Karma-vibhanga, Deeds and their Results

160 public domain photographs from Borobudur, Java, showing the reliefs the results of good and bad deeds, together with a translation of the Karma-vibhanga text and further information.

 

01-14
Health and Wealth
15-22
Rebirths
23-50
Permutations
51-61
Unwholesome Deeds
62-80
Wholesome Deeds

 

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The Analysis of Deeds
(Karma-vibhaṅga)

Homage to the Gracious Youth Mañjuśrī

Introduction

… herein the Gracious One said this to the young man Śuka, the son of Taudeya: I will teach you the explanation of the Dharma known as the Analysis of Deeds, young man, listen to it well, apply the mind, and I will speak.”

“Yes, Gracious One,” replied the young man Śuka, the son of Taudeya, to the Gracious One, and the Gracious One said this:

“A person’s deeds are his own, young man, I say, he inherits his deeds, it is deeds that he is born from, deeds are his refuge.

A person’s deeds, young man, can be analysed, such as: this is low, this is excellent, this is middling.

Such that:

This is the deed that leads to a short life,
this is the deed that leads to a long life…

1-14 Health and Wealth

The first section follows closely the teaching as it is known in the Pāḷi texts, but the deed in the early text is simply stated to be the killing, or refraining from killing, of living beings, and so on. The specific types of actions, and their approval are not mentioned. In the Sanskrit text we get a list of normally around ten causes that lead to the same result, and many of which are illustrated on the reliefs.

In the Pāḷi the template reads like this: Here, a woman or a man is a killer of living beings, fierce, with blood on his hands, devoted to hitting and killing, merciless towards living beings. Because of establishing and undertaking that deed, at the break up of the body, after death, he is reborn in the lower realms, in a bad destination, having fallen into hell. But if, at the break up of the body, after death, he is not reborn in the lower realms, in a bad destination, having fallen into hell, but comes to the human realm then wherever he is reborn his life is short (MN 135). The others deeds and their results are stated in a similar way.

Short Life

Herein, what is the deed that leads to a short life? It is said: [1] Killing living beings. [2] Rejoicing in the killing of living beings. [3] Speaking in praise of the killing of living beings. [4] Greatly enjoying the death of enemies. [5] Encouraging the death of enemies. [6] Speaking in praise of encouraging the death of enemies. [7] Destroying what is in the womb. [8] Speaking in praise of destroying what is in the womb. [9] Causing a place to be established where many animals are killed – buffalos, cattle, pigs, chicken and so on – during the course of a sacrifice for sons, grandsons, or for other people or advantages. [10] Destroying people while acting out of fear and fright.

1. Killing Living Beings

The first relief depicts [1] the killing of living beings as the fishermen have their traps at the ready. It may be the one with a slightly raised trap is entrapping a crab. On the left we see musicians, who are presumably [2] rejoicing in the killing, and the characters on the right might be [3] speaking in praise of the killing. The result however, a short life, is not shown on this relief.

The relief is a fine start to the series, with good balance, interesting characters, and a good illustration of the teaching. Besides those that entrap and rejoice, we also see others in the centre carrying away the produce. Particpation in killing also leads to a short life.

2. Rejoicing in Killing leads to a Short Life

In this relief we do not see any killing, but we do see a hunter on the right, holding his bow and arrow. He appears to be speaking and his interlocutors are at least interested, and may be [2] rejoicing in his yarn.

In the middle we see servants preparing to boil fish for the meal of those who sit on top. On the far left we see the consequences of these acts: a young child is dying in his parents arms after a short life.

3. Destroying what is in the Womb leads to a Short Life

On the right someone is dying and is surrounded by others. They do not seem to be actively killing, but this may be [4] enjoying the death of enemies. Next to them are two people talking together, perhaps [5] encouraging or [6] praising, the death of enemies is intended.

In the centre we have what appears to be [7] an abortion, and the people standing behind may be [8] speaking in praise of abortion. The result is shown on the far left: a child once more lies dying, surrounded by his family. The panel has not been finished, and shows us somewhat how the sculptors proceeded: outlining, then carving out the main scene, before adding the telling details.

4. Killing and Encouraging Killing leads to a Short Life

Another unfinished panel. It appears to illustrate [1] the killing of living beings, and [5] rejoicing in it. A man is held on a leash as an executioner gets ready to decapitate him. Other executioners sit around, either [5] encouraging or [6] praising the death.

On the left we see two children in what appears to be a charnel ground, with bones and a skull strewn around and small animals who have come for the pickings. One person walks away, but who he is is not clear. Perhaps it is a parent.

5. Destroying People while acting out of Fear and Fright leads to a Short Life

In the centre of the relief we see two groups fighting with swords, shields and javelins, so although we don’t see any [1] killing living beings, this inevitably is what it will lead to. The people on the right appear to [5] encouraging the fighters. In any case they appear [10] to be acting out of fear and fright.

On the far left a child is dying in the arms of his parents again. A man stands above them and seems to be whispering to his companion, maybe they are discussing the reason for the child’s short life.

Long Life

Herein, what is the deed that leads to a long life? It is said: [1] Ceasing from killing living beings. [2] Speaking in praise of ceasing from killing living beings. [3] Encouraging the ceasing from killing living beings. [4] Speaking in praise of ceasing from killing living beings. [5] The release of those due to be slaughtered, whether men, cattle, pigs, chickens and so on. [6] Having thoughts of compassion in the midst of beings and giving fearlessness to frightened beings. [7] Having thoughts of loving-kindness in the midst of people who are sick. [8] Giving food to others, whether young and old, and having thoughts of loving-kindness towards those who receive them. [9] What was said previously, on the side of wholesomeness, regarding the spectacle of war, etc. [10] Restoring broken living quarters, temples, and stūpas.

