It is no denying fact that the Buddha for the first time in history of thought has laid stress on the importance of intention or volition (cetana) in performing an act ethically. Cetana “refers only to the goal-directed and result-oriented volitional disposition which impels the worldly individual. Ethical good (kusala) or bad (akusala) consequences will be depended on the level and quality of intention (cetana). If the intention of performing an act is present in high level, the result (vipaka) definitely bears the corresponding high level. If it is absent, the result is lessened in quality of bearing fruit or may not bear any fruit. Similarly, if the quality of intention is ethically good, the acts having good intended intention bear wholesome consequence; while the acts having evil intended will bear unwholesome consequence.
The famous definition of kamma attributed to the Buddha is read as: “Cetanaha”m bhikkhave kamma”m vadaami; cetayitvaa kamma”m karoti kaayena vaacaaya manasaa,” literally means “Monks, intention or determinate thought, I say, is kamma. When intention is manifested, one acts by physical deed, speech or thought.” This definition is reflected in the Dhammapada, where kamma is explained in this manner: the mind is the chief (forerunner) of all good and bad states. If you speak or act with a good or bad mind, then happiness or unhappiness follows you just as the wheel follows the hoof of the ox or like your shadow which never leaves you.
Kamma is simply action. Within animate organisms there is a power or force which is given different names such as instinctive tendencies, consciousness, etc. This innate propensity forces every conscious being to move. He moves mentally or physically. His motion is action. The repetition of actions is habit and habit becomes his character. In Buddhism, this process is called kamma.
In its ultimate sense, kamma means both good and bad, mental action or volition. ‘Kamma is volition,’ says the Buddha. Thus kamma is not an entity but a process, action, energy and force. Some interpret this force as ‘action-influence’. It is our own doings reacting on ourselves. The pain and happiness man experiences are the result of his own deeds, words and thoughts reacting on themselves. Our deeds, words and thoughts produce our prosperity and failure, our happiness and misery.
Kamma is equated to the action of men. This action also creates some karmic results. But each and every action carried out without any purposeful intention, cannot become a Kusala-Kamma(skillful action) or Akusala-Kamma(unskillful action). That is why the Buddha interprets kamma as volitional activities. That means, whatever good and bad deeds we commit ourselves without any purposeful intention, are not strong enough to be carried forward to our next life. However, ignorance of the nature of the good and bad effect of the kamma is not an excuse to justify or avoid the karmic results if they were committed intentionally. A small child or an ignorant man may commit many evil deeds. Since they commit such deeds with intention to harm or injure, it is difficult to say that they are free from the karmic results. If that child touches a burning iron-rod the heat element does not spare the child without burning his fingers. The karmic energy also works exactly in the same manner. Karmic energy is unbiased; it is like energy of gravity.
The radical transformations in the characters of Angulimala and Asoka illustrate man’s potential to gain control over his kammic force. Angulimala murdered more than a thousand of his fellow men. Can we judge him by his external actions? For within his lifetime, he became an Arahant and thus redeemed his past misdeeds.
Although Buddhism says that man can eventually control his karmic force, it does not state that everything is due to kamma. Buddhism does not ignore the role played by other forces of nature. According to Buddhism there are five orders or processes of natural laws (niyama) which operate in the physical and mental worlds & thus kamma is considered only as one of the five natural laws that account for the diversity in this world.
May all beings be well and happy & attain the fruits of Nibbana.