The Mechanism of Fate Clarified in Buddhism
We have a burning desire to know what decides our fortune. What determines a good fate or a bad fate? This is what we want to know the most. Why? Because the reason we are living is to seek happiness.
So, what determines whether we experience good fortune or bad fortune? This is a question on the causality of happiness; that which we want to know the most. To this question, Sakyamuni Buddha gave an answer. His teachings are known today as Buddhism. Let us learn about these.
1. The mystery of our incomprehensible fate
What is it that determines our fate? This is what we want to know the most. Why? Because the reason we are living is to seek happiness. When we think about what we want from today, for instance, we all want to have a fun, fulfilling, and happy day. We definitely don’t want today to be a bad day. We all hope we won’t get into an accident or meet with disaster.
Everyone wants to be happy. No-one wants to be unhappy. That hope will stay the same tomorrow, the day after that, and so on and so forth. This means that what we are seeking is a good fate. We all want to avoid a bad fate.
Without exception, what all people want to know the most is how we can gain happiness; we want to know what it is that decides a good fate. However, the mechanism of our fate is a mystery to us. The more we think about it, the more baffling it is for us. We cannot understand how it actually works.
All around us, life and death are decided by a hair’s breadth. Our fate can be totally changed by just the tiniest thing. However, because people don’t know exactly why this happens, they put fortune or misfortune down to luck. But what exactly is meant by ‘luck’?
Think about it. Nothing is so unequal as the circumstances different people are born into. Some are born into poor homes, others into great wealth and comfort. People may be born male or female, attractive or homely. Some of us are born in mid-Manhattan, others in a rainforest. But even if they were born in the same country, people’s lives differ greatly depending on the era they were born in.
If we find ourselves unexpectedly facing disaster or an accident, we lament our misfortune, wondering why on earth this had to happen to us. If we end up being hospitalized, seeing people chatting happily as they walk past our window makes us feel jealous, and we sigh as we wonder, “Why me? Why do I have to suffer with this illness?”
When we experience a bad fate, we start wondering how this could’ve happened and who is to blame, pointing the finger at anyone and anything. “It’s his fault!” “It’s her fault!” “It’s because of my parents!” “It’s my school’s fault!” “It’s because of my workplace!” “It’s society’s fault!” The reason why we do this is that we have absolutely no idea what it is that causes our fate.
Being at such a loss for explanations, even someone who would usually be skeptical of superstitions may resign themselves to the idea that their bad fortune is the fate decided for them by a god, or that some bad spirit has made this happen to them, or that perhaps they are simply cursed.
So just what is it that creates our fate? There is a teaching that solves the mystery of our incomprehensible fate—and that is Buddhism. If we come to know the mechanism of our fate as taught in Buddhism, it will be made clear to us how we can gain happiness. Then we can lead a positive life in which happiness can bloom.
So let us learn about Buddhism, the teaching that clarifies the mechanism of our fate.
2. What is the law of cause and effect?
* The foundation of Buddhism
* What is a “law”?
* What is meant by “cause” and “effect”?
Śākyamuni Buddha is someone who appeared in India about 2600 years ago. At the age of 35, Śākyamuni attained the highest level of enlightenment, which is the enlightenment of a buddha, and for 45 years from then until his death at the age of 80, he taught what is known today as ‘Buddhism’.
All of his sermons were recorded in writing as “sutras”. All together, there are more than seven thousand volumes of these sutras. If you read one each day, it would take at least 20 years to finish reading them all. Since everything that Śākyamuni Buddha taught is included in these seven thousand plus volumes of sutras, all together they are known as the “Complete Sutras”.
The principle that underlies each and every one of these Sutras is the Law of Cause and Effect. If we compare Buddhism to a tree, the Law of Cause and Effect represents the roots and the trunk. Without roots, a tree would surely die. If the trunk were cut, the tree would fall over. You can probably tell, then, just how essential the Law of Cause and Effect is for understanding Buddhism. Without understanding the Law of Cause and Effect, there is no way to understand Buddhism. So what exactly is the Law of Cause and Effect?
A "Law" refers to something that remains unchanged across all times and places. In Buddhist terms, it runs through the “three worlds and the ten directions.” The phrase "the three worlds" refers to the worlds of the past, the present, and the future. In other words, it means "at any time." Something that remains unchanged since thousands of years ago, through now, and across endless millions of years in the future is said to “run through the three worlds.” The phrase "the ten directions" refers to North, South, East, West, the four points between these, and up and down. In other words, the "ten directions" means "anywhere." A "Law" is something that is valid no matter where you are, whether in America, in Japan, in China, or even if you rocket off into outer space.
The truth that does not change and remains valid at all times and in all places is considered to be a "Law" —and this Law is the foundation of Buddhism. Sometimes people might say that since science has advanced so much and the world in which we live has also changed so much, Buddhism has to change too in accordance with this. But the reason why people say this is that they do not know that Buddhism is founded upon a Law. Since what Buddhism teaches is something that stays valid regardless of time and place, the ever-changing times and environment actually do not have an influence over Buddhism at all.
Now we have established what a Law is—so what exactly is meant by “cause” and “effect”? In Buddhism it is taught that whenever something happens, no matter what it is, it happens because there is a cause. There is no effect that occurs without a cause, even once in a million or billion cases. Everything that happens in this world, no matter how small it is, always has a particular cause. To put it simply, seeds not planted will never grow; seeds planted will never fail to grow. No flower would ever grow without a seed. Have you ever heard anyone say, “Wow! This flower grew out of nowhere, without a seed!” Do you think this can happen? No way! There is no effect that happens without a cause, and wherever there is a cause, an effect will always follow.
Certainly, there are cases where the causes are unknown. For example, we might not know the cause of an airplane crash in which the plane has sunk to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. However, the cause being unknown and the cause being non-existent are two completely different things. Perhaps the crash happened because the airplane got into air turbulence, or because of an engine problem. In any case, an airplane crash occurred because there was a cause.
Alternatively, we may be walking down the street one day when we suddenly bump into an old school friend whom we haven’t seen for thirty years. Though we might think this happened “by chance,” this too is something that could not have happened without a cause, even if we don’t know what that cause was.
In this way, every single result that appears in this world has a cause. So what about our fate? What is the relationship between the cause and the effect of our happiness? Buddhism teaches about this matter, which is what concerns us the most, in particular detail.
