Lectures on Basic Study Materials
from Dai-Byakuho, issue No. 362
Cause and Effect
There is a word in Japanese, “inga”, which means cause and effect. The principle underlying “inga” is that if there is a cause, there will certainly be an effect, and that if there is an effect, there will, without fail, also be a cause.
It would be no exaggeration to say that this principle of cause and effect is at the foundation of all religions, philosophies, ideologies and sciences, whether they be old or new, eastern or western. But it could be argued that in schools of thought other than Buddhism, the concept of cause and effect pertains only to the limited period of this present life, and only to the material world. For that reason, schools of thought other than Buddhism are incomplete.
Cause and Effect in Non-Buddhist Religions
Around the time of Shakyamuni’s advent, India was experiencing a period of great ideological change, and various viewpoints on the subject of cause and effect were being expounded.
The sutras categorize and report on these viewpoints in terms of the six non-Buddhist teachers (six thinkers representative of non-Buddhist thought), or the thirty great non-Buddhist masters (thirty persons who expressed divergent theories), or the sixty-two opinions (sixty-two kinds of mistaken views). Further, in The Opening of the Eyes, the Daishonin counts
“ninety-five or ninety-six different lines, forming sect after sect”. (MW, Vol. 2, pg. 76)
Yet, these ideologies can be divided into the following three categories: 1) the view that causes result in effects (theory of destiny, or fate); 2) the view that causes do not result in effects (theory of divine providence, or of a universal heavenly creator), and: 3) the view that causes do, and do not, result in effects (theory of chance, accidentalism).
Explained simply, the theory of what is called fate, or destiny, says that everything in our lives is a result of causes made in past existences, and that everything in both the present and the future is decided by fate. Regarding the insolubly painful situation of a society stratified by the caste system during the period under discussion, there probably arose the poignant question, “When one person was born as a Brahman priest, another was born as a Kshatriya nobleman or soldier, and yet another was born as a Vaisya farmer or merchant, why is it that I alone have been born as a Sudra slave?”
Next, when the theory of fate takes on a different form, in which we find what is called “the will of God,” we come to 2) above, the theory of divine providence and the existence of a universal heavenly creator. In other words, because all things are created by an absolute, supreme God, or by divine providence, regardless of how one is born, it is due to the will, or an act, of God.
Completely contrary to both of the preceding theories is 3) above, the theory of chance or accidentalism, which claims that causes both do, and do not, result in effects. This view recognizes no relation between cause and effect, and claims that both in terms of the present and the future, there is no law of cause and effect governing human behavior.
However, all three of the above mentioned views deny subjective human causal behavior. In short, 1) above causes resignation to the fact that everything is due to destiny, and also causes the loss of the desire for improvement and diligence in our actual daily lives. Similarly, in 2) above, if everything is decided by the will of God, no matter how much a person may endeavor, such efforts are meaningless. Whether one commits evil or amasses good deeds, if all are due to acts of God, such a view already denies the law of cause and effect. Of course, the theory of chance propounded in 3) above refuses to recognize that human endeavor has any effect at all, and resembles the views of modern-day atheists. Consequently, based on the truth of the law of cause and effect, Shakyamuni denounced these views as dangerous ideologies or heretical religions.
Although the teachings which Shakyamuni rejected, such as those of the six non-Buddhist teachers, each followed or opposed, each in its own way, the various teachings of Brahmanism, all were influenced by Brahmanic scripture, the Rig-Veda.
Arguments on cause and effect are given in the Rig-Veda by the three ascetics, Kapila, Uluka and Rishabha. The Daishonin presents these arguments in a passage from The Opening of the Eyes.
In addition, there are three men, Kapila, Uluka, and Rishabha, who are known as the three ascetics. (omission) As the fundamental principle of their doctrine, some of these sects taught that causes produce effects, others taught that causes do not produce effects, while still others taught causes do and do not produce effects. (MW, Vol. 2, pp. 75-76)
Following this passage, the Daishonin says that along with the six non-Buddhist teachers, the three ascetics do not fully explain the Law of cause and effect, and refutes them for this.
The actual practice of the six non-Buddhist teachers involved such austerities in search of the truth as bathing in the Ganges River three times a day, pulling out their hair and casting themselves onto rocky crags, fasting, or even burning themselves with fire or complete self-immolation. The reason for the necessity for such austere practices can be found in the Rig-Veda. Brahmanism teaches the oneness of Brahma, or the underlying principle of the universe, and Atman, or the underlying principle of the existence of the individual self, and goes on to define the human heart/mind as originally “good”. But when that heart/mind, which was supposedly “good” to begin with, unifies with the flesh, the heart/mind becomes disturbed under the influence of that union. Since the heart/mind is then able to form evil thoughts, the practice of Samadhi, or meditation, allows the heart/mind to free itself from the influences of the flesh and regain its original (enlightened) nature. It was thought on the other hand that the body was composed of earth, water, fire, air and ku (spirit, or non-substance) and the mind. Because it was further thought that when the body’s influence was strong, illusion would result, while at times when the influence of the flesh was weak, the mind would be that much purer, it was also believed that the act of inflicting pain on the body would allow the heart/mind to be released from the fetters of the flesh.
However, these practices came into being because peoples’ views posited such preexisting absolutes in the real world as Brahma and Atman, which were made central concepts.
Buddhism does not recognize these absolutes, which disregard cause and effect. All things exist because of causal relationship which support and contribute to their coming into being. Shakyamuni awoke to this truth under the Bodhi tree.
Buddhism emphasizes origin and causal relationship, but even when we use the simple term “cause and effect”, within “cause and effect” there are six kinds of cause, four types of relation and five kinds of effect, whose meanings span many aspects and diversities, unlike non-Buddhist teachings, which are more shallow.
Here we would like to explain the above briefly. For example, among the six causes, there is one known in Japanese as, “Ijuku-in” (lit., Different maturing cause). It is one of the laws governing the causal relationship in cause and effect over the Three Existences [past, present and future].
In part 2 of The Opening of the Eyes, the Daishonin refers to the Shinjikan Sutra and explains:
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. (M.W., Vol. 2, pp. 197-198)
In short, actions from our past existences become causes that manifest as good and bad fortune in the present, and actions in this life become the causes that lead to effects in the future.
Then again, Buddhism further explains that the effect of a given cause is inherent within the cause. This is known as the simultaneity of cause and effect, or the mutual possession of cause [and effect].
In the Essential Teachings of the Lotus Sutra, this doctrine of cause and effect is further extended to the doctrine of the True Cause and True Effect of the True Buddha of Kuon Ganjo.
©1995 Nichiren Shoshu Monthly