6. Speaking in Praise of Restraint from Killing leads to a Long Life

Here we have three scenes. On the right clearly someone is speaking about restraint as his posture shows. We can infer he is [2] speaking in praise of ceasing from killing living beings. In the centre we may have one wise man [3] encouraging this restraint.

The sculptors seem to have had a harder time depicting those of long life, though it is not clear why this would be so. However, the result is normally shown as a wealthy couple enjoying the fullness, rather than strictly the length, of life.

7. Encouraging Restraint from Killing leads to a Long Life

Again there are three scenes. On the far right we see one person gesticulating, and presumably [2] teaching about the need for restraint. His companions sit quietly and listen. In the centre again one person holds his hands in the teaching gesture, either [3] encouraging or [4] praising restraint from killing.

On the far left the result is that a young couple sit comfortably and are being served dishes and given offerings from those in front of them. They are enjoying a long and prosperous life.

8. The Release of Men due to be Slaughtered leads to a Long Life

The people on the right of the relief are now hurrying away, and it is presumably [5] away from their imprisonment. They are holding something in their hands, but it is not clear to me what. The person on the left of them is presumably the person ordering their release.

On the left we see again a scene of success and prosperity. A couple sit with their children on a dais, and in front of them people stand around with offerings in their hands, or sit on the floor and watch.

9. The Release of Animals due to be Slaughtered leads to a Long Life

On the right we see people [5] releasing animals and fish due to be slaughtered. One leads what looks like a boar, another releases fish into a pond, and above that scene we see chickens who are free to roam about.

The result on the left, as expected, is prosperity and the respect of other people. A prince sits together with his consort and child, while other nobles sit in front of him.

10. Giving Fearlessness leads to a Long Life

On the right one man intervenes and stands over another who has fallen to the floor, and is about to be killed by his enemies. He is [6] giving fearlessness to a frightened being. The men on the right seem to be assisting his effort.

On the left a young prince sits on a throne with two consorts and before him an elderly man or brahmin offers his respects. On the far left a lady-in-waiting points to the scene in front of her.

11. Giving Loving-Kindness leads to a Long Life

On the far right we see a sick man, and others who have gathered around him [7] with thoughts of loving-kindness. In the centre we see a food distribution is taking place with poor people eagerly receiving.

On the right is the result: a prince sits with his consort and three children. Attendants wait on him, and on the floor again we seem to see someone speaking intimately to his partner, perhaps telling her why the man is so well-off.

12. Giving Food to Others in Need leads to a Long Life

On the right we see a large group of people have come and are giving drinks to what is quite possibly a monk or holy man who sits on a platform, but without the usual signs of wealth.

To the left of the separating tree we see a wealthy man sit with two consorts on a throne while visitors and attendants stand and sit nearby. This is the result of his generosity.

Much Illness

What is the deed that leads to much illness? It is said: [1] Slapping, or giving a beating with open hands. [2] Rejoicing in slapping. [3] Speaking in praise of slapping. [4] Being satisfied with slapping them. [5] Annoying mother and father in body and mind. [6] Similarly, afflicting the minds of others, such as virtuous ones who have gone forth. [7] Being satisfied with the illnesses of enemies. [8] Being dissatisfied with the slow development of the illnesses of enemies. [9] Giving what is not really medicine to those who are sick. [10] Similarly, giving indigestible food to those who are sick.

13. Slapping leads to Much Illness

On the far right two men tower over another who lies on the floor and they are [1] giving him a beating. Next to that group is another one where one man relaxes on a dais while others are fighting, he is [2] rejoicing in the beating he is watching. The third scene is not so clear, but I am inclined to think the two boys are [5] annoying their parents.

On the far left we see the outcome of this sort of behaviour: one man holds his leg; another his wrist; a third holds his head. They are suffering from various type of illnesses owing to their bad behaviour.

14. Giving what is not Medicine leads to Much Illness

On the far right two men again stand over another who raises his hands to protect himself, they are [1] giving him a beating. The adjoining scene is hard to interpret, someone is pouring from a jug into a pot. Maybe it is [9] giving him what is not really medicine?

Similarly the third scene in which a man points past his wife to the people on the other side of the tree could be [7] being satisfied with the illness of enemies. On the far left we see a couple with their two children: all of them look quite wretched, a result of their deeds.

15. Giving Indigestible Food leads to Much Illness

On the right we see someone cooking and a ladle being held in a cooking pot. It is not quite clear if this is [9] not really medicine or [10] indigestible food. In the middle someone lies back in the arms of another, evidently in distress, presumably after having consumed something not suitable.

It may be that the text available to the sculptors differed from the Sanskrit text we have now and might have been closer to one of the Chinese texts which lists overeating as a cause of much illness. Beyond the tree on the far left two people sit, they are very emaciated.

Little Illness

What is the deed that leads to little illness? It is said: [1] Ceasing from slapping, or giving a beating with open hands. [2] Herein, encouraging others to cease from slapping. [3] Speaking in praise of ceasing from slapping. [4] Greatly rejoicing in ceasing from slapping. [5] Attending to mother and father when they are sick. [6] Also attending to others, such as those gone forth who depend on one’s household. [7] Not being uplifted by the illnesses of one’s enemies. [8] Not being uplifted by the development of these illnesses. [9] Giving effective medicine to those who are sick. [10] Giving digestible food to those who are sick.

16. Praising Ceasing from Beating leads to Little Illness

There are three scenes. On the right someone is sitting in an elevated position and teaching his companions, he must be [2] encouraging them to refrain from beating others. In the middle scene what looks like a group of wise men sit and discuss affairs, they are [3] speaking in praise of restraint from beating.

