Many of you are familiar with the Tao Te Ching, the ancient Chinese Taoist (Dao) text attributed to Lao Tzu that I have quoted from often. And you may also know the Chuang Tzu, a work from the 3rd century BCE named after its purported author, from the stories I have adapted. Some of the stories in that work can also found another text, the Lieh Tzu (Liezi), considered to be the third of the great Chinese philosophical works.
Lieh Tzu or “Master Lie,” like the Chuang Tzu, is a collection of anecdotes and philosophical reflections from a sage who may or may not have actually lived, in this case sometime during the fourth century BCE.
Here is a brief story from the “Causality” chapter. The Kuan-yin here is not the same Kuan-yin who is the Buddhist Bodhisattva of Compassion. And by the way, in ancient China Tzu (Zi) was a honorific title, given to a man after his death, indicating that he was a great philosopher or sage. And it is not the same character as in Shih Tzu, the toy dog.
“Do you know why your arrow hit the target?” said Kuan Yin Tzu.
“No, I do not,” Lieh Tzu replied.
“’Then you are not yet very good, are you?”
Lieh Tzu left and continued to hone his skill with the bow and arrow. After three years, he returned to Kuan Yin Tzu and demonstrated his progress.
Kuan Yin Tzu again asked, “Do you know why your arrow hit the target?”
“’Yes, I do’ said Lieh Tzu.
“So then, all is well. Hold onto that knowledge, and do not let it slip.”
“The balance between mind and body is found within oneself. Once you understand the causal process which makes you hit the target, you will be able to determine how destiny unfolds, and when you release your arrow, you will rarely miss.”
This principle applies not only to archery, but also to the affairs of government and to personal conduct. Therefore, the Sage examines not just the bare facts of continuation and decay, but also the causes that produce them.
We don’t try to understand causality so that we can find a way to manipulate the causal process, for example, learn how to make a particular cause in order to produce a specific effect. It’s something more intuitive, something that is more the fruit of meditation as opposed to knowledge gained from reading and listening. It’s about recognizing that nearly all the suffering we experience has as its inner cause a wrong attitude toward the world.
We can always correct that attitude. Because there is causality, there is change, and because there is change there is also continuation and decay, birth and death.
Shunryu Suzuki said, “The teaching of the cause of suffering and the teaching that everything changes are thus two sides of one coin.” Understanding this, understanding causality, then, is a crucial cause for freeing ourselves from attachments and finding harmony with the universal order.