I alone am honoured in heaven and on earth.

The Sutra of Cause and Effect

When Buddha was born, he took seven steps. With one hand pointing at the heavens and one hand pointing at the earth, he uttered, “I alone am honoured in heaven and on earth.”

This statement was born neither of arrogance nor superiority. The ‘I’ that Buddha refers to here does not refer to the egocentric view of the ‘Lesser Self’, but rather of the ‘Higher Self’. The notion of the existence of a higher self also exists in Zoroastrianism where it is called the fravashi.

Unlike the higher self, the lesser self–or temporary self–is formed by the four elements: earth, water, fire and wind. We humans yearn for our true self in the temporary phenomena of this world. So why does it elude us? Or does it even elude us?

Buddha never claimed to be a Saviour or a God. He always maintained that he was a guide who provided the tools with which we could pursue the path towards enlightenment. He never believed in blind faith and held true to the principle that each individual needs to fully comprehend and actualise ‘the truth’ through their own experience and practise.

The Law of Cause and Effect

All things spring from a cause. All things cease due to a cause.

The Kindred Sayings Sutra

The law of cause and effect can be explained as the relations and conditions which must be present for phenomena and occurrences to take place. Without these relations and conditions, nothing will actually happen.

Growth cannot occur without the relations that permit it to occur. The seed may be the cause–but without soil, sun, water and nutrients–it cannot grow into a tree; which is the effect. Everything arises due to the relations that a seed has with its environment. When relations change or are destroyed, the effect is that things change or simply cease to be. Even if both the seed and the soil exist–without water and sunlight, the tree cannot grow–or its growth will be stunted in someway.

We live in a world where many people needlessly feel alone. The concept of cause and effect explains that all beings and phenomena are interdependent. Nothing and no one can exist in absolute independence for that is not the true nature of life on earth. All things grow and disappear based on relative mutual relations and conditions. Thus, there is no one superior being that governs and arranges everything and nor do phenomena exist purely by chance.

Everything springs forth from relations. When the causes and conditions are not yet mature, we simply cannot impose our will to force an outcome. This is what causes our suffering.

If we look at our relationships with others, be it an intimate one or a friendship, we will realise that there were changes that occurred which led to the results that followed. One of the reasons why so many relationships fail is because most people are attached to their lesser self. They provide the seed with neither the water nor the sunlight it needs to grow and flourish. They blame the seed and they blame the soil, but often they don’t realise that they have not provided the nutrients that the seed needs to truly grow into a magnificent tree.

There are two attitudes that we can emulate towards the causes and relations that allow phenomena to occur. We can seize and take control by changing ourselves according to the external circumstances. This can cause huge fluctuations in our mental stability. When the cause changes, the mind fluctuates–at times happy and at other times worried. The other option is to follow the conditions. By doing so, we go along with the different types of causes and relations and remain flexible and adaptable; thereby remaining composed in both good and bad times.

We simply cannot go against the grain.

Stillness amidst the ripples at Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery in Singapore

The repeated cycle of phenomena arising and ceasing due to the natural law of cause and effect helps us to understand that there is a process at play. The nature of life is to undergo the journey of both life and death. In life, there is no saviour who governs over the process; nor is there a scriptwriter who has ordained everything; and neither is there a victim to whom everything quite simply happens.

Everything in this universe is mutually dependent and connected. When the relations between cause and effect cease to be, things reach a conclusion and perish. When the relations between cause and effect strengthen, things grow and come to fruition. In either case, neither death nor life is a permanent state. They are all temporary and will arise and dissipate as part of the process we call life.

One thought on “Pratītyasamutpāda | The Buddhist Perspective on Cause and Condition

  1. Buddhist ideas have a way of getting me to rethink the way I think about things. Perhaps by mastering the mind, we will finally stop seeking externally for what already resides within.

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