Like a Lump of Salt

The Buddha advised people against thinking too deeply about the precise workings of kamma (or karma, for those who prefer the sanskritized spelling), saying that it was imponderable, unconjecturable, and could bring about madness and vexation. Indeed, even if one wants to spend their days thinking about how their kamma has brought about this result or that result, it ultimately is unknowable to mere men.

Of course, the Buddha could elaborate by means of simile many things that were unthinkable otherwise, and I thought this particular excerpt, from the Anguttara Nikaya, was particularly profound:

“Here, bhikkhus, some person has created trifling bad kamma yet it leads him to hell, while some other person here has created exactly the same trifling kamma yet it is to be experienced in this very life, without even a slight [residue] being seen, much less abundant [residue].

“What kind of person creates trifling bad kamma that leads him to hell? Here, some person is undeveloped in body, virtuous behavior, mind, and wisdom; he is limited and has a mean character, and he dwells in suffering. When such a person creates trifling bad kamma, it leads him to hell.

“What kind of person creates exactly the same trifling bad kamma and yet it is to be experienced in this very life, without even a slight [residue] being seen, much less abundant [residue]? Here, some person is developed in body, virtuous behavior, mind, and wisdom. He is unlimited and has a lofty character, and he dwells without measure. When such a person creates exactly the same trifling bad kamma, it is to be experienced in this very life, without even a slight [residue] being seen, much less abundant [residue].

“Suppose a man would drop a lump of salt into a small bowl of water. What do you think, bhikkhus? Would that lump of salt make the small quantity of water in the bowl salty and undrinkable?”

“Yes, Bhante. For what reason? Because the water in the bowl is limited, thus that lump of salt would make it salty and undrinkable.”

“But suppose a man would drop a lump of salt into the river Ganges. What do you think, bhikkhus? Would that lump of salt make the river Ganges become salty and undrinkable?”

“No, Bhante. For what reason? Because the river Ganges contains a large volume of water, thus that lump of salt would not make it salty and undrinkable.”

“So too, bhikkhus, some person here has created trifling bad kamma yet it leads him to hell, while some other person here has created exactly the same trifling kamma yet it is to be experienced in this very life, without even a slight [residue] being seen, much less abundant [residue].

This excerpt really speaks to me — let me explain…

So, a person comes around and commits some small act of unkindness, perhaps they are talking bad about their boss, and nothing is said about it. Later that day, you decide to share that gossip with a third coworker. Of course, when you do it, it doesn’t go unnoticed and you quickly receive the retribution for your indiscretion. Why does one person get away with it and another doesn’t? Your actions may be the same, but your level of development in character may be vastly different than another person.

I suppose it just offers another way of seeing things. Perhaps the people “getting away with it” are instead just storing it up until after they pass away from this world… but when they do, they are going to still be accountable for it. Our actions are the only thing we take with us into death, and those of us who “reap what we sow” in this life should feel some measure of gladness — we don’t have to carry it with us any longer.

Think about it, and be well my friends.

P.S. Lest anyone think I have forgotten, I certainly have not: 12 years ago a terrible tragedy befell our nation. Since that time, many things have changed, not least of all being me and my own personal take on world events. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that particular morning, but I hope we can all move forward with some measure of faith that those few among us who commit evil never speak for the majority. In light of the excerpt posted above, perhaps we might see the actions of those characters who caused so much suffering that day as being like a whole barge full of salt dumped into (or onto) a small bowl of water. May the innocent never be held to account for the acts of the vile — the vile will undoubtedly take that kamma with them into innumerable states of woe.

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