Deep Belief in Cause and Effect
Regardless whether referring to the Mahayana or Theravada, the Sacred Path or the Pure Land Path, the law of cause and effect is fundamental. In general, cause and effect means, the respective effect must follow a particular cause. The reason why there is such an effect is the result of a respective cause generated in the past.
In the world, there is no effect without a cause, and also there is no cause to come into effect. “Cause and effect” is an abbreviated way of saying “an effect resulting from causal conditions”. It is a very complicated and subtle concept that underlies the entire process of “an effect resulting from causal conditions”.
However, in order to understand cause and effect, we can hold a principle – all matters are related to cause and effect. So, we should not just believe in cause and effect, but believe deeply in cause and effect.
Though one thought in our minds is small, it is strong enough to fill the great cosmos. One thought from our minds, or one word from our mouths permeates the entire universe, and returns to us. Thus, every instance is the result of causal conditions, resonating like an echo.
It is similar to a TV channel. On whichever channel we switch to, we can see the pictures of the chosen program on the screen. If you don’t switch, it means the causal condition has not matured, and the effect is not produced. So, in each moment, we should always be kindly aware of this thought.
The most fundamental teaching in Buddhism is “cause and effect”? What is “cause and effect”? Good rewards for good deeds, and bad retributions for bad deeds. If we practice good virtues, we will be happy as a reward. If we do evil, we will suffer in retribution. Simply speaking, it is good and bad causes creating positive and negative effects.
Moreover, these effects under causal conditions are not just applicable to this lifetime; but, also extend through all periods in the past, present, and future.
Expressed in complete terms, these are known as “the causes and effects in the three periods of time.” We believe that good causes create good effects and bad causes create bad effects. These actions encompass past, present, and future. We also believe in reincarnation within the Six Realms. All of these teachings were given by Shakyamuni Buddha. As Buddhist disciples, we believe the Buddha’s teachings. Those who do not accept these teachings are not considered Buddhist disciples.
A practitioner must have a foundation upon which to commence practicing. In Buddhism this is the deep belief in cause and effect. If we have a strong sense of cause and effect, we must review and care about our threefold karma from time to time, and decide whether the karma violates the law of cause and effect.
Do we see good rewards for good deeds and bad retribution for bad deeds? Are we receiving the effects resulting from the causes we have made? All existences, even tiny matters, result from cause and effect. This principle won’t deviate a bit, as its accuracy is even more precise than that of a computer.
A thought seems to be formless and shapeless. It cannot be visualized, heard, or touched. However, it has a form. At the moment a thought forms, it can emit a kind of formless power, travelling around the universe at a speed faster than light, and returning to the body and mind of oneself. Thus, any thought in our mind incurs its cause and effect.
Moreover, though a thought in our mind cannot be seen and heard, it is the source of volition in speech and action. A kind of thought kept in our mind for a period of time will be expressed in any form or formlessly through speech, or even actions.
Buddhism is not a philosophy or a theory, but a teaching for all people to practice. A genuine Buddhist practitioner must put Buddhist teachings into practice, and use it as a mirror to reflect upon his thinking, speech, and behavior in his daily life.
Otherwise it is impossible for him to recognize how deep his inferiority, lack of effort, and offenses are.
Moreover, if he doesn’t accept the concept of “karmic retribution due to cause and effect”, he will not adopt the Buddhist teachings as the method of being liberated from reincarnation in the cycle of birth-and-death, and elevating him from an ordinary being to a sacred being. Otherwise, he only sees the Buddhist teachings as a kind of philosophical theology.
If a Buddhist practitioner accepts the concept of “karmic retribution due to cause and effect”, he will consider every word, every sentence in the Buddhist teachings as Shakyamuni Buddha’s blood, flesh and bone, revealing his earnest sympathy.
Every word and every sentence reminds us to leave reincarnation within the Three Domains, and proceed to the realm of emancipation. So, there are blood and tears in every word and sentence in the Buddhist teaching. It is not only a philosophy or a study.
All of the words and sentences in the three Pure Land Sutras are the blood and tears of Shakyamuni Buddha, and the flesh and bones of Amitabha Buddha. It is not a drab document in black and white. It is not dead, but lively and alive. It is a living, breathing Path!