3. My karma, my harvest
How is our fate determined? There is a Buddhist phrase that solves this mystery: “My karma, my harvest.” “Karma” means “deeds,” and “harvest” means the results or fate that we receive. In other words, then, the deeds that we do are what create our fate. Whatever happens to us is generated by the seeds we have sown. Many people believe our fate is created by some sort of god. Other people believe that disasters and misfortune fall upon us because of a curse from our ancestors or because of evil spirits. Then there are people who believe that our fate is determined by the lines in our palms. However, Buddhism denies all of these; these things are not what determine our destiny, Buddhism teaches. It is, rather, the deeds that we do that create our fate.
A well-known saying that essentially means the same thing as “My karma, my harvest” is “You reap what you sow.” Although this phrase tends to be used in a negative sense, like when someone is suffering due to their own actions, according to Buddhism it can be correctly used to describe cases when people gain positive results too. For instance, if someone wins a Nobel Prize, that happened as a result of that person’s own efforts, so they too are “reaping what they have sown.” Their own karma—meaning their own actions—brought about their own harvest—meaning their own results.
This also applies to winning an Olympic medal. The person earned this prize as a result of long, hard training, so they are “reaping what they have sown” as well. If someone successfully gains a qualification, it is because of their own efforts in studying hard and passing their exam. Since this result was also brought about by their own deeds, this is another example of someone “reaping what they have sown.” Their own karma brought about their own result. Whether good or bad, whatever happens to us is generated by the seeds we have sown. This is what Buddhism teaches.
4. Good causes produce good effects. Bad causes produce bad effects. My causes produce my effects.
Regarding the relationship between cause and effect, Sakyamuni Buddha taught the following: “Good causes produce good effects. Bad causes produce bad effects. My causes produce my effects.”
“Good causes produce good effects” means that good seeds bring good results. “Bad causes produce bad effects” means that bad seeds bring bad results. A bad result will never come from a good seed, just as a good result will never come from a bad seed. To put it simply, if radish seeds are sown, radishes will grow. If watermelon seeds are sown, watermelons will grow. Watermelons would never grow from radish seeds, just as radishes would never grow from watermelon seeds. Nothing will grow but the seeds that were sown. A farmer who is planting radish seeds would never say, “I wonder what will grow from these seeds.” Likewise, if you see watermelons are starting to grow, you would never say, “I wonder what seeds I planted at that time.”
When we know what we have planted, we know what will grow in the future. By the same token, if we examine what has grown, we will know what seeds we planted in the past. As you sow, so shall you reap.
Next, what is meant by the last line: “my causes produce my effects”? It means that if I plant the seeds, I am the one who must reap the results. It is taught that we would never reap the results of the seeds planted by others. In the same way, the results of the seeds that I plant would never go to another person. Here, what is meant by “seeds” is our “actions.” What is meant by “results” is our “fate.” If I study hard for an exam, I am the one who will get a better score. If we thought our efforts would improve the score of someone else, nobody would study hard. If you drink too much alcohol, you are the one who will get drunk and get hurt. The person who is sitting next to you would never become intoxicated out of your consumption of alcohol. If the old lady sitting next to you gets pizza stuck in her throat, there is no way that you would choke and suffer as a result.
“Good causes produce good effects. Bad causes produce bad effects. My causes produce my effects.” This means that a good fortune or happiness is brought about by good actions, and a bad fortune or unhappiness is generated by bad actions. Whether good or bad, whatever happens to us is generated by the seeds we have sown. This is what Buddhism teaches.
5. The false teaching of fatalism
There is a fairly common idea that “destiny is something that is fixed at birth.” But some two thousand six hundred years ago, Shakyamuni completely rejected all such ideas as “the false teaching of fatalism.” The reason is that if our destiny is already set, then all our efforts and hard work become meaningless, and the will to make an effort disappears. For example, if it was already determined that we were going to fail an exam, then it would only be possible for us to fail no matter how hard we studied. If, on the other hand, it was already determined that we were going to pass an exam, it would only be possible for us to pass even if we didn’t bother studying at all.
The idea that everything that happens to us is determined at birth makes us weak and listless, since it means that nothing we do has any effect. Shakyamuni rejects this idea, declaring instead, “Our destiny can be radically changed through our own actions.” In actuality, even those who say that everything is predetermined study the night before a test because they believe that the act of studying may change the outcome of the next day’s test. If they get sick, they go to the hospital because they believe that the act of receiving treatment there will aid in their recovery. They go to their place of work, even though they may find it unpleasant to do so, because they do not want to be fired. They believe that going to work and doing their jobs well will ensure the security of their livelihood.
If our destiny is already fixed, then the results will be the same whether we study or not, go to the hospital or not, and do our jobs well or not. Everything we do would be meaningless. But no one lives his or her life that way. Everyone believes that his or her actions now will affect tomorrow. And that is absolutely true.
6. Karma of the body, the mouth, and the mind
In Buddhism, it is taught that our deeds are what create our destiny. The Sanskrit word meaning ‘deeds’ is one you might have heard before: ‘karma’.
The deeds that we do are divided into three categories: the deeds of the body, the deeds of the mouth, and the deeds of the mind. Together, these are called the ‘three karmas of the body, mouth, and mind’. The ‘karma of the body’ includes actions like walking and running, carrying luggage, and doing the cleaning. It also includes actions like stealing and killing. The ‘karma of the mouth’ means the action of speech. This includes deeds like praising others, scolding others, spreading rumours about others, and bad-mouthing others. Whatever words may come out of your mouth, it all counts as ‘karma of the mouth’.
The ‘karma of the mind’ means the action of thought. This includes thinking of things like getting something to eat, how we can make money, how much we hate a certain someone, that we want to gain recognition, or that we’d like to sleep. Whatever thoughts may appear in your mind, these all count as ‘karma of the mind’.
Of the three karmas, Buddhism places the most importance on the mind. Why is this? It is because the mind is the source of all actions. If we do something with our bodies, it is because the thought to do so arose in our minds. If we say something with our mouths, it is also because the thought to do so arose in our minds. Most people think that it’s fine to have any thoughts they wish to have as long as they don't manifest in actions that harm others—and so thoughts are left to run rampant. But Buddhism teaches us that if you give a score of 1 to the workings of the mouth and a score of 1 to the workings of the body, then the mind receives a score of 2. In other words, our thoughts have twice as much importance as our words and actions. Yet despite this, most people don’t pay attention to their thoughts, believing only the words and deeds they say and do outwardly to have any importance. Buddhism stresses that our thoughts count as deeds of the mind, and that they too will produce results that you yourself will receive.
In this way, every day we are planting seeds with our minds, mouths, and bodies, and this creates our own fate. So what kind of deeds will create a happy fate for us? Sakyamuni Buddha taught that there are good deeds that anyone can do. I would like to talk about these next.
