How Understanding Cause & Effect Can Change Your Life

You already understand cause and effect.

It’s a simple concept: you knock the glass off the table, it shatters on the floor. You knocked over the glass; now you have a mess to clean up.

That’s it, right?

On the simplest level, that’s it.

And yet millions of people persist in living every day as if these same laws did not apply to the rest of their lives: to their relationships, to their businesses, to their families.

This causes a lot of misunderstanding and suffering.

Grasping the totality of causality changes your life. It allows you to fashion your life into exactly what you’ve dreamed.

Not overnight, and not effortlessly, but eventually — and with certainty.

This is what I’d like to share with you today.

If you give trial to the ideas presented here — and I urge you not to discount them without giving it a fair trial for yourself — you’ll discover what I discovered: our lives are ruled by a system of cause and effect that is logical and completely at our disposal to create the types of experiences we want to have.

Understanding the laws of cause and effect allows to change our lives. Ignorance about the laws of cause and effect prevent us from getting what we want & need.

Shall we begin?

Why is my boss yelling at me?

One of the Buddhist concepts that I find most fruitful is the concept of the sankhara (sanskara in Hindu), which means roughly “imprints left in the subconscious mind by the experience of living.”

In Buddhism one is taught that all our reactions to all the things that happen to us — anger at getting cut off in traffic, delight at getting a promotion, even aversions to itches we have in the middle of the night — create these sankharas, and these are what later arise into the conscious mind to act as a lens through which we perceive reality.

These sankharas are just like the seeds of the banyan tree.

The seeds of the banyan tree are small, and yet from them grows the huge baryon, which may live for hundreds of years.

The tree produces fruit — thousands of pieces fruit over the course of each season.

And what is inside each of these thousand pieces of fruit? More seeds.

So, from a single seed (thought) come thousands upon thousands more seeds (thoughts) of the same type — from which spring the potential to grow thousands upon thousands more trees. (Deep-rooted, long-lived trees, mind you.)

I have read that the Buddhists believe that we plant sixty-five of these sankhara seeds per second.

That amounts to 234,000 seeds planted every hour, or 39 million seeds planted every week, or 2 billion seeds per year.

Think about that for a minute. (During which time 3,900 seeds will be planted. . .)

By now you are starting to get an idea of what’s at stake. What all this amounts to is that we are always mentally gardening for the future, whether we are intending to do so or not.

Now you know why the Buddhists place such a great emphasis on “right thought” and “right action” and “right speech” and all the rest! Everything, absolutely everything, is going into the soil of our subconscious mind, and we shall reap as we sow!

Not because of an authoritarian sky-god who is keeping track on stone tablets, but because of the laws of Nature, the law of Cause and Effect.

So why is your boss yelling at you?

It comes from a seed that was planted in your mind, maybe a very long time ago: a seed in which you perceived others to be angry at you, particularly those in authority over you. According to the laws of Cause & Effect, this impression you have of your boss yelling at you couldn’t have come from any other source.

In this metaphysics, nothing is accidental, nothing is random, and we all suffer in exact proportion to imprints we’ve made in the past, knowingly or unknowingly.

Now you may be tempted to cry out, “It’s not fair! I never did anything to deserve something this bad! I would have remembered it, surely!” But in the Buddhist metaphysics, your karma can flower from past lives — so you can’t expect to consciously remember the planting of this or that particular seed.

Your only remaining responsibility, then, is to prevent yourself from creating new, reactionary imprints that will cause the cycle of suffering to continue.

So, under this understanding, what is the appropriate response to your boss yelling at you?

(Remember, you are planting more seeds at the rate of sixty-five per second, and these seeds will create the garden of your future. So choose wisely.)

If you A) get into a screaming match with your boss, that’s planting some serious anger & violence seeds for the future. That’s also fertilizing the soil in the “anger & violence” part of your mind, making all the existing seeds that may be lurking in that area grow faster and stronger.

