Monday, October 14, 2013

Law of Cause and Effect -- Karmic Power

            So let's recap what we've learned so far about the Law of Cause and Effect before explore karmic power in more depth.

  Good causes produce good effects. 
Bad causes produce bad effects. 
 Own causes produce own effects.

Causes mean our actions, 
or in other words what we do.

Effects mean the result of our actions, 
or in other words what we experience in life.

            Good deeds bring us good experiences, and bad deeds bring us bad experiences. Our own actions determine what kind of experiences we bring into our lives.

Original Photo by Nicole Yeary available on

            The concept of individuals determining their own future through the power of their own deeds is known as karma.

             Karma is an invisible, indestructible energy that never fades away. It is this karma that has the power to determines whether events are favorable or unfavorable to us in any given situation.

             This karmic power is stored in what is known in Sanskrit as Alaya-vijnana, or "storehouse mind." It is like a spiritual storehouse holding all your karmic power. All our karma is stored here eternally without limit. This is the true self that transmigrates lifetime to lifetime within the cycle of birth and death.

            We can imagine this mind works almost like documents stored onto your computer. You first input data into the word processor by typing with your keyboard. All the letters and spaces you type translate into digital information which the computer then stores invisibly within its hard drive. The hard drive is very compact giving it the power to store a lot of information.

              Likewise, our physical brains also hold a lot of data. Over a lifetime, the brain of a scholar can often hold the contents of an entire library. His head doesn't have actual paper books in it. The contents of the books are stored invisibly within his mind.

Original Photo by Tulane Public Relations available on

                Now because of the invisible nature of karmic power, it can often conceal certain causes and effects from our perspective. Let's look at an example that demonstrates this idea.
                Every year in Japan, the cherry blossom trees bloom in the springtime. It is a national pastime to have a picnic under the trees to observe their beautiful pink, white and rose colored-leaves.

Original Photo by rumpleteaser available on

                 However, one creative Japanese poet wrote about the cherry blossoms during the winter and composed this curious work:

Year after year
Cherry blossoms bloom again
on Mount Yoshino
Split the tree and look inside -- 
where are all the flowers?

               In spring, we can see all these beautiful cherry blossoms in abundance, but the poet is asking us here... where is the power to bloom flowers in winter?

               Hidden within all of them is the power to bloom a flower. You can't chop the tree in half and see with your eyes where these flowers are hiding. Science may be able to pinpoint the location of where the organic chemistry of the flowers can be found, but you won't find actual flowers anywhere in the tree. So where are they?

                Sure, all the trees contain the tiny biological energy that make cherry blossoms. This power is a cause that remains dormant until the right condition comes along. That right condition is warm, spring weather. When this cause and condition combine, beautiful flowers bloom as the effect.

                 Trees that are sickly or malnourished no longer carry the biological energy required to create flowers even in spring. So a condition alone isn't enough. Without a cause, there's just no result. There must be a cause and condition for an effect. 

                 If cold weather makes spring arrive late, then the blossoms arrive late as well. In that case, the cause was ready, but the condition delayed the effect. If the winter is mild, then cherry blossoms can bloom sooner. The sooner a condition comes, the sooner it can become an effect.

                 So the energy in the cherry blossom trees is unseen. With the right condition, only then can the visible result of cherry blossoms emerge.

Original Photo by Zdenko Zivkovic available on

                  Karmic power is invisible too, but once it combines with the condition, it becomes an effect. If you where to look for it with a microscope in our body, you wouldn't be able to find it.

                   As we learned earlier, the Law of Cause and Effect runs through the Three Worlds. In the next post, we will learn how our karma relates to our past and future.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Law of Cause and Effect -- Own Cause, Own Effect

               Relationships and marriages take a lot of work. If both people don't put in the necessary effort, they often fall apart. It requires a very special balance between two people who are committed to each partner's well-being while remaining firmly centered themselves.

                But we often hear all the stories of how a good wife got stuck with a good-for-nothing husband. He may gamble, abuse alcohol, and then takes it all out on his wife, who only wants what's best for him.

Original Photo by Christiano Betto available on

                It's obvious to scold him for this wrongdoing and rightly so... especially if he's causing her to suffer. But according to Buddhism, is this bad spouse to blame for everything in this scenario?

                Let's re-examine what the Law of Cause and Effect says.

Good deeds,   good results.
Bad deeds,   bad results.
Own deeds,  own results.

                A good cause produces a good effect, and a bad cause produces a bad effect.

                Sow watermelon seeds, and surprise! You get a watermelon!

                Cause, of course, means our actions, and effect means our fate. So if we do good deeds, good things will happen to us. If we do bad deeds, bad things will happen to us. This point is clear.

       But there's one more phrase to reflect on from above:

Own deeds, own results.

Own deeds, own results = Own cause, own effect

                   This means if you drink a lot of alcohol, the person next to you is not the one who becoming intoxicated.

                    You're the one who receives the effects and gets drunk.

Original Photo by CarbonNYC available on

                   Let's say you're taking a college class. When you study hard, your grades will go up from that effort. Your classmate who didn't study does not receive the benefit of your diligent hours of memorizing the textbook.

