Law of Cause and Effect

When an act is committed, whatever it is, we can expect that sooner or later it will produce an effect.

So if one wishes to overcome suffering, it makes sense to perform certain acts and avoid others.

The law of causality is the foundation of the Buddha’s teaching. He said,

  • Without doing any harmful act,
  • Abundantly perform beneficial acts.
  • Completely tame your mind.
  • That is the Buddha’s teaching.

All phenomena arise from the combination of an infinity of causes and conditions in constant flux.

Like a rainbow that appears when the sunlight hits a patch of rain and vanishes when one of the factors contributing to its formation disappears, phenomena occur only through interdependent circumstances and are, therefore, devoid of independent and permanent existence.

Phenomena mutually influence each other in a constant dynamic and creative process, and nothing arises arbitrarily: the law of causality is inexorable.

Karma, which refers to both actions and their effects, is a particular aspect of that law of causality.

It is what determines our share of happiness and suffering.

In other words, what we experience now is the consequence of our past behaviour, and we are the architects of our future lives.

From this perspective, our destiny is not dependent on an external power, such as divine will, for example. It is the fruit of our actions.

We reap what we sow, and nothing and no one forces a person to be reborn in a certain way, apart from the power of his or her own actions.

“Actions” refers not only to physical actions but also words and thoughts. Actions can be beneficial, neutral, or harmful.

Good and evil are not absolute values. Conduct is considered “good” or “bad” depending on the altruistic or malicious intention behind it and the consequences it produces in terms of the happiness or unhappiness of ourselves and others.

Every moment of our lives, we reap the consequences of our past and shape our future through newly produced thoughts, words, and deeds. They are like seeds that, once sown, will produce the corresponding beneficial or harmful fruit.

From this perspective, sufferings for which we are apparently not responsible—the harm that others do us, or diseases, or natural disasters—are due neither to God’s will nor to ineluctable fate, nor to pure chance. They originate ultimately from our own actions.

This idea may seem disconcerting to a Westerner, especially when applied to an innocent person who is suffering, or a thoroughly good person whose life is a series of tragedies.

We need to understand that, according to Buddhism, every being is the result of a complex set of causes and conditions, good and bad seeds sown in the past, and it is this combination of multiple factors that unfolds gradually, each in its own time, in the course of our lives.

Simply being aware of this makes us more responsible in our attitude. For example, it prevents us from blaming others for unpleasant things that happen to us.

Not to rail and rebel against what befalls us by the nature of things is not being fatalistic.

We can always make the best of a difficult situation, whatever it might be.

And it is up to us to decide what we should do or not do in order to lay the foundations for our future happiness and cease to create suffering for ourselves.

When we have understood that our harmful actions are the source of all suffering for ourselves and others and that our beneficial actions are the source of happiness, we can choose how to act with discernment.

As it is said, “If one keeps one’s hand in the fire, there is no point in hoping not to be burnt.” In conclusion, we do not collect a “reward” or a “punishment”: what happens to us simply obeys the law of causality.

Source: Ricard, Matthieu. On the Path to Enlightenment: Heart Advice from the Great Tibetan Masters. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2013.