Do Things Just Happen? – The Hidden Causes

October 30, 2015

Just like in science, Buddha’s Dhamma is based on cause and effect. Nothing happens without a cause (or more accurately multiple causes). But some of the causes are hidden and can be revealed only by a Buddha with the perfect mind. By learning his Dhamma, we can figure out many such important and relevant causes that affect us.

1. There are many instances when we face a traumatic situation, and the first thing that comes to our mind is “Why is this happening to me? What have I done to deserve this?”.

  • And when we encounter good fortune (say landing a good job or winning a lottery), we are overjoyed: “My luck has finally turned around”.
  • Both those conclusions are wrong. Nothing happens in this world without a cause (usually there are multiple causes). Things DO NOT just happen. Nature does not work that way. In science, we always look at the underlying causes to explain material phenomena.
  • A scientific theory is not even taken seriously unless it can provide evidence to support the theory, i.e., to illustrate “cause and effect”. Buddha Dhamma is based on “cause and effect”.

2. The “cause and effect” of inert objects are easy to see and verify. Scientists can accurately land a spaceship on the Moon because they can take into account all the causes and effects that would be relevant to the flight of the spaceship. All scientific progress is made due to the “apparent” causes and effects.

  • We can even predict/control the behavior of plants. By making suitable conditions for their growth, farmers can reap good harvests. Even when things do not work out with farming, we know the reasons (drought, too much rain, etc).
  • Thus we can verify the applicability of “cause and effect” when dealing with inert matter and vegetation. The causes are not hidden.
  • This principle is also known as “action and reaction” in physics. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The laws of kamma are more complex, but it is the same basic principle. You cannot expect to do something and assume that it has no consequences.

3 Unlike material phenomena that involve dead and inert matter, each sentient living being has a “history that goes back into the deep past” (a tree is living, but not sentient, i.e., it cannot think).

  • Therefore, for each sentient being, there could be causes that lie in the deep past. We just cannot see them (if we develop abhiññā powers, we could see some).
  • This is why it is hard for many people to grasp the concept of kamma. When we look around us, we may not see the “law of kamma” working. While a pious peasant may be living in a hut, a drug lord seems to be enjoying life. Yet, in the long run, the laws of kamma work: that pious peasant may be reborn to enjoy a good life, while the drug lord may suffer for a long time to come in future births.
  • The present birth started due to past causes. It will proceed until that kammic power is exhausted. What we should be mainly worried about is the next life.
  • All deeds have their consequences. As Nietzsche (1882) said, “..Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done before they can be seen and heard..”.

4. Then people ask: “But where is the evidence for that?”. The (indirect) evidence is all around us. We just do not take time to analyze what we see. Our tendency is to take things at the face value, without bothering to analyze a bit deeper; see, “Wrong Views (Micca Diṭṭhi) – A Simpler Analysis“.

  • When we look around we see that some people are rich, some are poor; some die within a few months, but there are others live to old age; some are healthy and vibrant, others are sick most of the time, etc. All these happen now due to causes from past lives.
  • What are the causes for all those and much more varieties of life that we see all around us? Many more are discussed in, “Vagaries of Life and the Way to Seek Good Rebirths“.

5. Laws of kamma are nothing but “causes and effects”. Moral behavior leads to good results either in this life OR in future lives. Immoral behavior leads to bad results, including bad rebirths.

  • However, kamma is nondeterministic, i.e., a cause does not inevitably lead to a result; see, “What is Kamma? – Is Everything Determined by Kamma?“. By acting with mindfulness, one can avoid many possible bad kamma vipāka, and also make conditions for good kamma vipāka to come to fruition.
  • Actually, without a Buddha in the world, a normal human cannot figure out these things on his/her own. But luckily, some evidence is coming from modern science due to the efforts of thousands of scientists over the past few hundred years.
  • Many “wrong views” that people used to have in the old days have been corrected by science. Actually, those helped confirm what the Buddha taught 2500 years ago; see, “Dhamma and Science“.

6. Our ancestors could not explain many natural phenomena like earthquakes, volcano eruptions, floods, etc, and attributed those to “the fury of the Gods”. Even to date, whenever we don’t understand something, our tendency is to attribute that to a supernatural being and “fill that gap”; this tendency is called, “God of the gaps”.

  • But advances in science are slowly but surely closing those gaps, that exist with regard to the workings of the MATERIAL WORLD. Those are due to natural causes.

7.  However, there ARE gaps in our knowledge base that CANNOT be closed by the current approach of science. These are to explain the workings of the human mind or consciousness.

  • Most theologians of today are correct in saying that the mind cannot arise from matter; it does not make sense to say that a human with feelings and perceptions can just “arise” out of inert matter.
  • However, there is no need to “fill that gap” with God either. The Buddha described in detail the workings of the human mind, which is separate from the working of the material world; see, “Is Buddha Dhamma (Buddhism) a Religion?“.
  • The “cause and effect” for the mind to arise is described by Paṭicca Samuppāda, but before that can start making sense, one needs to understand the basics of Buddha Dhamma discussed in the “Key Dhamma Concepts” section on the top menu.

8. Another effect that cannot be explained by current science is the “sense of fulfillment” one gets by giving to the poor. If one takes a totally materialistic view, it is not possible to see ANY benefits in giving.

  • There was a wealthy brahmin at the time of the Buddha, who was very much against giving. He explained to others why giving can only lead to a loss by actually doing a demonstration: He took a sack of rice and started giving portions to those who gathered. In the end the sack was empty and he said, “look, this is what happens when you give. You lose what you have”.
  • The Buddha explained that the brahmin was unable to see the benefits in giving even in this life (sense of joy), because of his wrong views, and thus there was no way he could see the benefits in future lives. The brahmin died and was born a dog at the same house. It is a long story and I may get to it in a future post.
  • The key point here is that there are many things that cannot be explained by just what we see with our eyes. Cause and effect is not readily apparent when it involves the mind. Furthermore, the benefits of giving are not proportional to the value of the things given, but the state of the mind of the giver.

9. But more than anything else, the truth of what the Buddha taught can be experienced. When one follows the path recommended by the Buddha one can feel and experience the results in this life itself.

  • Just by reading and understanding Dhamma concepts, one’s mind can become calm and peaceful; see, “Key to Calming the Mind – The Five Hindrances“. I encourage everyone to peruse through different sections at the site and read first whatever seems to make sense or relevant to what one is looking for.
  • For example, one of the key issues that led people to believe in a supernatural being was how morality can be there without such a being. But the Buddha taught that morality and immorality are both built into nature; see, “Origin of Morality (and Immorality) in Buddhism“.
  • It could be surprising to many. But Buddha Dhamma can explain ANY phenomenon, whether material or mind-based. Everything happens due to causes, even though some may be hidden from a normal human’s sense faculties. By purifying one’s mind, one can have a better understanding of how nature operates; see, “The Importance of Purifying the Mind“.
  • October 18, 2016: A new post explains this in more detail: “Micca Diṭṭhi – Connection to Hethu Phala (Cause and Effect)“.
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