Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Honour to the Blessed One, the Exalted One, the fully and perfectly Enlightened One

Four Kinds of Kamma (Kamma-catukka)
Buddha Abhidhamma by Dr. Mehm Tin Mon
Though we cannot know the individual kammas in person, we can classify the kammas into several types as described by Buddha, and predict when, where and how each type will bear its result.


Kamma, Sanskrit karma, literally means volitional action or deed. As a rule good actions bear good results and bad actions bear bad results. Now action may be performed by bodily movement (kàya), by words of mouth (vacã), or by thought (mano). But the body and the mouth cannot move on their own accord; they have to be moved by the mind (citta) through cittaja-rupa. Again citta is just the awareness of a sense-object; it does not give the order or direction to perform an action on its own accord. It is the volition (cetanà) which directs the citta and its concomitants to perform the action. So cetanà is responsible for carrying out an action.

Thus, strictly speaking, kamma means all moral and immoral volition (cetanà). The volition having the root in ignorance (moha), greed or attachment (lobha) or anger (dosa) is evil. The volition, which is accompanied by generosity (alobha), good-will (adosa) and wisdom (pannà), is wholesome. In other words, the cetanà present in the 12 akusala cittas are immoral kammas whereas the cetanà present in 8 mahà-kusala cittas, 5 råpàvacara-kusala cittas and 4 aråpàvacara-kusala cittas are moral kammas.

Now cetanà and its concomitants (i.e. citta and cetasikas other than cetanà) perish after performing their respective purposes. But before they perish, they leave their kammic property in the citta-stream. This kammic property is the potential kamma which will produce its due effect in some proper time, and the effect will fall on the doer himself. It is somewhat analogous to Newton’s third law of motion in physics. The law states: “To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Thus a person, who performs a good or bad action, should expect an equal and opposite reaction either in this life or in some future life. Furthermore, that opposite reaction may come many times as the kamma has been multiplied to more than a billionfold by the property of citta. How? As mentioned earlier, cittas can occur at the rate of more than a trillion times per eye wink. So many billion cittas accompanied by the volition of killing a mosquito will arise in striking the mosquito. These many billion cittas together with the volition of killing will deposit many-billion kamma seeds in the citta-stream.

As a vegetable seed gives rise to a new plant of the same kind of tree which gives the seed, so also a kamma seed will produce a new being in a plane appropriate to the original kamma. An immoral kamma will give rebirth in a woeful plane whereas a moral kamma will give rebirth in a blissful plane. Just as many-billion immoral kammas are produced in a single act of killing a mosquito, so in performing a wholesome deed, such as giving charity, many billion moral kammas are produced. Thus the number of moral as well as immoral kammas accumålated in this life as well as in uncountable past lives are so numerous that it cannot be handled by a super-computer. Yet all these kammas are in the citta stream of each individual following him wherever he emerges in a new life. Just as every object is accompanied by a shadow, even so every kamma is accompanied by its due effect. Kamma is action and vipàka (fruit or result) is its reaction. It is the cause and the effect. Like a seed is kamma, like a plant is vipàka. As we sow, so we reap either in this life or in a future life. What we reap today is what we have sown either in the present or in the past. Kamma is a law in itself, and it operates in its own field without any intervention of an external ruling agency. Inherent in kamma is the potentiality of producing its due effect. Kamma is the cause; vipàka is the effect. The cause produces the effect; the effect explains the cause. The law of cause and effect rules everywhere.

A. Kicca-kamma Catukka

With respect to function, there are four kinds of kamma:

1 Janaka-kamma
Reproductive kamma which produces mental aggregates and material aggregates at the moment of conception as well as throughout the life-time of the individual;

2 Upatthambhaka-kamma
Supportive kamma which supports the janaka-kamma as well as the effect of the janaka-kamma throughout the life-time of the individual;

3 Upapãëaka-kamma
Obstructive kamma which weakens, interrupts or retards the fruition of the janaka kamma;

4 Upaghàtaka-kamma
Destructive kamma which not only cuts off the effect of the janaka kamma but also destroys the janaka kamma and produce its own effect. In other words, the person dies abruptly and is reborn in accordance with the upaghàtaka-kamma.

As an example of the operation of the above four kammas, the case of Devadatta may be cited. His good janaka-kamma conditioned him to be born in a royal family. His continued comforts and prosperity were due to the action of the janakakamma as well as the supportive kamma. The obstructive kamma came into play when he was excommunicated from the Saõgha and subject to much humiliation. Then his serious immoral kamma causing a schism in the Saügha operated as the destructive kamma which sent him down to the avãci hell.

