Teaching the Causes and Results of Good and Ill
Degé Kangyur, vol. 76 (mdo sde, aH), folios 199.a–208.b
Translated by Yangdar Translation Group
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
Teaching the Causes and Results of Good and Ill describes karmic cause and effect. The discussion begins with Ānanda, who asks the Buddha why beings—particularly human beings—undergo such a wide range of experiences. The Buddha replies that one’s past actions, whether good or ill, bring about a variety of positive and negative experiences. To this effect, he offers numerous vivid examples in which results in this current lifetime parallel actions from a past life. Emphasis is placed on the object of one’s actions, such as the Saṅgha or the Three Jewels. The discourse concludes with the Buddha describing the benefits associated with the sūtra and listing its alternative titles, while the surrounding audience reaps a host of miraculous benefits.
Translated by the Yangdar Translation Group. The translation was produced by Lowell Cook and Jessica Locke, who also wrote the introduction. The translation was then checked against the Chinese by Jeffrey Kotyk and subsequently edited with reference to the Chinese by Joie Chen and Rory Lindsay.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
In Teaching the Causes and Results of Good and Ill, Ānanda asks the Buddha why different beings experience different fortunes and what types of past actions have now ripened into their respective conditions. The Buddha answers by elucidating the inconceivable dynamics of karma through a series of examples of virtuous and nonvirtuous actions along with their positive and negative results. While these one-to-one correspondences might strike the reader as an oversimplification of a very subtle and complex process, such pedagogical devices are common in the Buddhist tradition. Notably, in the classical presentation of the three types of karmic results (Tib. las kyi ’bras bu gsum), the second is said to be the “correlated effect” (Tib. rgyu mthun pa’i ’bras bu), which describes how results mirror their causes.
The Tibetan version of Teaching the Causes and Results of Good and Ill is a translation of the Chinese sūtra titled Shanwo yinguo jing 善惡因果經 (Taishō 2881). One thing that is particularly intriguing about this Tibetan sūtra is that it is practically identical to another Tibetan translation, Teaching the Ripening of Virtuous and Nonvirtuous Actions (Toh 355).1 Upon comparison, it is clear that these two Tibetan texts are simply different translations of the same Chinese sūtra. However, perhaps solely on account of their dissimilar titles, they are retained as two distinct yet adjacent entries in the Degé Kangyur.
These two sūtras differ not in terms of content but in terms of language; Toh 354, translated here, employs an Indo-Tibetan lexicon, whereas Toh 355 uses a Sino-Tibetan lexicon.2 The Indo-Tibetan lexicon refers to a body of terminology constructed in the likeness of Sanskrit and implemented during the early ninth century in order to imbue translations with a more Indic flavor, while the Sino-Tibetan lexicon leans toward a more indigenous, and presumably more archaic, range of Tibetan terminology that emerged out of interaction with Chinese texts.3 This suggests that Toh 355 is the earlier of the two translations, given that the Sino-Tibetan encounter predates the cultural sway that Indian Buddhism would later have over the Tibetan empire and subsequent Tibetan Buddhist traditions.4 Nevertheless, its title is absent in the Denkarma (Tib. ldan/lhan dkar ma) and Phangthangma (Tib. ’phang thang ma) catalogs of the early ninth century.
The translator of Toh 354 was the prolific translator Chödrup (Tib. chos grub, alias Facheng 法成, c. 755–849), who was active in Dunhuang during the early ninth century. Given that Chödrup is known for his use of Indian vocabulary, it is likely that he did not also translate Toh 355. The colophon of Toh 354 states that it was translated with reference to both Indian and Chinese manuscripts. However, given that we have no extant Sanskrit manuscripts of the sūtra, no mention of the text in Indian sources, and not even a Sanskrit title at the head of the sūtra, it seems uncertain whether this statement can be trusted. It could possibly be a later addition made with the aim of conferring greater canonical authenticity upon a translation from Chinese in a climate in which India was seen as the principal source of authentic transmission.
Beyond the Tibetan, the sūtra was translated from Chinese into Sogdian and an English translation of the Sogdian has previously been published by David Neil MacKenzie (1970). The present English translation was produced based on the Degé block print with reference to the Comparative Edition (Tib. dpe bsdur ma) and subsequently compared with the Chinese version.
Thus did I hear at one time. The Blessed One was residing in Prince Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park. At that time, the Blessed One was teaching the Dharma surrounded by innumerable bodhisattvas and many divine and human followers, who were listening to the Dharma one-pointedly.
