One who does evil grieves in this life,
Grieves in the next,
Grieves in both worlds.
Seeing one’s own defiled acts brings grief and affliction.
One who makes merit rejoices in this life,
Rejoices in the next,
Rejoices in both worlds.
Seeing one’s own pure acts brings joy and delight.
Dhammapada v. 15-16, translated by Gil Fronsdal
These verses bring into bold relief a fact that we already know. When we act in unwholesome ways, we feel regret and remorse; we feel bad. When we do wholesome deeds, we feel good – free from regret and remorse – contented.
Of course it is possible that some time could elapse before we regret unwholesome deeds, but the regret comes eventually. It is also possible that we could do a good deed with some reluctance or resentment, diminishing the “merit” of the deed.
However, the main point remains, there are consequences that result from our intentions and actions, every time. Keeping this in mind, we are motivated to re-direct our intentions and actions toward the wholesome and away from the unwholesome whenever we can.
The verses raise the point that evil deeds, actions that divide us from each other or that harm one or more people, will cause regret not only here and now, but also that the consequences linger beyond the limit of this one life. Likewise with wholesome intentions and actions, the fruit may be borne in ways we can perceive now, but it also creates “carry-over” kamma (or karma). It sets a pattern that is bound to continue.
Even if you don’t accept the Buddhist principle of rebirth (different from reincarnation, by the way), it is easy to see that our habits come from previous actions, and our future actions are conditioned by the choices we make now. When we do anything, for good or bad, we don’t act in a vacuum. Each angry tirade digs a habitual groove and makes the next tirade more likely. Each act of generosity or of letting go sets down a pattern of letting go and enjoying the feeling of freedom that results.