The foundation of Buddhists teachings is reincarnation within the Six Realms, and the retributive effects of the respective causes. If a person does not believe in cause and effect in the three periods of time, he does not believe in Buddhist teachings, and have the motive to practice Buddhist teachings. Unless he recognizes and believes in reincarnation within the Six Realms, the retributive effect of the respective wholesome and unwholesome causes, during the three time periods, he will not be able to be liberated from suffering, attain happiness, and transcend from ordinary to sacred beings through cultivation. If he does not cultivate, he must fall into the Three Wretched Realms and reincarnate there. Believing in all of these concepts, he is a genuine Buddhist practitioner.
With respect to the concept of cause and effect, ordinary people think it is very common, no big deal. Actually, it is because it is common that makes it important.
The teachings spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha are called “sutras for a generation.” What is the consistent truth among sutras for a generation? It is “cause and effect”.
Cause and effect are the core and fundamental teachings of Buddhism. If we abandon the law of cause and effect, there isn’t any Buddhism. Among those who teach the sutras, if they do not include cause and effect, they are not speaking about them correctly. A plain, ordinary Buddhist will only practice diligently if he deeply believes in cause and effect. Conversely, if he does not know about cause and effect, he will not practice the Buddhist teachings in a plain and ordinary manner.
In the universe there exists a natural and irresistible force of karmic retribution, it is called cause-and-effect. Fearing the karmic retribution of cause-and-effect should be our primary motivator. It can be said that it is an inconceivable mystical force that monitors us in all times and all places. So, a Buddhist learner should always take the fear of cause-and-effect as his first priority. Because of this fear, we will focus on seeking liberation from cause and effect in the three periods of time.
A Buddhist should understand all worldly joy and sadness, fortune and misfortune, success and failure, gain and loss, are the results of our karma from past lives, in conjunction with present ripened conditions. If we had no karma, we would be a sacred being or a Buddha, who do not reincarnate in the Six Realms. Reincarnation is the retribution of karma from past lives. Unfortunately, we forget this. However, the Law of Cause and Effect is still valid, retribution will come into effect when the proper time comes.
So, the Buddha says, “If one wishes to know his past life, one’s retribution in the present life is his biggest clue. If one wishes to know his future life, one’s karma in the present life is creating it. Those with more wholesome karma will be reborn as a human, and those with more unwholesome karma will fall into hells. If they recite Amitabha Buddha’s Name, they will be reborn in the Land of Bliss with reliance on the Buddha’s power.
The closer we come to the Dharma Ending Age, morality in the world declines more quickly. When people become more greedy, angry and deluded, there are more frequent incidents of killing, robbing, raping, and cheating. The fundamental cause of these immoral acts is ignorance of the karmic retribution of cause and effect.
If we know a bit about the karmic retribution of cause and effect, we can be sincere and scrupulous in our relationships and all we think and do. We will not forget the law of cause and effect when we deal with matters and people. If our minds are pristine and accommodating, our homeland will eventually be at peace and joyful.
The foundation of Buddhism rests on the Law of Cause and Effect in the three periods of time, retribution due to good and evil karma, and reincarnation within the Six Realms. Thus, all Buddhists should deeply believe in cause and effect. Due to causes, we should willingly accept and joyfully bear all effects. This is known as “clearing past karma according to conditions, and to cease making new karma”. Unless this is done, more and more karma is accumulated, and its effects never end.
In all matters, Amitabha-reciters should review themselves first. If there was no cause in the past, there would be no effect in the present. Even a small matter we encounter is our karmic effect; so, we shouldn’t complain or blame others. If a person thinks in this way, his mind will be more peaceful. Otherwise, he will feel that life is unfair and he will be dissatisfied. More and more anger and disputes will be produced.
A person who believes in cause and effect does good to accumulate merits, and practices for liberation, the Buddha praises him and calls him “a wise person”. If a person does not believe in cause and effect, does not do good to accumulate merits; but, commits offenses despite his intelligence and knowledge, the Buddha calls him “an ignorant man.” This is because, if he is not ignorant, why does he continue to make this evil karma?
Whether the circumstances are favorable or unfavorable, we should understand them as due to the working of cause and effect in the three periods of time. We should cherish the favorable circumstances, and go further to nourish them; but, do not become arrogant. Under unfavorable circumstances, we should view them as an opportunity to pay back our bad karmic debts, and let them go with the causal conditions.