It was then that, for the benefit of beings, Venerable Ānanda said to the Blessed One, “Blessed One, currently in this world, among those who are similar in being born as humans, some are attractive while others are ugly; some are strong while others are weak; some are poor while others are rich; some suffer while others are happy; and some are noble while others are ignoble.
“Their voices are dissimilar and their languages distinct. Some make it one hundred years without dying, while others perish before thirty. Some suddenly die at fifteen, while others die right in their mother’s womb. Some are good looking and have lovely faces, while others are destitute, ignoble, and ugly. Some are born rich and noble.6 Some are strong though lowly, while others are weak though born of high class.7 Some suffer yet have long lives, while others are happy yet have short lives.
“There are those who practice virtue yet end up in the wrong, while others commit misdeeds yet obtain meritorious benefits. Some are fat and fair but cross-eyed and hard of seeing,8 while others are dark in complexion yet endowed with inborn beauty.9 Some are short and small yet quick-witted,10 [F.198.b] while others are tall and big yet work in servitude to others. Some have many children,11 while others live alone.12 Some wander outside, hungry and afflicted by cold, while others live indoors, enjoying clothing and food.13 Some are poor when they are young and finally become wealthy by the time they are old. Some are honest in their dealings yet are forcefully imprisoned without having committed any crimes.14 Some have compassionate parents and respectful15 children and discuss with them the truths of the sūtras and sciences.16 Some fight and quarrel, estranging brother from brother. Some possess a multitude of riches and build mansions, while others depend upon others and have no house of their own. Some live in the trees and on the plains like birds.17 Some wear furs, forage grass for food, and drink like ferocious beasts. Some are illiterate.18 Some experience the ripening of happiness without doing anything.19 Some do not find any source of income.20
“Some become knowledgeable through their sharp faculties,21 while others lack knowledge due to their dull faculties. Some find things only after searching, while others find things even without searching. Some are very stingy even though they are rich, while others delight in giving even though they are poor. Some speak gently with eloquent words, while others speak wrathfully with harsh words.22 Some are respected and beloved by all, while some are cast far away by everyone.23 Some lovingly care for living beings, while others murder countless living beings. [F.199.a] Some are considered open minded and charming by everyone, while others are ignored.24 Some are hated by their wives and in-laws, while others are loved by all their relatives. Some are happy to listen to Dharma teachings, while others fall asleep upon hearing the sūtras. Some are undignified even though they are strong and heroic.25 Some are intent upon studying words and their meanings. Some appear to behave like different kinds of animals.
“Blessed One, I request you to please explain in detail the respective causes and results of these humans. Many followers will listen and understand as they single-pointedly focus themselves on virtue.”26
The Blessed One responded,27 “Ānanda, as you stated in your inquiry, these humans undergo all these dissimilar experiences of karmic ripening in many hundreds of thousands of different ways due to disparate behaviors in previous lifetimes.28 Having a lovely face in this life comes from patient acceptance.29 Having an ugly face comes from anger.30 As a human, living in poverty comes from having been stingy. As a human, being wealthy comes from having practiced generosity.31 Being noble and of high class comes from having paid respect to others. Being ignoble comes from having acted arrogantly. As a human, being tall and large comes from having devotedly shown respect. Being short32 comes from having shown contempt for the Dharma.