The result on the left is that a couple are seen reclining on comfortable cushions and evidently enjoying the best of health, while their friends look on.

17. Praising Ceasing from Beating leads to Little Illness

The two scenes again appear to be of conversations, and therefore must be variations of the previous reliefs where [2] encouraging others to refrain from beating others, and [3] speaking in praise of such restraint are the causes.

Left of the tree which separates the actors on these reliefs we see another scene of prosperity. A prince sits with his right leg dangling. His consort attends to him assiduously, and other attendants sit nearby.

18. Attending to Sick Parents leads to Little Illness

There are only two scenes on this relief: the action and the result. On the right we see a group of people attending to someone who is lying in their arms, they must be [5] children attending to a sick parent.

On the left is the result: a prince once again is sitting in the midst of friends of high rank enjoying his freedom from illness. Two boys seem to be playing a game under the dais.

Kaspian took his photographs in black and white, which was all that was available to him in the late 19th century. At present at Borobudur the next four scenes are exposed to the public, so it has been possible to get colour photographs of these reliefs.

19. Giving Effective Medicine leads to Little Illness

Again we have just two scenes. On the right we see a number of people attending to someone who is sick, one is massaging his head, another applying oil and others are again massaging various parts of his body. They are [5] giving effective medicine, or treatment, to someone who is sick.

On the left the result is shown, the man sits while his consorts similarly massage him, and others stand and sit around worshipping him. He is enjoying his healthy life as a result of his good deeds.

20. Giving Digestible Food leads to Little Illness

This relief is harder to interpret that most we have seen so far. Normally a tree separates the cause from the result. If that is so here then the only cause shown in on the far right, but what exactly it represents is hard to say. Perhaps it is [10] giving digestible food, or maybe it follows one of the Chinese texts and is moderation in food and drink.

The rest of the panel again causes problems in interpretation. On the dais we see three people sitting, obviously in good health. But around them are seen what look like brahmins revelling and dancing, with legs raised. The person in the middle is possibly being [9] given effective medicine. On the far right we see someone sitting with his consorts. This is the result, but it is not really separated from the middle scene however.

Ugliness

What is the deed that leads to ugliness? It is said: [1] Anger. [2] Enmity. [3] Hypocrisy. [4] Contentiousness. [5] Speaking in dispraise of mother and father. [6] And speaking in dispraise of others, such as those gone forth who depend on one’s household, whether young or old. [7] Not keeping clean the monastic living quarters, temple grounds, and the area around stūpas. [8] Breaking lights and statues at stūpas. [9] Deriding ugly people. [10] Similarly, deriding those who are pure at heart.

21. Anger leads to Ugliness

Judging by the placement of the trees on this panel it would seem we have three scenes. On the far right we see three men, one with a stick raised, and before them are two men standing and another two sitting. The three must be [1] acting out of anger. In the middle we see two people who are standing in front of two people who are portrayed as ugly, it suggests they are [9] deriding them.

On the left we see the result, many ugly looking people sit and stand together. Their anger and derision having caused their present condition. Although it is not clear on the photograph there are two inscriptions on the panel, both of which read virūpa, meaning ugly in Sanskrit.

22. Hypocrisy and Contentiousness leads to Ugliness

The sculptors must have been pressed at times to mould abstract concepts like hypocrisy and contentiousness into concrete forms. From the scene on the right it appears this must be [3, 4] what the people are engaged in.

On the right we see what happens when you have ugly thoughts and ugly words, you are reborn as an ugly person, and have the company of those who are ugly.

23. Speaking in Dispraise of Parents leads to Ugliness

There are three scenes on this panel, but unfortunately the one on the right is not finished. It seems to show a couple sitting on a dais, and four others in front of them. One holds his hands in añjali, but another points indecorously at the couple. Perhaps he is [5] speaking in dispraise of mother and father.

The second scene shows two monks sat on a dais, and a man in front of him wielding a sword or a stick. Obviously he is [6] not respecting those gone forth. On the far left the result: ugly people crowd together.

24. Breaking Lamps at Temples leads to Ugliness

At least [8] breaking lights and statues at places of worship can be easily depicted. The group of the right are evidently attacking a temple and one seems to be using his stick to break it down. To the left of the temple another man stands with stick raised about to break the lamp.

The result is shown left of the separating and fruitful tree: people have been reborn and are now ugly and only have each others’ company.

25. Deriding the Ugly leads to Ugliness

The writers of the text were always very careful not to encourage people to despise those suffering from the results of their deeds, and counsel again and again not to despise those who have done wrong. On the right we see some people pointing accusingly at others and [10] deriding those who are ugly.

On the left a misshapen mother is carrying her child and is being pointed at by others. According to the pattern set up we would expect this to be the result, so perhaps in the future life she is being tormented in a way that she tormented others.

Beauty

What is the deed that leads to beauty? It is said: [1] Lack of anger. [2] Lack of enmity. [3] Lack of hypocrisy. [4] Giving of clothes. [5] Giving of whitewash in the area around stūpas, temples and housing. [6] Giving golden bowls. [7] Giving incense and creams. [8] Giving decorations. [9] Speaking in praise of mother and father. [10] Speaking in praise of virtuous noble ones. [11] Sweeping the living quarters and the area around stūpas. [12] Constantly sweeping the housing there. [13] Not deriding ugly people, or others, young or old who are living a pure life.

26. Distributing Clothes leads to Beauty

On the far right we can understand that the wise man sitting on a dais with the open palm on his knee [1-3] has no anger, enmity or hypocrisy. In the middle we see [4] a distribution of clothes is ongoing to those in need.

On the left we see the result, the royal couple sit in a decorated pavilion, while others in front of them offer gifts. The couple are evidently meant to be the embodiment of beauty.

