Cause and Effect
Ven. Dr. Thích Huyen-Vi
In this universe nothing happens without a cause. This general rule,
the law of cause and effect, is not made by a creator, society nations but
is a natural law.
Those who do not observe this rule thoroughly and carefully never
recognize its importance. They, therefore, act helter-skelter and lack
spiritual responsibility. And it is due to this that they get into much
trouble, floundering through their lives. Lord Buddha, the All Enlightened
One, on the contrary, preached the law of cause and effect and showed how
it works in this universe. If people can appreciate it they will have
understood a very important law, indeed.
We, therefore, have to understand the law of the cause and effect which
Lord Buddha propounded. Then we can really follow the way which he
followed and can get true happiness for ourselves as well as others.
Cause means primary cause in comparison with pratyaya, which means
environmental or secondary cause. Effect by causing a further effect
becomes also a cause. Cause and effect in the moral realm have their
corresponding relations, the denial of which destroys all moral
responsibility. Cause and effect are two aspects inseparably connected
with each other. If there is no cause, there will never be any effect, and
if there is no effect we cannot presume a cause.
II. THE PARTICULAR NATURE OF CAUSE AND EFFECT
a) The nature of effect is exactly like the nature of cause. If we want
to get oranges, we have to plant the orange seeds, if we like to have
soybeans, of course first we have to plant seed-beans. It can never happen
that we plant orange seeds and get soybeans, or vice versa. The same idea
is expressed in a Chinese proverb which says, «Plant melons and reap
melons, plant beans and reap beans. Whatsoever a man sowed, that also
shall he reap». Man first studies music, then he will know music and
singing. He learns a language, then he will understand it. In other words,
we can say that cause and effect always go together. Whenever the cause
changes the effect also changes simultaneously.
b) Only one cause cannot have an effect. Everything in this world
is caused by a number of causes (Hetupratyaya). One cause cannot produce
effects if it is not connected with many other causes. For instance, we
say that paddy seeds give rise to rice plants. That is to say, the paddy
seed can never become a plant if put in empty space where there is no air,
no light, no soil, water, etc. So when we hear it said that
"Everything is created out of one single cause, or one single cause
can effect many things", we do not think such a statement to be
c) Cause has effect has cause. The present cause has its future
effects and the present cause also bears the shadow of a past cause. We
call a cause because it has not become effect. An effect is spoken of so
long as it has not transformed itself into a new cause. Everything,
therefore, we can call either cause or effect. What was effect in the past
becomes cause in the present, which again will become effect in the
future. Cause and effect continue helping each other like a wheel in a
d) The process of transformation from cause to effect is now quick
and now slow. The development from cause to effect sometimes is quick and
sometimes slow, and it does not always take place at the same time. There
are a few causes whose effects appear simultaneously. As soon as the cause
starts the effect is produced. For instance, we beat a drum (cause), the
sound of a drum at once manifests (effect) itself, or when the female and
male principles meet of direct current light immediately appears. On the
other hand, there are causes which produce effects after sometime. For
example, seeds take sometime to become rice plants. One has to wait for
about four months to harvest the rice. Some causes produce effects after
several years: A boy, for instance, who goes to school has to spend at
least ten years before he will be able to finish his studies. Sometimes an
effect is produced after many hundreds of years; for instance, the
will-power of fighting for independance in the people of a nation, lies
dormant for several centuries until it will assert itself.
We think that the law of causation is not true when we see the cause
not producing any effect quickly.
III. TO SHOW IN DETAIL WHAT IS CAUSE AND EFFECT:
As mentioned above, all things of the universe, animals or plants,
material or spiritual entities come under the law of cause and effect. In
order to understand this law more clearly, we show below that the law of
causation applies to all things.
a) Cause and effect with reference to inanimate things. Water is heated
by fire to become hot. Water is blown by wind and forms waves. If the
weather is too hot it causes drought. If there is caused too much rain
then there is flood. If strong winds blow, they cause a storm.
b) Cause and effect with reference to plants. Orange seeds give
rise to orange trees, then these bear fruit. Pimento seeds come out of
pimento fruits. Generally speaking, the sweet thing gives rise to sweet
fruits and the sour sort becomes sour. The nature of effect really
corresponds to the nature of cause.
c) Cause and effect regarding the animal race. Birds lay eggs. We
call them eggs when they are in the state of cause; when they are hatched
we call them effect ; then that chick again becomes cause and lays eggs
which are effect. Animals give birth to their offspring which are effect.