“As a human, being ineloquent [F.199.b] comes from having previously been a sheep.33 As a human, being dark and scrawny comes from having obscured images of the thus-gone ones.34 As a human, having unsightly lips comes from having eaten food off of stūpas.35 As a human, having red eyes comes from having been stingy with fire.36 As a human, having poor eyesight comes from having gouged out the eyes of falcons.37 As a human, being mute comes from having denigrated the Dharma. As a human, being deaf comes from having been displeased upon hearing the Dharma. As a human, having sharp teeth comes from having taken great pleasure in gnawing on bones and eating meat.38 As a human, having a crooked nose39 comes from having made malodorous offerings to the thus-gone ones. As a human, having a cleft lip comes from having pierced the cheeks of fish.40 As a human, having yellowed hair comes from having plucked out the hair of pigs. As a human, having split ears comes from having punctured the ears of others.41 As a human, having a snake-like body42 comes from having worn light and thin clothing in the presence of the thus-gone ones.43 As a human, having a dark complexion comes from having put statues of the thus-gone ones beneath courtyards and exposed them to smoke.44 As a human, having disabled limbs comes from not having risen when seeing preceptors, masters, or gurus.45 As a human, being hunchbacked comes from having worn light and thin clothing and turned one’s back when passing the thus-gone ones.46 [F.200.a] As a human, an unsightly forehead47 comes from not having bowed upon seeing the thus-gone ones, instead banging one’s hands together at the forehead.48 As a human, having a short neck comes from having hid one’s face and run away when one saw the gurus.49 As a human, always having heart diseases comes from having hacked, cut, and sliced up the limbs of beings.50 As a human, having leprosy comes from having taken wealth away from the innocent.51 As a human, being short of breath comes from having served cold food to others during the depths of winter.52 As a human, lacking sons or daughters comes from having killed many baby birds. As a human, having many children comes from having taken joy in caring for beings. As a human, having a long life comes from having had a loving heart. As a human, having a short life comes from having killed many creatures.53 As a human, being wealthy comes from having practiced generosity. As a human, owning horses and chariots comes from having offered horses and chariots to the Three Jewels. As a human, having brilliant faculties comes from having inquired into and recited the sūtras. As a human, having dull faculties comes from having been an animal. As a human, working as another person’s servant boy or girl comes from having amassed debt. As a human, being unstable and flighty comes from having previously been a monkey. As a human, contracting leprosy comes from having destroyed images of the Three Jewels. As a human, having disabled limbs [F.200.b] comes from having tightly bound the limbs of other beings. As a human, having scars and abscesses on the body that do not heal even with lengthy medical treatment comes from having beaten other beings.54 As a human, having a malicious nature comes from having been a scorpion or a snake.55
“As a human, having all six sense faculties complete comes from having upheld one’s discipline. As a human, having incomplete sense faculties comes from not having upheld one’s discipline. As a human, having bad hygiene comes from having been a swine. As a human, being fond of song and dance comes from having been a musical performer. As a human, having excessive desire comes from having been a dog. Having goiters on the neck comes from eating alone.56 Having bad breath comes from having insulted others with harsh words. Having incomplete male faculties comes from having castrated dogs and swine. Having a short tongue comes having disgraced the gurus in solitary places.57
“People who take pleasure in committing adultery with the wife of another will regress to a rebirth as a swan58 after death. People who take pleasure in sexual misconduct with their relatives and friends will regress to a rebirth as a sparrow after death. People who are stingy with the sūtras and treatises and hide their knowledge so as not to teach them to others will be reborn as a wood-eating insect59 after death. People who take pleasure in bearing bows and arrows and battling60 will regress to a rebirth as a barbarian after death. [F.201.a]
“Taking pleasure in hunting and killing living beings will result in regressing to a rebirth as a jackal after death. Taking pleasure in wearing crowns and flowers will result in being a dung beetle61 after death. Enjoying wearing long dresses will result in being a long-tailed insect62 after death. Taking pleasure in sleeping and eating will result in being reborn as a swine after death. Taking pleasure in wearing colorful clothing will result in becoming a multicolored bird after death. Taking pleasure in mimicking the words of others and making fun will result in becoming a parrot after death. Taking pleasure in gossip will result in being reborn as a large-bodied snake63 after death. Being hostile to an enemy without just cause64 will result in being born after death as an insect with a mind that holds on to grudges.65 Enjoying others’ discord will result in being born as an owl after death. Taking pleasure in uttering curse words will result in being born as a fox after death.66 Taking pleasure in scaring and frightening others will result in being born as a mountain deer67 after death.
“Those who entered shrines while wearing wooden shoes in a previous life will be reborn as horses in this life. Those who took pleasure in farting in a previous life will be reborn as stink bugs. Those who used the Saṅgha’s mortars and pestles in a previous life will be reborn as flat-headed worms68 in this life. If one obstructed others’ access to food in a previous life, one will be woodworms in this life. Those who stole water from the Saṅgha and used it themselves will be reborn as fish or crocodiles.69 Those who discarded their filth on the grounds of the Saṅgha will be reborn as latrine maggots.70 [F.201.b] Those who stole fruit from the Saṅgha will become mud-eating bugs. Those who stole wealth from the Saṅgha will become oxen or donkeys turning a millstone.
