Prompted & Unprompted II

This is the continue from our previous exchange…

Thank you for widening the scope of discussion. We should not emphasized too much on translation of Buddhist terminologies. What most important is to apply in real life situations. Otherwise studying Abidhamma or any other texts will become an acedamic exercise. Buddhism is not an acedamic teaching. It is a practical teaching. There is no point in arguing ‘sankharika and asankharika’ as ‘intententional and unintentional, prompted and unprompted or active or passive’. Your hypothtical example about helping an old lady is oversimplified version of real life events. I am afraid life is not that simple. If we just know how to substract, add, multiply and divide digits and then try to solve real life mathematics, we will never be able to solve problems. Of course Buddha said ‘ Volition is karma’ but the problem is how would you define volition. Besides Karma is not the only thing that matters. There are four factors that can determine the future of everything.

  • 1. Karma
  • 2. Mind (citta)
  • 3. Energy (Utu)
  • 4. Nutrition (ahara)

Unless, all those factors are taken into account, we can never reflect reality. I will stop discussing at this point because I want you to explain 3 real life events in terms of sankharika and unsakhiraka.

  • 1. A lion kills a deer.
  • 2. A drug addict beomes hallucinating and hit his mother.


My reply:

I think you completely miss the point that I am trying to say. In your previous comment, it stated:

“Yes, intention is the deciding factor if it is karmic action or not. No intention, no karma. Above is a general rule in Buddhism. There is a Big but. In Abhidhamma, bad deeds can be commited without intention. These actions are called’ asankharika’ mental states. They still can cause bad effects.”

The statement, there “bad deeds can be committed without intention” is completely untrue.

For those who spends time in the study of Abhidhamma, yes, volition is a universal mental factors. Meaning, it exist at any mind moment. This also mean, volition exist in the rootless consciousness as well (those consciousness that not rooted in greed, hatred, ignorant, non-greed, non-hatred or non-ignorant). However, such consciousness is kammically indeterminate, meaning such consciousness does not generate karma. These consciousness are mainly the resultant consciousness (from both wholesome and unwholesome consciousness) and functional

However, the statement that was made and its assertive implication is, a person can commit into a karmic action without any intention. This imply, a person who walking on the street or driving in a car, if unintentional steps over or overrun an insect (while walking or driving), can or will constitute as bad karma or creating bad deeds.

The basis of this claim, made in your previous email, is to interpret the word “sankharika” and “asankharika” (which is translated as “prompted” and “unprompted”) is synonymous as “intentional” and “unintentional”.

Now, we should look into the word “sankharika” or even translated word, “prompted” and by looking at the meaning where our teacher has been explaining us.

From:A Manual of Abhidhamma
“Like dhamma, sankhara also is a multi-significant term. Its precise meaning is to be understood according to the context.”
“In this (Abhidhamma) particular instance the term is used with ‘sa’ = co-; and a = un, Sa-sankharika (lit.,with effort) is that which is prompted, instigated, or induced by oneself or by another. ‘Asankharika’ (lit., without effort) is that which is thus unaffected, but done spontaneously.
If, for instance, one does an act, induced by another, or after much deliberation or premeditation on one’s part, then it is sa-sankharika. If, on the contrary, one does it instantly without any external or internal inducement, or any premeditation, then it isasankharika. ”

From here, we can see, “prompted” or “unprompted” is not synonymous with “intentional” or “unintentional”. In fact, it is more about whether an action (intention) is being instigated or not instigated. If we look into the example where our teachers gave us (just take the first two unwholesome consciousness as examples):

  • One consciousness, unprompted, accompanied by pleasure, connected with wrong view.
    Illustrative example: With joy a boy instantly steals an apple, viewing no evil thereby.
  • One consciousness, prompted, accompanied by pleasure, connected with wrong view.
    Illustrative example: Prompted by a friend, a boy joyfully steals an apple, viewing no evil thereby.

(NOTE: The two illustrative examples are also found in manual or the link above)

Again, from here, the examples is shown as an act (intention) is either instigated or not-instigated.

The questions on the mental states of when a lion kill a deer, someone kill his parent out of hallucination, or someone kill by an animal are completely speculative. Unless, he is able to read the mind of the person or the being where an act is being committed, otherwise, there is absolutely no reasonable basis for such discussion. If someone is willing to put his faith into the result from such speculative discussion, then, it more likely to end up as mere personal opinion. Personal opinion is the weakest authority of all.

I would prefer to spend due diligent effort in trying to understand what has been taught to us. Because, those who leave such writing and guidance are those who are well established in the training. In Buddhism, we have volume of text and guide that pass down since ancient time that can be trace all the way to the very words of The Buddha. These words, experiences and
insights into the realm of Buddhism, serve more than just guide; these words are for us to understand what Buddhism is, thus, I would prefer a more concrete discussion by referencing into them.

Let me reiterate the point I am trying to express:

  • 1) Unintentional action is not karma (this is consistent either one read from Sutra or Abhidhamma).

    The Buddha says:
    “Monks it is volition that I call kamma. For having willed, one then acts by body, speech or mind”.

    What really lies behind all action, the essence of all action, is volition, the power of the will. It is this volition expressing itself as action of body, speech and mind that the Buddha calls kamma.
    This means that unintentional action is not kamma. If we accidently step on some ants while walking down the street, that is not the kamma of taking life, for there was no intention to kill. If we speak some statement believing it to be true and it turns out to be false, this is not the kamma of lying, for there is no intention of deceiving.
    From: Questions on Kamma, by Bhikkhu Bodhi
  • 2) “asankharika” (unprompted) is not synonymous with unintentional. Please refer to Abhidhamma and look into the discussion and meaning of “prompted” and “unprompted”.

Buddhism is not about theory. It is about the path to Enlightenment and the Truth of Enlightenment. We must put effort (as much as one can) to understand this and apply what we learned into our meditation. By putting effort in such training to strengthen the mind, to be mindful and wakeful, this mind can then be place in a daily environment and observe the mental states that arises in our daily activities. By observing our activities, there will be moment of an action (intention) that is done spontaneously. There will also be moment where an action is done by instigation.This is where one will be able to see the different between on what our teacher meant by “prompted” (sankharika) and “unprompted” (asankharika).

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