happiness for himself and harms with the rod other Beings who desire happiness, will have no happiness himself.”

“Do not speak harshly to anyone, for those spoken to will answer back. Angry speech is painful and retribution may reach you.”

“Whoever with the rod does harm to others who do no harm, will soon experience pain, loss, injury, disease, slander, mental distress ……..”

The rod is of course a metaphor for harmful actions or words which are described in the Moral Discipline section of Buddha’s Eightfold Path. But most importantly it is symbolic of negative Karma in THIS life, not as an accumulation of our deeds for some final judgement day! This is one aspect of the Buddhist concept of “suffering”, the suffering that we all experience in THIS life moment to moment, often accumulating from the inner mental anguish we experience because we can’t get all the things we desire, or the same anguish we feel towards so many things in our life we dislike, hate, and want to get rid of. In Buddha’s words Moral Discipline is the way to end this negative Karma and so Chapter 10 of The Dhammapada is all about leading an ethical life based on strong moral values.

A perfect example of such negative Karma occurs in the brilliant novel Crime & Punishment by Dostoyevsky in which the main character, Raskolnikov, kills for personal gain, only to be flooded with “the Rod” of mental anguish for what he has done. His theoretical justifications lose all their power as he struggles with guilt and horror and confronts both the internal and external consequences of his action.

John Lennon had it right too with his song “Instant Karma”.

Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you right on the head
You better get yourself together
Pretty soon you’re gonna be dead

John Lennon, “Instant Karma”

And so as usual here is my interpretation in a single sentence for the Dhammapada Chapter 10. The focus is on THIS life and how it is our moral code, ethics, values, that affects how we feel moment to moment into the future. As a “teaser” for a subsequent post, don’t bother with 30min of meditation and mindfulness and then kid yourself that all is well for your next 24 hours un-moral behaviour!

“The foundation for a satisfying life, moment to moment, is built on your personal moral code which drives your thoughts, your actions and your speech. Karma is about THIS life, not a possible NEXT life.”

The Two Doctors

Categories: Buddha, Philosophy

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2 replies

  1. Excellent clarification, Dr B! Love this explanation and the references to Dostoyevsky and Lennon. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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