27. Praising Parents leads to Beauty

On the right a married couple sit in a pavilion, the wife holds a child and there are other children around. In front of the father stands a young woman who is [9] speaking praise of her parents.

The elaborate scene on the left, which is bigger than usual shows the result: a young and beautiful royal couple sit on a throne, while around them many attendants await their pleasure, or make offerings.

28. Praising Noble Ones leads to Beauty

On the far right the three men sitting atop a dais are Śaivite wise men (ṛṣis). In front of them are gathered a large group of people, the foremost of whom must be [10] speaking praise of the noble ones.

On the left again we have a young couple who are good looking and in the best of health. They are surrounded by attendants who enhance the sense of well-being and affluence.

29. Giving Decorations leads to Beauty

A male figure on the far right, and a female left of the temple building, seem to be attending to the building. Perhaps we can understand them as [8] giving decorations. The buildings themselves are very finely drawn.

The usual scene is on the left: a young and handsome couple sit atop a raised seat, while all around attendants are bringing offerings and waiting on their pleasure.

30. Decorating Temples leads to Beauty

On the right an oversize man with an axe sits in front of a building which has many people scurrying around and at work inside it. This is presumably the [5] giving of whitewash at the housing near stūpas. The housing itself is much plainer than the temples seen elsewhere.

On the left a handsome young man sits with two consorts inside a pavilion, and appears to be teaching the five young men who gather in front of him.

31. Giving Gifts leads to Beauty

In the text there is no specific mention of the giving of flowers, but it is clear that [6-8] the giving of gifts has the result of leading to beauty in a future existence. A monk sits in front of the temple, seemingly in meditation, and is therefore pictured as a worthy recipient.

On the left a handsome young man holds forth. By the look of his posture, with his left hand extended, he is teaching restraint to his interlocutors. Behind him are members of his household.

32. Not deriding the Ugly leads to Beauty

Again we are cautioned in the text not to despise or deride those who are suffering from their own deeds. Someone who is old and perhaps is meant to be a dwarf are approached by a royal couple, who are showing signs of respect. It seems to be the same couple who are sitting on the throne near the centre of the relief.

Unusually there is no tree separating the cause from the result here, and some of the women left of centre appear to be connected to the couple on the throne on the right of them, while others turn to the couple sitting with their children on the throne on the far left, who are enjoying the fruits of their good deeds.

33. Caring for Temples leads to Beauty

The people on the right have brought water and presumably other offerings to the temple in front of them. Though not mentioned specifically, this does fit in with [6-8] the giving of gifts to stūpas and temples that is praised in the text.

On the left we see again the result of these good deeds, in a future life there is a prince with his two consorts sitting on high cushions, while in front of him some visitors hold up offerings to make to him.

Undistinguished

What is the deed that leads to being undistinguished? It is said: [1] Jealousy. [2] Selfishness. [3] Being dissatisfied with the gains of others. [4] Being dissatisfied by the speaking of praise of others. [5] Contempt of mother and father. [6] Contempt of virtuous noble ones. [7] Similarly, contempt of others who are ill, both young and old. [8] Speaking in praise of unwholesome roots, and of low things that are outside the Dharma. [9] Hindering the establishment of Bodhicitta. [10] Greatly rejoicing in hindering the establishment of Bodhicitta.

34. Jealousy leads to being Undistinguished

Near the centre we see a couple sitting together in their house, with signs of wealth all round: pots filled with goods, and a servant with a sword. On the far right we see a couple sat in their home with their attention on their neighbours and gesticulating as they express [1] their jealousy of the couple’s prosperity.

On the left we see two men and a woman with hardly any clothes and evidently suffering from lack of resources, the result of their previous jealousy.

35. Selfishness leads to being Undistinguished

This panel is not as clear as we would like, working backwards from later, and more surely identified, panels, I think this must be meant to show [2] selfishness. It should have been easier to express it than this, but perhaps we are supposed to understand that the affluent man on the right is refusing to share with the holy men before him.

The result is one gets reborn in a poor and undistinguished family, and have few possessions, and as the old man shows, may live one’s whole life in poverty.

36. Being Dissatisfied with the Gains of Others leads to being Undistinguished

Again it is not as clear as it could have been, but it probably shows the couple on the far right [3] being dissatisfied with the gains of the group in the centre of the panel. It is not clear what stands between the two men in the centre that they are so intently looking at.

The result portrayed on the left is being reborn in poverty and having to beg from others to be able to sustain their lives. They are unclothed from the waist up and hold their hands out in hope of support.

37. Contempt of Noble Ones leads to being Undistinguished

Fortunately this panel is much clearer. On the right we see two wise men (ṛṣis) sitting in the wilderness, with birds and trees around. One man sits in a pavilion and his two friends sit on the ground, and point their fingers at them, obviously blaming them and their lifestyle.

On the far left we see the result of this disrespectful behaviour, three poor men with water pots are standing and sitting around. One of them again has his hand extended as though begging.

38. Speaking in Praise of Unwholesome Roots

We have two scenes on this relief, but exactly how to interpret them is not clear. Normally we have an action of the right leading to a result on the left. Here we seem to see deeds portrayed on both left and right, and perhaps the result in the centre with the man carrying the child and leading his half-clothed wife along.

The man with the beard on the right is evidently teaching, and it would seem therefore he is [8] speaking in praise of greed, hatred and delusion, the unwholesome roots. Again on the far left, the same, or a similar man, is also teaching, and it must be the same misguided view.

39. Despising the Undistinguished leads to being Undistinguished

This cause is not listed in the Sanskrit text, but the relief is very clear and contempt for the poor must be the cause meant here, which is quite in line with what we would expect. Some street musicians have performed for the elegant couple sitting in the pavilion and proffer a collection bowl, but the downturned hand of the man indicates he is not giving to them.

