Does Thinking Something Bad Create Bad Karma?

The unminded mind
leads to suffering
from mindless words and actions.

~ Stonepeace

A common question is whether there is karma created through the power of thought alone. For example, if one nurses malicious thoughts against another, is it alright? Does such fantasising create any negative karma? Let us first define what we mean by ‘karma’. In general use, it refers to the natural law of moral cause and effect, whereby unwholesome deeds create results of suffering for the doer eventually, while wholesome ones create pleasant results. The unwholesome refers to that which arises from defilements such as greed, hatred and delusion, while the wholesome include virtues such as their opposites – generosity, loving-kindness and wisdom. At first glance, it seems that the workings of karma are action and result oriented but this is not exactly so. Before the Buddha realised and shared on the reality of karma, it was often held that the quality of the karma created depended on physical actions. The Buddha rebutted this by teaching so in the Nibbedhika Sutta – ‘Intention (volition; cetana), monks, is karma, I say. Having willed, one acts through body, speech and mind.’ This is to say, karma is not the action per se, but what un/unwholesomeness through which the action arises. A simple way to remember the priority of intention is the saying that ‘It’s the thought (intention) that counts (more than the action)!’

Good and evil spring from our intentions, which crystallise into our thoughts, words and deeds. Even if some hypocritical good appears to arise from bad intentions, there is nevertheless bad (negative) karma created; even if some harm result from good intentions, there is nevertheless good (positive) karma created. However, there should be remorse for any ‘accidental’ damage done. If one is unrepentant and continually makes similar mistakes, there is clearly the intention to ignore one’s responsibility – which creates bad karma! The saying that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’ refers to the idea of some doing bad things wilfully or out of ignorance for what assumed would be good results. This is more of a mixed path of good and evil. The path to a better rebirth has to be paved with good intentions (and actions)! In the sutta quote above, it is interesting to note that it is possible to act through the mind via one’s will, and that this creates karma. What we purposely entertain mentally can bear karmic results. The ill intentions we keep thriving does create some negative karma, even if they are not acted upon; if they are already played out in the mind. On a more cautionary note, the more repeatedly they are played out, the more likely it is that they might eventually be played out in word and deed too.

There are differences in the gravity of the karma created in terms of thoughts, words and deeds. For the same mattter, say, of hurting another, to actually do it creates more intense karma than to just talk about doing it, while talking about doing it (e.g. threatening) creates more intense karma than to just think of doing it. In other words, it is bad to think of being evil, worse to speak of being evil, and worst to do evil. However, if one repeatedly thinks of being evil without acting it out, the cumulative negative karma created can be quite substantial too. Part of Right Effort on the Noble Eightfold Path is to diligently cease present evil thoughts and prevent new ones from arising, to perpetuate present good thoughts and to give rise to new ones. It is best to nip evil in the bud, to not let it blossom even in the mind. For different matters in terms of thoughts, words and deeds, the sequence of karmic gravity would differ. For example, it is bad to steal a cent (at the deed level), worse to slander another (at the speech level), and even worse to plot a murder (at the thought level). A sound safeguard against creation of negative karma is to stick to mindful observation of the Five Precepts of not killing, stealing, having sexual misconduct, lying (or slandering, having harsh speech and idle talk), or taking intoxicants (which impairs mindfulness).

True observation of the precepts in thought,
leads to their instant observation
in speech and deed too.


Related Articles:

The Old & Young Monks Who Killed & Saved Ants
Is Ignorance Really Bliss?


  • I recall vaguely the Buddhist story where there was this person who saw a monk and an unwholesome thought arise in his mind. Because of this thought, he suffered the bad kamma of having a bad rebirth.

  • There are many times when we can’t help but think what we think. In order to banish “evil” thoughts (which in my opinion are entirely subjective because one man’s opinion of evil may not be the same as another’s) we’d have to wipe out and reprogram our brains somehow (which science hasn’t really been able to do yet). So my thoughts on “negative thoughts” and bad karma: well, if you’re going to get hit with a negative karma loss (sounds like a video game right now) then you might as well do the deed and feel better about yourself (assuming you can get away with it).

  • If I have to choose between good and evil, I just simply flip a coin (like Two Face from the Batman comics). A 50/50 chance is ALWAYS fair. Never question the results and act upon them accordingly.