“If one insistently begs the Saṅgha to loan out its wealth, one will be reborn as a white pigeon. If one ridicules and disparages the Saṅgha, one will be reborn as a bug on the neck of oxen. If one consumes the vegetables of the Saṅgha, one will be reborn as an insect on vegetables.71 If one sits on the seats of the Saṅgha, one will be reborn as a mosquito.72 If one uses the various implements belonging to the Saṅgha, one will be reborn as a moth. If one enters monasteries wearing bone ornaments,73 one will be reborn as a long-beaked bird. If one enters monasteries having applied rouge on the lips,74 one will be reborn as a red-beaked bird. If one goes into monasteries wearing colorful clothing, one will be reborn as a yellow bird. If a married couple copulates in a temple, they will be reborn as blue-headed birds.75 If one tramples76 on a stūpa of the thus-gone ones, one will be reborn with the body of a camel. If one goes into shrines of the thus-gone ones wearing shoes, one will be reborn as a toad.77 If one makes a clamor while listening to the Dharma, one will be reborn as a hundred-tongued bird.78 If one harasses a pure nun, one will fall into the iron caves of the hell realms, where many hundreds of thousands of circular blades will descend upon one, slicing one’s body.”
Venerable Ānanda then inquired of the Blessed One, “Blessed One, as you have just taught, using the property of the Saṅgha is an extremely grave misdeed. How, then, should the four types of benefactors go to monasteries and offer their respect and pay homage?” [F.202.a]
The Blessed One replied, “Those who go to the monasteries of the Saṅgha are of two mindsets: virtuous and nonvirtuous. Who are those with a virtuous mindset? They are those who bow upon seeing the thus-gone ones when entering monasteries, those who pay respect with veneration and inquire as to the meaning of the sūtras when they see the Saṅgha, those who correctly uphold their vows and confess their faults, and those who offer their wealth in service to the Three Jewels.79 These people will be reborn in the divine palaces of the gods, or if in the future they are a householder or a wife,80 they will experience results with a similar karmic fruition.81 This is known as the supremely virtuous person.
“Who are those with a nonvirtuous mindset? They are those who go to the monasteries only intending to beg, borrow, or take loans from the Saṅgha, those who desire only to find fault with and relentlessly disparage the Saṅgha, and those who do not feel bad about consuming the food of the Saṅgha, taking home with them cakes, fruits, and vegetables. As soon as they die, these people will fall down to the hells where they eat lumps of iron, where there is no suffering they will not experience—from being boiled in cauldrons to being burnt by scorching fires, climbing mountains of knives and trees with razor leaves, and so on. This is known as the supremely nonvirtuous person.”
The Blessed One said, “Ānanda,82 I admonish my future disciples: exercise vigilance so as to not commit transgressions against the Three Jewels.83 [F.202.b] So long as they act wholeheartedly in accordance with what the Thus-Gone One has taught, they will undoubtedly pass beyond suffering once the Thus-Gone One Maitreya appears in this world.”84
The Blessed One continued, “If one strips the clothing from the body of another in this life, after death one will fall into the cold hell realms, or, having been reborn as a silkworm, one will be boiled alive.85 If one does not delight in lighting lamps to illuminate sūtras and statues in this life, after death one will fall into the darkness of the hells between mountains. If in this life one torments and cuts up beings, taking their lives, after death one will fall into the weapon-like hells, where one will climb razor-sharp mountains and trees with razor leaves.86
“Those who desire a great deal and commit sexual misconduct in this life, after death will fall into the hells where they will be liquified against scalding bronze pillars and sleep on scorching iron beds. Those who keep many wives in this life will fall into the hells where they will be pulverized by iron millstones.87 Those who possess many husbands in this life, after death will fall into the hells of poisonous snakes. Those who burn eggs in this life, after death will fall into the hells of burning embers. Those who skin pigs and defeather birds in this life, after death will fall into the hells where they will boil in molten iron. Those who castrate pigs and dogs in this life, after death will fall into the hells of jagged rocks. [F.203.a] Those who drink alcohol and become intoxicated in this life, after death will fall into the hells where they will drink molten metal. Those who hack off and sever the limbs of beings in this life, after death will fall into the hells of iron wheels. Those who steal fruit from the Saṅgha in this life, after death will fall into the hells where they will swallow iron lumps. Those who eat the intestines and flesh of pigs in this life, after death will fall into the hells filled with filth.88 Those who eat live fish in this life, after death will fall into the hells with trees made of weapons, clubs, and saws.89 Those who become stepmothers and look upon their stepchildren with scorn in this life, after death will fall into the hells of blazing chariots. Those who sow discord with divisive speech in this life, after death will fall into the hells where they will be tilled by iron plows.90 Those who reprimand others with harsh language in this life, after death will fall into the hells where their tongues will be pulled out. Those who speak many falsehoods in this life, after death will fall into the hells where they will be impaled with iron needles.91