The result is that in a future life he is himself reborn in a poor family and has to work as a street musician and suffer indignities similar to those he meted out previously.

Distinguished

What is the deed that leads to being distinguished? It is said: [1] Lack of jealousy. [2] Lack of selfishness. [3] Being satisfied with the gains of others. [4] Being satisfied by hearing of the glory, praise and fame of others. [5] Being uplifted by the praise spoken of others. [6] Building stūpas and temples for the Gracious One. [7] Hindering unwholesome roots, and low things that are outside the Dharma. [8] Encouraging the wholesome roots of the distinguished. [9] Establishing Bodhicitta. [10] Establishing Bodhicitta and all the wholesome roots of the distinguished. This is the deed that leads to being distinguished.

40. Approving Praise of Others leads to being Distinguished

A large section of this panel in the middle is destroyed. Fontein seems to think it has been done deliberately. Anyway, it leaves the panel less easy to understand, but as the characters on the left are obviously affluent and happy the actions of the right must suit.

Therefore, as someone is speaking and another listening, we might understand this as [4] hearing of the glory of others approvingly, or [5] being uplifted by the praise spoken of others.

41. Giving Parasols leads to being Distinguished

This unfinished panel again makes for difficulties of interpretation, but it appears that the person on the right is giving parasols to the people in front of him, who may be monastics. This is not mentioned in the paragraph here, though something similar is mentioned later in the text. But again it shows that the text the sculptors had in front of them differed from the Sanskrit text we now know.

On the left we see a prince sitting with his two consorts and in front of them are a group of attendants, though the sculpting is not finished here. This is the result of his generosity.

42. Establishing Bodhicitta leads to being Distinguished

The group of characters semi-kneeling on the right hold their hands together in affirmation of their vows. They must be [10] establishing Bodhicitta. The teacher who oversees their vow again appears to have been partly destroyed.

On the left we see the result on these vows: a prince and his consort sit on a raised dais. Six young men sit in front of them, one of whom holds a book. And behind them are three young women with offerings.

43. Building Temples leads to being Distinguished

In the centre we see a representation of a temple and on the right people approach carrying offerings. We can understand that they are [6] building a temple, or at the least, making offerings at one.

On the left top we can clearly see an inscription, which reads Maheśākhyaḥ, a Sanskrit word written in Old Javanese script. It means distinguished and is a guide to the sculptors. It seems that at Borobudur short inscriptions were carved into the walls as a guide, and removed once the relief was complete. As the work on this section was abandoned and then covered up so was the need to remove the guiding word in some places.

44. Encouraging Wholesome Roots leads to being Distinguished

As the male figure on the right appears to be teaching we may presume that he is either [7] hindering unwholesome roots, or [8] encouraging wholesome roots to those who sit and stand reverentially in front of him.

The main figures in the result are again partially destroyed, apparently intentionally. We can see they featured a prince surrounded by his consorts, who are maybe as numerous as they are on the next panel. Two maids bring two children to him, and others on the floor have offerings.

45. Being Distinguished

The cause on the right has been almost entirely erased for some reason, we can only see two people and part of a tree which acted as separator. We cannot really know what good deed they were engaged in therefore.

The result though is clear: a prince sits amongst a group of consorts while two men bring him offerings to enhance his wealth. Under his seat are two large containers further signifying his wealth.

46. Establishing Wholesome Roots leads to being Distinguished

On the right we see two monks sitting in front of a layman. Unexpectedly they are positioned on a lower level, and seem to be listening. Perhaps the layman is a Bodhisattva. I think this is probably [10] establishing Bodhicitta and all the wholesome roots.

Much of the centre of the panel has been destroyed, though we see one more person in discussion with two others, the detail is missing. I think this must have been another cause. The result is on the far left, a couple sit on a dais, and they probably had visitors or attendants in front of them.

47. Building Temples leads to being Distinguished

We see two very crowded residences on the right, with monks sitting round or lying down. Although we don’t see the builders they must be implied, and this would then be a case of [5] building temples for the Sangha.

The result is very nicely portrayed. A couple sit on a high dais. Before them are standing four females, with five males sitting on they floor. They are either attendants or visitors.

Low Family

What is the deed that leads to rebirth in a low family? It is said: [1] Stubbornness. [2] Great conceit. [3] Not acknowledging mother and father. [4] Not being devoted to ascetics. [5] Not being devoted to brahmins. [6] Not respecting the elders of the family. [7] Not attending to mother and father. [8] Not attending to virtuous noble ones. [9] Not attending to teachers and preceptors and other advisors. [10] Contempt of people of low family.

48. Stubbornness and Conceit lead to Birth in a Low Family

If we didn’t have a text to guide us, and identifications of some of the other panels to help with the process of elimination, we would be hard put to know what bad deeds this panel is representing. It seems however it must be either [1] stubbornness or [2] great conceit.

The result of being born in a low family is also not clear, though no doubt that is what is intended. Three people are illustrated and they do look indigent, but perhaps older than anticipated.

49. Not being Devoted to Brahmins leads to Rebirth in a Low Family

Here we are on surer ground, as the two fellows under the tree are signalling their disinterest in listening to the brahmins who approach. They are certainly [5] not devoted to brahmins, and even their dog barks at them. Similarly in the middle of the relief someone points his finger at his visitor, which is always a sign of disrespect at Borobudur. He is [8] not attending to noble ones, or maybe [9] not attending to his teachers.

Much of the result on the far left has been destroyed, unfortunately. We can see enough to understand the men are carrying great weights on their backs with straps around their foreheads. They clearly have rebirth in a low family and are engaged in hard manual work.