  • The Buddha defined what is good and evil clearly, in a universal way that is irrefutable. Good is that from generosity, compassion and wisdom, and evil is that from greed, hatred and delusion. Being gleeful (feeling good) about doing evil is rejoice in evil, which makes it more evil, creating more negative karma, that will bounce back with suffering.

  • Whether u think or do good or evil thoughts or actions is your choice. Even choosing to decide by a coin toss is your choice. There is no escape from choice. If one can’t even control what one thinks or does, it can only mean that person is lacking intellect and control. It takes time to change one’s habitual habits of many past lives, but with perseverance and determination in practising the right Dharma, bad habits can be broken. And that’s how one can be enlightened.

    I’m sorry to say your words about negative karma shows lack of understanding. Negative karma can hit really hard, and too often we see people moaning and questioning why are they suffering and why they are so unfortunate. There’s no way anyone can feel better about themselves when negative karma strikes.

    Is there even a need to choose between good and evil? Preposterously leaving decision to a coin? This only show lack of wisdom and perhaps responsibility. How can 50/50 chance be fair if killing, stealing, cheating, lying and getting intoxicated are involved? How fair is it for the victim? Everyone knows the fictional DC comic book is psychopathic and wrong, that the suffering he inflicts on others is wrong.

  • there is the notion that the last before death will influence the next rebirth. there are numerous Buddhist stories that highlight the important of thought. Especially the last thought.

    Unfortunately malicious thoughts enter our from time to time. This is especially so when we are hurt by those we loved the most.

  • It is a truth that the quality of the last thought decides the nature of rebirth. This refers to the last karma created that links to the next birth – called death-proximate and relinking karma.

    Since the last thought is so important, we should practise diligently now, to create a strong good habit of only nurturing positive and pure thoughts.

    Fortunately, malicious thoughts do not enter our minds. One of the basic hallmarks of spiritual maturity is to take responsibility for the nature of our thoughts. We are always in control, and we have to be disciplined not to give rise to negative thoughts based on greed (lust too), hatred and delusion.

    One of the easiest way to do this is to tune to our pure Buddha-nature and the blessings of Buddha by mindfulness of Buddha. Observation of the five precepts (or more) is important too. Eg. Do we kill, steal, have sexual misconduct (adultery), lie, have harsh speech (scold, curse, threaten)… ? Breaking of the precepts guarantee a disturbed mind when alive and dying – if there is no repentance in time.

    Our first, ongoing and last freedom is our ability to choose our thoughts. No one and nothing can make us give rise to negative thoughts. Everything external are only conditions. The causes are in us, and we choose whether to let them be conditioned into positive or negative thoughts, speech and actions.

    No one can hurt us if we realise we are in control. We are always the ones who hurt ourselves by pettiness and grudge-bearing. It hurts others too. We should learn to smile like the Buddha, with genuine compassion and wisdom. Amituofo

  • Agreed. 木.

    As a typical human or Buddhist, how often are we in control of our thoughts?

    We need to develop certain level of spiritual maturity first before we are in control of our thoughts. So that malicious thoughts don’t arise n we can take responsibility for our thoughts n actions.

    It take more than reciting mantra n sutras to develop spiritual maturity. Looking inside, self reflection, self awareness are some of t ways towards spiritual maturity.

  • As typical humans, we are always in control of our thoughts. It’s just that we sometimes wilfully refuse to recognise this control, and thus imagine ourselves to be at the mercy of external elements and people. Some good examples can be seen @ https://thedailyenlightenment.com/2011/10/you-are-always-in-control
    If we seriously feel that we have no self-control at all, it is advisable to go for professional counselling – before sinking into self-destructive depression or such.

    We are more in control than imagined. If not, how can we have the discipline to study, work, observe the precepts well, not be criminals, be charitable… and more? There are many levels of spiritual maturity. The very first basic step is to recognise we have control, and to want to control ourselves in body, speech and mind. The first step is to TAKE personal responsibility. If even we refuse to be responsible for our own mind, who should be responsible for it? Any random person we accuse? Well, no one is puppeting us. We are our own puppeteer.

    The Buddha taught this in the Dhammapada –

    ‘Whatever harm an enemy may do to an enemy,
    or a hater to a hater,
    an ill-directed mind inflicts on oneself a greater harm.

    Neither mother, father, nor any other relative
    can do one greater good
    than one’s own well-directed mind.’

