Nichiren Buddhist Association of America

Nichiren Buddhist Association of America
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Karma
Chapter 5
 

There is more to Buddhism than mere theory. To know about life does not help you one bit, unless you know of a way to change suffering and take specific actions to do so. It is essential that action be taken in order to change anything. This is true in any aspect of life as well as in Buddhism, which is a study of life and the practice of living life to its fullest and happiest.

There is a theory that is crucial to Buddhism and understanding life that can help one to develop a life without suffering. That theory has gotten much recognition but is not entirely understood by most people. It is called karma. You can use the term “cause and effect” instead of karma. At its simplest level, everyone takes action according to this theory every single day without being aware that they are doing so. This is also the theory that gives Buddhism something that other religions lack – actual proof that the belief is working.

Cause and effect is a belief, again, at its simplest level, on which scientists base their research. They actually use the term “cause and effect” too. That is one reason we prefer using that terminology. The other reason is that it is English.

Recently, environmental scientists have been using this theory as it relates to environmental devastation. Their theory is that if you kill off a certain species (the cause), you will affect the environment in which it lives by eliminating the impact that species had on its environment (the effect).

Non-scientists use the theory of cause and effect in their day-to-day lives as well, even though they aren’t always conscious of it. Even if someone claims that he does not believe in the theory cause and effect, he still practices it, which is evidenced by his very existence. If he did not believe in cause and effect at the practical level, he would be dead. For example, when he feels hungry, he believes that by eating (the cause) he will be relieved of his hunger (the effect). If he did not believe in cause and effect, he would not eat. If he did not eat, he would not be alive to tell you that he does not believe in karma.

Of course, this theory gets more complex, as you can imagine. For instance, what is the cause of the hunger in the first place? You could say that it is the result of not having eaten for a long time, making inaction a cause in itself. There are actually many effects for every cause that is made. Some of them will be “good” and others “bad.” Also, to add to the confusion, some causes are greater, meaning more important or significant, than others. To keep going with the example of eating, while eating may cure your hunger, it also kills living cells. (That is based on the theory that the cells within, say fruit, are still alive while the fruit is ripe.) While you have created a good cause that will reduce your hunger and sustain your life, you have also created the bad cause of taking life.

You may have heard of Buddhist priests of those “incomplete” forms of Buddhism fasting for months. But those priests fail to understand the next portion of cause and effect, which is the relative significance of various causes.

One cause may outweigh another. Let’s look at another example. Suppose that a person, we’ll call him Ralph, has a friend named Rita. Rita loans Ralph her car for the afternoon. Ralph, a compulsive gambler, loses Rita’s car in a poker game. If nothing else, the cause that Ralph made by gambling away Rita’s car would result in at least a strained relationship, if not an end to the relationship, and/or legal repercussions. However, if Ralph then won a million dollars and gave it to Rita, any lawsuits would be stopped and the relationship would be salvaged. In this scenario, there are many previous causes affecting everything that takes place. That is why this theory is so complex. However, from this example, one can easily see the relative significance of giving Rita a million dollars compared to losing her car. The million-dollar gift outweighs the loss of the car.

Let’s try another example. Governments around the world are trying to find ways to stop the pollution of the ozone layer. Driving is one of the biggest components of pollution to the ozone layer. The effect is already present. Much of our air is polluted, especially in large, congested cities. Scientists are already finding evidence of global warming. According to scientists, if we could somehow stop or minimize the amount of pollution we create, the ozone layer could repair itself. So, in this example, stopping all pollution to the ozone layer for twenty or so years is a cause that would outweigh the causes that we have created to pollute the ozone layer in the past. When both sets of causes are made, (the “bad” cause of polluting the ozone layer, and the “good” cause of stopping the pollution) they would cancel each other out. However, if everyone in the world was to stop driving for three or four days, we would see immediate, noticeable results because that would be a great cause, but it would not be great enough to completely repair the ozone layer. Such is the nature of more significant and less significant causes. This points out, then, that even extremely good causes over short periods of time are often not enough to see the desired effects.

There are three ways that causes can be made: thoughts, words and deeds. Even thinking about quitting your job, for example, may cause you to actually quit in a fit of emotion or may subtly affect your day-to-day work. The thought then becomes the cause for your later action. If you feel happy and cause your coworkers to react positively to your happiness, it may become the cause for your eventual promotion.

Words are an even stronger cause than thoughts. When your thoughts are expressed in your words, they take on greater importance. Using the same example, if you voice your intent to quit your job instead of just thinking the thought, you may even get fired for the statement. If you continually say “This is the most fun job I’ve ever had,” it may be the cause for your promotion.

