thoughts on karma, cause & effect
May 1, 2009 § 8 Comments
(click on diagrams for a better view)
Thoughts on Karma, Cause & Effect
Within Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism
Although David Hume said that causation is the “cement of the universe,” I couldn’t use any of what he said on causality for this discussion (other than this little quote). I also couldn’t talk about Aristotle’s views on causation, his four causes &c., although he did say that “all causes are beginnings…” (Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book V, Part 1). Both thinkers are not silent on the subject, & I am not suggesting that what they had to say on causality is valueless, but I did have to put them aside, since their brilliant theories (on causation) are ancillary to this month’s gosho: “Lessening One’s Karmic Retribution.” The Buddhist philosophers Daisaku Ikeda & Nichiren Daishonin are of complete relevance here & it is their thoughts I will focus on.
The word Renge in Nam Myoho Renge Kyo means lotus flower (in Sanskrit), it also signifies the concept of the simultaneity of cause & effect. Simultaneity here suggests that by chanting Nam Myho Renge Kyo one can (with faith) access/cause one’s Buddha nature to be effected immediately. We believe that we all contain (and can access) our own individual Buddha nature (enlightenment) & that by chanting Nam Myho Renge Kyo we will manifest it in our lives immediately. The lotus seeds & blooms simultaneously, which is why it’s used as a metaphor for this concept. The form of causality that is simultaneous is as I just described & it is also related to the concept of the 10 worlds, since (the theory is that) we inhabit all the 10 worlds at once (& we have mutual possession of the ten worlds) & are able to use the nine worlds to propel us to the tenth world of Buddhahood &/or enlightenment (by chanting Nam Myho Renge Kyo). Non-simultaneous causality is also important here, because all the past actions we’ve taken (in life), (good or bad), are also inevitably contained & manifested in our present lives (karma) & on into our future lives. The nine consciousnesses concept describes the Alaya (8th) consciousness as the karmic store-house: where all our past actions, thoughts, words (&c.) are stored as latent potential. Karma might also be seen as an intermediary between cause & effect (in non-simultaneous cause & effect). Karma is where all our latent causes are waiting to be “effected” by some external stimuli in one’s life. When we look into (note that it is said that karma is unconscious, but let’s say that we can look into) this store-house & rummage through our past causes, we are able to understand our present lives better, we are on the road to enlightenment, & we are enlightening our own lives, by doing so.
Nichiren Daishonin quotes from The Contemplation on the Mind-Ground Sutra,” that states:
“If you want to understand the causes that existed in the past, look at the results as they are manifested in the present. And if you want to understand what results will be manifested in the future, look at the causes that exist in the present” (WND-1, 279).
So, what does it mean to “lessen one’s karmic retribution?” Daisaku Ikeda writes:
“Present effects are due to karmic causes from the past. However, future effects arise from the causes we make in the present. It is always the present that counts. It is what we do in the present moment that decides our future; our past causes do not govern our future as well. Nichiren Buddhism emphasizes that no matter what kind of karmic causes we have made in the past,[it is] through the causes we make in the present we can achieve a brilliant future.”
To face the problems of life with courage & faith is the goal of Buddhist practice, along with doing (& helping) others to do the same (in their lives). We must see that as Nichiren says: “difficulties will arise, & these are to be looked at as ‘peaceful’ practices” (Nichiren Daishonin, The Record of Orally Transmitted Teachings p. 115). When one decides to practice Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, one essentially commits to transforming one’s life, instead of accepting our “destiny,” then we can transform our karma with the Buddhahood that resides within us all. Ikeda goes on to point out that this act of lessening one’s karmic retribution is at the heart of our practice.
I also found this interesting distinction on cause & effect (in Living Buddhism March-April, 09, page 77):
“Nichiren refers to two kinds of Buddhist teachings, those that view things from the standpoint of ‘cause to effect’ & those that approach things from ‘effect to cause’”
This idea/teaching suggests that instead of approaching the practice from a cause to effect position, as Shakyamuni taught to cause the effect of Buddhism; one should effect a cause of Buddhism (as encouraged by Nichiren). This idea might be related to the (complicated) concept of True Cause & True Effect (two of the Three Mystic Principles, the third is True land):
“In one sense, how we approach life and our Buddhist practice depends on whether we have a perspective of ‘true effect’ or ‘true cause.’ A perspective of ‘true effect,’ only sees enlightenment, or happiness, a result of past causes. From the perspective of ‘true cause,’ enlightenment, or happiness, is an ever-present potential; the cause for bringing it forth can only be made right now, in the present moment. The moment we make the ‘true cause,’ enlightenment reveals itself.” (Jeff Kriger, SGI-USA Study Department vice Leader)
Let us effect the cause of Buddhism in our daily lives as imperfect as we are, as we suffer through our hardships, as we rise to challenge our past mistakes, as we join together to celebrate our victories & as we chant Nam Myho Renge Kyo.