The animals grow up again to become cause, then they give birth which we
d) Cause and effect regarding man. This material body is due to two
elements, male and female, called parents, and due to outside
circumstance. Thus, creation continues forever. Cause produces effect,
effect produces cause and thus the process never stops. Regarding the
spiritual person, thought and action in the past, cause good or bad
behavior in the present life. Thought and action in the past is the cause,
character and feeling at present are effects. Then present action again
becomes the cause in order to produce thought and action in future which
To recognize clearly the spiritually important points, we must consider
the special forms as follows:
IV. CAUSE AND EFFECT IN THEIR PSYCHO-ETHICAL CONTEXT :
a) Cause and effect of karmically unwholesome actions. Concupiscence or
lobho: men look at others wealth then they have a desire to acquire it by
hook or by crook. That is the cause. When they attempt to get it they are
beaten and sometimes killed by the proprietors, or the authorities catch
them and send them to jail where they are tortured. That is the effect.
Resentment or doso: They who are quick-tempered beat their wives and
children and destroy the house and kill people. That is the cause. When
the anger is over they look at their wives and children who have been
maltreated and become sorry for things of the house already spoiled. They
are punished by justice and receive much suffering. That is the effect.
Ignorance or moho: A man who becomes passionately of beauty does not
undestand what is wrong, what is right, which is good and which is bad.
That is the cause. He causes disorder in the family making everybody
unhappy, while his wisdom is obscured. That is the effect. Doubt or
vicikicca: For the whole of their lives they suspect this thing and that
thing. Other people explain and make matters clear to them, but they will
never listen. That is the cause. In the end they have nothing to rely
upon. When they die their lives have proved useless. That is the effect.
Pride or mana: People inflated with pride think that they are the best.
They look down on others. That is the cause. Then that behavior on their
past makes other people hate them and move away from them, leave them to
live in isolation. That is the effect. Furthermore, arrogant people are
often addicted to drinking and also to smoking. They spend too much and
finally ruin themselves. This is the cause. Whenever they get drunk, they
try to pick a quarrel and kill one another, sometimes they may commit
another crime, then they surely have to stand their trial. That is the
b) Cause and effect of karmically wholesome actions. As we have
seen, the result of karmically unwholesome actions is very shameful and
troublesome, but positive is the result of karmically wholesome actions.
The effect is bright and happy.
Men who have no desire are no slaves to wealth, their hearts and minds
are always light. Men who have no anger, live safe and sound, their
families are peaceful and happy. The people who are not after beauty to
the extent to do something wrong are respected by their relatives. Their
knowledge is penetrating and their bodies strong. The man who does not
suspect makes people believe him. Then he can get success very easily. A
man who is not proud is respected by others. People are ready to help him
in every work even when they have to take risks. We need not expatiate on
these facts, as everyone already knows them. We see these happen daily. If
we only open the newspaper then we can understand the news clearly.
Generally speaking, in spiritual and material matters what holds good
is that we sow and then reap accordingly. «Everyone is the child of his
own deeds», as the French proverb says.
V. THOSE WHO UNDERSTAND AND APPLY THE LAW OF CAUSE AND EFFECT WILL
BENEFIT FROM THEIR CONFORMING TO IT :
a) The law of cause and effect makes us avoid superstitions and
mistaken belief in divine powers. The law of cause and effect lets us know
the actual situation of the world. There are no vague and mysterious
matters. It rolls up all the dark curtains of the superstitions which
cover so many things and provides a rational explanation of events that
are otherwise associated with divine reward and punishment, eternal
damnation, etc. Therefore, those who understand the law of cause and
effect, will never have wrong beliefs, neither compelled to propitiate
gods or subscribe to fatalism, nor being anxious about anything.
b) The law of cause and effect makes us rely on ourselves. When we
know that our life is due to good or bad actions of the past, that we are
ourselves architects of our lives, we understand that we are also the men
who create all matters; but the tragedy is we do not believe in ourselves.
