The Karma Sutra has changed the lives of many who have read it because it explains the direct results of causes. It is also called the Golden Precepts by Shakyamuni Buddha and is one of the famous Sutras in Chinese Buddhism. The following is my version of translation of this Sutra from Chinese into English.
Once upon an assembly attended by about twelve hundred and fifty disciples and followers, the venerable Ananda, after circling three times with his palms joined around Shakyamuni Buddha and bowing deeply with respect, asked:
“In the present Dark Age, the society is deteriorating. The majority of our people are indulgent in bad habits and misdeeds, showing no respect to the Buddha’s teachings, undutiful to their parents, immoral, greedy, hopeless, and miserable. Among them some are deaf, some blind, some dumb, some idiotic, some handicapped in other aspects, and most people behaved habitually in stealing and robbing. How could we understand the hidden meanings and fundamental principle or causes that have brought about this reality and what consequences each individual is to suffer eventually for his/her deeds. The World-Honored One, would you kindly explain these to us?”
Shakyamuni Buddha, The World-Honored One, then answered, “Listen very carefully, I will now give a detailed explanation of the Law of Karma. Because of Karmic effects inherited from previous lives, some people are poor, some rich, some happy and some miserable. The following are the four rules inseparable in obtaining true happiness for your next life: (1) To be dutiful to parents; (2) To be respectful to Buddhas, to Buddha’s teaching, and to Buddhist monks; (3) To abstain from killing and set free sentient beings; and (4) To abstain from eating meat and be compassionate.” Then, the Buddha proceeded on the Karmic Sutra:
“Destiny is aggregate karmic effects from the previous lives. To believe in and practice this Sutra will bring you true happiness.
To be able to hold office in the Government or have a good career is a reward for your building Buddha’s statues in previous lives. For building Buddha’s statues is similar to moulding yourself, and to protect the Tathagata is protecting yourself. (Note: Tathagata is a title of Buddha, the ‘Perfect One.”)
To be a public officer cannot be taken for granted, because without practicing Buddhism it will not befall you.
Having helped in the construction of bridges and roads in your past life brings about good result to your present enjoyment of various public transportation facilities.
To donate clothing to monks will ensure you to be well provided with clothing in your future life.
To be free from want in food is the result of your providing food to the poor in your previous life.
To be selfish, greedy and unwilling to help the needy gives rise to future starvation and clothlessness.
To have ample housing is a reward for donating food to monasteries in your past life.
To help the building of temples and public shelters will give you future true happiness.
To be pretty and handsome is the reward for your respecting and offering flowers to Buddha’s altar in the past.
To cherish life in every form, to abstain from eating meat, and to pay homage to Buddhas will assure you to be reborn a very intelligent child in your next life.
To have a good spouse and good children is the reward for your spreading the Buddha’s teaching in your past life.
Attending Buddhist assembly or Dharma services will enable you to have a sound and harmonious home life in your next life.
Offering Buddhist temples with flowers and fruits will enable you to have a good marriage in your next rebirth.
To have good parents is a reward for your helping those who were poor, lonely and hopeless in your past life.
Being a bird hunter in your previous life has resulted in your being an orphan now.
To have descendant luck is attributable to your setting free birds in your previous life.
To have destroyed flowers and plants habitually in your previous life has caused you being infertile, not having had children now.
Your longevity is due to your setting free sentient beings in your past life.
Being short-lived is the result of your committing many killings in your previous life.
To be a widow or widower is due to your disrespecting, cheating, and abusing your spouse in your previous life.
Being ungrateful in your previous life has caused you to be an enslaved laborer at present.
To possess and steal another person’s spouse will cause you to have no spouse in your next life.
To destroy a happy family of another person will cause you to become a victim of a similar situation in your next life.
To distort truths habitually will cause you to suffer blindness in your next life.
To have dry mouth is due to your intentionally blowing out candles before Buddha’s altar in your past life.
To abuse your parents will cause you to be reborn a deaf, mute in your next life.
Your being lame is attributable to your being a robber in your previous life.
To be reborn a pig or dog is the punishment for your hurting and killing others in your previous life.
To be healthy is a reward for your offering kindness, compassion and assistance to save the sick and wounded in your past life.
Constantly committing misdeeds in your previous life is the cause for your present imprisonment.
Showing no respect to life in every form will cause you to starve to death in your next life.
Being lonely, hopeless and miserable is the punishment for being unfaithful and deceitful to others in your past life.
Disrespecting to the Buddha’s teaching will bring you constant starvation in your next life.
To have disturbed Buddhist assembly in your previous life is the cause for your present deafness.
To hunt animals with rope and net will predestine your death by hanging in your next life.
Being greedy and unduly jealous in your past life is the cause for your being lonely, or having no spouse at present.
To be struck by lightning or burnt by fire will be the punishment for dishonest trade dealings.
Being wounded by beasts or snakes tells you that those creatures were your enemies in your past life.
Whatever you do will come back on you, so accept whatever justice and retribution that befalls you.
Be not mistaken that karma is fallacious. You will live to bear the consequences of your deeds, either within this lifetime or in your future life.