    This is the Buddha’s way to encourage us to discipline our minds. Taking responsibility is the beginning of personal freedom. This is when we make resolutions to overccome our defilements (craving, hate… ) from our unguarded minds. The immature keep pointing fingers at others for causing their unhappiness, when they are the ones giving themselves needless grief by clinging to their own defilements. An example would be spoilt young children who throw tantrums and cry over every little thing they are displeased over, that they can’t get. Thank goodness we all grow out of such immaturity, when we realise it is plain silly, though some take longer time.

    The Buddha defined Right Effort in the Noble Eightfold Path as this –

    1. The effort to prevent unwholesome qualities — especially greed, anger and ignorance — from arising.
    2. The effort to extinguish unwholesome qualities that already have arisen.
    3. The effort to cultivate skillful, or wholesome, qualities — especially generosity, loving-kindness, and wisdom
    (the opposites of greed, anger and ignorance) — that have not yet arisen.
    4. The effort to strengthen the wholesome qualities that have already arisen.

    Note that this most fundamental effort is at the level of thought, and it is crucial as it is from thought that manifests into speech and actions that helps or harms others and ourselves. If it is not possible or difficult to have self-restraint, the Buddha would not teach us about personal control, and enlightenment would be impossible. But the good news is, even by mere self-reflection, we can realise that we are already in control. What we need to do is further train in mindfulness for more discipline in Right Effort above.

    If there is practice of chanting or meditation with right motivation and understanding that is systematically learnt from qualified teachers, along with self-reflection (e.g. based on the above), we can surely work towards greater spiritual maturity than the above basic spiritual maturity. Sincere chanting has great power for making the mind calm and clear – it is essentially meditative, plus it channels to us the blessings of the Buddhadharma and the enlightened beings the chanted are associated with, to help heal our minds and reconnect to our Buddha-nature.

  • My Dharma Brothers.

    Honestly, how often do we get angry n only to realise n regret it after it happened? How often did we on hindsight wisdom realised our unwholesome thoughts and that was spinning in our minds?

    It is comforting to think that we are in control. But r we really in control? If we had t control, Buddha won’t need to teach us t importance of watching our thoughts. Why Buddha emphasised the pitfalls of heedlessness?

    Reading and knowing the Dharma is different from being able to practice it and living it.

    Chanting sutras is good. But how many of us chant with understanding? Most likely people chant with hope of receiving blessing or to request.

    If we are practising mindfulness we will be aware of the control or lack of it.

  • Isn’t watching our thoughts and deciding which to follow a form of control? Isn’t it obvious that if a person who is not aware or not in control has little or no mindfulness? We need mindfulness to be mindful and every effort counts. That’s why Buddha emphasised the pitfall of heedlessness.

    Reading the Dharma is of cos different from practicing it and living it. You have to have faith and sincerity to study the Dharma. Then practice & live it well. If one really knows the Dharma, one would naturally practice and live it well.

    The Buddha had already given us the medicine to cure our poisons. Right now, from what I understand, you seem to refuse it and then blame the medicine can’t cure – when it is you who don’t take it. I’m confused by what you want and I feel you are confused yourself too.

    Lastly, why worry about ‘most people’ when we don’t even want to help ourselves adequately yet. If you can chant with understanding, just do it, and help those who can’t yet. If you can’t, ask someone more enlightened and humbly learn from them. It’s not rocket science… just practise with Right View. No one says it’s easy but if you have faith in Buddha’s teachings, you will learn and practise accordingly. And they do work.

  • Dear Bodhati,

    Let imagine you decided to have noodle for lunch. Yes, you made the decision with conscious awareness. But how aware are you of your greed and desires that led you to the decision to eat noodle?

    My comments this far had been to invite reader to question ore perception that we are in control of our thoughts.

    Meaningful control of thought can only arise when you mindfully practice it. The need for practice to develop the control of thoughts mentioned by Buddha in the sutras can not be taken for granted.

    Please enlightenment me the basis that you used to judge that I am refusing to take the medicine prescribe by Buddha? What word did I used to blame the medicine? You need to justify this assertion.

    There is this Buddhist saying that we ourselves are responsible for our liberation and enlightenment. So I am very concern about my Dharma practice.