B. Pàkadànapariyàya-kamma Catukka

With respect to the priority in bearing results, there are four kinds of kamma:

1 Garuka-kamma
Weighty kamma which is so strong that no other kamma can stop its function in the next life. In other words, it certainly produces its results in the next life. Bad weighty kammas are pancànantariya kamma, namely, (i) creating a schism in the Sangha, (ii) wounding a Buddha, (iii) murdering an arahat, (iv) matricide, and, (v) parricide. Niyata-micchàditthi (permanent false view) is also termed as one of the weighty kammas. Why? On the other hand, 5 rupàvacara-kusala kammas and 4 aråpàvacara-kusala kammas are good weighty kammas. Lokuttara-magga is also a weighty force for it closes the doors of the four apàya (state of deprivation - hell) abodes for ever.

2 Asannà-kamma
Proximate kamma that is performed or remembered just before death.

3 Acinna-kamma
Habitual kamma which is performed regularly, or it may be a kamma which is performed once and is recollected and remembered all the time.

4 Kañattà-kamma
Unspecified kamma which is done once and soon forgotten. Now if we have any garuka-kamma, it will produce its result when we die and condition our next life. If we do not have any garuka-kamma, which is often the case, then we must rely on asannà-kamma to condition our next life. To get a good asannà-kamma, sons and daughters or relatives and friends should arrange wholesome deeds such as offering robes to monks or listening to Dhamma-preaching for the person on his or her death-bed. The dying person should also be reminded of his past good deeds.

A good example is Venerable Sona’s father in Sri Lanka. The father made a living by hunting. When he was too old to go hunting, he became a monk in his son’s monastery. Soon he fell ill and had a vision that hell hounds were coming up the hill to bite him. He was frightened, and so he asked his son to drive away the hounds. His son, who was an arahat, knew that his father was having a gati-nimitta to be cast away in niraya. He asked his disciples to gather flowers quickly and spread them all over the pagoda in the monastery. Then they carried his father together with his bed to the pagoda. Venerable Sona reminded his father to pay homage to the pagoda and to rejoice in the offering of flowers on his behalf. The old monk calmed down, paid respect to the pagoda and was delighted in seeing the flowers being offered to the pagoda on his behalf. At that moment, his gati-nimitta changed. He told his son, “Your beautiful step-mothers from celestial abode come to take me along”. The son was satisfied with the result of his efforts. This is a very good way of repaying the gratitude we owe to our parents. To be sure to get a good asannà-kamma, however, we should develop an àcinna-kamma while we are alive. The best àcinnakamma is tranquillity-meditation or insight-meditation which can be performed all the time. When it becomes habitual, it will be remembered and practised near the time of death.

King Dunnhàgamani of Sri Lanka was in the habit of giving alms to monks before he took his meals. Once his brother rose against him and drove him into the forest. While hiding in the forest, he asked his attendant whether they had anything to eat. His attendant replied that he had brought a bowl of royal meal. The king divided the meal into four portions – one portion is for him, one for the attendant, one for the horse and one for offering. He then asked the attendant to invite monks or recluses to come and collect his offering. Of course they could see no one around. But on the king’s insistence, the attendant invited aloud. Lo! A reverend monk came moving in the air. The monk was an arahat with the knowledge of abhinnà. The king was so delighted that he offered not only the fourth portion of the meal but also his portion. The attendant followed suit and offered his share. On looking at the horse, it nodded indicating that it wanted to offer its share as well. The king was in ecstasy for some time and then felt hungry again. Knowing that the arahat could hear him with his divine ear (dibba-sota), he made a wish to send him any remnant of the meal. The arahat sent him the begging-bowl which came flying in the air. The king took the bowl and found it full of food. The food can be multiplied by iddhi-vidha-abhinnà (supernormal power). The king, the attendant and the horse could eat to their full. Later the king regained power and donated a tremendous amount of his wealth to Buddha-sàsanà (Buddhist religion) for building the great thupa called Mahà-cetiya, many monasteries and other religious buildings. He had all his good deeds recorded. When he was on his death-bed, he listened to the records, which were read to him. On coming to the item of offering a meal to the arahat in the forest, he asked the reader to stop the reading. He was in great joy and, remembering that deed, he died. This good kamma gave him rebirth in Tusità realm. Cunda, a butcher, made a living by slaughtering pigs cruelly for more than fifty years. When the time was up, the fire from niraya came up and burnt him making him squeal like a pig for seven days. He was in niraya as soon as he died. Thus àcinnakamma becomes asannà-kamma and produces its result.