Above all, we should try to maintain a positive attitude towards all matters – responsible, honorable, not giving up, not depressed, and not arguing. We should simply leave everything in Amitabha’s infinitely capable hands, especially as we come to our last state. At that point, we need not do anything but trust in Amitabha.
The emerging of all tangible and intangible phenomena depends on “conditions.” So, the Buddha says, “All phenomena are produced under causal conditions, and all phenomena are also extinguished under causal conditions.” The perfection of a family, the harmony of an organization, the stability of a society, and the purification of people’s minds, depend on favorable conditions. Thus, we must try our best to create favorable conditions in any time at any place, in order to attain perfect, harmonious, and blessed results for all matters in our life.
If a person follows the Buddha’s teachings and accumulates virtues and great good karma, he generally anticipates going to a good place, such as heaven. Thus, the realm of heaven appears in his mind. If he is an evil person, he will see the phenomena of hells first, before his last breath.
If an Amitabha-reciter wishes to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land, and exclusively recites Amitabha’s Name, he will generally see the splendid scenes of the Land of Bliss, such as: lotus flowers, golden ponds, and pagodas before his last breath. It is a natural manifestation of his karmic reward.
Karmic retribution is a matter of fact. It is also proof that the principle of cause and effect exists. So, we must evaluate and review our thoughts and our threefold karma, as to whether they are good or evil. Between good and evil karma, which one is more?
As a Buddhist, we should be cautious in giving and receiving. Do not take them for granted, because all matters, great or small, involve cause and effect. In matters concerning dutiful power and benefits, we should not override or violate them, in order to avoid stealing.
A Gatha about cause and effect - Even though hundreds and thousands of eons have elapsed, the karma created is not eliminated. Once it encounters the appropriate causal conditions, one must eventually bear the karmic retribution.
This means that the wholesome and unwholesome wave frequencies emitted from our behavior (in body, mouth and mind) will not vanish. When they come across the necessary causal conditions, the effect will be produced. The question is, when will it come? This is uncertain. In this way the karmic retribution of cause and effect goes through the three periods of time - past, present and future.
Wholesome and unwholesome retribution, resulting from our good and evil karma, is rooted in our minds. It is because of our minds that we perform good and evil karma through our bodies and speech. These will then result in our wholesome and unwholesome retribution.
Bad-mouthing seems to relieve emotional unhappiness for a while; however, the negativity from others is even more terrifying. A person can avoid it if he knows where the attack originates; but, he cannot if the negativity is behind his back.
Contentment for a short moment will incur endless trouble in future. The Buddha always admonishes us not to commit karmic offenses in speech; so, we should obey and believe sincerely.
When we recite Amitabha’s Name in our hearts, Amitabha Buddha knows, though other people do not. Whenever we recite, the Buddha knows, the ghosts and gods know, celestial beings know, the lords know, and the Dharma realm knows.
This is because, when our mind invokes, it is like a piece of pebble falling into water. Ripples will be produced moving in the radial directions. When they reach the shore, they will bounce back, and return to our minds.
When our mind invokes, whether it is a wholesome or unwholesome thought, we will eventually receive the respective retribution.
Basically, it is required to deeply believe in cause and effect in the Pure Land teaching. Hence, we should feel that our foolishness and capacity for wrongdoing exceed those of others, and that we aren’t qualified to argue with them.
It says in the Ksitigarbha Sutra, “When a thought arises in our minds, it is nothing but karma, and also an offense.” This means we always violate the law of cause and effect. In this way, we can gradually enter the door of the Pure Land teachings, which can change our temperaments.
Karmic retributions for wholesome and unwholesome deeds, cause and effect in the three periods of time, and reincarnation within the Six Realms, are natural phenomena in the universe and in life. “Refrain from evil, practice kindness, and purify your mind.” These are the most fundamental teachings of all Buddhas. If a person truly believes in cause and effect, he must discard all evil deeds and perform good practices. If a person understands the horrifying journey of reincarnation, he will sincerely seek rebirth in the Pure Land.
Faith in, and acceptance of, Amitabha’s deliverance
Single-minded recitation of Amitabha’s name
Aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land
Comprehensive deliverance of all sentient beings