                    Others' cause, own effect is not possible. Someone elses' deeds never determine your results.

Others' deeds = own results
Others' cause = own effect 

No chance!

                    On the surface level, it may be easy to agree with, but when we experience this principle firsthand, we begin to question it. As soon as bad things start happening, it's especially hard to accept this. How can we think this way when others are the ones making our lives hell? We blame and hate them for the misery we feel they alone have created for us. 

                    However, there's an old saying that helps us reflect on this frame of mind:

"The thief blames the rope that binds him." 

                    Hundreds of years ago, thieves were tied up with rope once they were captured. Today, of course, police officers use handcuffs. Either way, a thief can no longer move freely once he is detained. He begins to think that the rope is the real cause behind his suffering.

                    "If only it weren't for this rope, I'd be free!" he mutters to himself angrily. "It's all the fault of this stupid rope."

                     All the thief's rage is projected onto his current situation of being tied up. He sees this as his main problem and nothing else. 

                      Buddhism says that this is a foolish way of thinking. What got him tied up in the first place was his own actions. He should really be blaming himself for all the valuables he took from people. All the rope in the world couldn't bother this thief, if he hadn't been stealing to begin with. 

                     So to blame others for our misfortune, especially using phrases like "It's all your fault!" or "You're the one to blame!" makes us exactly like the thief cursing the rope.

Original Photo by Suhamshu available on

                     Everyone's suffering is the direct result of their own actions. 

                     Own cause, own effect. Every time.

                      So what about the good wife who was stuck with that bad husband earlier?

                      Well, the cause of her suffering still stemmed from her own past actions. He may really be a terrible person to be with. But had she never married him, she wouldn't have suffered as much. There are plenty of men in the world. Of all of those prospective bachelors, she chose HIM to fall in love with. If she married someone else, things would have been much different.

                      Without any doubt, the cause of her suffering comes from her past deeds.

                      But now you may think -- "But what about the husband?!? Don't tell me he's completely off the hook for being a jerk!" 

                      The husband isn't the cause of her troubles. He's a bad condition for her.

                      Only when a cause and condition come together can an effect arise.

  Cause = Wife's past karma (actions)

Condition = Husband's negative behavior

Effect = Wife's agony      

                       This universal truth could really be called the Law of Cause, Condition, and Effect, but it's referred to as as the Law of Cause and Effect for short.

                       Now let's imagine rice seeds as the cause. You'd like to grow some rice, but can you start planting anywhere? You can't just put some rice seeds on the carpet in your apartment or onto a solid block of ice and expect rice to grow. The rice seeds would never sprout in those places.

                       Rice seeds need sunshine, a lot of water, rich soil, and hot, humid temperatures. These are good conditions for rice seeds. When the cause of rice seeds comes together with these right conditions, stalks of rice become the result.  

                        So the cause of the wife's suffering was stored karmic power from her past, and the husband became a bad condition to her in the present. When these two forces combined, the effect became her suffering.

                         If the the wife's suffering continues despite her own positive efforts, she might have to consider a separation or divorce. This drastic step may be necessary, especially if her husband becomes violent or abusive. If we try to do as much good as possible but we don't receive good results, we may need to work on acquiring better conditions for ourselves.

                       So to implement the Law of Cause and Effect into our lives, we first become mindful of all the seeds we ourselves plant. This is because they will come back to us in the future as causes.

                        Then as good Buddhists, we try to be good conditions for others in hopes they follow our own example.

Original Photo by Natesh Ramasamy available of

                        Then as we've just learned, we must also be mindful of external conditions present in our life. By choosing the right conditions to surround ourselves in, we encourage more good causes to have a greater opportunity to flourish.

                       Please make sure to come back for the next installment in the Law of Cause and Effect series on karmic power.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Law of Cause and Effect -- Buddhism Essentials

               The Law of Cause and Effect is the foundation of Buddhism. Without understanding this universal truth, one's knowledge of Buddhism cannot progress. The more we understand the Law of Cause and Effect, the more we can then put the teachings into practice.

               If Buddhism is like a tree, that would mean that the Law of Cause and Effect is like the roots and the trunk of that tree.

Original Photo by Nicholas_T available on

               If the trunk is cut or the roots are severed, the tree would die. Likewise if you don't understand the Law of Cause and Effect, you won't get what the teachings of Buddhism are all about.

Original Photo by CmdrGravy available on

               First, the word law used in Buddhism is different than the traditional use of the word in the court system.

               By Buddhist definition, a law is a truth that never changes within the Three Worlds and the Ten Directions.

               The Three Worlds consist of the Past World, the Present World, and the Future World.

               The Past World represents the time before we were born as a human being.

               The Present World spans the time from our birth to our death in this lifetime. 

               The Future World is the eternity following death.

               Our life flows eternally through these three temporal worlds of the past, the present, and the future. 

               Looking through a closer lens, the world of the past is not only our countless past lives but also last year... yesterday... an hour ago... and the breath you just let out.