“Those who take life and offer it to perverse gods, after death will fall into the hells where they will be beaten with iron pestles.92 Those who, in this life, practice sorcery by chanting the words of ghosts and swindling people, after death will fall into the hells of mountains of flesh.93 Those who, in this life, practice sorcery by lying on the ground with their eyes closed, [F.203.b] summoning ghosts, and uttering falsehoods such as ‘you will be reborn in the higher realms,’ after death will fall into the hells where their waists will be severed.94 Those who, in this life, practice sorcery by taking the lives of others and making them into offerings for gods, ghosts, the lords of the five paths, demonesses, and other such beings are all fools who have been deceived. They will therefore fall into the hells where they will be hacked up with axes.95 Their limbs will be sliced and severed by the minions of hell. Both of their eyes will be pecked out by birds with iron beaks. Those who, in this life, practice sorcery by burying the corpses of the dead, by making prognostications of the good and bad omens of houses and of the fortune or lack thereof of the five families, by appeasing the nāgas, by making thanksgiving offerings of crushed silkworms,96 and by deceiving fools to take their wealth with false prognostications, after death will fall into the hells of iron webs.97 There, their bodies will be swarmed by countless malevolent birds that will consume the entirety of their flesh before pecking away at their bones and innards,98 causing them immeasurable suffering. Those who, in this life, act as doctors but are unable to cure illness while nonetheless deceiving others and taking their wealth, after death will fall into the hells where they will be bled and scorched with moxibustion sticks. They will fall into the hells where their bodies will be entirely consumed by flames. Those who, in this life, destroy stūpas and monasteries, do not obey the orders of their preceptors and masters, and do not have reverence for their parents will experience manifold suffering in the great hell of Avīci and the eight great hells. [F.204.a] They will then find themselves in the one hundred thirty-six minor hells, where they will suffer for one eon, two eons, or even up to five hundred eons, after which they will finally escape.99 If they then meet with a spiritual teacher, they will give rise to the mind set on awakening. However, if they do not meet with one, they will once more fall back down to the hells.”
The Blessed One100 continued, “As a human, having a body that is large and pungent and being quick to anger and difficult to liberate comes from having previously been a camel. As a human, taking delight in moving about, busying oneself with eating, and not being scared away by anything comes from having previously been a horse. As a human, being able to endure heat and cold yet unable to mentally retain anything comes from having previously been an ox.101 As a human, having a loud voice, lacking shame and modesty, being full of craving, being lethargic,102 and not distinguishing good from ill comes from having previously been a donkey. As a human, always craving meat and never fearing any task comes from having previously been a lion. As a human, being tall with round eyes, often wandering in the wilderness, and being averse103 to one’s children and wife104 comes from having previously been a tiger. As a human, being hairy, having small eyes, and not wishing to dwell in a single place comes from having previously been a bird. As a human, being of an unstable nature and delighting in killing tiny creatures comes from having previously been a fox.105 As a human, being strong and skilled in hunting,106 having little desire, and lacking craving for a wife comes from having previously been a wolf. As a human, disliking fine clothing, ruminating over mistakes, [F.204.b] sleeping little, and being full of anger comes from having previously been a dog.107 As a human, delighting in sexual misconduct and taking great pleasure in telling alluring tales to many people comes from having previously been a parrot.108 As a human, being physically small, delighting in sexual misconduct, being mentally scattered, and becoming fixated immediately upon beholding something comes from having previously been a sparrow. As a human, having red eyes and short teeth, spewing saliva when speaking, and enveloping oneself in cloth coverings when sleeping109 comes from having previously been a snake or a lizard. As a human, becoming outraged immediately upon speaking and spewing verbal abuse without understanding the intentions of others comes from having previously been a scorpion. As a human, living in isolation, craving food, and sleeping little during the night comes from having previously been a cat.110 As a human, boring holes in walls to thieve, craving wealth, harboring grudges easily, and being indifferent to others—not distinguishing between close and distant relations—comes from having previously been a mouse.”