7. Seven types of nonmaterial giving
We are all living to seek happiness, and Buddhism teaches that if we plant good seeds, we will gain the good results that we want. But what counts as a ‘good seed’? What kind of deeds should we do in order to create a happy fate? To this, Sakyamuni Buddha answered that we should focus on giving. It is taught that there are seven acts of giving that can be carried out freely by anyone, as long as they have the intention of giving. These are called the ‘seven types of nonmaterial giving’: seven ways in which we can give even if we don’t have any money or other material things to give. These are as follows:
The gift of a kindly gaze
The gift of a peaceful, friendly look
The gift of kind speech
Giving through the body
The gift of the heart
Giving one’s place to others
The gift of shelter
The first, “the gift of a kindly gaze,” means having a warm, gentle look in your eyes and easing the minds of people around you by doing so. They say “the eyes can speak” and “the eyes are the mirror of soul.” As these proverbs show, nothing can express such complex shades of meaning as the human eye. A peaceful light in the eyes does a great deal to calm and encourage others. “The gift of a peaceful, friendly look” means wearing a gentle smile when interacting with others. When people encounter a pure, innocent smile, for a moment they forget their cares and feel life is worth living. Smiles calm the atmosphere and smooth prickly relationships.
“The gift of kind speech” means saying nice things. If a colleague is looking a little pale, some might say to them, “Are you okay? I hope you get well soon,” while others might say coldly, “Ugh, have you got a cold? Then don’t come near me.” Which of these two responses do you think will make the colleague feel better? The answer is quite obvious. When we have a close relationship, like with a spouse, parent, child, or friend, we tend to take the person for granted and forget to say nice things to them. We might even accidentally hurt them badly by carelessly joking around. So when it comes to people we are close with, we should make sure to take extra care to be considerate towards them and say nice things to them.
“Giving through the body” means doing physical labor for others or for society. This is physical labor done without pay. Let’s say someone you know has put a large waste basket in their car. This is because they want to pick up any rubbish they find on the road. Most people would think, “Well, someone’s going to pick it up anyway, so why go to that trouble?” and leave it for someone else to deal with, but this person has asked themselves, “Isn’t there something I can do about this?” This kind of attitude is something we should seek to emulate.
“The gift of the heart” means saying heartfelt thanks. “Thank you”: there is no telling how much these two words do to make the world a brighter place that is easier to live in. When life is hard, it’s difficult to keep up feelings of gratitude. But if we try to be mindful about saying “thank you” for things that people do for us, we will actually start to notice things to be grateful for that we might not even have thought about before. Though our lives might not be perfect, we have warm beds to sleep in and enough food to eat. Not everybody gets to enjoy these things each day, so it’s definitely something we shouldn’t take for granted. When we start to see all the things around us that we can say “thank you” for, our lives become happier and more fulfilling.
“Giving one’s place to others” means kindly giving up your place or seat. People fight each other for seats on trains and buses and trample all over each other in hopes of gaining power. In a world like this, being accommodating to others is a type of kindness that can make a major positive difference.
Finally, “the gift of shelter” means kindly granting a visitor or needy person shelter and a meal. I think you can see that in this way, as long as we have the intention of giving, all of us, even people who own nothing, can perform acts of giving anywhere, anytime. All it takes to make a difference is a kind look, a smile, kind words, expressions of heartfelt gratitude, or little acts of service. Putting this into practice not only makes others happy, but makes us happy too. If we plant good seeds like these, flowers of happiness will bloom for us.
Maybe you’re thinking, “What?! Can such tiny little seeds really bring us happiness? Don’t we need to do something greater than that if we want to create a happy fate?” But there is a story about Sakyamuni Buddha that shows us just how much power even the tiniest of seeds can hold.
8. The banyan tree (Even a huge tree starts from a tiny seed)
A poor woman once gave Sakyamuni Buddha a handful of parched barley flour. He said to her, “This good deed will eventually bring you enlightenment.” However, the woman’s husband turned on Sakyamuni Buddha, saying, “That’s ridiculous! There's no way such a trivial offering could bring such a great reward.” Then the Buddha asked him, “What is something that you think is rare?” The man answered, “I’d say that banyan tree. It’s so big that we can tie more than five hundred carriages to it.”
“Well then, the seed of such a big tree must be as big as a millstone, wouldn't you say?"
“Nothing like it. It's a quarter of the size of a poppy seed.”
“Indeed, no one believes such a small seed will grow to be such a giant tree.”
The man shot back, “Even if no one believes it, I saw it with my own eyes!”
Shakyamuni Buddha then solemnly said, “No matter how small one’s good deeds may be, they will be helped by good conditions and finally produce a wonderful result.”
After this skillful teaching, the couple became the Buddha’s disciples at once. Just as a tiny seed can become an enormous tree, our deeds have tremendous power to bring about results.
9. Seeds not planted will never grow; seeds planted will never fail to grow.
When things don’t go as we wish and troubles and failures mount up, we feel like throwing in the towel, asking why such things happen only to us, and concluding that our best efforts are useless.
But although we might think that “sometimes our efforts just don’t pay off,” Sakyamuni Buddha taught that no effort is ever wasted. He said, “Seeds not planted will never grow; seeds planted will never fail to grow. Every deed that you do will always bring about results for you.” Even if results don’t appear immediately, our deeds generate an invisible potential energy, so results that correspond to the type of deeds that we did will appear eventually. If we follow the Law of Cause and Effect and keep making an effort whether people can see it or not, we can improve ourselves as people.
Some people may think that it is fine for them to use lies and deception to get the results they want, but even if it’s not obvious immediately, bad seeds like these can only bring bad results on their heads.
Seeds not planted will never grow; seeds planted will never fail to grow. If we understand this principle well, we will know it is wrong to think that we can do whatever bad deed we want as long as we don’t get caught. We will also realize that none of the effort we put into life truly goes to waste.
10. “Other cause, my effect”
* The thief blames the rope that binds him.
* The burning cart
The Law of Cause and Effect is very logical, and anyone would nod along when hearing about it. “Good causes produce good effects, bad causes produce bad effects, and my causes produce my effects? Oh, that makes sense.” It seems like such an easy concept to grasp, and when we hear it we assume that we have fully understood it. Yet since we are conceited, we are each certain that we practice good and not evil. When good results come to us, it is easy for us to agree with the Law of Cause and Effect, but when we face any kind of disaster or misfortune, we complain, “Why me? What have I done to deserve this?” We then start pointing the finger at others, saying things like “It’s all his fault!” or “She’s to blame!” But blaming others for the results one receives in this way is saying that “others’ causes produce my effects.” It is saying that it was someone else’s deeds, and not my own deeds, that created my results. But that never happens.
