Introduction to to the Analysis of Deeds

The Doctrine

On the night of his Awakening the Buddha had three principal insights: he had been reborn in many different forms and lives over the course of an inconceivably long period of time; that beings are traveling through saṁsāra (the round of births and deaths) according to their deeds, good and bad (karma-vipāka); and the insight into the four noble truths, which included as the fourth truth the eightfold noble path.

The teaching of karma-vipāka (deeds and their results) was therefore a fundamental insight for the Buddha, which provided the basis for his Awakening, and it has remained central to the teaching throughout the development of Buddhism in its various traditions.

In the original teachings deeds and their results are presented quite subtly, as everyone, of course, produces many millions of intentional deeds, both good and bad, over the course of their lifetime. And the deeds themselves are often motivated by a mixture of good and bad intentions, which are not purely one or the other.

In the later teachings these subtleties were often obscured by the didactic need to present the message in a clear and unambiguous way, and we find what is in essence a very complex teaching reduced to something rather simplistic: do this bad deed in this life, get a complimentary bad result in the next; do this good deed, get this good result.

Although things are not quite so simple as this, it does form the backdrop to many of the later texts and teachings in the Buddhist traditions, and provided simple explanations of events that could be utilised very successfully in stories which exemplified the centrality of causality in the working out of events in people’s lives. It is this theme that is elaborated on in this discourse, and the many stories that accompany it.

The Text

The text of Karma-vibhaṅga I have translated is essentially that included in Mahā-karma-vibhaṅga which was edited by Sylvain Lévi (Paris, 1932). I have repunctuated throughout, and changed the numbering system to Arabic. I have also divided it into sections, and added headings for easier navigation. The examples that illustrate the text, which were not always seperated, have been divided and renumbered on occasion.

Lévi’s edition is a monumental work having all known parallels, including Pāḷi, Chinese, Tibetan and Khotanese. It also includes extensive annotation and translation in French. As I am not a Chinese or Tibetan scholar, and am unable to check those texts myself, I have only referred to them occassionally, and have mainly focused on the Pāḷi and Sanskrit parallels.

The Karma-vibhaṅga (Kv) Lévi called it the Mahā-karma-vibhaṅga-sūtram, but there seems to be no textual support for the designation, and it refers to itself simply as Karma-vibhaṅgam and as Karma-vibhaṅga-sūtram. appears to be an expansion of a discourse similar to the Cūḷa-kamma-vibhaṅga-sutta found in the Pāḷi Majjhima-nikāya (MN 135), but only 14 states are explained there, the fourteen that make up the first section of the text here. There are then 66 more sections added to the list. They do not follow the same formula set up in these first 14, however, but have their own organising principles.

The discourse can be divided into six sections, there is a long, and rather repetitous Opening in which the scene is set for the discourse. The protagonist who occasions the discourse appears under the name Śuka Taudeyaputra, while in the Pāḷi discourses he is called Subha Todeyyaputta. Lévi points out in a footnote that the original form of the name was probably Sua, which has allowed for the development to Subha in Pāḷi and Śuka here. The same story regarding Śuka’s father that is outlined in the Opening below is also recorded in the Majjhima-nikāya-aṭṭhakathā, in the commentary on Subha-sutta MN 99; and this same Subha appears, after the Buddha’s parinirvāṇa, at DN 10 in discussion with Ven. Ānanda.

Then comes a section which in outline is similar to the Pāḷi discourse, asking fourteen questions. The replies, however, are much more elaborate than we find in the Pāḷi, and they are in a slightly different order. The second section asks similar questions, but related to specific causes for rebirth in various worlds. The third section asks a series of variant questions in which various factors are either present or absent, and which I have entitled Permutations.

The last two sections differ again, asking about unwholesome and wholesome deeds and their results. The major difference here is that whereas in the first sections many deeds led to one result, here one deed leads to many results, including, interestingly enough, effects on the environment, which is something we also see in the early discourses. See, for example, AN 4.70, where it is stated that when an unrighteous king rules it gives rise to the sun and moon going off course, the rains not falling, and the crops being corrupted.

Parallels

To this basic form have been added references to discourses and stories from the tradition. It appears from their absence in any of the many parallels that they are late additions to the fundamental text. A little under half of the teachings have no examples provided. Many parallels can be found in the Pāḷi texts.