The Blessed One111 continued, “As a human, those who demolish stūpas and monasteries and hoard the property of the Three Jewels for their exclusive use will fall into the great hell of Avīci after death. Even if they escape from this hell, they will take up a body in the animal realm, such as that of a pigeon, sparrow, duck, parrot, bluebird,112 fish, tortoise, monkey, or deer.113 In the rare event that they attain a human body, they will be a person labeled a paṇḍaka, a woman, a person with double gender, a person lacking in faculties, or a prostitute.114 [F.205.a] As a human, those who take pleasure in anger will descend into the forms of poisonous snakes, tigers, lions, wolves, bears, brown bears, cats, and falcons.115 In the rare event that they attain a human body, they will take pleasure in the killing of birds and pigs and in being a butcher, huntsman, spy, or prison guard. As a human, those who are foolish and ignorant and unable to understand analytical reasoning will take up the bodies of elephants, pigs, cows, water buffalo, lice, bees, mosquitoes, ants, and the like after death.116 Even if they happen to attain a human body, they will be deaf, blind, mute, physically handicapped, or hunchbacked, or they will have incomplete faculties.117 As a human, those who are arrogant and full of pride will regress to rebirth as latrine maggots, camels, donkeys, tigers, or dogs after death. Even if they are reborn as humans, they will take up the body of a servant, be a poverty-stricken beggar, or be taunted as they fall into universal disgrace. As a human, those who boast of the guru’s power as a means of taking the wealth of others will fall into the hells of mountains of flesh after death, where the flesh of their bodies will be hacked apart and consumed by many hundreds of thousands of beings.118
“Those who delight in making others stand in this life will be reborn as elephants after death or regress to a state of having straight limbs and not being able to lie down to sleep. Those who tear apart feast offerings in this life and make an evening meal out of them will regress after death to the states of hungry ghosts and miserly ghosts.119 They will thus not acquire much food or drink for many hundreds of years, and their joints will blaze with fire as they move about.120 [F.205.b] Those who delight in staying in the nude in this life will be reborn after death as insects who are numb with cold.121 Those who take the leftovers from feast offerings with them in this life will descend after death into the hell realms whose iron grounds are blazing hot.122 In the rare event that they are reborn as humans, they will have diseases of the throat and shortened lifespans. Those who do not touch their heads to the floor when prostrating to statues of the thus-gone ones in this life will descend into the hells where they hang upside down after death.123 In the rare event that they are reborn in the human realm, they will be thoroughly deceived by others. Those who do not join their palms together as they prostrate to statues of the thus-gone ones in this life will be reborn in borderlands after death and will not attain anything despite their many efforts. Those who do not rise despite hearing the big bell ring in this life will regress to the state of large-bodied snakes.124 As their bodies will be long and large, they will be devoured by many small bugs. Those who show their hands in a backward manner as they prostrate to the thus-gone ones in this life will fall into the hells where their hands are tightly bound behind their backs after death.125 Even if they happen to be reborn as humans, they will get caught up in disputes despite being innocent.126
“Those who in this life join their palms and prostrate themselves with all five points127 touching the ground128 will always be of mighty lineages and experience continuous happiness. Being quick to anger and unsatisfied with one’s food in this life comes from having previously been mentally ill. Being cross-eyed in this life comes from having previously looked at the wives of others with a perverted mindset. Those who are pressured by their wives to rebuke their parents129 in this life will fall into the hells of tongue plowing130 after death. [F.206.a] Those who in this life adulterate alcohol and give it to others will be reborn as water bugs after death.131 In the rare event that they are reborn in the human realm, they will die from swollen bodies and shortness of breath.”
The Blessed One said,132 “The multitudes of various forms of suffering that have been described all come about on account of the ten negative, nonvirtuous actions. At worst, they will serve as the causes and conditions for the hell realms. Failing that, they will serve as the causes and conditions for the animal realms. At best, they will serve as the causes and conditions for the hungry ghost realms.
