“Bodhisattvas are careful about causes”

Some individuals do not believe in a connection between succeeding events, and because they doubt it, they feel that causality is a specious concept. They maintain that there is only a string of events or phenomena and one is not caused by another. However, this only leads to the notion that events come out of nothing, by chance, and that being the case, control of events is not possible.

Buddhism teaches that there is causality. The word “cause” refers to any “thing” (dharma) or any part of any thing which produces an effect. The effect implies not only manifestation but also the relationship between the cause and the effect.

Any event is not caused by only one thing. There are innumerable aspects that play a part, many of which condition the production of any event. Causes and effects form complex chains, each link is the effect of combinations of causes, and a cause is also a combination of effects.

According to the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, avijja or ignorance is the cause of desire and clinging and creates dukkha or suffering. Ignorance is lack of knowledge or understanding. In Buddhism this is meant in the sense of a fundamental darkness within life. The Buddha taught that it also refers to ignorance of cause and effect and the way things really are.

Thich Nhat Hanh has said,

The purpose of practice is not to be reborn in paradise or Buddha-land after death. The purpose is to have peace for ourselves and others right now, while we are alive and breathing. Means and ends cannot be separated. Bodhisattvas are careful about causes, while ordinary people care more about effects, because bodhisattvas see that cause and effect are one. An enlightened person never says, ‘This is only a means.’ Based on the insight that means are ends, all activities and practices should be entered into mindfully and peacefully.

Human activities result in interaction between individuals. Some are peaceful and co-operative, while others are turbulent and conflicting. In conflict, the weaker individual is overcome by the stronger one, but conflict is always self-destructive. Discordant activities are caused by ignorance of the interdependent nature of all things. All life is activity, and to know that a higher quality of life is achieved through better co-operation with others is the antidote to conflict and disharmony.

An atom, a cell, an organ, our entire person is comprised of co-operative groups of single entities, and just as a healthy individual body is achieved when these entities work in harmony, together with other individuals we form a society that functions better, that is, there is increased welfare of all its members, when relationships are non-antagonistic and co-operative.  This simple truth opens the gate to real solutions to enduring problems.

Ultimately, we cannot say that there is ever an end to ignorance of cause and effect. If anyone could fully comprehend all the various elements and factors of causality, that person could predict the course of future events.

The idea is to understand as best we can, to be mindful of causality and interdependency so that we live with others peacefully. Whether or not it is possible to control events is a debate that I’m not sure we need by concerned with, for we do know with absolute certainty that we can control ourselves. By training our mind, practicing mindfulness, we can control the causes we make and that in turn will influence events. If we construct our lives and society based on causes that promote harmony and peace, then surely we need not fear anything the future can bring.

Seng-ts’an wrote in the Verses on the Faith-Mind:

One thing, all things;
move among and intermingle,
without distinction.
To live in this realization
is to be without anxiety about nonperfection.
To live in this faith is the road to nonduality,
because the nondual is one with the trusting mind.

The Way is beyond language,
for in it there is

no yesterday

no tomorrow

no today.


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