The examples include stories from the discipline, the discourses, and also from such sources as the Jātaka and Avadāna stories. There are many discourses referenced, sometimes on multiple occasions, which we no longer have access to, but which show what a wealth of material was available to the ancients, which is now lost to us.

One of the sections, No 32, concerning results in another country has a remarkable amount of stories and references attached to it, and in somewhat of a jumble. Even the normal concluding statement appears twice, once in the middle and once at what is now the end. Despite the confusion which prevails in this section, the stories are also some of the most elaborate and interesting in the collection, and include an elaborate Avadāna concerning Maitrāyajña (Mittavindaka).

To better get an overview of these stories here is a synoptic table showing most of the sections, stories and their parallels from the Pāḷi and Sanskrit traditions, where known. I also include some of the people mentioned in these sections: As there are many references to people, places and discourses, etc. I have compiled an Index of Proper Names.

Section

Story

Parallel

Opening

Concerning Śuka Taudeyaputra

Commentary to Subha-sutta, MN 99

1a

Bellowing bull story

1b, 40a

The spectacle of war

1c, 13a

Kālika-sūtra

cp. AN 8.40, Duccarita-vipāka-sutta

1d, 13b, 14a

Nandika-sūtra

2a

verse

2b

Baka-Pratyeka-brahma-sūtra

cp. Commentary to Jā 405, Baka-brahma-jātaka

2c

Ācārya kathā on epidemics (Sarvauṣadhi, Māndhātā)

2c

Sapta-sūryopadeśa, Teahcing about the Seven Suns

cp. AN 7.66, Satta-sūriya-sutta

6a

Story about Sundarananda (Krakucchanda)

8a, 32a

Pūrvāparāntaka-sūtra

cp. MA 66

10a, 12a

Unnamed discourse

cp. AN 5.199, Kula-sutta

13c

Śākya-sūtra

cp. SN 55.24, Paṭhama-saraṇāni-sakka-sutta

13c

Cūḍā Panthaka story

cp. Commentary to Dhp 25

16a

Siṁha-jātaka

16b

Varṣākāra

cp. Commentary to Gopaka-moggallāna-sutta-vaṇṇanā to MN 108

16b

verse

cp. Dhp 60

17a

Karma-vibhaṅga-sūtra, Śata-varga

cp. MN 136

25a

verse

cp. Dhp 1-2

27a

Devadatta, Kokālika

29a, 32g

Ajātaśatru and Devadatta

cp. Commentary to Dhp 12

29a

Śrāmaṇya-phala-sūtra

cp. DN 2.

30a

Śyāmāka-jātaka

32a

Māndhātu

cp. Commentary to Jā 258 Mandhātu-jātaka

32b, 32e

Maitrāyajña

cp. Commentary to Jā 369, Mittavindaka-jātaka, Avadāna-śataka, 36, Divyāvadāna, 38

32b

Śyāma-jātaka

32b

Dhanaṁjaya-sūtra

32b

Śivālaka-sūtra

cp. DN 30, Sigālovāda-sutta

32c

Story about the poor man in Śrāvastī

32c

verse

cp. Dhp 2

32d

Independent Buddha Tagaraśikhī

32f

Devadatta

32g

Śikhaṇḍī

32g

Five reasons for a child

cp. AN 5.39 Putta-sutta

32h

Preceptor and student

cp. Vin. 1.45

32i, 70b, 76, cp. 75a

Cakravarti-sūtra

32j

Mahīśāsaka Vinaya

cp. Vin. PTS I.50

32k

carrying mother and father

cp. AN 2.34

32l

Dakṣiṇā-vibhaṅga-sūtra

cp. MN 142, Dakkhiṇa-vibhaṅga-sutta

32m

the training rules

32n

Mahākātyāyana

cp. Vin. PTS I.194ff

32o

Missionaries: Madhyandina, Gavāmpati, Piṇḍola-Bhāradvāja, Mahendra

cp. Mahāvaṁsa, XII

32p

Adhyardha-śatak-sūtra (Pūrṇa)

32p

500 monastics

33a

Gopaka (Kakucchanda)

33b

Īśvara of Campā

34a

Aniruddhāvadāna (Upariṣṭha)

cp. Commentary to Dhp 382

34b

Poor man of Śrāvastī

35a

Miṇḍhaka

cp. Divyāvadāna, 9 & 10

35b

Vinayāvadāna

36a

Daridra-dārakasyāvadāna

37a, 43a

Hilliśālāvadāna (Tagaraśikhī)