The Simile of a Cattle-shed

Suppose that many cattle are kept in a big shed for the night. In the morning the door of the shed is opened to let the cattle go out to the pasture. Now which one will come out first? All the cattle wait to get out as soon as possible. If there is a leader among them whom everyone respects, this one will walk majestically to the door and come out first. This one is like a garuka-kamma which is uncontested to bear its result in the next life. Now, if there is no leader, the one nearest the door may come out first. This is similar to the àssanna-kamma bearing its fruit in the next life. Sometimes a vigilant one, which has regularly noticed the time when the shed is opened, may walk to the door just before it is opened and come out first when the door is opened. This is like the àcinna-kamma producing its result in the next life. Sometimes an unexpected frail one, by being pushed by stronger ones, may come out of the shed first. This is similar to the case when an unexpected kañaññà-kamma has the chance to condition the next life. Queen Mallika led a righteous life, but she remembered a lie, which she had told King Kosala long ago, at her death moment. So this had kañaññà-kamma cast her down to a woeful state for seven days.

C. Pàkakàla-kamma Catukka

With respect to the time of taking effect there are four kinds of kamma:

1 Diññhadhammavedanãya-kamma
Immediately effective kamma which bears fruits in the present life;

2 Upapajjavedanãya-kamma
Subsequently effective kamma which bears fruits in the next (second) life;

3 Aparàpariyavedanãya-kamma
Indefinitely effective kamma which bears fruits from the third life till the last life when the person realizes Nibbàna;

4 Ahosi-kamma
Defunct kamma which no longer bears fruits. In studying vãthis, we notice that mahà-kusala citta or akusala citta functions seven times as javana in normal situations. The cetanà (volition) associated with the first javana is named diññhadhammavedanãya-kamma which will produce its result in this very life. If it does not operate in this life, it becomes defunct. Devadatta and Cunda were burnt by niraya fire in their present lives. Poor Kàkavaliya couple, after offering boiled rice to Venerable Sariputta, became very rich in seven days. Of the seven javanas, the first javana is the weakest. The strongest is the seventh-javana. The cetanà associated with this javana is called upapajjavedaniya-kamma.

It produces its result in the next (second) life. If it does not operate in the second birth, it too becomes defunct or ineffective (ahosi). The five intermediate javanas are strong, and the cetanàs associated with them are known as aparàpãriya-vedanãya-kamma. As millions of vãthis occur in an act of wholesome or unwholesome deed, there will arise many millions of this type of kamma during the action. So this kamma will operate indefinitely from the third birth till the last one when the individual attains Nibbàna. No one, not even Buddhas and arahats, is exempt from this class of kamma. So for every action we have performed we should expectthe consequences not only in this life but in indefinite lives in the future in the course of our wanderings in Saüsàra. So be careful!

D. Pàkathàna-kamma Catukka

With respect to the place where the kammic effect takes place, kamma is divided into four classes:

1 Akusala kamma
Immoral action which produces its effect in the four apàya abodes.

2 Kàmàvacara-kusala kamma
Moral action in the sense-sphere that produces its effect in the seven sensuous blissful realms (kàmaloka);

3 Rupàvacara-kusala kamma
Moral action in the fine-material sphere that produces its effect in the sixteen rupa-realm (rupaloka);

4 Arupàvacara-kusala kamma
Moral action in the non-material sphere that produces its effect in the four aråpa-realms (arupaloka).

i In essence, it should be noted that:

a Akusala (unwholesome)-kamma
12 cetanà associated with 12 akusala cittas.

b Kàmàvacara-kusala (wholesome) kamma
8 cetanà accompanied with 8 mahà-kusala cittas,

c Rupàvacara-kusala kamma
5 cetanà accompanied with 5 rupàvacara kusala cittas.

d Arupàvacara-kusala kamma
4 cetanà accompanied with 4 aråpàvacara kusala cittas.

ii The kammic effect is of two kinds – vipàka-nàmakkhandha and kañañña-rupa.

a Vipàka-nàmakkhandha – vipàka citta and its concomitants

b Katattà-rupa – kammaja-rupa and utuja-rupa.
Kammajarupa is corporeality produced by kamma and Utuja-rupa is corporeality produced by temperature. Furthermore the kammic effect occurs at patisandhi-kàla (i.e. the arising moment of patisandhi citta) as well as at pavitti-kàla (i.e. from the existing moment of patisandhi-citta till death).

-Buddha Abhidhamma by Dr. Mehm Tin Mon