    As for the concern about ‘most people’, as a Buddhist it a concern about the status the common Buddhist practice. What do you think would happen to the Dharma if such situation continue. It a reminder to practice the Dharma well.

    Let me ask you (and other readers) at this point what are your thoughts and feelings now? How aware and in control are you of those feelings and thoughts?

    I learnt a lot from this exchange. It amazing how quick to judge others based on our limited understanding of others.

  • Dear readers, the following is not to be taken personally, as this is a general sharing and I don’t know you personally. If it applies to you, wonderful! Even if not, it might apply to other readers. (I sense some anger due to taking some things personally. I might be wrong. But if I’m right, time to recognise we are responsible for how we feel, which is what this discussion is about.) For myself and some Dharma friends, we used to get angry easily, but significantly less now, due to regular chanting and meditation practice. If one often gets angry often and regret it later, it means one seriously lacks mindfulness, without which there is little sense of control – although the truth is, it is one who relinquished this control. This only means one must discipline oneself more by watching one’s mind more intently. This is the hindsight that ought to be gathered by now, especially after a string of regrets. If not now, then when?

    There is absolutely no point in insisting it is impossible or hard to be mindful. The point is to be more and more mindful. To constantly reject, even subtly, that we are the ones responsible for our emotions is as immature as the child throwing tantrums and insisting it’s everyone else’s fault for displeasing oneself. Remember – anger is the most destructive of the three poisons – that can lead to verbal abuse and even physical violence. Even if it doesn’t, it is a cancer in the mind that eats one’s happiness away steadily. Anger is what can raze away a forest of merits before you know it – possibly destroying health, reputation and relationships beyond repair.

    Here is another analogy illustrating why you have control. If you are a gentleman in your workplace during work hours, not demonstrating fits of anger, it means you have been mindfully controlling your emotions. I assume this is so. If not, you would be sacked by now for being disruptive to colleagues and clients. There is no reason why such mindful control is suddenly not possible when you leave your workplace. Similarly, if you can attend a Dharma talk or class with good behaviour, there is no reason why you can’t do so beyond. It is simply bad faith to believe or insist one is sometimes not in control; it is simply yourself switching off mindfulness. No one can force that to happen. The switches are flipped by ourselves. If they can be flipped by others, all crimes of passion would be judged innocent in civilised courts of law. But no – every such criminal is as guilty as guilty can be, and the negative karma created is certain too, because karma comes from intentional thoughts, speech and actions.

    If we don’t have control, despite the Buddha’s 84,000 teachings, none of them will work – because we can’t control our mind to train it at all. It is precisely because of existential negligence of our control, that we delude ourselves to think we have lost control. If we really have no control, we can’t practise the Dharma at all. This is why the first thing to recognise is that we have control. This is so important that it is listed as verse one in the Dhammapada – to remind us to recognise and increase mindful control. And do look at the four verses that follow too, related to anger:

    1. Mind precedes all mental states.
    Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought.
    If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts
    suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

    2. Mind precedes all mental states.
    Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought.
    If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts
    happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.

    3. “He abused me, he struck me,
    he overpowered me, he robbed me.”
    Those who harbor such thoughts do not still their hatred.

    4. “He abused me, he struck me,
    he overpowered me, he robbed me.”
    Those who do not harbor such thoughts still their hatred.

    5. Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world.
    By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased.
    This is a law eternal.

    The Buddha taught us the importance of watching our thoughts precisely because we can control them, and thus ought to control them well, as if taming a wild beast at times. If we are mindful, we will see we have control in the moment. It is lack of control that betrays lack of mindfulness. Indeed, reading and knowing the Dharma is different. Let’s all practise it well then. Let’s recognise control. We can control ourselves to practise better. Even if others chant sutras without understanding, what comes first is that we understand well personally, including the Dharma verses above, and practise accordingly, and we will indeed be blessing ourselves with right practice.

    On the noodle example, if it’s me, I choose vegan food for every meal with awareness to practise greater compassion and wisdom for fellow sentient beings. I choose so, instead of entertaining greed for less kind foods because I have recognised that I have control. After all, no one is forcing me to eat otherwise. Existentially, there is simply no such thing as losing control of thought, unless one is totally mentally deranged. Even a criminal exercises mindful control in order for his crimes to ‘work’. There is simply no way to shake off control.