37a

Śata-varga Āgama, Prasenajit-saṁyukta

cp. SN 3, Kosala-saṁyutta

38a

Tantra-vāya-nidāna

39a

Anāthapiṇḍada (Krakucchanda, Kanakamuna, Kāśyapa and Sarvārthasiddha, Maitreya)

the Kāśmīrī householder, cf 1 above

40c

poor landholder reborn as a worm

40d

Mahāmaudgalyāyana turned away from alms ( Nanda and Upananda)

42a

Merchant’s son

43b

Prasenajit

44a

Māndhātā

45a

Soṇottara

45b

Jaṅghā-Kāśyapa

46a

Bakula (Bākula) (Kakucchanda)

46a

verse

cp. Dhp 204

46b

Aniruddha

54a

Śvabhrapadāvadāna, also Devāvataraṇa (Kālodayī)

61a

Padāśva, Kumāra-kāśyapa

62a

summary verse

62b

saying to Ānanda

64a

Buddha crossing the Gaṅgā

cp. DN 16, Mahā-parinibbāna-sutta

64b

Sundarananda

65a

Viśākha, Mgāra’s mother

66, 70a

Devatā-sūtra

cp. SN 1.42, Kiṁ-dada-sutta

69a

Prince Siṁha

cp. AN 5.34, Sīha-senāpati-sutta

71a

Sumedhā verses (Dharmadinnā, Viśākhā) (Konāgamuna)

cp. Thig 450-524

72a

verses

73a

verses

73b

daughter of a poor householder

74a

Karṇesumana, plus verse

75a

Cakravarti-sūtra-vibhaṅga (cp. 32h above)

75b

Aniruddha

75c

Dīpaṅkara

75d

a man who lost his eyes

Here I give another table which orders the Pāḷi parallels in their traditional arrangement beginning with the Vinaya texts. I have placed commentarial parallels in italics:

Parallel

Story

Section

cp. Vin. PTS 1.45

Preceptor and student

32h

cp. Vin. PTS I.50

Mahīśāsaka Vinaya

32j

cp. Vin. PTS I.194ff

Mahākātyāyana

32n

cp. DN 2, Sāmañña-phala-sutta

Śrāmaṇya-phala-sūtra

29a

cp. DN 16, Mahā-parinibbāna-sutta

Buddha crossing the Gaṅgā

64a

cp. DN 30, Sigālovāda-sutta

Śivālaka-sūtra

32b

cp. Commentary to Subha-sutta, MN 99

Introductory Story concerning Śuka Taudeyaputra

Opening

cp. Commentary to Gopaka-moggallāna-sutta-vaṇṇanā to MN 108

Varṣākāra

16b

cp. MN 136, Mahā-kamma-vibhaṅga-sutta

Karma-vibhaṅga-sūtra, Śata-varga

17a

cp. MN 142, Dakkhiṇa-vibhaṅga-sutta

Dakṣiṇā-vibhaṅga-sūtra

32l

cp. SN 1.42, Kiṁ-dada-sutta

Devatā-sūtra

66, 70a

cp. SN 3, Kosala-saṁyutta

Prasenajit-saṁyukta

37a

cp. SN 55.24, Paṭhama-saraṇāni-sakka-sutta

Śākya-sūtra

13c

cp. AN 2.34

carrying mother and father

32k

cp. AN 5.34, Sīha-senāpati-sutta

Prince Siṁha

69a

cp. AN 5.39 Putta-sutta

Five reasons for a child

32g

cp. AN 5.199 Kula-sutta

Unnamed discourse

10a, 12a

cp. AN 7.66, Satta-sūriya-sutta

Sapta-sūryopadeśa, Teaching about the Seven Suns

2c

cp. AN 8.40 Duccarita-vipāka-sutta

Kālika-sūtra discourse

1c, 13a

cp. Dhp 1-2

verse

25a

cp. Dhp 2

verse

32c

cp. Commentary to Dhp 12

Ajātaśatru and Devadatta

29a, 32b

cp. Commentary to Dhp 25

Cūḍā Panthaka

13c

cp. Dhp 60

verse

16b

cp. Dhp 204

verse

46a

cp. Thig 450-524

Sumedhā’s verses

71a

cp. Commentary to Dhp 382

Aniruddhāvadāna (Upariṣṭha)

