19 September 2008

Law of Cause and Effect

In addition to the Law of Impermanence, Buddha preached the Law of Cause and Effect. Where there is a cause, there will be an effect. The effect may follow the cause immediately or eventually, from previous life to present, and even future life. Of course, a good cause will produce a good effect and a bad cause will give rise to a bad one. In brief, Buddha advised his audience, :"Would you like to know what you were doing in a previous life, see what you have inherited in this life. To predict what you will be receiving in the next life, carefully observe what you are doing now".

Most people, due to lack of knowledge of the Law of the Cause and Effect, believe that their misfortunes were contrived by a Creator. With this common belief, people heavily become dependent of a heavenly deity who control their fates. As a result, people like to pray to all sorts of Gods they can think of to protect them, to bestow on them good fortunes over the bad ones. More often, people willingly admin that they have sinned, and readily succumb themselves to the forgiveness of an imaginary but powerful Creator. In that line of thinking, a human being inherits no dignity and freedom; he is nothing but a puppet of his creator.

To Buddha, that belief is not based on the truth. The truth is that everyone is free to control his or her own life. He is solely responsible for his actions and he is the only one who bears the results. Happiness or misery, success or failure... it all depends on what he had done or has been doing. Good deeds will bring happiness; evil action will breed misery. As an old saying dictated: "He who sows winds, reaps the storm".

Not only does the Law of Cause and Effect govern human actions, it also is universal. An orange tree will produce orange fruit; a lemon tree will provide lemon ones. When dark, heavy clouds gather, one can be sure that rain is going to fall. And a boy is too lazy to do this homework, his parents can be certain that he is going to fail his class.

Just observe any event around us. We will realize that nothing is untouched by the law. By the same token we won't see any interference from Gods. That is why Bodhisattva is always doing only good deeds, and staying away from evil actions. After all, the Bodhisattva understands the law. His life, therefore, is free of god-controlled fears. He is only afraid of himself, of his three poisons (Greed, Hatred, and Delusions) which will inflict evil behaviors on him, he is not afraid of any heavenly deities' curses.

On the contrary, common people make their lives miserable due to their evil actions. They life, they cheat, they fabricate stories, they speak evil, and they even have plans to hurt other for their own gain. In brief, they act under the stipulations of greed, anger, or attachment. Naturally, when a bad seed is sowed, an evil effect will sooner or later be delivered. It is clear that only the doer is responsible for the result of what he has done not a God or a Creator. Neither praying, nor blessing can save one from one's own devilish actions.

To prove this viewpoint, one day the Buddha raised questions to a group famous Brahmins who, claiming that they had power to talk to God, regularly held prayer sessions for rich people in return for gold and money. They first question was: "If a man pushes a big chunk of heavy rock down into a well and asks you to pray that it floats, can you do that?". - "No!" replied the Brahmin: "The rock is so heavy, and we cannot pray God for it to float. It has to sink, no matter what".

The next question was: "If a man pour a bucket of oil into a well and asks you to pray that the oil can sink to the bottom, can you do that?". - "No!" came the reply: "Oil is so light; no matter what we do, we cannot make it submerge".

The Buddha, then, concluded: "By the same token, if a person is always doing good deed, his karma will be as light as oil. He does not have to pray for his fate. Conversely, if one only indulges in evil actions, his karma will be as a big chunk of rock and will pull him down to Hell. Any praying to God for him to be saved would be futile".

To emphasize the importance of the Law of Cause and Effect, in his first lecture, the Buddha preached the Four Basic Truth:

    1. The sufferings.

    2. The customs and habits that lead to sufferings.

    3. The cessation of sufferings.

    4. The Way that procures cessation.

By the following his teaching, one can save him or herself without the salvation of any deities.

To make himself clearly and logically understood, Buddha explained that human sufferings are derived from causes created by customs and habits, which are generally devilish, by nature. From generation to generation, from one life to the next these devilish cause are repeated and carried over. As result, he who has created these evil causes has to repay the debts afterwards. In order words, the suffering that humans must endure in number (1) is the effect produced by number (2). Now, there is a way to end those suffering. To reach the cessation as effect in number (3), one has to practice the Way as the good cause governed by number (4).

The Way, consisting of the Eightfold Path is devised to completely eradicate the three poisons (greed, hatred, and delusion) which, for many lives, seriously infest human behaviors and cause diabolical thoughts and actions. The Eightfold Path includes: Appropriate Views, Appropriate Thoughts, Appropriate Language, Appropriate Actions, Appropriate Livelihood, Appropriate Effort, CorrectMindfulness and Correct Medication.

Nowadays, in practicing the Law of Cause and Effect to change our lives for the better, we can proudly declare that Buddhism is not mysticism, but very competitive to the advancement of Science. As a matter of face, the very existence of Science today is based on the Law Of Cause and Effect; which, in the essence, is nothing new to the teaching of Buddha since over 2500 years ago.

by Thich Thanh Tu translated by Minh Tâm 

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