It’s like the old saying: “The thief blames the rope that binds him.” In the old days thieves were bound with rope. Since he is tied up tightly, the thief can’t move freely, so he blames the rope. “This rope is the cause of my suffering. Without it, I’d be free!”
What do you think about that? You probably think he’s a fool. After all, what got him tied up was his own actions, was it not? If he hadn’t committed the crime of stealing, he wouldn’t have been caught by authorities and restrained with the rope. Blaming the rope for his misfortune, then, is silly. All the rope in the world wouldn’t bother him if he didn’t steal. Yet the thief has no idea of how foolish he is being. He has no inkling that it was his own actions that put him in this situation. When we blame others for our misfortune—saying things like “It’s all his fault!” or “She’s to blame!”—it makes us just like the thief blaming the rope!
There is a poem that goes:
“There is no carpenter
That builds the burning cart
It is you that builds it
And you that rides it”
The ‘burning cart’ is a metaphor for a painful situation. It is not someone else that builds this cart—we ourselves plant bad seeds, and we ourselves must face the consequences for doing so.
“But hang on,” you may protest, “What if I don’t remember planting any bad seeds?” Certainly you might not remember planting any bad seeds, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t plant them. If you are harvesting bad results, you must have planted bad seeds at some point, even if you don’t remember it. No result ever comes about without a cause.
If instead of realizing this we put the blame on others and sit and stew in resentment towards them, there’s no way we can feel at peace inside. It’s only when we finally recognise that “my causes produce my effects”—meaning it was our own deeds that caused the situation—that our pain fades away.
11. The mechanism of fate
* Karmic power
* Cherry blossoms on Mt. Yoshino
How is our fate decided? To this question, Buddhism answers, “Good causes produce good effects. Bad causes produce bad effects. My causes produce my effects.” This is Sakyamuni Buddha’s statement that teaches the causality of happiness: that which we want to know the most.
“Good causes produce good effects” means that good seeds bring good results. “Bad causes produce bad effects” means that bad seeds bring bad results. “My causes produce my effects” means that it is the deeds that I do that create my fate, whether fortunate or unfortunate. So what exactly is it that leads to our deeds creating a happy fate or an unhappy fate? How does it work? Sakyamuni Buddha taught that all of the deeds that we do with our minds, mouths, and bodies generate invisible potential energy that is stored within us and will never disappear. In Buddhism, another word for deeds is “karma.” Therefore, the indestructible energy generated by our deeds is called ‘karmic energy’, ‘karmic power’, or ‘karmic seeds’. This karmic energy forms the causes that bring about the results we receive.
However, causes cannot bring about results all on their own. Before a cause can create a result, it has to combine with the appropriate conditions. Only when the right conditions are present can our karmic energy take effect and bring about our fate.
In order to understand how causes and conditions work together to produce an effect, let us consider the example of rice. The cause of rice is rice seeds. However, rice seeds won’t just grow into rice plants on their own. They need something to help them grow. If you try sowing rice seeds on a carpet or a block of ice, do you think they would grow then? Of course they wouldn’t! That is because the seeds have not been put in the right conditions in order to grow.
Seeds need sunshine, water, soil, the right temperature, and so on. These are all “conditions.” Only when both the cause of rice seeds and the right conditions come together will rice grow as a result.
In the same way, it is when our invisible karmic energy combines with the right conditions that we receive a visible result. Let’s look at an old Japanese poem to explore this concept further.
Year after year
cherry blossoms bloom again
on Mt. Yoshino.
Split the tree and look inside—
where are all the flowers?
Mt. Yoshino in Nara Prefecture, Japan, is famous as a spot where people can go to see beautiful cherry blossoms. Every spring, the mountain is covered with trees in full blossom. But go there in winter, and there’s nothing but withered-looking trees.
So where do the blossoms come from? They’re hidden inside the trees! … But not in a form that you can see. So even if you chop up a tree hoping to find the cherry blossoms, you won't find anything at all.
You see, the blossoms are formed by an invisible energy within the trees. When this power (the cause) combines with warm spring weather (the condition), the flowers blossom (the effect). Just like the energy that forms cherry blossoms, karmic power is invisible too, but when it combines with the right conditions, that produces our fate. Good karmic power produces happiness, and bad karmic power produces disasters and misfortune.
Sometimes we might find that even though we’ve been planting seeds, the results we’d hoped for don’t seem to be appearing. This does not mean that the seeds we planted have vanished into thin air. Even if, for instance, the good deeds we’ve done have gone unnoticed, each one of them generates invisible karmic energy. This remains within us until finally the right conditions come along for it to take effect. Once this happens, then at last we will reap good results.
Bad deeds work in the same way. For example, if we shoplift, we might be able to do the deed without alerting the attention of the staff—but shoplifting is still a bad deed that will generate invisible karmic energy. This means that once the right conditions come along, we will have to face a bad result.
Whatever seeds we sow, we have to reap—and there is no exception to this.
12. Honesty does not pay?
* Three kinds of karmic causation ［Right away, after some time, long afterward］
* ‘Like cause, like effect’ and ‘different cause, different effect’
There is a saying that “honesty doesn’t pay.” This means that cunning liars get what they want, while honest people have to suffer and lose out.
We probably don’t have to think hard to recall examples where this seems to be true. Are there not people in this world who do good things yet have to go through terrible misfortune, or who do bad things yet never get caught and seem to have all they want in life? Yet as we’ve heard, the Law of Cause and Effect teaches that good causes produce good effects and bad causes produce bad effects. If this is what the Law of Cause and Effect teaches but there are cases where bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people, does it mean that sometimes there are exceptions to the Law of Cause and Effect?
The answer is no: there is no exception to the Law of Cause and Effect. So why does this happen? Sakyamuni Buddha taught something that clears up this mystery: “There are actions that ripen quickly and those that ripen slowly.”
In Buddhism our deeds are divided into three kinds of karmic causation. There is the kind that produces effects right away, the kind that produces effects after some time, and the kind that produces effects long afterward. In terms of the previous example of crops, the first kind is like rice, which ripens right away; the second is like barley, which ripens one year later; and the third is like peaches and chestnuts, which ripen after three years, or like persimmons, which ripen after eight.