34a

cp. Commentary to Jā 258 Mandhātu-jātaka

Māndhātu

32a

cp. Commentary to Jā 369, Mittavindaka-jātaka

Maitrāyajña

32b, 32j

cp. Commentary to Jā 405, Baka-brahma-jātaka

Baka-Pratyeka-brahma-sūtra

2b

cp. Mahāvaṁsa, Ch. XII

Missionaries: Madhyandina, Gavāmpati, Piṇḍola-Bhāradvāja, Mahendra

32n

There are a very few parallels in Sanskrit Mahāyāna works:

cp. MA 66

Pūrvāparāntaka-sūtra

8a, 34a

cp. Divyāvadāna, 9 & 10

Miṇḍhaka

35a

cp. Divyāvadāna, 38 and Avadāna-śataka, 36

Maitrāyajña

32b, 32j

As we can see from the list of references in these tables, most of the teaching is aligned with the earliest form of the tradition, and this is borne out by the whole tenor of the discourse below. We only rarely find any specific sign of the later Mahāyāna teachings, for instance when Bodhicitta is mentioned in 7 & 8 below.

Here is a list of the discourses and stories that are named in the text, but do not seem to have a parallel in Pāḷi or Sanskrit, and are therefore presumably lost in those traditions:

Section

Story

1d, 13b, 14a

Nandika-sūtra

16a

Siṁha-jātaka

32b

Śyāma-jātaka

32b

Dhanaṁjaya-sūtra

32i, 70b, 76, cp. 75a

Cakravarti-sūtra

32p

Adhyardha-śatak-sūtra

35b

Vinayāvadāna

36a

Daridra-dārakasyāvadāna

37a, 43a

Hilliśālāvadāna

38a

Tantra-vāya-nidāna

54a

Śvabhrapadāvadāna

54a

Devāvataraṇa

75a

Cakravarti-sūtra-vibhaṅga

Index of Proper Names

Numbers refer to section, and letters refer to sub-section, where relevant.