“The inadmissible act of taking life will cause beings to fall into the hells, the animal realms, and the realm of the Lord of Death.133 Even if they happen to be reborn as humans, they will experience two types of ripened results: a short lifespan and an abundance of disease.134 The inadmissible act of taking what is not given causes beings to fall into the hells, the animal realms, and the realm of the Lord of Death.135 Even if they happen to be reborn as humans, they will experience two types of ripened results: being poverty stricken and losing control over their wealth when it becomes collectivized.136 The inadmissible act of sexual misconduct due to desire causes beings to fall into the hells, the animal realms, and the realm of the Lord of Death.137 Even if they happen to be reborn as humans, they will experience two types of ripened results: their wives will be unfaithful, and their two wives will fight and not follow their will.138 The inadmissible act of false speech causes beings to fall into the hells, the animal realms, and the realm of the Lord of Death.139 [F.206.b] Even if they happen to be reborn as humans, they will experience two types of ripened results: copious slander and always being deceived by others.140 141 The inadmissible act of divisive speech causes beings to fall into the hells, the animal realms, and the realm of the Lord of Death. Even if they happen to be reborn as humans, they will experience two types of ripened results: always hearing unpleasant sounds and frequently becoming the subject of debate, no matter what they say.142 The inadmissible act of idle chatter causes beings to fall into the hells, the animal realms, and the realm of the Lord of Death.143 Even if they happen to be reborn as humans, they will experience two types of ripened results: not being believed by others even when they speak the truth and not being understood by others, no matter what they say.144 The inadmissible act of engendering covetousness causes beings to fall into the hells, the animal realms, and the realm of the Lord of Death.145 Even if they happen to be reborn as humans, they will experience two types of ripened results: craving wealth but lacking contentment and searching at length but never finding the fulfilment they imagined. The inadmissible act of harboring ill will causes beings to fall into the hells, the animal realms, and the realm of the Lord of Death.146 Even if they happen to be reborn as humans, they will experience two types of ripened results: others will always try to take advantage of them, and they will constantly be harmed by others.147 The inadmissible act of wrong view causes beings to fall into the hells, the animal realms, [F.207.a] and the realm of the Lord of Death.148 Even if they happen to be reborn as humans, they will experience two types of ripened results: always being reborn into households with wrong views and being pursued by devious thoughts.149
“O heirs to the Buddha, since this is so, the ten negative, nonvirtuous paths of action are the causes and conditions for great heaps of multitudes of sufferings!”
Then, at that moment, those among the great gathering of retinues who had performed the ten negative, nonvirtuous actions heard the Blessed One explain the ripening of the sufferings of the hell realms, and they all wept and cried out to the Blessed One, “Blessed One, what sort of virtue, when practiced, will free us from such suffering?”150
The Blessed One responded, “Lead all beings toward meritorious actions.151 How is merit created? Anyone who acts as a great, influential leader in this life and constructs stūpas of the thus-gone ones, shrines, and monasteries152 will, without a doubt, become a king in the future. They will rule over many people and will never be disobeyed by anyone.153 Those who, as the heads of towns and villages in this life, are upstanding and rule in accordance with the Dharma will, without a doubt, become ministers to kings in the future. They will have an abundance of clothing, food, and horses and will acquire whatever they desire.154 Those who encourage many people to create merit in this life will, without a doubt, become heads of rich houses with venerable lineages in the future. They will be respected by everyone and will accomplish all their endeavors throughout the ten directions.155 [F.207.b]
“Those who delight in making and offering lamps in this life will be reborn as the gods of the sun and moon and will become self-illuminated by rays of light. Those who delight in generosity and healing creatures with a loving attitude in this life will be wealthy in all their lives,156 as food and clothing naturally come to them. Those who delight in offering food and drink to many people in this life will naturally acquire an abundance of divine foods in all their lifetimes,157 have a perfect physique with an abundance of strength, possess sharp faculties and eloquence, and have a long life.
“If one practices generosity toward those who have gone to the animal realms, one will experience ripened results by the hundreds. If one practices generosity toward icchantikas, one will attain ripened results by the thousands. If one practices generosity toward disciplined monks, one will attain ripened results by the tens of thousands. If one practices generosity toward Dharma teachers who open the eyes of beings by proclaiming the secret essence of the thus-gone ones—that is, the Great Vehicle—to many followers, one will attain ripened results without measure.158 If one practices generosity toward the buddhas and bodhisattvas, one will enjoy ripened results beyond limits. Furthermore, if one practices generosity toward the three types of individuals, the ripened results will be inexhaustible.159 Those are the thus-gone ones,160 parents, and the sick. Even by offering a single meal to them, one will attain ripened results without measure. There is indeed no need to mention how always giving will have an inexhaustible result. [F.208.a]
“Those who offer baths to many Saṅgha members in this life will have a lovely and beautiful face, will naturally come to possess clothing and food,161 and will be respected by many people in all their lives. Those who delight in offering praise and reading and chanting the Dharma of the sūtras in this life will have a pleasant voice and will delight all who hear it throughout all their places of rebirth. Those who delight in upholding their discipline in this life will have a lovely face and will be the most supreme of humans in all their lives. Those who delight in digging wells near roads and planting trees to provide shade to many will become kings among humans and will in all their lives acquire at their whim food and drink with hundreds of flavors. Those who delight in copying sūtras and giving them to others to read in this life will in all their lives possess great eloquence and will understand Dharma teachings just by listening to them once. The buddhas and bodhisattvas will bless and protect them, and they will always be the most supreme among humans and among eminent leaders. Those who delight in this life in ferrying many beings with bridges and boats will have an abundance of the seven precious jewels, will in all their lives be respected and praised by many people, and will be venerated and served by all when they travel.
