The good and evil of Social Preference do not affect or
upset the workings of the law of kamma in any way, and
should not be confused with it. “Good” and “evil” should
be recognized as attributes of the law of kamma. Even
though the two are related they are in fact separate,
and have very clear distinctions.
The English words “good” and “evil” have very broad
meanings, particularly the word “good,” which is much
more widely used than “evil.” A virtuous and moral
person is said to be good; delicious food might be
called “good” food; a block of wood which happens to be
useful might be called a “good” block of wood. Moreover,
something which is good to one person might not be good
to many others. Looked at from one angle, a certain
thing may be good, but not from another. Behaviour which
is considered good in one area, district or society
might be considered bad in another.
It seems from these examples that there is some
disparity. It might be necessary to consider the word
“good” from different viewpoints, such as good in a
hedonistic sense, good in an artistic sense, good in an
economic sense, and so on. The reason for this disparity
is a matter of values. The words “good” and “evil” can
be used in many different value systems in English,
which makes their meanings very broad. The law of kamma,
the specialized terms kusala and akusala or skillful and
unskilful, have very precise meanings.
Kusala and akusala, in terms of Buddhist ethics, are
qualities of the law of kamma, commonly used for the
words “good” and “evil.”
The operation of the law of kamma is related to other
laws. Specifically, insofar as the inner life of the
individual is concerned, kammaniyama interacts with
psychological laws (cittaniyama), while externally it is
related to Social Preference.
Although kusala and akusala are sometimes translated as
“good” and “evil,” this may be misleading. Things which
are kusala may not always be considered good, while some
things may be akusala and yet not generally considered
to be evil. Depression, melancholy, sloth and
distraction, for example, although akusala, are not
usually considered to be “evil” as we know it in
English. In the same vein, some forms of kusala, such as
calmness of body and mind, may not readily come into the
general understanding of the English word “good.”
Kusala and akusala are conditions which arise in the
mind, producing results initially in the mind, and from
there to external actions and physical features. The
meanings of kusala and akusala therefore stress the
state, the contents and the events of mind as their
Kusala can be rendered generally as “intelligent,
skillful, contented, beneficial, good,” or “that which
removes affliction.” Akusala is defined in the opposite
way, as in “unintelligent,” “unskilful” and so on.
When there is goodwill, the mind is naturally happy,
cheerful, and clear.
This is a condition which is beneficial to the psyche,
supporting the quality and efficiency of the mind.
Goodwill is therefore kusala. Sati enables the attention
to be with whatever the mind is involved or engaged,
recollecting the proper course of action, helping to
prevent akusala conditions from arising, and thus
enabling the mind to work more effectively. Sati is
Examples of akusala conditions are: sexual desire; ill
will; sloth and torpor; restlessness and anxiety;
doubt[a], anger, jealousy, and avarice. Jealousy makes
the mind spiteful and oppressive, clearly damaging the
quality and health of the mind. Therefore, it is akusala.
Anger stirs up the mind in such a way that rapidly
affects even the health of the body, and thus is clearly
akusala. Sensual desire confuses and obsesses the mind.
This is also akusala.
Having established an understanding of the words kusala
and akusala, we are now ready to understand good and bad
kamma, or kusala kamma and akusala kamma. As has been
already mentioned, intention is the heart of kamma.
Thus, an intention which contains kusala conditions is
skillful, and an intention which contains akusala
conditions is unskilful. When those skillful or
unskilful intentions are acted on through the body,
speech or mind, they are known as skillful and unskilful
kamma through body, speech and mind respectively, or,
alternatively, bodily kamma, verbal kamma and mental
kamma which are skillful and unskilful as the case may
An act of faith or generosity, moral purity, or even an
experience of insight during meditation, which are all
kusala conditions, can precipitate the arising of
conceit, pride and arrogance. Conceit and pride are
akusala conditions. This situation is known as “kusala
acting as an agent for akusala.” Meditation practice can
lead to highly concentrated states of mind (kusala),
which in turn can lead to attachment (akusala). The
development of thoughts of goodwill and benevolence to
others (kusala), can, in the presence of a desirable
object, precipitate the arising of lust (akusala).
It has been mentioned that the law of kamma has a very
intimate relationship with both psychological laws and
Social Preference. This very similarity can easily
create misunderstandings. The law of kamma is so closely
related to psychological laws that they seem to be one
and the same thing, but there is a clear dividing line
between the two, and that is intention. This is the
essence and motivating force of the law of kamma and is
that which gives the law of kamma its distinct niche
among the other niyama or laws.
Cittaniyama, on the other hand, governs all mental
activity, including the unintentional.
Human intention, through the law of kamma, has its own
role distinct from the other niyama, giving rise to the
illusion that human beings are independent of the
natural world. Intention must rely on the mechanics of
cittaniyama in order to function, and the process of
creating kamma must operate within the parameters of
Using an analogy of a man driving a motor boat, the
“driver” is intention, which is the domain of the law of
kamma, whereas the whole of the boat engine is
comparable to the mental factors, which are functions of
cittaniyama. The driver must depend on the boat engine.
However, for the “boat engine” to lead the “boat,” that
is, for the mind to lead life and the body, in any
direction, is entirely at the discretion of the
“driver,” intention. The driver depends on and makes use
of the boat, but also takes responsibility for the
welfare of both boat and engine. In the same way, the
law of kamma depends on and makes use of cittaniyama,
and also accepts responsibility for the welfare of life,
including both the body and the mind.
There is not much confusion about this relationship
between the law of kamma and cittaniyama, mainly because
these are not things in which the average person takes
much interest. The issue that creates the most confusion
is the relationship between the law of kamma and Social
Preference, and this confusion creates ambiguity in
regard to the nature of good and evil. We often hear
people say that good and evil are human or social
To say that good and evil are matters of human
preference and social decree is true to some extent.
Even so, the good and evil of Social Preference do not
affect or upset the workings of the law of kamma in any
way, and should not be confused with it. “Good” and
“evil” should be recognized as attributes of the law of
kamma. Even though the two are related they are in fact
separate, and have very clear distinctions.