50. Not Acknowledging Parents leads to Rebirth in a Low Family

In the pavilion on the far right sit a couple with a child, which shows they are parents. In front of them a woman partially restrains a man who is not paying due respect to them. He is [7] not attending to his parents. Another person sits under the tree and gathers fruits.

Much of the result has been damaged. We can see one person carrying something on his shoulder, perhaps he has been hunting or fishing. Two other sit near a grinder, and are evidently distressed by their rebirth in a low family.

51. Badly Damaged Panel

Virtually the whole panel is destroyed. As it really looks like it has been chipped away at, both here and in other places, it seems the sculptors or others must have been told to destroy the relief work before it was covered. Why this would be though is not clear to me. Fortunately it was never completely accomplished and most of the panels are intact.

52. Not Attending to Noble Ones leads to Rebirth in a Low Family

Again the only real sign that the cause represents [8] not attending to noble ones, or perhaps, [9] not attending to teachers, is that the listener seems to turn away from them, and shows no sign of respect.

The resulting rebirth in a low family of street musicians, dancers and jugglers who live very precarious lives financially is the result. Entertainers in our society are often highly paid, but it was considered low work in the society of the sculptors.

53. Contempt of those of Low Family leads to Rebirth in a Low Family

The three people under the tree on the far right are of low family, and the way they are treated by the well-dressed visitors, with one of them placing his hand on one of the heads shows that they have [10] contempt for people of low family.

On the left one man blows what maybe a conch, or something similar, another beats a wood-block. They are again musicians. Around them are soldiers, who also come from low families.

High Family

What is the deed that leads to rebirth in a high family? It is said: [1] Lack of stubbornness. [2] Lack of great conceit. [3] Acknowledging mother and father. [4] Being devoted to ascetics. [5] Being devoted to brahmins. [6] Respecting the elders of the family. [7] Attending to mother and father. [8] Attending to virtuous noble ones. [9] Attending to teachers and preceptors and other advisors. [10] Not having contempt of people of low family.

54. Acknowledging Parents leads to Rebirth in a High Family

On the far right we see someone deeply bowing at the feet of his mother, thereby [3] acknowledging her. Standing in front is another child who bows deeply, holding his hands in añjali. In the middle section one person is worshipping and another bringing gifts for what must be their father. They are [3] acknowledging him.

On the far left we see the result: a prince sits at ease with his three consorts, while a brahmin addresses him, and attendants bring whatever he needs. He has been reborn in a high family.

55. Being Devoted to Ascetics and Brahmins leads to Rebirth in a High Family

Three monastics sit on a high dais on the right, and before them people sit attentively and pay their respects. They are [4] devoted to ascetics. In the middle two young men kneel before a pair of brahmins, showing their [5] devotion.

The result is clear: he has been reborn in a high family and people pay attention to what he says. He lives a life of comfort and ease owing to his past good deeds.

56. Attending to Parents leads to Rebirth in a High Family

The couple sat on the dais on the right must be the parents of those in front of them. Their children sit on a lower seat and show other signs of respect as they [7] attend on mother and father.

The result is a birth in a high family where others now attend on them. Of the six people portrayed beneath the fruiting trees, one has a gift, and another holds his hands in respectful salutation.

57. Attending to Noble Ones leads to Rebirth in a High Family

A noble couple approach from the right, and in front of them a male and a female pay their respects and indicate the empty dais behind them with their raised hands. They are [8] attending to the nobles ones.

On the left is the usual result: a prince sits at ease with his consorts around him while attendants hold fly whisks, and other people bring him offerings.

58. Attending to Teachers leads to Rebirth in a High Family

A couple are sat on a dais on the right. The man holds out his hand demonstratively. His pupils in front of him [9] are attending to their teachers. One of them holds a book. Others raise their hands in respect.

On the left we see the expected result. A prince lounges on the cushions with his consorts, half sitting on one and lounging back on her shoulder. In front are attendants and visitors.

59. Not having Contempt for those of Low Family leads to Rebirth in a High Family

On the right we see a couple offering bananas to the four men in front of them. They are dressed in the clothes of the poorer classes. This shows that the couple [10] do not have contempt for those of low family. The recommendation not to despise the unfortunate is something emphasised over and over again.

On the right is the result, by having respect for others they are now in a position of being held in respect by others. They have a good rebirth in a high and prosperous family, as their deeds deserve.

Poverty

What is the deed that leads to poverty? It is said: [1] Taking what is not given. [2] Encouraging taking what is not given. [3] Speaking in praise of fraud. [4] Greatly rejoicing in fraud. [5] Cutting off the means of subsistence of mother and father. [6] Similarly, cutting off the means of subsistence of others who are ill, both young and old. [7] Being dissatisfied with the gains of others. [8] Making obstacles to the gains of others. [9] Greatly rejoicing in famine.

60. Taking what is not given leads to Poverty

On the far right we can see that two men are prevailing over a smaller man and [1] taking what he holds under his arm without it being given. To the left of the first tree someone is evidently [2] encouraging his seated companion to do likewise.

The result is shown on the far left, he is reborn and lives in poverty for his past deeds. I am not really sure what the people between the first and third trees on the left are doing, perhaps they are [3] speaking in praise of fraud.

61. Taking what is not given leads to Poverty

It is not exactly clear how to read this panel. The man with the raised leg looks like he might be attacking, and perhaps [1] robbing the couple before him.

On the left where we would expect the result to be, the man and two women do not look like they are particularly poor. Although scantily dressed they do have necklaces and earrings, etc. It is also difficult to know what the couple under the tree represent.

62. Encouraging taking what is not given leads to Poverty

I think the couple on the far right are probably encouraging their interlocutors to take what is not given, and in the middle they carry out their instructions by robbing two others.