Although there is variation in how quickly or slowly our seeds will ripen, each and every one of them will bring about a result without exception. If you oversleep, turn up late to work, and get scolded for it, that is the immediate result of the seeds you have planted. If a member of parliament is found to have committed some injustice in the past and loses their position, it means that the bad seeds they planted some years ago have brought about results now. Diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and strokes are also said to be greatly influenced by the lifestyle choices one makes in one’s youth. Even if the results of the seeds one plants in one’s teen years and twenties do not appear right away, as one grows older, the effects of these seeds on one’s health will become more and more apparent.
Causes always bring about results. Whether or not someone sees what you do is irrelevant—the unbending Law of Cause and Effect always holds true. You will never face bad results due to doing a good deed, or gain good results from doing a bad deed.
There is another concept that you need to know in order to properly understand the Law of Cause and Effect. Sakyamuni Buddha taught that the seeds we sow grow in two different ways.
The first is ‘like cause, like effect’. This means that the results that come about are of the same nature as the seeds we sowed.
For instance, if you hit somebody, you’ll get hit back, or if you speak badly of someone, someone else will speak badly of you.
There are various proverbs and poems that speak of this concept. For instance:
“A child who abandons their parents
Will in turn
Be abandoned by them”
“Call, and it will call back.
Fail to call, and it will not call you – the echo!
So show a smiling face,
and then everyone will smile.”
Just as these say, one who fails to respect other people will not be respected by others, and one who does not treat others well will not be treated well by others. If you give love and appreciation to others, other people will do the same for you.
The second way in which our seeds grow is ‘different cause, different effect’. Like the name suggests, this is when the nature of the effect is different from the nature of the cause.
For example, if you speak badly of someone, you may lose your wallet, or if you commit theft, your house may burn down. When things like this happen, the relationship between the cause and effect isn’t quite as clear-cut.
Sometimes we might wonder, “Why is this happening to me? I haven’t done anything wrong!” It’s likely that when we find ourselves in situations like this, we are experiencing a case of ‘different cause, different effect’. It’s actually much more common for us to experience cases of ‘different cause, different effect’ than cases of ‘like cause, like effect’. But whether the effects we receive are the same in nature as the causes or different, good causes will still bring good effects and bad causes will still bring bad effects—nothing changes about this. Therefore, bad results will never come from planting good seeds, and good results will never come from planting bad seeds.
There is never a time when “honesty doesn’t pay.” Our efforts will also never go to waste.
When we know the Law of Cause and Effect, we no longer give in to apathy or resignation. Instead, we reflect on the past and put all our energy into creating a better future for ourselves.
13. Isn't this "other cause, my effect"?
* A bad husband
* A car accident
* 100 elephants
It is taught that there is not a single exception to the Law of Cause and Effect. However, there are cases in which it might seem that it was not one’s own cause that brought about one’s own effect, but someone else’s cause. Does this mean there actually are exceptions to the Law of Cause and Effect? Well, let us consider the following example.
There is a married woman who very diligently takes care of the housework and the children and who is well-liked by everyone in the neighbourhood. However, her husband doesn’t do any work, drinks alcohol all afternoon, and gambles away his wife’s hard-earned money. This makes life really hard for the woman.
Many people would probably think, “Her suffering is all his fault! This is clearly a case of ‘other’s cause, own effect’!” Certainly, the woman’s husband is a bad man, and it’s not unreasonable to think that she wouldn’t be suffering if it wasn’t for him.
But let’s step back and think about it for a moment. There are plenty of men in this world, many of whom are kind and hard-working. So why is it that out of all the men in this world, this woman ended up marrying this particular man? No matter how awful he is, if she hadn’t married him, she wouldn’t be suffering so much. Of all people, she chose HIM to fall in love with. No-one forced her to fall in love with him; falling in love with him was her own deed.
The seed that made the woman fall in love with this man was a ‘karmic cause’ that she herself had created in a past life. Therefore, this too is a case of “my cause, my effect.”
But wait! Does that mean that the husband isn’t at all responsible for her suffering? Isn’t this just excusing what the husband is doing? Well actually, no. Let me explain why.
You see, a cause cannot bring about an effect without the right conditions. In this case, the husband’s bad behavior is the condition that combines with the woman’s karmic cause to create the effect of the woman’s suffering. Without that condition, the woman’s karmic cause could not bring about that result. Therefore, since the husband is the condition that leads to her suffering, he is doing something awful. He needs to straighten up so he won’t be a bad condition for her anymore.
So then, while the husband is the bad condition, meaning that he is indeed in the wrong for his behavior, the cause is in the woman herself. This cause is the karmic energy created by the deeds that she herself did in the past. This is why we can say that this too is a case of “my cause, my effect.”
Let us consider another example.
Person A is driving home one day when suddenly, Person B’s car comes flying out from a little side-road. Person B’s car then crashes into the side of Person A’s car, leaving Person A with serious injuries.
When something like this happens, it’s pretty normal for people to think, “That was completely Person B’s fault! Person A didn’t do anything wrong.” This really seems like a case of “other’s cause, my effect” and not “my cause, my effect.” But actually, that’s not true; this too is a case of “my cause, my effect.” Why is this?
Of course, Person A’s car was not the only one to ever drive down this road. Many cars had driven down the road before Person A, and many more cars would drive down the road after Person A. Yet it was only Person A’s car that was involved in the collision with Person B’s car.
If Person A had been driving down the road just a few seconds earlier or later, they could have avoided the crash. So why is it that out of all the cars that had been or would be on that road, it was only Person A’s car that got into an accident? That is because it was only Person A who had the cause within them to make them be there at that precise moment when Person B’s car came speeding out. This cause was a ‘karmic seed’ that Person A themselves had created.
Karmic seeds hold an incredibly strong power, which is why they are also called ‘karmic power’. Śākyamuni Buddha taught that karmic power is even stronger than 100 large elephants. To modernize this comparison, one could say that karmic power is even stronger than over 100 bulldozers. Drawn by this karmic power, Person A ended up being involved in the accident.
So does this mean that Person B is not at fault for driving recklessly? No, it does not. Since Person B has provided the bad condition for Person A’s karmic power to bring about a bad result, Person B has done something wrong and should be dealt with by the police. Person B needs to be given the appropriate punishment so that they can learn to properly follow driving safety laws.
14. The importance of conditions
* A true master of Buddhism
* Carbon and diamonds
* The strong power of Amida's Vow
How important are conditions? Let us examine this.
Every aspect of our fate is decided by the combination of the deeds that we ourselves have done and a condition. It is important that we make sure to plant good seeds and choose good conditions. Master Shinran taught the following on the topic of conditions:
“We should stay away from those incline to detrimental behavior. Refrain from such people. Keep your distance. You must not be close to such people. Stay close to true Buddhist teachers and fellow followers. Get close to them.”
