The Essence of the Analysis of Deeds

An early Sanskritised Prakrit text giving lists of good deeds and bad deeds and their results.

translated by
Ānandajoti Bhikkhu
(December, 2019/2563)





Html Table of Contents


1-14 Health and Wealth

15-22 Rebirths

23-50 Permutations

51-61 Unwholesome Deeds

62-80 Wholesome Deeds



This translation is based on the text included in Mahā-karma-vibhaṅga and edited by Sylvain Lévi (Paris, 1932), with some small corrections which are noted as they occur. 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 Karma-vibhaṅgam Lévi called it the Mahā-karma-vibhaṅga-sūtram, but there seems to be no textual support for the designation, and the Buddha refers to it simply as Karma-vibhaṅgam. appears to be an expansion of a discourse similar to the Cūḷa-kamma-vibhaṅga-sutta found in the Pāḷi Majjhima-nikāya (MN 135), where very much the same sorts of questions and answers appear, but in a much more abbreviated and abstract form. Only 14 states are explained in MN 135: short life, long life, illness, health, ugliness, beauty, undistinguished, distinguished, poverty, riches, low-born, high-born, stupidity and wisdom. These fourteen make up the first section of Karma-vibhaṅga – though in a slightly different order – where they are explained in much more detail than the MN discourse. There are then 66 more sections added to the list. However, they do not follow the same formula set up in these 14.

In the Pāḷi discourses the protagonist appears under the name Subha Todeyyaputta, while here he is called Śuka Taudeyaputra. The same story regarding Śuka’s father that is outlined in the Introduction 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.

The discourse can be divided into six sections, there is a long, and rather repetitous Introduction in which the scene is set for the discourse. Then comes section one, 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.

The second section asks similar questions, but related to specific causes for rebirth. The third section, which I have named Permutations, asks a series of variant questions in which various factors are either present or absent.

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 only seen as an indirect consequence in the early discourses.

The original text has many stories to illustrate the teachings, which are drawn from basic teachings in the discourses, and from Jātaka and other traditional stories. In this Sāra only the teachings are given at present. The illustrative stories, some of which are very long, have been omitted. It appears from their absence in the Pāḷi and Chinese parallels that they are probably late additions to the fundamental text anyway. Here I have inserted {Examples} wherever they are omitted, which is not in every set. A little under half of the teachings had no examples provided.

Ānandajoti Bhikkhu
December, 2019