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.
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51-61 Unwholesome Deeds
The fourth section is simply a common list of ten unwholesome deeds, along with illustrations on the reliefs of some of them. In the early texts karma was regarded as simply a personal deed and that had results for only the actor; but in this teaching we see how it was presented as having consequences beyond the perpetrator. Indeed at Borobudur the personal result does not seem to be illustrated in this sequence.
From midway through this section we have many inscriptions that help us understand the panels. They are written in the Sanskrit language, and in Old Javanese script. They usually consist just of just a single word, which is sometimes a compound, enough to indicate to the sculptors what was meant to be shown. Having these inscriptions also shows us how carefully the directors had planned the reliefs.
Ten Unwholesome Deeds
There are ten unwholesome deeds. Which ten? The threefold deeds by way of body, the fourfold deeds by way of speech, the threefold deeds by way of mind. These ten unwholesome deeds have ten results externally that increase through development.
With the unwholesome deed of killing living beings there is the result in the environment that the vitality and strength of the earth disappears. Because of this deed the result for the perpetrator is a short life.
118. Killing results in the Vitality of the Earth Disappearing
On the right we see many people involved in fishing and hunting, which appears to be for birds in this case. We again see the fish-traps we saw on the first relief in this series. And others wield bows and arrows as they shoot at the bird life.
The disastrous result is seen on the left: the crops are poor and failing as the vitality of the earth has been destroyed. A man and woman stand on the left and the man is inspecting the withered seed.
Taking what is not Given
With the unwholesome deed of taking what is not given there is the result in the environment that lightning, parrots, locusts, rats and insects rush in and destroy the crops. Because of this deed the result for the perpetrator is his wealth goes to destruction.
With the unwholesome deed of sexual misconduct there is the result in the environment that grasses on the earth produce a bad smell. Because of this deed the result for the perpetrator is that housing that has been established is destroyed.
With the unwholesome deed of false speech there is the result in the environment that there are diseases of the mouth, teeth and throat; and also a foul smell from the mouth and so on appear. Because of this deed the result for the perpetrator is that untrue stories about oneself appear.
119. False Speech leads to Mouth Diseases
It seems we have two causes here, on the far right we see a couple engaged in adultery. The cuckolded husband is only half drawn on the far right. In the middle it is clear that one woman is speaking bad of another whom she points to.
The result on the left is probably mouth diseases, though it could also indicate that the breath smells bad, and the people have to cover their mouths. It is odd that the result for sexual misconduct does not appear to be shown.
With the unwholesome deed of divisive speech there is the result in the environment that on the earth gravel, shards and so on causing painful feeling appear. Because of this deed the result for the perpetrator is that life goes to ruin, friends go to ruin and there is division amongst one’s followers.
120. Divisive Speech
Only a small section on the right of this panel was ever completed, it is clearly indicating a form of wrong speech. As the man who is standing is pointing at someone behind him, it is probably divisive speech.
There is no result, though we can be pretty sure what that would have shown. It may have been that this was another illustration of false speech, and the following divisions of wrong speech were not in the text the sculptors followed.
With the unwholesome deed of harsh speech there is the result in the environment that mud, dust, pollen, winds and rains appear. Because of this deed the result for the perpetrator is that they experience unpleasant sounds and sights.
With the unwholesome deed of frivolous speech there is the result in the environment that mountains, ravines and pits appear. Because of this deed the result for the perpetrator is that there are words that are hard to accept.
With the unwholesome deed of avarice there is the result in the environment that the rice, barley, wheat and other crops appear as chaff, straw and so on. Because of this deed the result for the perpetrator is that his wealth is desired by others.
With the unwholesome deed of ill-will there is the result in the environment that the corn that is scattered is barren. Because of this deed the result for the perpetrator is that adversity is seen.
121. Avarice and Ill-Will
This panel has two inscriptions, one above middle right reading: abhidhyā, avarice, and middle left reading: vyāpāda, ill-will. On the far right the relief work is unfinished. The result, however, is a poor crop shown right of centre.
It may not be obvious that the next scene represents ill-will, but if we look closely we can see the man who is sitting is pointing an accusing finger. The result is not so clearly illustrated.
With the unwholesome deed of wrong view there is the result in the environment that bitter and pungent fruits such as neem, bitter gourd and poisonous cucumber appear. With the deed of wrong view there is the result for the perpetrator that he becomes a nihilist. Annihilationism and materialism is also evident amongst the teachers.
122. Wrong Views results in Bitter Fruits
Again we have an inscription in Sanskrit to guide us. It reads miṭṭhyā-dṛṣṭi, wrong view. It is difficult indeed, however, to see how the relief on the right illustrates this. What we do see is a rich man being served a drink, so maybe it is supposed to be liquor? That would mean he is not keeping the precepts, and may be how we should read it.
The result is that bitter fruits and vegetables appear in the world. Again it is not really clear that they are bitter, but perhaps the expression on the bearded man’s face is meant to indicate this.
123. Refraining from Wrong Deeds results in the Vitality of the Earth
The inscription reads: kuśala, wholesome (deeds). Although this paragraph is missing from the Sanskrit text we know, it does seem that parallelism would require it, and that the text the organisers knew had it also.
It seems the character sitting high on the right is giving money to the brahmins holding out their hands in front of him. In the centre the same person is seen teaching, and presumably explaining the ten right courses of action. The result is healthy and abundant crops.
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Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu
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