Simply put, he was saying, “Stay away from people who do bad things. Stay close to and befriend true Buddhist teachers and fellow followers.”
If you get close to bad conditions, you will be pulled towards bad things and be gradually more and more negatively influenced. Therefore, we should avoid bad conditions. Instead, we should befriend and stay as close as possible with people who encourage goodness and disapprove of bad deeds.
A “true Buddhist teacher” is someone who teaches Buddhism correctly. “Fellow followers” are Buddhist friends who learn about the Law of Cause and Effect and are moving forward towards Amida Buddha’s Pure Land.
If you go to places where Buddhism is being taught, you will be blessed with wonderful conditions and flowers of happiness will bloom.
A result can change drastically depending on the conditions. Let’s take the example of carbon.
There is an inexhaustible supply of carbon on this Earth. If a normal amount of heat and pressure is applied to it, it forms coal—an extremely cheap material. But if intense heat and pressure are applied to it, carbon can form diamonds, the hardest material on Earth and one of the most valuable.
Although the cause is the same in both cases, the results are astonishingly different because of the different conditions.
Though we may think our lives dull and uninteresting, under the right conditions, our lives can shine boundlessly. This is what Master Shinran taught.
In his masterwork Teaching, Practice, Faith, Enlightenment, Master Shinran called the condition that has the immense power to fill our lives with great joy the “strong condition of the vast-reaching Vow.” “The vast-reaching Vow” is the promise made by Amida Buddha to save all people into absolute happiness without fail. To hear about this Vow of Amida is a great condition—and Master Shinran taught that it is the most powerful condition for us to become truly happy.
The conclusion of all guidance based on the Law of Cause and Effect is to “discard the bad and practice the good.” You might think “discarding the bad and practicing the good” sounds simple enough. But is it? Let us examine this concept more closely.
15. Discard the bad and practice the good
* The monk Bird's Nest
* Six good deeds
There is a story that goes like this.
Once in China there was a monk called Bird’s Nest who liked to meditate high up in a tree.
One day Bai Juyi, famous as a poet and a scholar of Confucianism, passed under the tree.
Amused by the curious sight of the monk, Bai Juyi decided to have a bit of fun at his expense.
“Hey, up there!” he called out, “Isn’t it dangerous to sit in a high tree with your eyes closed??”
Bird’s Nest immediately shot back, “It is you that is in danger!”
Sensing that this may be an exceptional monk, Bai Juyi said, “I am the insignificant Bai Juyi. Might I ask your name, good monk?”
“I am the insignificant monk Bird’s Nest.”
“Ah!” thought Bai Juyi, “So I am addressing the famous Master Bird’s Nest?” It so happened that Bai Juyi had long been interested in Buddhism. He therefore asked Bird’s Nest a question:
“I am happy to meet you! Tell me one thing, if you will: in a nutshell, what is it that Buddhism teaches?”
Bird’s Nest said right away, “Refrain from all forms of evil, and pursue good. This is Buddhism.”
Bai Juyi was taken aback for a moment before he started laughing condescendingly. “Even a three-year-old child knows that!”
But Bird’s Nest thundered, “An infant of three knows it, but even an old man of eighty finds it hard to carry out!”
The teaching that runs through all of Buddhism is the Law of Cause and Effect. “Good causes produce good effects, bad causes produce bad effects, my causes produce my effects.” In all times and all places, this principle always holds true.
If we practice in accordance with this Law, we will naturally“quit doing bad deeds and do good deeds.” In Buddhism, this is taught as “discarding the bad and practicing the good.”
All people fear misfortune and seek out good fortune. So how do we gain good fortune? Buddhism teaches that we should take to heart the universal truth that is the Law of Cause and Effect and so refrain from bad deeds and strive to do good deeds. This teaching is that of “discarding the bad and practicing the good.”
So then, what seeds should be planted? Sakyamuni Buddha’s teachings recommended many kinds of good deeds. However, there are so many kinds of “good” that when they are placed side by side, we often hesitate about what we should do. Just like when you go shopping, you only plan on buying one outfit but there are hundreds of outfits lined up, all catching your eyes and making it difficult to choose. At such a time, the shop assistant will take the lead and set out several items to make your selection easier.
In order for us to easily practice good deeds, Sakyamuni Buddha summarized the various kinds of good into six categories. These are called the “Six Paramitas.” Alternatively, we can simply call them the “Six Good Deeds.” These are the following:
Discipline (Keeping promises)
These Six Good Deeds sum up all of the countless good deeds that Sakyamuni Buddha taught.
It is taught that if we focus on practicing one of these good deeds to the best of our ability, we will end up practicing all six: this is the distinguishing feature of the Six Good Deeds.
Within these Six Good Deeds, giving is the easiest for us to practice. That is why Sakyamuni Buddha placed it first.
Let us learn about this in more detail.
16. Giving［Material giving］
* A poor person's one light outshines a millionaire's 10,000.
* The three things to be forgotten
* The three fields
* The poorer you are, the more you should give.
* Do good deeds right away.
“Giving” means being generous. In other words, showing kindness. There are two kinds of giving: “material giving” and “Dharma giving.”
“Material giving” means helping people and making them happy by giving them money or other resources. But what if you haven’t got enough resources or money to give to people? Well, it is taught that the value of giving doesn’t depend on the amount. Giving is a good deed no matter how much you offer. What matters most is what’s in your heart.
Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, when Sakyamuni Buddha was still alive, there was a poor woman called Nanda. The people of her town would offer lamps to Sakyamuni, and Nanda found herself wanting to offer a lamp too.
One day she received a bit of money from a compassionate person and went straight to an oil seller. But the oil seller was not impressed with the amount of money she was offering. “You want to buy enough oil for one lamp?! Don’t waste my time. This isn’t nearly enough.”
Wanting desperately to fulfill her wish, Nanda pleaded with the man, saying she would sell her precious hair so she could buy the oil.
At this, he was taken aback. “Why would you want oil that much??” he asked her. She then explained she intended to offer it to Sakyamuni Buddha, which impressed the man greatly. “Well, well!” he said, “In that case, you just pay whatever you have, and I will make up the difference.” And so Nanda was able to offer a lamp to Sakyamuni Buddha just as she had so wanted to do. How happy she was!
Many other people had offered lamps to Sakyamuni, and the place where they left the lamps glowed warmly with thousands of lights. Yet out of all the lamps there, Nanda’s burned the brightest. The other lamps burned through the night, but in the morning they all died out. Only Nanda’s light kept shining.