But again the expected result on the far left doesn’t really fit expectations. Scant clothing, yes; but also jewellery is seen. And the fruiting tree also indicates an unexpected abundance.

63. Cutting off Subsistence for Parents leads to Poverty

Given the few choices we have for the deed that could be portrayed here I think it must indicate [5] cutting off the means of subsistence of parents. Presumably the rich man at the centre of the relief is holding his hand in a show of refusal, something repeated by the man under the tree who sits before another couple, who must be his parents.

Again, as with the last two, is not clear that the result is actually being shown on the panel, as the couple of the left do not look impoverished at all. But they also do not appear to be part of the action in the other scene either.

64. Cutting off Subsistence for Others leads to Poverty

There are the same sorts of difficulties with this panel. The way some of the characters hold their hands up as though to ward off what is not wanted makes me think this is probably [6] cutting off the subsistence of others.

The result does not appear to be shown. It is curious, to say the least, why the results of bad deeds appear to have been avoided on the past few panels. I have no explanation for why that would be so.

65. Rejoicing in Famine leads to Poverty

As the crop seen left of centre is being destroyed by rodents we can only presume that those on the right are [9] rejoicing in it, despite being surrounded by wealth themselves.

The result does seem to be portrayed this time on the far left, as not only the people huddled in the house, but even the dog below it looks impoverished.

Riches

Herein, what is the deed that leads to riches? It is said: [1] Ceasing from taking what is not given. [2] Hindering the taking of what is not given by others. [3] Approving of the cessation of the taking of what is not given by others. [4] Giving the means of subsistence to mother and father. [5] Giving the means of subsistence to virtuous noble ones. [6] Similarly, giving the means of subsistence to others who are ill, both young and old. [7] Being satisfied with the gains of others. [8] Being dissatisfied with the losses of others. [9] Approving of the gains of others. [10] Greatly rejoicing in abundance.

66. Ceasing from taking what is not given leads to Riches

By the way the man in the pavilion is holding his hand up in teaching posture and the man on his knee in front of him is expressing his determination we may presume that they have [1] ceased from taking what is not given, or perhaps [2] are hindering theft.

The result on the left is an expected picture of wealth and luxury. A man sits inside a pavilion with two consorts, and lots of bags of riches around. Before him are attendants and others who look on from afar.

67. Hindering the taking of what is not given leads to Riches

We cannot really make out what the scene is meant to portray, and without a clue from the text we would be lost to describe it, but as the next relief is clear, this must be either [2] hindering theft, or [3] approving of not engaging in it.

On the left a wealthy individual relaxes on his dais, with three beautiful young women behind him. In front of him people pay homage or point to him as an example of riches earned.

68. Giving the Means of Subsistence to Parents leads to Riches

The couple sitting in the pavilion on the far right must be parents, and those bringing gifts for them are [4] giving them the means of subsistence, and paying due respect as they do so.

On the left we see the result: a man sits before rich offerings that are being presented to him. Perhaps the man with the water pot is pouring the waters of donation, a cultural way of making an offering.

69. Giving the Means of Subsistence to Noble Ones leads to Riches

On the far right three monastics sit inside a pavilion while in front of them lay people have come with many offerings as they intend to [5] give subsistence to virtuous noble ones.

On the left, the result is the usual scene of prosperity, surrounded by attendants and signs of wealth, a prince sits atop his seat with his consort.

70. Giving Support to the Ill leads to Riches

In the centre of this panel we see a distribution going on. We can’t exactly see what is distributed but we can presume it is [6] giving subsistence to the poor or needy. It may be that the sculptors understood the word bāla (young) in the Sanskrit as having its alternative meaning of weak or poor.

The result is as expected. A man sits on a very finely drawn throne with his hand draped over his consort’s shoulder, while people line up to offer various gifts. This is the first of four panels showing this virtue.

71. Giving Support to the Ill leads to Riches

This is a very similar scene to the previous panel, and if they were following our text then must have reproduced the same act twice, which is odd. On the far right a very wealthy man sits with his wives and above signs of prosperity in the money bags below his seat.

In the middle meanwhile his officers are [6] distributing food to the poor and ill. The result in his next life is that he is once again rich, and is a respected member of the community.

72. Giving Support to the Ill leads to Riches

A third similar scene in which a rich couple sit on the right and their attendants [6] dole out food to the poor and indigent on the centre.

On the left a prince sits with his knee supported in the strap while an attendant stands behind him. Another holds a fan and a dancer entertains him at his court. He is wealthy because of his past deeds.

73. Giving Support to the Ill leads to Riches

A small variation on the theme that seemed to have pleased the sculptors and their monastic guides so much, we again see [6] a distribution of food to the needy. The rich man making the donation sits on a very large cushion and looks on.

The result is, as always, that he gets reborn in a wealthy family as a reward for the untiring help to those who were in need. He sits on a beautiful throne with his consort nearby, and attendants ready to help him.

Little Wisdom

Herein, what is the deed that leads to having little wisdom? It is said: [1] Not questioning others here, be they the learned, ascetics or brahmins, saying: ‘What is Dharma, why does Dharma make for happiness?’ [2] Associating with those of little wisdom. [3] Avoiding those who are wise. [4] Expounding what is not Dharma. [5] One reviles true Dharma. [6] One cuts off support for those who are skilled reciters of the true Dharma. [7] One does not congratulate those who are intent on being reciters of the true Dharma. [8] One congratulates those who are reciters of the what is not true Dharma. [9] One praises wrong view. [10] One reviles right view. [11] Similarly, one cuts off the means of subsistence of the reciters and the writers of books.

74. Not Questioning the Wise leads to having Little Wisdom

On the far right a wise man sits atop a large cushion and is ready to teach, but the man in front of him is busy dallying with his wife Obviously [1] he is not sufficiently interested in the Dharma. Meanwhile a man actually spears a boar in front of the teacher.

