Karma: Types, Factors, Protections & Remedies

Four Types of Karma


  1. results in positive effects within samsara
  2. liberates from suffering


  1. results in negative effects within samsara
  2. perpetuates and increases suffering


  1. directly causes rebirth into a specific realm or state
  2. causes rebirth as a human with either great fortune or vast suffering


  1. produces effects similar to the action
  • repetition of similar actions in the future
  • becoming the object of similar actions by others
  • rebirth in beneficial or hostile environments
  1. produces environmental effects

Four Necessary Factors


  • strength of the motivation (positive or negative)


  • the more important the object, the stronger the karma


  • the method of action (skilful or unskillful)
  • type of harm or benefit inflicted
    • in descending order of harm: wrong views, malice, avarice, killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, slandering, abusing, gossiping;
    • in ascending order of benefit: good wishes, beneficial acts
  • frequency: repetition increases power and effect


  • positive karma is strengthened by
    • rejoicing in positive actions
    • absence of regret
  • negative karma is strengthened by
    • rejoicing in negative actions
    • absence of scruples and shame

Four Protections

 Avoiding: guarding against the arising of new unwholesome thoughts

 Overcoming: if unwholesome thoughts arise, striving for equanimity

 Developing: cultivating wholesome thoughts and actions not yet arisen

 Maintaining: cultivating the Three Harvests

  • Personal Benefit: reduction or cessation of individual suffering
  • Proximate Benefit: reduction of suffering among proximate beings
  • Great Benefit: reduction or cessation of suffering for all beings

Four Remedies to Purify Negative Karma

 Regret: realizing that negative actions are harmful, like drinking poison

 Reliance: realizing that negative actions are the result of not heeding the instructions of the Three Jewels, and going to Them for refuge

 Resolve: firm determination to avoid repeating negative actions

Reparation: (1) invoking the Buddhas; (2) reciting purification prayers or mantras; (3) reciting relevant scriptures; (4) meditating on Ultimate Reality; (5) making actual and imagined offerings to the Three Jewels; (6) sponsoring or engaging in the production or distribution of representations of the Three Jewels

About Tashi Nyima

I am a Dharma student, and aspire to be a companion on the path. I trust that these texts can offer a general approach and basic tools for practicing the Buddha's way to enlightenment. ||| Soy un estudiante del Dharma, y aspiro a ser un compañero en el sendero. Espero que estos textos ofrezcan a algunos un mapa general y herramientas básicas para la práctica del sendero a la iluminación que nos ofrece el Buda.
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8 Responses to Karma: Types, Factors, Protections & Remedies

  1. Yue-han Su says:

    Can you explain “throwing” karma? I have not heard this term and do not understand what it signifies.

    • Tashi Nyima says:

      “Throwing karma” is what determines the realm in which we are reborn, while “Completing karma” determines the conditions of that life. As an example, Throwing karma is like purchasing a ticket to visit Paris, while Completing karma is like making arrangements for your stay (accommodations, activities, etc.).

      • Yue-han Su says:

        I am used to thinking of karma in terms of actions, both personal and collective. This seems like another category, which is neither personal nor collective.

      • Tashi Nyima says:

        It is precisely action. What is being categorized is the type of consequence, or result. Just like when pointing to a particular bush or tree, we might refer to it by the name of its fruit or flower (although it is neither fruit nor flower, but bush or tree), we refer to types of karma according to their result.

  2. Yue-han Su says:

    I think I see — these are karmic terms describing the causations/results of a particular rebirth — but how are these terms helpful? Why not simply say rebirth is the result of previous karma? Is it to emphasize the utter importance of mindful behavior?

    • Tashi Nyima says:

      We can go into specifics at greater length at another time. For now, let’s just say that there are actions (both positive and negative) that have sufficient power to determine one’s next rebirth realm, as for example the 5 acts of immediate retribution:

      1.killing one’s father
      2.killing one’s mother
      3.killing an arhat or Bodhisattva
      4.maliciously drawing blood from the body of a Buddha
      5.creating a schism in the Sangha

      Regardless of the karmic ‘balance’, these five acts constitute Throwing karma for rebirth in the hell realms.

      By the same token, an act of great sacrifice (dying to save or protect another, for example) may constitute Throwing karma for rebirth in the god realms.

      The rest of that individual’s karma would modify the environment and conditions of rebirth, but would not change the realm. Thus, it would be Completing karma.

      You are correct that this teaching emphasizes the importance of mindful behavior, because a very positive karma (on balance) does not guarantee a good rebirth if one commits an act of immediate retribution (immmediate means the very next birth). And an act of great merit can produce a good rebirth for an individual with a negative karmic balance.

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