Buddha’s disciple Maudgalyayana tried to put it out, but he couldn’t. Baffled, he went to Sakyamuni and asked, “Lord Buddha, what could be the meaning of this?”
Buddha replied, “You lack the power to extinguish that candle. You might pour the waters of the seven seas on it, and still it would burn on. That is because it was the sincere donation of a poor woman named Nanda. In the midst of her poverty, she offered her very best.”
Though of course it was virtuous of the many wealthy people to offer lamps to Sakyamuni, it was all the more virtuous for a poor person such as Nanda to make such a heartfelt effort to give.
From this story comes the saying, “A poor person’s one light outshines a millionaire’s 10,000.”
The merit of giving does not depend on the amount you offer. What matters is what’s in your heart.
Next, let us learn something important about the mindset we should have while giving. The Buddha teaches us that there are three things we should forget whenever we do an act of kindness: firstly, that we are the ones who did this deed; secondly, that we did the deed for this person; and thirdly, that what we have done is a good deed.
Why is this? If we don’t forget these things and instead hold them in our memory, then even though we have still done a good deed, we will start thinking bad thoughts. “Ugh! I went to all that trouble and they hardly seem grateful at all.” “Just when do they intend on saying thank you??” “Wow, even after I gave them that expensive present they never returned the favor.” We get angry and resentful, feeling like we deserve some reward for our act of kindness.
So let us forget these three things: that I did a good deed for this person. The more thoroughly we forget these, the more meritorious our acts of giving will be.
Something we should be careful of when we do acts of kindness is what kind of good deed we are doing for what kind of person. If you just direct your kindness and generosity to anyone, you may end up causing more trouble than good.
For example, if you give money to someone with loose morals, it’ll probably just encourage them to keep up their bad behavior and never change their ways. Or if you help a thief, then however kind your intentions, that is wrong.
In Buddhism, the recipient of an act of giving is called a “field of fortune.” It means a field where good fortune grows. Plant seeds in a field and a crop will soon grow, ripening into life-sustaining food. In the same way, if we practice sincere acts of giving, we will definitely reap good results.
Buddha taught that there are three fields of fortune, which are simply called the “three fields.” These are the field of respect, the field of gratitude, and the field of compassion.
First, the “field of respect” refers to people who have virtue that should be respected.
The “field of gratitude” refers to people to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. All of us are on the receiving end of kindness from all sorts of people. Try to think about who you owe a debt of gratitude to. First is the debt of gratitude we owe towards Buddha and the teachers who convey Buddhism to us. And as you know, we owe a lot to our parents. They gave us life and raised us. Sakyamuni Buddha encouraged us to try to pay back those we owe so much, in a spirit of gratitude.
Last is the “field of compassion”—people who deserve our sympathy. This means people who are suffering, like disaster victims and the sick. It’s important to help those who are suffering and in distress. We must do all we can to extend charity to them.
Giving money and other gifts to people makes them happy. But when we give things away, doesn’t it mean we are losing something? Let’s look to the Law of Cause and Effect for our answer.
The Law of Cause and Effect says that “good causes produce good effects” and “my causes produce my effects.” Therefore, the one who gains from an act of giving is actually the giver themselves. We can see this from the following story.
Once upon a time, Sakyamuni Buddha and his disciples went out to collect alms. Before long, the road forked in two directions. When Sakyamuni started walking on the left side, one of his disciples questioned this decision.
“Lord Buddha, I’m terribly sorry, but have you not mistaken the route? This road leads to a very poor area. It is so poor, in fact, that there was a famine recently and people starved to death. Even if we go alms-collecting in this village, no-one will be able to offer anything. But if we take the other road, we will arrive at a town full of wealthy landowners and merchants. Plenty of people will have something to give there.”
To this, Sakyamuni Buddha responded, “I have not mistaken the route. I know that this road passes through an impoverished village. Why have I taken this path? It is because it is the poor who need to give most of all.
“The reason why they are poor enough to starve to death in the present is that in their past lives they were greedy and did not cultivate the merit of giving. One who made great efforts to give will have been born into a wealthy household; one who made no efforts to give will have been born into poverty. Whichever the case, all people are receiving the results of their own deeds. If a poor person offers even a grain of rice, that accumulates merit, and so by doing this they can break out of their painful situation.
“‘A poor person’s one light outshines a millionaire’s 10,000’—the merit of giving does not depend on the amount you offer. What matters is what’s in your heart. So it is those who are suffering in poverty who most need to give.”
The disciples nodded deeply in assent.
We may understand that giving has great value. However, this doesn’t make it easy to do. This is because we’re full of desires. We want money, we want possessions, we want life to be easy and not stressful—and if our focus is on getting all these things we want, the act of giving to others gets pushed aside.
So how should we change our mindset to make it easier for us to give? Sakyamuni Buddha once told a story that demonstrates the answer.
Once upon a time, a man decided to invite a lot of people to a party.
“Hmm... what can I serve?” he wondered. “Oh! I have a cow, so I could serve milk!”
But one cow was not going to supply enough milk for them all, and if he milked the cow and stored the milk, it’d go bad. So what should he do? He pondered and pondered and pondered, until finally he gasped, “I know! I’ll keep the milk INSIDE the cow till I need it! I’m a genius!”
Soon the big day came, and all the guests arrived. The man happily trotted over to the barn, got a bucket, and started squeezing the cow’s udders. … But not a drop of milk came out. The cow’s milk had completely dried up. His guests were all eagerly awaiting the milk he had promised them, and the longer they were kept waiting, the more boisterous they became.
The man had no choice but to go back to his guests and confess what had happened. They all went home, disgusted and jeering.
After telling this story, Buddha explained, “I often hear people say they will do plenty of giving when they are better off… but such people are like the man in the story. Giving is impossible for them.”
If we wait before we give something, we never know what might happen that could leave us unable to give as we wanted. The thing we wanted to give may, for instance, get stolen by a thief or destroyed in a disaster. So instead of putting it off, we should do good deeds right away.
17. Giving ［Dharma giving］
One of the two main types of giving is ‘Dharma giving’.
‘Dharma giving’ means giving Buddhist teachings. In other words, to share Buddhism.
It is said that“material wealth is treasure for one lifetime; the Dharma is treasure for all eternity.” Sakyamuni Buddha taught that spreading Buddhism is planting seeds of happiness that are far greater than those of material giving. Money and possessions bring us temporary pleasure while we are alive, but when we die, we will have to part from all of them, so they cannot bring us true, lasting joy or satisfaction. Buddhist truth, on the other hand, leads to everlasting joy. So Sakyamuni Buddha taught that sharing Buddhism is a wonderful thing to do—even more wonderful than giving material things.