Then who will believe us? Self-confidence is the best thing to have. Then
only one can work with zeal. If we know well how to do good actions, we
are sure to produce good fruits.
c) The law of cause and effect helps us, and does not discourage. A
man is always discouraged, because he has no faith in himself. He relies
on others and becomes dependent. But when he understand that he himself is
the source of personal power and the cause of all the failures or success,
then he begins to develop self-confidence. He corrects himself, stops
sowing the seeds of bad causes and avoids getting bad effects.
VI. SOME QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS REGARDING THE LAW OF «CAUSE AND
A few persons think that if the law of cause and effect be correct and
just, why do some persons, even when they are generous for the whole of
their lives, suffer so much? Others who are very cruel live in abudance
and happiness all their life. Why so? The answer is succinctly given
above. The time that a cause takes to become effect is sometimes short,
but sometimes very long. Cause and effect do not always occur at the same
time. There are some causes which bring effect immediately, but other
causes may produce effects only in another life or in another form of
In case people in this life perform so many wicked actions, but enjoy
peace and prosperity, this is due to the good actions performed in
previous lives. But the misdeeds they do in this life are too much and are
sure to produce bad effects in the future or in the next life. For
instance, some persons who indulge too much in worldly pleasures may have
enough money to spend owing to previous effect and diligence. But when
their stock of merit is exhausted, they will again become poor people.
Others who are very honest and do many good deeds may meet with
accidents or may have to face many troubles. That will be due to their
actions in their past lives. They must have committed bad actions. But the
good actions and honestly in this life will bring good effect in next
lives. For example, some persons may not gain anything this year even if
they do hard work. That is due to the cause of spending too much in the
last few years. But if this year they work very hard, they will definitely
get only good results next time. That is why Confucius said:
«Good or evil actions in previous lives all have consequences,
The only difference is that they have to be born sooner or later.
Some persons may demand that according to the law of cause and effect
only those who do something wrong should get bad results. If a father does
wrong why should the son be punished? If the son commits a crime why
should the father be punished? But sometimes we observe tat a father’s
sins reflect upon his son and vice versa. Why?
Lord Buddha says, « There are two kinds of causes and effects. Deeds
of the community which can influence all the membres of a community, and
individual deeds which may have their effects on the community.
Differentiated karma (the cause of different resultant condition) means
that there are individual actions and public actions. Individual deeds are
the private karma and its reward of every person. For example, if we try
hard to study we shall gain good knowledge. If we eat, we satisfy our
hunger, etc. Public deeds influence the community. For instance, all
Vietnamese, rich or poor, learned or simple folk, all had to come under
the influence of war when the fighting was going on. When born in a
peaceful country we, of course, can enjoy happiness and peace. Thus when
we live in a family, in a society or nation, we have to experience the
fruits of karma connected with family, society, and nation, as the case
may be. Confucius has said, « If one person gives alms in charity, a
thousand persons can get good reward, or if one tree gives rise to
beautiful flowers, then ten thousand trees may get the nice smell. »
We already know the value of the law of cause and effect:
Thus we should apply this lesson to every act in our life. Whenever we
do any work we have to think of the effect, good or bad. If we are pure in
deed, word and thought, we will never be in trouble in the future. If we
follow this principle we shall see our characters and actions wholly
changed for the better. We shall never do wrong and do more and more good
deeds every day. Thanks to the knowledge of this perfect law we can
steadily progress and develop all good qualities in us so as to achieve in
the end the Summum-bonum of life, the realization of full and complete
Enlightenment and final Release.
Minh Quang uploaded October 14, 2001