Should you doubt the virtue of practicing Buddhism, could you not see the happiness of the Buddha’s followers.
Past karma determines your present destiny.
Present karma are to mould your next life.
Whoever slanders this Sutra will not be reborn again a human being.
Whoever accepts this Sutra will witness the truth.
Whoever writes this Sutra will prosper in successful lives.
Whoever carries this Sutra will be free from mishaps.
Whoever preaches this Sutra will become a very intelligent person in successive lives.
Whoever recites this Sutra will be well-respected by people in his/her next life.
Whoever distributes this Sutra free to all will become a leader to humanity in his/her next life.
Whoever is faithful to this Sutra will not fail to witness the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss .
The Law of Karma works forever, and the fruit of good deeds will come in due course.”
Having spoken the above Sutra to Ananda and the other disciples and followers, the World-Honored One added, “There are innumerable examples of Karmic Law, but I have only mentioned in generalization.”
Then Ananda said, “We all thank deeply to our Master and the Sutra he has so kindly given us. Whoever writes and reads, prints and distributes this Sutra, upon paying homage to the Buddha, will be blessed with true happiness and be led by Amitabha Buddha to his Pure Land of Utmost Bliss when the final moment of their life arrives.”
After Ananda spoke, all Buddha’s disciples and followers felt great joy and enlightened and, after bowing respectfully and vowing to abide by this Sutra, took their journey home.
(Note: The Venerable Ananda is one of ten great disciples of the Buddha. He is noted as the foremost in hearing and learning. The Buddha left no written teachings. After the Buddha’s passing, Ananda is said to have compiled the sutras in Vaibhara Cave, which is in Magadha, India, and which is where the five hundred disciples of the Buddha were assembled to help the compiling of the sutras.)
The Buddha taught that ‘all things spring from a cause’ and he clearly laid down the nature of good and bad Karma. Karma is action. It always has a cause and it always has an effect. It is quite easy to understand that ‘what happens today is the result of yesterday and the cause of tomorrow.’ Karma operates throughout time into the past, within the present and into the future. There are three aspects to karma: the thought processes that lead you to action; the actual karma of carrying out the action; and the way you talk about the action. It is not only the path you walk on that bears your imprint; even thinking about the path or talking about it leaves some trace, some energy.
According to Buddhism, if you do something good or bad, there is always a reaction. This will be recorded as your karma or karmic force. So we have to be aware of what we are saying all the time, because this karmic force will accumulate in our consciousness and lead to the next life. In this way, Buddhism, although it talks of the impermanence of the self, is not about absolving individuals from their actions. Because we all live interdependently or interconnectedly, all our actions have consequences. Therefore, Buddhism teaches the utmost respect for others, because we are those others.
Karma functions like a plant. A plant can blossom once a year, or may live for only two years. Each plant blossoms at different times and under different conditions. Plants that seem dead may spring to life while others may bloom at the point of death. People who do bad things in this life may not receive retribution in this lifetime, but will experience suffering in the next life. People who do good things may suffer because of what they did in previous lives. Yet, just as the laws of cause and effect are immutable, so is the natural law of justice. Good deeds will create good karma; bad deeds bad karma.
We should always remember that everything has to be repaid for in one way or another, at one time or another. Understanding the Law of Karma will help us to put a stop on all the evil actions of our body, speech, and mind — the three karmic vehicles (of expression). The three evils committed by the body are killing, stealing and adultery. The three evils of the mind are greed, anger and delusion; and the evil deeds that are committed by the mouth are vulgar speech, false speech, harsh speech and duplicity.
Those who are able to penetrate the truth of the Law of Karma will not fear it but will learn how to make use of it by living a more meaningful and fruitful life. Then, they will no longer ask this universal question whenever they are in despair: “Why me? What have I done to deserve this?”
I accepted my misfortunes as the result of my own karma – the consequences of my past misdeeds, I took the responsibility to correct my past misdeeds and will not repeat it again. Some people do not believe in life after death and they also do not believe in the Law of Karma. They believe that life is linear not cyclical. They say that life begins in this lifetime and ends in this lifetime. They also say that the physical body simply faded away, leaving nothing behind. I respect their belief, but what are their answers to the following commonly asked questions. I think they will not accept that the answer is the Law of Karma.
“Why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people?”
“Why good goes unrewarded and evil goes unpunished?”
(Spring Liao, 1/20/09)
The Path to Perfection
When a person can abandon greed, hate, and delusion, he or she can, like Buddha, become enlightened. However, few people can achieve this because the amount of Karma they need to dissolve — which they have collected in previous lives through good and bad deeds as well as lack of recognition of the real world — is simple too great, making achievement of enlightenment too hard to attain. Buddha taught people how to overcome the source of suffering and to follow the “Eightfold Path” to perfection over the course of their many existences.
The Eightfold Path: Right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation.
Buddha also taught the Five Precepts for daily life:
(1) Have sympathy and respect for even the lowest creatures.
(2) Give and receive freely, but do not take anything that is not yours to take.
(3) Never tell a lie, even the situation seems to excuse it.
(4) Avoid intoxicants.
(5) Respect your spouses and do not engage in sexual misconduct.