    This discussion is about recognising this control, and to direct it according to Dhammapada verse 2 instead of 1 above – to use this primary and always existing control meaningfully for happiness of one and all instead of suffering for one and more. This is right practice with right effort. Before recognising the need to develop greater mindfulness of the direction of our thoughts, we need to realise we already have control. It is just a matter of excercising it more mindfully with better practice. If not, we might remain irresponsible finger-pointing tantrum-throwing immature children blaming everyone but ourselves for our unhappiness.

    “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing:
    the last of the human freedoms—
    to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances,
    to choose one’s own way.”

    ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

    Frankl was in a concentration camp, where he recognised this. We are not, and can surely do better. May all be well and happy.

  • Mindfulness IS control.
    Control IS mindfulness.

    As long as awake,
    we always have control and mindfulness
    to some degree.

    It’s all a matter of
    recognising this,
    increasing this, and
    directing this
    towards the virtuous.

  • Thank you. 土 & Kontrol.

    Perhaps it was misunderstood that I meant we can’t control our thoughts. Thought can be controlled.

    My view is we need diligent practice to achieve skillful control of thoughts and keeping unwholesome thoughts at bay. To be mindful of the perception of control that we have.

    May all of us being well and free from harm and ill wills. May all of us support each other in journey to enlightenment.

  • ‘To be mindful of the perception of control that we have.’ Seems to suggest this control is somewhat illusory?

    As Kontrol put it,

    ‘As long as awake,
    we ALWAYS have control and mindfulness
    to some degree.

    It’s all a matter of
    recognising this,
    increasing this, and
    directing this
    towards the virtuous.’


  • The control we have prior to learning Dharma n practising is unskillful. Practice is needed to improve the control of thoughts.

    My teacher had said this to me “if you think you have control, tell yourself you will not angry when your love ones upset you”. He just asked “do you have control? ”

    Well, each of us have different view on control. Each to our own path to enlightenment.

  • If everyone definitely gets angry when loved ones upset them, why are not all husbands wife-bashers? And why are not most couples quarrelsome? Most are not – because they recognize they have control and use it well.

    Those who definitely get angry when loved ones upset them are just immature ones who let their peace of mind be held ransom by others. It’s utter foolishness – to imagine others are obliged to accord with one’s wishes all the time. Everyone is free to choose how they respond. No one is condemned to be angry by default.

    There is only one right view on control and it is this – we have control and the way to use it better is to increase mindfulness.

    Just as there are calm people, there are rash people. The first are more mindful of their control and thus can keep their cool. The latter keep giving themselves leeway, imagining they can ‘lose’ control at times, and excuse themselves for their needless anger. As long as they do this, they will never wake up to see and increase their control. They are immature and irresponsible, obstructing their own spiritual growth.

    ‘Man is condemned to be free.’ – Sartre. (Since we can’t escape from choice, the mature take reins of their emotions and never blame others for their unhappiness. Peace is a choice.)

  • From my late great ancient Zen teacher Bankei –

    A monk said to Bankei: I was born with a short temper. It’s always flaring up. My master has remonstrated with me time and again, but that hasn’t done any good. I know I should do something about it, but as I was born with a bad temper, I’m unable to rid myself of it no matter how hard I try. Is there anything I can do to correct it? This time, I’m hoping that with your teaching, I’ll be able to cure myself. Then, when I go back home, I’ll be able to face my master again, and of course I will benefit by it for the rest of my life. Please, tell me what to do.

    Bankei: That’s an interesting inheritance you have. Is your temper here now? Bring it out. I’ll cure it for you.
    Monk: I’m not angry now. My temper comes on unexpectedly, when something provokes me.
    Bankei: You weren’t born with it then. You create it yourself when some pretext or other happens to appear. Where would your temper be at such times if you didn’t cause it? You work yourself into a temper because of your partiality for yourself, opposing others in order to have your own way. Then you unjustly accuse your parents of having burdened you with a short temper. What an extremely unfilial son you are!

    Each person receives the Buddha-mind when he’s born. His illusion is something he produces all alone, by being partial to himself. It’s foolish to think that it’s inherent. When you don’t produce your temper, where is it?

    All illusions are the same; as long as you don’t produce them, they cease to exist. That’s what everyone fails to realize. There they are, creating from their own selfish desires and deluded mental habits something that isn’t inherent but thinking it is. On account of this, they’re unable to avoid being deluded in whatever they do.