Ajātaśatru, 16b, 29a, 32b
Ajita, 8a
Adhyardha-śatak-sūtra, 32p
Anāthapiṇḍada, Opening, 39a
Anavatapta, 32o
Aniruddha, 34a, 47b, 75b
Aniruddhāvadāna, 34a
Abhidharma, 70b, 75a, 76a
Asuraloka, Opening, 18
Avīci, Opening, 29a, 32c
Ānanda, 17a, 1c, 32l, 36a
Āvantī, 32n
Īśvara, 33b
Upariṣṭha (Pratyeka-buddha), 34a
Eṇī(-nadī), 2b
Kakucchanda (Buddha), 46a, 33a
Krakucchanda (Buddha), 39a, 6a
Karma-vibhaṅga-sūtra, 17a
Kālodayī, 54a
Kanakamuna (Buddha), 39a
Kapilavastu, 13c
Karṇesumana, 73b, 74a
Kālika-sūtra, 1c, 13a
Kāsi, 54a
Kāśmīr, 1a, 32o, 40b, 46a
Kaśyapa (Buddha), 13c, 39a
Kokālika, 27a
Konāgamuna (Buddha), 71a
Kumāra-kāśyapa, 61a
Kuśinagarī, 2c
Gaṅga, 64a
Gavāmpati, 32o
Gopaka, 33a
Gdhra-kūṭa, 16b
Cakravarti-sūtra, 32i, 70b, 76a
Cakravarti-sūtra-vibhaṅga, 75a
Campā, 33b, 73b
Cūḍā Panthaka, 13c
Jambudvīpa (the Rose-Apple Isle), 32a, 16b, 32c, 32k, 71a
Jaṅghā-Kāśyapa, 45b
Jetavana, Opening, 39a
Tagaraśikhī (Pratyeka-buddha), 32d, 35a, 37a
Tantra-vāya-nidāna, 38a
Tāmalipta, 32b
Trayastriṁśa, 47b
Tuṣita, 8a
Dakṣiṇā-vibhaṅga-sūtra, 32l
Daridra-dārakasyāvadāna, 36a
Devadatta, 16b, 27a, 29a
Devatā-sūtra, 66, 70a
Devāvataraṇa, 54a
Dīpaṅkara (Buddha), 75c
Dhanaṁjaya, 32b
Dhanaṁjaya-sūtra, 32b
Dhanapāla, 29a
Dharmadinnā, 71a
Dharmayaśa, 46a
Nandika-sūtra, 1d, 13b, 14a
Nandopananda, 40d
Padāśva, 61a
Piṇḍola-Bhāradvāja, 32o
Pūrvāparāntaka-sūtra, 8a, 32a
Prasenajit, 34b, 37, 43b
Prasenajit-saṁyukta, 37a
Baka (Pratyeka-brahmā), 2b
Baka-Pratyeka-brahma-sūtra, 2b
Pretaloka, Opening
Pūrṇa, 32p
Pūrva-videhā, 32o
Bakula, 46a
Bhadrika, 35a
Mañjuśrī, Eulogy
Madhyadeśa, 62
Madhyandina, 32o
Magadha, 40d
Mahābodhi, 62
Mahākāśyapa, 16b, 34b
Mahākātyāyana, 32n
Mahākośalī, 32b
Mahāmaudgalyāyana, 40d
Mahāraurava, 37a
Mahīśāsaka, 32i
Mahīśāsaka, 32i
Mahendra, 32p
Maitrāyajña, 32b, 32e, 32j
Maitreya (Buddha), 39a, 8a
Mālinī, 73b
Māndhātā, 2c, 44a, 32a
Maudgalyāyana, 34b
Miṇḍhaka, 35a
Mithilā, 2c
Yama, 17t
Rājagha, 13c, 16b, 32b, 33a, 43b, 73b
Rāṣṭrapāla, 32g
Raurava, 42a, 43a
Rauruka, 32g
Lumbinī, 62
Vaijayanta, 40d
Vaiśālī, 1c, 69a
Vārāṇasī, 45b, 46a, 8
Varṣākāra, 16b, 40a
Vinaya, 32j, 32h, 38a
Vinayāvadāna, 35b
Vibhīṣaṇa, 32o
Viśākha, 65a, 71a
Śakra, 40d
Śata-varga, 17a, 37a
Śākya, 13c
Śākya-sūtra, 13c
Śaṅkhakuñjara, Opening
Śāradvatīputra, 32b
Śāriputra, 34b
Śikhaṇḍī, 32g
Śivālaka, 32b
Śivālaka-sūtra, 32b
Śoṇa, 32h
Śrāmaṇya-phala-sūtra, 29a
Śrāvastī, Opening, 32c, 34b, 36a, 37a, 38a, 40c, 42a, 75d
Śrī Laṅkā, 32b, 32n
Śuddhodana, 32g
Śuka Taudeyaputra, Opening
Śūrpāraka, 32p
Śvabhrapada, 54a
Śvabhrapadāvadāna, 54a
Śvetikāyā, 61a
Śyāma, 32b
Śyāma-jātaka, 32b
Śyāmāka-jātaka, 30a
Sapta-sūryopadeśa, 2c
Sarvārthasiddha (Buddha), 39a
Sarvauṣadhi, 2c
Siṁha, 69a
Siṁha-jātaka, 16a
Siṁhaladvīpa (Śrī Laṅkā), 32b
Sindhu, 32g
Soṇottara, 45a
Subhūti, 34b
Sumedhā, 71a
Sundarananda, 64b, 6a
Sunetra, 2c
Susudhī, 54
Suvarṇabhūmi (the Land of Gold), 32b, 32o
Hilliśāla, 37a
Hilliśālāvadāna, 37a, 43a
Hilliśālī, 43a
Himālaya, 2b

Acknowledgements

A few years ago, Handaka Vijjānanda of the Ehipassiko Foundation in Jakarta asked me to prepare a series of books about the great monument at Borobudur. The last in the series illustrates the Karma-vibhaṅga text. As there was no English translation to draw on, I decided to make my own. It is mainly thanks to Handaka’s encouragment in this work therefore that this translation was undertaken.

Here I must express my deep gratitude to Dr. Junko Matsumura, a long time friend, who took time off from seeing her Japanese translation of the complete Dhammapada Commentary through the press to help me by reviewing this work. With her usual perspicuity she has saved me from many a mistake, and helped me understand the text much better.

Any mistakes that remain of course are entirely my own fault.

Ānandajoti Bhikkhu
April, 2020