The law of cause and effect permeates all of the more than 7,000 sutras in which Shakyamuni's teachings are all recorded, and is the foundation of Buddhism. A "cause" is a reason for something, and an "effect" is a result. Shakyamuni teaches that everything has a cause and that no effect ever comes about without a cause, even once in a million or billion cases. There are cases where we can't find the cause. For example, when a plane has sunk to the bottom of the ocean and the cockpit voice recorder cannot be retrieved, the cause of the accident is unknown. But it does not mean there is no cause. It is surely the result of a cause such as pilot error or engine trouble. All results, even those as small as falling down on a step and getting injured or losing a car key, have their respective causes, Shakyamuni teaches.
“Law” means the universal principle that permeates the three worlds and the ten directions. “The three worlds” are the past world, the present world, and the future world. “The ten directions" refers to North, South, East, West, the four points between these, and up and down. In Buddhism, only something that never changes regardless of time and place is called a "Law". There is no effect that happens without a cause; and wherever there is a cause, an effect will always follow. This is the truth that never changes regardless of time and place. Buddhism in particular teaches the relationship of cause and effect regarding our “destiny”, which is what we want to know the most. Shakyamuni clarified that the happiness and unhappiness (destiny) of a person are determined by his/her own deeds, and taught their relationship as follows:
Good causes produce good effects If you plant good seeds (do good deeds), good fruit (happiness)
Bad causes produce bad effects If you plant bad seeds (do bad deeds), bad fruit (unhappiness)
One’s own causes produce one’s own effects
The seeds that you have planted (deeds that you have done)
will cause your own fruits to grow (whether happiness or unhappiness).
Good deeds bring happiness without fail, and bad deeds cause suffering for sure. Whether one’s deeds are good or bad determines whether one becomes happy or unhappy. That means if we want to become happy, we should do good deeds. If we don’t want to suffer, we should try to refrain from doing bad deeds.
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If you pay somebody else to undergo rehabilitation in place of you just because it is hard, your body will not recover in that way. This is because we never receive the results caused by the deeds of other people. In addition, if we study ourselves, it is we, not others, who can get better results. Not a single deed that we do brings effects upon others. Shakyamuni teaches that everything we experience, whether happiness or unhappiness, is produced by our own deeds, and that there is no exception to this. The more deeply we understand this law of cause and effect, the harder we strive to “discard the bad and practice the good.”
What is a foundation? If we liken Buddhism to a tree, the law of cause and effect is likened to its roots and trunk, essential parts of a tree.
What is a “Law”? In Buddhism, only something that never changes regardless of time and place is called a "Law".