Action is the strongest cause you can make. Actually doing something causes clear, unmistakable results. By signing a resignation form, you actualize your thoughts and words. Other examples may be personal ones like thinking of leaving your spouse, telling a friend about it, or actually divorcing them. Or, in our own case, thinking about writing this book, telling others that we will, then actually doing it exhibits the incremental power of three ways of making causes.

One problem that people have with believing in cause and effect is that the effect is separated from the cause by time. This confuses everything. Since we are constantly making causes and living out the effects of past causes, it is often impossible to determine specifically where our effects originated. Add in the fact that some causes are more important or significant than others, and it’s easy to see why people don’t believe that their own negative thought (perhaps an angry one aimed at another motorist) will have an actual perceptible effect in their own life. In other words, at a level deep within our lives is the accumulation of all of the various causes and effects that we have ever made.

The moment-to-moment effects that we see have been tempered or enhanced over time until a specific circumstance or stimulus makes those causes visible. For example, let’s say that one day you go to someone’s house and steal their T.V. (not that you’re necessarily the kind of person who would do such a thing, but just hypothetically speaking). The person may not know right away who stole their T.V. However, at the very instant you made that cause, you implanted it deep within your life. At that very instant, you became a “thief.” While no effect may show up for a long time, you have still made the cause, and the right stimulus will eventually bring out the effect. You may not know how long it will be, but just like polluting the air doesn’t affect the planet right away, it will eventually cause problems (equal to the exact amount and significance of the causes we created). It may take several days or longer before anyone finds out that you stole the T.V. Within that span of time, you may think that you escaped the effect of your cause. Even if you were never caught, your negative cause will, without fail, result in a loss of fortune for you. It is so hard to believe that your causes yield results given a long span of time.

The other reason that people have a hard time believing in cause and effect is simply that they see “good” people who are mistreated or who die an incredibly painful death. And they see “bad” people who live out a seemingly charmed life. Time is the culprit. A misunderstanding of time further confuses the web of causes and effects that are currently being mixed within our lives. One of the reasons that Creationists can’t believe in cause and effect is that they view time incorrectly. They think that life started at a point in time and will go on forever (in Hell or Heaven). They fail to understand that life is eternal. That means that it has always existed in some form or another and just continually changes form according to the laws of cause and effect. Their lives, too, are the product of previous lifetimes of causes, and the lives they presently lead are also the cause for future lifetimes of effects. Predestination and Creationism are both theories that separate individuals from the responsibility for their own lives and their own sufferings. Without taking responsibility for your own life, you can never change it for the better.

How do you go about creating the best karma or effects possible? When you chant Namu-myoho-renge-kyo and teach others how to attain enlightenment, you are making the highest cause you can possibly make. This is the cause that will result in absolute happiness. As psychologists have said, to say to yourself over and over that you are a successful, capable person will be the cause for increased self-confidence and eventual success as a result. The cause you are creating through affirmations by using positive words yields a certain result. This is in keeping with the theory that effects can be created through words. Creative visualization is another positive cause that leads to positive results. This is akin to the theory that thoughts create effects, too. If repeating that you are a wonderful person for just a few minutes a day, or imagining yourself as a successful person, has such results, imagine the results of praising the ultimate life force inherent in all life and vowing to bring out that life force within yourself and everything around you. In Buddhism, this is the highest cause you can possibly make. To vow over and over again to lead all lives to become the strongest and happiest they can be is to make the highest cause that any human can possibly make. Such a cause is the one that will lead any person to become the happiest person that they can be. This is a praising of the very essence of your life and of all life within the universe. While people have used affirmations, meditation, psychotherapy and other methods to try to make people absolutely happy, they have only succeeded in causing slight changes in people’s overall feeling or state of life. Where they have tried and failed, Nichiren has succeeded. This is the only cause that can lead to your enlightenment, or absolute and highest state of life. This is the phrase that allows people to tap the ultimate power within themselves and within the whole universe itself. To go back to the example of the T.V. thief, if he or she were to place a gem worth a million dollars in the spot where the T.V. was, the person who had their T.V. stolen would not be so concerned that the thief were punished. The same could be said about the unlucky car gambler in the example we used earlier. In much the same way, chanting Namu-myoho-renge-kyo is the cause that is worth more than every negative cause that we have ever made. We will always have those negative causes within our lives but will not have to experience the sufferings that are the normal effects of them, because we are able to offset them with much more valuable causes.


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