                Similarly, the world of the present is this year... today.... this hour... and your current breath.

                Then the world of the future becomes next year... tomorrow... the next hour... and the next breath you take in.

                So in Buddhism we learn that the three temporal worlds meet in every breath we inhale and in every breath we exhale. Every passing moment of our lives is represented within these Three Worlds.

              Understanding how the Law of Cause and Effect functions in relation to the Three Worlds is known as the Law of Causality in the Three Worlds. Knowing this on a deep level reveals the importance of the present moment and leads us closer to understanding of who we are in that now.

              Moving on to the Ten Directions, they are North, South, East, West, Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, Southwest, Up, and Down. This is a very thorough way of saying everywhere.

               This makes the Law of Cause and Effect valid at all times and in all places.

                Now laws in the United States do not necessarily apply in Japan or the United Kingdom. Drivers in these island nations must obey a traffic law which requires them to operate their cars on the left side of the road. Here in the U.S., however, we drive on the right side of the road.

                                                 JAPAN                                             UNITED STATES


                Both are a law in each country, yet each gives opposite instructions on what is the proper way to drive. Depending on where you are in the world, laws are subject to the differing viewpoints of the people living in that country.

                 As the years roll on, laws can change. Many of them can come into question or be challenged as society progresses. Laws fluctuate based on the perspectives of the public at the time.

                    CIVIL RIGHTS - 1960s                                                                            GAY RIGHTS - 2010s

Original Photo by Kheel Center, Cornell University, available on
Original Photo by chadmagiera available on


             But since the Law of Cause and Effect never changes and is always valid in all time and space, it is universal truth.

             So now let's move on to define the terms cause and effect.

                A cause is the reason that leads to an effect.

                Cause = Reason

                An effect is the result from a cause.

                Effect = Result

                The Law of Cause and Effect is the energy force behind why things happen, when they happen, and who they happen to. Every event in the universe has a cause. There is not a single effect that has ever occurred without a cause, even though sometimes we falsely think that things can happen without cause. 
Original Photo by Stewart Black available on
                 For example, let's say an aircraft in flight suddenly crashes into the ocean.

Original Photo by elias_daniel available on

               Search and rescue teams are dispatched to comb the waters for survivors, but there is not even a trace of the plane or its flight data recorder (the black box).

                  When this happens, the cause of the accident is said to be unknown. But just because there is no evidence of the cause, does not mean that there is no cause.

                 The Law of Cause and Effect states there must have been some very real reason that made the plane crash. The pilot could have gotten sick or have steered accidentally into a storm. There may have been unforeseen engine trouble, or the plane may simply have ran out of fuel.

Original Photo by BobMacInnes available on

             Just because it is unexplained to us or we can't figure out why does not mean there is no cause. Every phenomenon in the universe, no matter how strange, has a cause. Never in a million or even trillion cases can there be an effect without cause.

             Sakyamuni Buddha taught us that the most important thing for us to consider about our future is this relationship between cause and effect.

The Law of Cause and Effect

 Good cause, good effect.
Bad cause, bad effect.
Own cause, own effect.

            Here the word "cause" means an action, and "effect" means an outcome.

            Buddha revealed the Law of Cause and Effect to us so we can see that we determine our future by our own choices now.

    Practice good actions, and you will get good outcomes.
  Practice bad actions, and you will get bad outcomes.
Whatever you practice is what you alone will receive.

               Using farming as an example, if you plant watermelon seeds, you will get watermelons. And if you plant radish seeds, you will get radishes. Whatever you decide to plant is what will grow. You can never plant watermelon seeds and receive radishes. It's just not possible!

               Even if a farmer hits his head and plants seeds without knowing what kind they are, he can tell instantly what kind of seeds he planted by what grows there later.

Original Photo by Amy Gaertner available on

               "Oh, I must have planted watermelon seeds here!" he exclaims upon seeing the watermelon.

            In this way even though we don't remember what seeds we've planted, we can tell by the results we currently receive in the present.

                Some may challenge this and ask, "Wait, but can't good causes lead to bad results sometimes?" OR "What about bad causes leading to good results?"

           The answer to both these questions is: NEVER!          

    Good cause = Bad Effect       Impossible!    

 Bad Cause = Good Effect   No Way!

             According to the Law of Cause and Effect, we are always the ones who determine our own destiny, for better or for worse.

             When we hear terms like fate, destiny, and fortune, they can often be misleading because they imply events are fixed in advance by other forces. But in Buddhism, these words still represent the effect created by our own past choices.

Original Photo by docksidepress available on
            That's because the forces of nature, our lives, and everything in the universe operate by the Law of Cause and Effect. This absolute principle is the universal truth, always and everywhere, without exception to anyone.

           We all want the good life, and we all of course want to avoid bad times. The Law of Cause and Effect reveals to us that the good or bad choices we make in every, single, given moment make or break our future moments.

           It is completely up to you to decide your own fate. And all you have to remember is...

Stop Evil; Do Good.

           Find out more about the Law of Cause and Effect and the role of condition in the next post.