“Ānanda,” said the Blessed One,162 “with these words, I have taught the causes and results according to this and other sūtras. Having been inspired to read, chant, and practice them, many beings will transcend the obstruction that is suffering.163 [F.208.b] Thus has it been taught here. Anyone who hears this Dharma teaching and slanders it will have their tongue fall out in this very life.”
The Blessed One responded, “Ānanda,165 this Dharma teaching is known as Teaching the Causes and Results of Good and Ill, and it may likewise be retained166 as The Aspiration Made for the Accomplishment of the Bodhisattva’s Conduct.”167 168
As the Blessed One gave this Dharma teaching, eighty thousand gods and humans gave rise to the mind set on unsurpassed and completely perfect awakening. Many hundreds of thousands of women lost their female faculties and in this very life manifested fully formed male bodies.169 Two thousand170 beings with wicked ways abandoned their malevolent thoughts and recollected their past lives. Limitless beings with virtuous ways attained the acceptance of nonarising and experienced lasting happiness. Limitless beings who were to pass away171 were reborn in the pure lands of the buddhas and accompanied the bodhisattvas as their equals.
Thus concludes the noble sūtra “The Teaching on the Causes and Results of Good and Ill.”
legs nyes kyi rgyu dang ’bras bu bstan pa. Toh 354, Degé Kangyur vol. 76 (mdo sde, aH), folios 198.a–208.b.
legs nyes kyi rgyu dang ’bras bu bstan pa. bka’ ’gyur (dpe bsdur ma). [Comparative Edition of the Kangyur], krung go’i bod rig pa zhib ’jug ste gnas kyi bka’ bstan dpe sdur khang [The Tibetan Tripitaka Collation Bureau of the China Tibetology Research Center]. 108 volumes. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang [China Tibetology Publishing House], 2006–9, vol. 76, pp. 564–94.
dge ba dang mi dge ba’i las kyi rnam par smin pa bstan pa. Toh 355, Degé Kangyur vol. 76 (mdo sde, aH), folios 209.a–216.a. English translation in Dharmachakra Translation Committee 2023.
Dharmachakra Translation Committee, trans. Teaching the Ripening of Virtuous and Nonvirtuous Actions (Toh 355). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2023.
MacKenzie, David Neil. The ‘Sūtra of the Causes and Effects of Actions’ in Sogdian. London Oriental Series 22. London: Oxford University Press, 1970.
Scherrer-Schaub, Cristina. “Enacting Words: A Diplomatic Analysis of the Imperial Decrees (bkas bcad) and Their Application in the sGra sbyor bam po gñis pa Tradition.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 25, nos. 1–2 (2002): 263–340.
Stein, Rolf A. Rolf Stein’s Tibetica Antiqua: With Additional Materials. Translated and edited by Artur P. McKeown. Brill’s Tibetan Studies Library 24. Leiden: Brill, 2010.
- kun dga’ bo
- mgon med zas sbyin gyi kun dga’ ra ba
- mnar med
- bcom ldan ’das
- chos grub
eight great hells
- dmyal ba chen po brgyad
- rigs lnga
four types of benefactors
- sbyin bdag bzhi po
- yi dags
- ’dod chen pa
- kha na ma tho ba
lords of the five paths
- lam lnga’i sa’i bdag po
- byams pa
- ’dre bkren
person labeled a paṇḍaka
- ma ning
- mkhan po
Prince Jeta’s Grove
- rgyal bu rgyal byed kyi tshal
realm of the Lord of Death
- gshin rje’i ’jig rten
- sri zhu che
seven precious jewels
- rin po che sna bdun
- dri gtsang khang
- bon mo
ten negative, nonvirtuous actions
- sdig pa mi dge ba’i las rnam pa bcu
- sdig pa mi dge ba’i las bcu po
- de bzhin gshegs pa