    You certainly must cherish your illusions dearly for you to change the Buddha-mind into them just so you can be deluded. If you only knew the great value of the Buddhamind, there’s no way you could ever be deluded again, not even if you wanted to be. Fix this clearly in your head: When you are not deluded, you are a Buddha, and that means you are enlightened… Once you’ve realized this and you stop creating that temper of yours, you’ll find that you won’t have any other illusions either, not even if you want to, for you’ll be living constantly in the unborn Buddha-mind. There is nothing else.

  • If you choose to believe u can’t change, you will never change. It’s a matter of thought transformation. Seriously, I think to dwell in negative state of mind is such a tiring and sad thing to do. Do yourself a favour, don’t dwell in the dark side, let your Buddha-nature blossom instead.

  • Very en- (I) -ening!

    May all realise according to Master Bankei’s teachings and disown anger that is not ours in the first place.


  • As they teach in Vipassana meditation to make a bad action the mind must be impure you can’t say or do something without first thinking so thinking generates Karma it is simple.

  • negative thoughts themselves arise from bad karma (past lives, or past years in this life)
    One has an opportunity (through mindfullness) to restrain and dissipate those negative thoughts and thus get rid of some of the karma.
    If one fails in this and falls a bit further down, one actually enacts some of the negative thoughts, with the ill intentions, and increases the bad karma
    In some very rare cases, one could enact negative thoughts with “no intention” . Just plain mindfullness working without a doer or a sense of self. In such a case the karma gets reduced or remains the same instead of getting increased

    Having said that, I believe a more honest assessment is that even the will to be mindfull is because of good karma. This means life is simply a flowering of what went before. The seed has grown to a tree which is now in the process of giving, or not giving, fruit. What we think of as “will” is really awareness of possibilities and awareness of one of these being chosen

  • Negative thoughts can be conditioned by our past tendencies, but never caused by them. If they are, it would be fatalistic and hopeless, with no way to break free at all. The quality of our thoughts now is determined by our present mindful choice of attitude, which decides how we want to handle past tendencies.

    If we give in to negative tendencies, we will fortify them, creating new negative karma. The very practice of restraint from the negative creates some positive karma, that can dilute the effects of negative karma, and weakens negative tendencies. Of course, the more active creation of positive karma (beyond mere refrain) would create even more positive karma.

    The will to be mindful is always there – whether there is good karma or bad karma. If having bad karma means not having will, all evil-doers should be pardoned. They would not be responsible for all their fresh and continual evil deeds done. No one can escape free will. As Satre put it, we are condemned to be free. Even evil-doers have mindfulness, without which they cannot carry out elaborate evil deeds. It is just that it is not Right Mindfulness geared towards liberation.

    Life is a flowering of conditions from the past and causes in this moment – chiefly our choice of attitude which directs action. Everything is dynamic, in change and changeable. This is a great truth realised by the Buddha – the universal characteristic of impermanence of all mind and matter.

  • This doesn’t seem right to me. I’m a Buddhist myself and was taught to let thoughts arise, negative or positive – and letting them dissolve away again. And far from creating negative karma – that practice actually purifies past negative karma. Because they are thoughts without intention or action.

    I can’t seem to find a detailed page about this right now – but this is how I was taught, just an example:

    “The factors that are necessary to make complete karma are motivation, intention, effort (or attempt) and satisfaction. ”

    If you just have the thought of killing someone you don’t have any of those factors if it just passes through your mind as an idea that pops up you don’t even have any real intention to kill anyone. Is just a random thought.

    Or to take another example – if you deliberately generate the thought, but doing it as a method actor for a film you are acting in.

    Then none of those factors are present – no motivation, no intention, no effort or attempt to murder anyone – and no satisfaction (which would only happen after you succeed in a murder). You don’t have any of those – and you need all of them to get the completion of the karmic effect of killing someone.

    An actor even if he deliberately generates extreme emotions in order to act his part of a villain faithfully – has none of the factors necessary to generate negative karma. Intention is to entertain, educate, may be simply to earn a living, may be a bodhisattva doing it to help others. Not at all likely to have a negative reason for doing it.

    Then none of those factors are present – no motivation, no intention, no effort or attempt to murder anyone – and no satisfaction (which would only happen after you succeed in a murder). You don’t have any of those – and you need all of them to get the completion of the karmic effect of killing someone.

