Cause and Effect – False Causes

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

In Buddhism the terms ‘Cause & Effect’ are constantly tossed around.  People even of non-Buddhist religions ascribe to certain interpretations of the concept of cause and effect.  I was re-reading a book titled Basic Buddhist Concepts by Kogen Mizuno in which he talks about views of cause and effect that were prevalent during the time of the Buddha and for which Buddhists at the time found many faults. One false interpretation of cause and effect is the fallacy of the ‘false cause’.

The false cause is the attribution to an effect a cause for which no demonstrable relationship exists.  In other words upon close examination there is truly no connection between an effect and the cause ascribed to it.  An example of this is the belief of outside forces such as gods or deities which control the fate of man or reality.

“the idea that both the world of reality and human fate are determined by such gods as Brahma or Indra is false because no causal relation can be shown to exist between such deities and what people do or become.  Into the same category falls fatalism, the notion that destiny is determined irrevocably…at the instant of one’s birth or by the social class into which one is born.” Basic Buddhist Concepts by Kogen Mizuno

If the case was true that gods and deities or fate determine our future then there would be no hope of ever changing our situation, of becoming enlightened.  We would be hopelessly locked into situations or a life for which we could never expect to change.  Yet this is often how people speak of karma, saying things like “it’s my karma….” as if something outside of ourselves is controlling our effects, or as if there was no hope of changing the situation.

Buddhism teaches that we are solely responsible for both what happens to us and how we respond to things in our life.  If we are blaming our circumstances on things outside of ourselves and thinking of ourselves as victims then we are operating under the delusion of the false cause and so will never be able to fundamentally change our situation.

“They do not seek the Way to eliminate sufferings.  They are deeply attached to wrong views.  They are trying to stop suffering by suffering.” Lotus Sutra Chapter II

“To those who are ignorant of the cause of all sufferings, and who are too deeply attached to the cause of suffering to give it up even for a moment, the Buddhas expounded the eight right ways as expedients”. Lotus Sutra Chapter III

Only when we see the true cause will we be able to make future causes that will bring desired effects. Understanding what causes have been made and what causes need to be made will ensure us of the ability to change our circumstances.  To assist in making correct causes to end suffering even when we are unable to discern the true nature of cause and effect the Buddha taught the Eight Fold Path as a guide for us to live by.