Thursday, March 14, 2013

Law of Cause and Effect -- Foundation of Buddhism

               Buddhism was taught in India by Sakyamuni Buddha 2,600 years ago. Buddha's teachings were compiled in more than 7,000 written works known as sutras.

Original Photo by Wonderlane available on

                The foundation for all those sutras is the Law of Cause and Effect. If Buddhism is likened to a tree, the Law of Cause and Effect is like the trunk and the roots.

               If the roots or the trunk are cut, the tree dies. Likewise without knowing the Law of Cause and Effect, you can't really understand Buddhism.

                So what exactly is a law?

               The true essence of a law in Buddhism is something that applies everywhere, all the time.

                Everywhere = Ten Directions (Up, down, and the eight directions on a compass)

                All the Time = Three Worlds (Past, Present, Future)

                A scientific law can be disproved with new data or proper evidence, and one country's law may not apply or may even be illegal in a foreign state.

               The Law of Cause and Effect, according to Buddhism, represents Universal Truth.

               The Cause and Effect Sutra explains that every event, action, or moment in this lifetime has its own cause and effect.

         Cause -------------------------------> Effect

Word Art by QuotesEverlasting available on

                      Even great scientific mind Albert Einstein knew the importance of causality in our understanding of the world and how it operates. Causality is a word used for describing how things affect each other.

Examples of Causality

                  Let's look at a technical example within one of the most tragic airline crashes in history, Japan Airlines Flight 123. Years prior to the incident, the plane had what's known as a tail strike during a landing. 

Original Graphic by Wikimedia Commons user Anynobody

                       This caused the plane to have a weakened structural defect in the rear of the plane. A repair was carried out, but it did not meet proper safety requirements. However, the plane was still cleared to fly.

Original Graphic Art by Wikimedia Commons user Phoenix7777

                       Years later when JAL Flight 123 departed Tokyo headed for Osaka, the metal structure from the repairs tore open under pressure, resulting in loss of control. The aircraft then crashed into nearby Mount Osutaka.

Original Graphic Art by Wikimedia Commons users Eluveitie and Gauravjuvekar

                  CAUSE                       EFFECT
                 Tail strike -----------------------> Weakened Structure

                 Weakened Structure -----------> Faulty repair

                  Faulty repair -------------------> Mechanical failure

                  Mechanical failure ------------> Crash

                     The same principle applies to our own efforts in our day-to-day to lives. Say you're in college, and you do all your homework and study hard for every quiz and exam. 
Original Photo by Sean MacEntee available on
                     You receive internships allowing you to network with many different employers and gain valuable experience. 

Original Photo by UC Davis College of Engineering available on
                     Because of all this effort, you are able to find work easily after graduation.

Original Photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video available on

       CAUSE                                 EFFECT 
         Study for test ----------------------------> Knowledge

         Knowledge -------------------------------> Internship

         Internship ---------------------------------> Experience

         Experience --------------------------------> Land a job

                      In these two examples, you can clearly see the relationship between the causes and the effects. The plane had a defect, and so it crashed. The student put in a lot of effort, so she got hired.

                      Not all relationships between causes and effects are this easy to spot. But no matter how big or how small, every event in the universe is carried out through the Law of Cause and Effect.

                      From a hair falling off your head and landing on the floor to the creation of the grand Himalayas Mountains rising up from the bottom of the sea floor. There is not one effect in a even a trillion cases that did not begin with a cause.

                    Buddha further clarified cause and effect to guide us in this essential passage:

Good deeds bring good results.

Bad deeds bring bad results.

Your own deeds bring your own results.

                        Let's think about a farm to illustrate this point.

Original Photo by snowpeak available on

                       If you were a farmer and you planted sunflower seeds, there is no way you could expect in your right mind to grow watermelons. It's simply impossible.

Sunflower seeds --------------------X-------------------> Watermelons

                             Obviously, the only way to grow watermelons is to plant watermelon seeds. And without planting any seeds, you can't get any fruits.

Watermelon seeds ------------------------------------> Watermelon

                       The seeds we plant with our thoughts, words, and actions are known as karma.

   Karma is what determines our destiny.

                          You may know about karma from before as...  

                                                     "What goes around comes around."

                         Or you might have heard one of these famous quotes:

"Our life is what our thoughts make it." - Marcus Aurelius

"Luck is a word devoid of sense. Nothing can exist without a cause." - Voltaire

"Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else." - Leonardo DaVinci

"How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours." - Dr. Wayne Dyer

"I’m a true believer in karma. You get what you give, whether it’s bad or good."  - Sandra Bullock

                 Though these are great examples, it's important to remember that in Buddhism your fate is never given or never chosen by a god. According to the Law of Cause and Effect, it's determined by you and your own actions.

               We usually go along with this concept when we have good karma.

"I must have done something great to deserve this!"

               But when tides turn and we have bad karma, the last thing we do is go over all the bad things we've done. Instead it's,

"Why me?"

               Yet everything in your life is tied to your past actions, words, or even thoughts. The place you were born, the country you live in, being male or female, the people you love or meet on the street, are all determined by karma.

              Because the Law of Cause and Effect is so vast, there are many more factors to consider like the concept of the Three Worlds and also varying conditions. It takes time to fully grasp and understand this Universal Truth on a deep level.

But in short, it means...

Stop Evil; Do Good.

               We all want favorable effects and are afraid of negative outcomes. So once we understand the Law of Cause and Effect, it's only natural to refrain from committing evil, the cause of future sorrow, and to do more good, the cause of future happiness. 

               In the next post, I will review the more advanced concepts of the Law of Cause and Effect. By listening to Buddhism, we come to know ourselves by observing our true self within the teachings.


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