    Yet the actor’s mind may be full of thoughts, emotions etc of killing someone. But just for the purposes of acting.

    Do give some sutra sources (best) – or else a link to teachings by a teacher in a Buddhist lineage recognized by his own teachers – if I’ve misunderstood something here.



  • [1] Letting thoughts rise and dissolve is in terms of not being affected by them – this is about not being deliberate or intentional at all in creating new unwholesome thoughts. https://thedailyenlightenment.com/2014/09/does-acting-bad-create-bad-karma/ is about not entertaining negative thoughts with intentions, even for short moments deliberately (which some actors might do), which can create negative karma. For sutta reference, please see http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn42/sn42.002.than.html

    [2] Some actors might have some actual motivation, intention, effort and satisfaction in playing a negative role, thus creating corresponding karma. Having murderous thoughts deliberately does generate some negative karma at the level of thought. This is why the Buddha asked us to guard our body, speech and mind, to purify our minds. Karma can be created through body, speech and mind. Of course, as above, if translated into actual action, it’s much worse karma created. (The above is not about ‘random’ thought, which is technically impossible as all our thinking is based on cause and effect, habits and such.)

    It is volition [intention] that I call karma;
    for having willed,
    one acts by body, speech, and MIND [thought].

    – The Buddha (Anguttara Nikaya, AN 3:415)

    [3] As quoted from the article in the first link above, ‘Is acting surely unskilful? The key deciding factor would be whether it has the potential to further the three poisons of oneself and others, or to cure them. For instance, some plays and films are scripted to incite lust and hatred, while some to propagate the Dharma. However, it gets grey when there the three poisons are depicted to contrast their antidotes. Karmically speaking, if an actor portraying evil did give rise to actual evil intentions, even if for a while, there is some negative karma created then. As such, good actors must not lose their goodness, even while acting convincingly, and must eventually lead audiences to greater good!’

  • One has to make consistent effort in identifying and understanding any thought and feeling at its source.

    What is this thought or feeling about? Why did this situation or the words or deeds of this particular person cause me to think or feel this way?

    The way in which we interpret things (mentally categorising to be harmful, useful or useless) determines to a large extent the kind of thoughts and feelings that arise in us.

    The exchange between the fellow posters above is one good example.

    Honestly, everyone of us is at a different stage of spiritual maturity. It is hardly mutually beneficial to persist in getting others to accept or understand any kind of truth or personal experiences at the level we expect or hope for them to, even when it’s plain obvious to us.

    We do our best to explain patiently and gently and if the point is still not understood nor accepted, we have to accept that there are factors like maybe we have not really understood the underlying doubts of the questioner (so think of better ways to help others understand) or maybe the person is not in a receptive state of mind at that particular point of time (we wait for the right time and continue to respond in a friendly manner).

  • Nice points raised up. I think Robert Walker made a really good point about having motivation, intention, effort and satisfaction to get a karmic effect. It makes a lot of sense.
    Actors should not get karmic effect for generating bad thoughts, when their main intention was just to put up a good act to entertain or convince the audience of their roles.
    We don’t want to wrongly convict someone. We should not wrong a person and put him through bad karma.

  • Karma is generated through good and bad intentional thoughts, which may or may not manifest as speech and/or action, which makes the karma more strong accordingly. Every intention entertained requires effort/ Every intention has impact, whether ‘main’ or ‘non-main’. The karma of actors depends on the intentions behind the acting. (Refer to comments by flyon above.) It is not such that there must be satisfaction before there is karma created. It is possible to create negative karma and feel dissatisfied too.

    No one can put another ‘through bad karma’ if there is no corresponding karma to bear fruit in the first place.

  • If thoughts affect our karma then I need all of your opinions on something.
    I am in my mid teens. I used to have this habit about always imaging the Buddha in my head (a statue, a picture etc.). However this nice habit soon got hard because I got into the habit of imaging many pictures of the Buddha and since I couldn’t get all these pictures very clear and detailed in my head I started stressing out.
    Because of this mental strain I started thinking bad things about the Buddha in my head when I imagined him (eg: about his appearance).
    I feel really guilty because this also happened in a sacred temple and I am scared that I will get punished in some way because of my bad thoughts about the Buddha.
    Can someone please be kind enough to give me some thoughts and advice.

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