In the middle it is the woman who turns away from the brahmin, and towards her husband, again she is [1] uninterested in receiving instruction. The lazy fellows on the left, sitting and lying under the tree are people of little wisdom, wasting their lives away.

75. Not Questioning the Wise leads to having Little Wisdom

This probably illustrates the same [1] failure to question the wise even though having the opportunity. The five young nobles who sit on the floor are evidently holding forth on their own favourite topic, rather than listening to the teaching on the dais.

The result is that the five are reborn and are dimwittedly sitting under a tree. It is a fine representation of dullness, which comes as a result of lethargy and indolence in the presence of the wise.

76. Expounding what is not Dharma leads to having Little Wisdom

A difficult subject to convey in stone, I believe this is trying to show the teachers in the pavilion as [4] expounding what is not Dharma. The body language of their interlocutors is interesting, one crosses his arms in front as though to protect himself. Others look in argumentative mood.

The result is not so clear this time, but we may presume that the people sitting under the tree are dull-witted and wasting their time. A result of teaching what is not true or righteous.

77. Reviling what is Dharma leads to having Little Wisdom

This is not very clear, but I take it the four men sitting under the tree are either [1] not listening to the wise, or the man sitting in the pavilion [5] is reviling true Dharma. Many times we seem to have reliefs which are very open to interpretation like this.

The result is shown in the indigent and lazy fellows on the left. I am somewhat surprised that the sculptors didn’t make their lack of wit clearer by having them drinking alcohol or playing games of chance somewhere.

78. Cutting off Support to Reciters leads to Little Wisdom

This is probably illustrating either [6] cutting off support to skilled reciters, or [11] cutting off the means of subsistence to reciters and writers of books. It seems the latter may have been added to the list as [6] was not clear enough for the writer. In any case a man restrains a male and female from giving gifts to those on the dais, who we may take it is a reciter or writer.

The people on the left look sufficiently dull to portray the result of such bad behaviour. I think myself the men with their hands on the heads of others are part of the result scene. As it was considered insulting to touch the head of another, this is the sort of indignity one must face for their deeds.

Great Wisdom

Herein, what is the deed that leads to having great wisdom? It is said: [1] Questioning those here who are wise. [2] Associating with ascetics and brahmins. [3] Avoiding those of little wisdom. [4] One expounds the true Dharma. [5] One reviles what is not true Dharma. [6] One praises those who are skilled reciters of the Dharma. [7] One congratulates what is spoken beneficially. [8] One avoids what is spoken that is unbeneficial. [9] One praises right view. [10] One reviles wrong view. [11] One gives gifts of ink and written books. [12] Not drinking alcohol.

As many of the scenes on the left mirror those on the right in the following reliefs it is somewhat unsure if they are causes or effects that are shown. I am treating it here as though they follow the usual presentation with right side = cause, left side = result.

79. Associating with Brahmins leads to Great Wisdom

On the far right we see a wise brahmin holding forth on Dharma while those in front of him [1] listen attentively and one massages the teacher’s feet.

The result is that one is wise oneself in the next life and, as we see here, may have many disciples who learn from you. We see the students holding palm-leaf books while at their studies.

80. Expounding the True Dharma leads to Great Wisdom

We may read this as the teachers under the pavilion are [4] expounding true Dharma. One of them is holding a palm-leaf book and shows his authority due to his teaching. Two laymen listen while sat under the tree.

On the left the result is that he is again wise in the present life, and has a number of students who he is teaching. The result of teaching the wisdom teaching to have great wisdom when reborn.

81. Praising the Reciters of Dharma leads to Great Wisdom

Assigning the titles for the next few reliefs is again not as clear as we would like. We may presume that the distinguished looking man on the dais on the right is a reciter of Dharma, and those around are [6] praising him in various ways with worship and offerings.

On the left we see what looks like the same person in his new life where he is holding forth again on Dharma, and his peers are paying attention to him.

82. Avoiding what is Unbeneficial leads to Great Wisdom

The relief is not at all clear. If it is following the textual sequence it should be either [7] congratulating what is spoken beneficially, or [8] avoiding what is unbeneficial. Perhaps the man on the dais having his hand to his ear suggests the latter.

On the left the result shows a well-respected brahmin sitting with his students and, judging by the way they hold their hands, in discussion about finer points of Dharma.

83. Praising Right View leads to Great Wisdom

We are probably on surer ground here, as the portrait of a monk sitting on a Dharma teaching seat most likely indicates he is [9] teaching and praising right view.

On the left the teacher sits on an elevated seat and there are five disciples sitting under the trees in front of him. They have come with offerings which is a traditional way of showing respect to a teacher.

84. Reviling Wrong View leads to Great Wisdom

If we have the sequencing right, then would be [10] reviling wrong view. There is nothing particularly to show that though, and it may be the sculptors or their advisors just wanted more reliefs illustrating [9] teaching right view!

On the left we see that in the next life the teacher is again teaching, and he has many students to attend to. A number of them are carrying books, and one may have a stylus in his hand. If this is two causes, rather than cause and result, it may be an illustration of [11] giving gifts of books and ink.

85. Explaining the Faults of Alcohol leads to Great Wisdom

We certainly see a saint on the right, as he is marked by a halo, and he is clearly teaching. What he is meant to be teaching though we cannot know. Any of the causes from [9-12] would indeed fit here.

In the resulting rebirth he is again portrayed as a teacher, and he had what was probably a student sitting before him, though that part of the relief is now destroyed.

 

01-14
Health and Wealth
15-22
Rebirths
23-50
Permutations
51-61
Unwholesome Deeds
62-80
Wholesome Deeds

 

Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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