For example, if a man climbs to the third floor of a building, it is undeniably true that his arriving is a result of past action, that is walking up the stairs. And having arrivied there, it is impossible for him to reach out and touch the ground with his hand, or drive a car up and down there. Obviously this is because he has gone up to the third floor. Or, having arrived at the third floor, whether he is too exhausted to continue is also related to having walked up the stairs. His arrival there, the things he is able to do there and the situations he is likely to encounter, are all certainly related to the ‘old kamma’ of having walked up the stairs.
But exactly which actions he will perform, his reactions to the situations which arise there, whether he will take a rest, walk on, or walk back down the stairs and out of that building, are all matters which he can decided for himself in that present moment, for which he will also reap the results.
Even though the action of walking up the stairs may still be influencing him (for example, with his strength sapped he may be unable to function efficiently in any given situation), whether he decides to give in to that tiredness or try to overcome it are all matters which he can decide for himself in the present moment. Therefore, old kamma should be understood in its relation to the whole cause and effect process. In terms of ethical practice, to understand the cause and effect process is to be able to learn from old kamma, understanding the situation at hand, and to skilfully make a plan of action for improving and correcting the future.
Kamma in the Buddha’s Teaching, (p.86)
by Bhikkhu P.A. Payutto
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