The Three Time Frames of Karma (Part 1)

Master Huijing; compiled by Householder Fo’en, English translation by Malcolm Valaitis, edited and adapted by Householder Jingxing

When Shakyamuni Buddha was in the world, a merchant entering a city was killed by a cow. The cow’s master worried that it would bring more trouble, and hastily sold it.

The person who bought the cow led it back to his house, and along the way gave the cow a drink at the bank of a river. Out of nowhere, it suddenly became vicious and brutally killed its new master. His family, in a fit of grief, rage and fear, killed the cow and carried it to the market to sell.

A farmer bought the cow’s head and tied rope to the cow’s horns to carry it home. Along the way, he sat at the foot of a tree to rest and hung the cow’s head on the tree. Out of nowhere, the rope tied to the cow’s horns suddenly snapped, the head fell, and the poor farmer was impaled and killed by the cow’s horns on the spot.

One cow, in one day, had unexpectedly caused the deaths of three people! The entire city excitedly discussed this extraordinary occurrence.

When the news reached the country’s king, he also found it unbelievable, and went to consult the Buddha.

The Buddha revealed the hidden karmic causes of the events: Years ago, three merchants had agreed to do peddle their wares together in another town. In order to save money, they decided not to lodge at the town’s local inn but at an old woman’s house, and agreed to pay her a fixed sum. But on the third day, the three merchants tricked the old woman by leaving without payment of the rent. The old woman returned home to find her tenants had packed up and left. Becoming extremely indignant, she went after them to demand her money. The three merchants, seeing that the old woman was aged and weak, not only did not pay her back, but also mocked and insulted her terribly. The old woman, having no other recourse, angrily cursed them and said:

“You scoundrels, bullying lonely old me! One day, I will have satisfaction! I cannot deal with you now, but I vow to exact justice in my next life!”

The vicious cow was the old woman’s next life, and the three people killed were the three merchants who bullied her.

Each affair is a complicated mass of karma that is ripening and combining with other karma. Most often, we do not understand the connection between the outcomes we experience in the present, and their karmic causes in the sometimes-distant past. Thus, it can appear as if all events arise by chance. When we see good people suffering calamity, and evil people reaping good fortune, it is easy to be skeptical of the Law of Karma. This is caused by a lack of understanding of the Triple-Linked Time Frames of Karma principle.

Our behavior can often have delayed karmic consequences, even into the next lifetime. For this reason, the manifestations of karmic consequences are divided into three categories:

Instant results: results received in this lifetime.
Life results: results received in the next lifetime.
Later results: results received in the third to the hundred-millionth life to come.

To be continued

Leave a Reply