If you are unable to convey the teachings directly, then inviting someone to a place where Buddhism is taught is also considered Dharma giving. Also, if you donate money in order for it to be used in sharing Buddhism, this is combining both material giving and Dharma giving. Such a deed is of immeasurable merit.
18. Keeping promises
* The basis of trust lies in keeping a promise
The second of the Six Paramitas is discipline. Another way to put it could be “making your deeds match your words.” Always keep your promises.
We may stick to our word while others are watching us, but what do we do while no-one can see? It’s important to moderate what you say and do, and be conscientious—whether or not anyone is watching. If you do, you are sure to reap good results in the end.
People who keep breaking their promises will find that no-one trusts them anymore. Even if you don’t do it on purpose, if you keep someone waiting after the time when you were supposed to meet or fail to finish work by the deadline, you have broken your promise. When this happens, if all you have to say is, “Oh well, something came up so it couldn’t be helped,” you will definitely lose others’ trust.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you make a promise but it later turns out that you cannot keep it, offer a heartfelt apology. This is the kind of mindset we should always make sure to keep.
There is a story that teaches the importance of keeping one’s promises.
A young man was taking a walk one day when he came on a little girl dressed in shabby clothes. She was crouched by the side of the road and crying. In her hands were some broken pieces of pottery.
Gently he asked her what the trouble was. It seemed that she was an only child whose only parent was seriously ill. She had borrowed a one-liter jar from the landlord and was on her way to buy milk when she dropped the jar and smashed it. She was crying in fear of a scolding.
Feeling sorry for her, the youth pulled out his wallet and checked it, but he was a poor scholar, and the wallet was empty.
“Come back here tomorrow at the same time,” he told her. “I’ll give you the money for another jar of milk.” He shook hands with her and went on his way.
The following day he received an urgent message from a friend: “A wealthy man is here, someone interested in sponsoring your work. He’s leaving in the afternoon, so come right away.” Yet going to meet the rich man would have meant breaking his promise to the little girl.
The young man quickly sent this reply: “I have important business today. I apologize for the inconvenience, but I must ask him to return another day.” And he kept his promise to the child.
The rich man took offense at first, but on hearing why the scholar couldn’t meet with him that day, he was thoroughly impressed and became his most ardent supporter.
Rich people can be touchy and difficult to deal with. They tend to think that their money entitles them to have their way in everything. Even those who are not rich will all too often break any promise and bend any principle for the sake of money, becoming its slaves.
The Chinese character for “making money” is composed of elements that can be read “trusted person.” In other words, money comes to those who are worthy of trust. The basis of trust lies in keeping a promise regardless of its cost to oneself.
Promises that cannot be kept should not be made. He who breaks a promise not only inconveniences others but inflicts damage on himself.
19. Patience, effort
* “I wish this pass were higher and steeper.”
The third of the Six Good Deeds is “forbearance.” This means being patient and putting up with things.
We have a tendency to flare up with anger as soon as we have to deal with something we don’t like. But if we let our anger out right then and there, we end up hurting other people and ultimately just bring suffering on ourselves.
It is taught that if we instead control ourselves and bear the situation calmly, we are doing a very good deed.
The fourth of the Six Paramitas is “diligence.” “Diligence” means putting in effort.
Here’s a story that shows us the importance of making an effort.
Long ago, there were two merchants who always crossed a narrow mountain pass with dry goods loaded on their backs.
One day, one of them plopped down on a rock by the roadside. “Exhausting, isn’t it?” he sighed. “Let’s rest for a while. You know, if only this pass weren’t so high, we could cross it easily and make more money.” He looked up at the steep pass and frowned.
“I disagree,” replied his companion. “In fact, I wish this pass were higher and steeper.”
“You do?” said the first man in astonishment. “Whatever for? Do you enjoy suffering? How strange!”
His companion explained, “If this pass were easy to cross, everybody would use it to do business, and our profits would go down; if it were higher and steeper, no one but us would cross it, and our business would prosper even more.”
Successful tradesmen must be not only astute in business, but bold in endeavor.
Success is the fruit of one’s effort. All that comes easily is poverty and shame. The harder the task, the more glorious the triumph.
20. Self-reflection, self-cultivation
* Change yourself, and others will follow
The fifth of the Six Paramitas, “contemplation,” means self-reflection.
When we receive bad results, we often start blaming others right away. “It’s all because he said that!” “It’s all because she did this!” But this doesn’t do us any good. What we should do instead is try to calm down and reflect carefully on ourselves.
There is a story that goes like this.
When the Zen priest Bankei was still in training, every night he would sit in meditation. One morning after meditating he was resting by a stable when a samurai came along to train his horse.
As Bankei watched them, it became clear to him that the horse was irritated and refusing to follow its rider’s commands. The samurai yelled at the animal and beat it.
Bankei shouted, “What do you think you’re doing!”
The samurai paid no attention, but only whipped the animal all the harder.
Bankei kept on shouting, until finally the samurai got off the horse and walked over to him.
“You have been scolding me for some time, I believe,” he said quietly. “If you have something to teach me, I am willing to listen.” His words were exceedingly polite, but it was clear that depending on what kind of answer he received, he might erupt in anger. Without hesitating, Bankei told him,
“It is foolish to blame only the horse for failing to listen to you. The horse has its own reasons. If you want it to listen, you must encourage it to do so. To do that, you must start with yourself. Do you understand?”
This was a humble and intelligent samurai, for he nodded, bowed, and left. Then, with a change of attitude, he got back onto his steed.
Sure enough, the horse too was now acting completely differently, and obediently followed his every command.
People constantly blame others for their own faults, and find no peace. The essential thing is to take an honest look at oneself and correct one’s own attitude. Do that, and others will change too. Your home life is guaranteed to be happier.
The last of the Six Good Deeds, “wisdom,” means looking clearly at the law of cause and effect and improving yourself. It sums up the other five.
To sum up: People who are kind to others and keep their promises, who exert themselves and make extra efforts, and who reflect on their actions, are certain to succeed. People who are unkind, who say one thing and do another, break their promises, blow up easily and do only what they want, and never reflect on their actions—they haven’t got a chance of success.
Remember, the law of cause and effect is universal truth. Do good things, and good results will be yours without fail.
It’s important to choose any of the Six Paramitas you feel you can do, and do them the best you can. Whoever does that is sure to reap the results.