If you B) avoid getting angry, and instead calmly explain to your boss that it was an honest mistake and apologize, you are planting some serious peace & harmony seeds for the future. And, of course, fertilizing that “peace and harmony” soil. It’s going to help more harmonious seeds blossom in your future, and it’s also going to make it easier for you to keep your temper in the future.

You now understand why some Buddhists have called getting angry “drinking from the cup of acid” — however much it may hurt the other person, it hurts you just as much. “Hatred is like a poison which you inject into your veins, before injecting it into your enemy. It is throwing cow dung at another: you dirty your hands first, before you dirty others.” (Gems of Buddhist Wisdom, 1996.)

So this whole endeavor becomes very self-protective: you refuse to give into anger and hatred for your own sake, as much as for your brother’s.

The line in the sand

The Buddhists say that there are varying levels of depth of these seed-plantings:

  • the line in the surface of the water (faint, and quickly erased)
  • the line drawn in the sand (erased when the tide comes), or
  • the line chiseled in stone (erased only through hundreds of years’ of erosion).

With the strength of the awareness, intention, and emotion behind each thought, word and action, we are planting that sankhara at a certain depth, from very shallow and quickly erased, to very deep and likely to persist for a long time.

So it becomes easier to understand what the Buddhist teachers are talking about when they mention “multiplying miseries” or “multiplying wealth.” We’re talking about exponential multiplication of our mental impressions, no matter their content.

That bears repeating: this whole process continues without any differences whatsoever based on what’s inside the seed:

→ You can plant seeds of violence and negativity all you want, and with time and cultivation, those will come back to you a million-fold.

→ You can plant seeds of peace and harmony all you want, and with time and cultivation, those will come back to you a million-fold.

Now that you know how it works, you should be deliberate: what kind of trees do you want growing up in your mind, lasting for hundreds of years, and furnishing hundreds of thousands of fruits?

These are the “effects” we will encounter in the future. We are creating our future constantly, with our every thought, deed, & action in the present.

The extent to which most of us deny and downplay our power in this process is the extent to which we want to absolve ourselves of responsibility for our own lives, our own happiness.

This is why people who are serious about living a harmonious life get very serious about removing any influence they deem negative. They know that it’s critical to intentionally “program” your mind & environment with things that plant the desired seeds.

Just think of the last time you wanted to “unwatch” a movie: that was part of your mind saying, “Wow, I can’t believe you planted that seed — I’m pretty sure you’re not going to like that when it blossoms.”

Someone wise once said, “You’re going to be brainwashed anyway, so you might as well choose your own soap.” Flippant as it sounds, there’s a kernel of truth to the statement. That’s why it makes sense to set aside violent movies, trashy gossip magazines, and time-wasting websites, to say nothing of idle gossip, television, pornography, and junk food. . . . all of which plant seeds of a certain type and will yield unavoidable results in your future.

And do you really want your future to look like trashy gossip reality TV?

Does it really work?

The short answer is: yes, it works. It has worked in my own life.

I cannot encourage you vigorously enough, however, to see how it works in your life.

Here are the steps I would suggest you take (in no particular order) to begin making your “gardening” more deliberate:

  • Think carefully before you speak
  • Cease all harmful or time-wasting consumption of media
  • Cease speaking ill of others, either aloud or in your head, either alone or with others
  • Begin daily review of positive, inspiring, motivating or aspirational text
  • Cut off contact with friends & family who are negative or mean-spirited
  • Nurture connections with friends & family who are positive, peaceful & harmonious
  • Discipline your own thoughts: practice thinking of your ideal desired future, not your fears
  • Spend 20 minutes each day cultivating loving-kindness towards all beings, especially those you consider “enemies”
  • Spend at least 5 minutes each day in active forgiveness of all those who you feel have “wronged” you in life going back to your parents

To see results, you will really have to stick with it. You will have to put about as much effort into it as you would learning to play the piano or play tennis reasonably well.

That is: consistently daily and weekly practice. It will help you immensely to have a community of people who are following these same practices around you, who can encourage you.

If you find your motivation flagging, consider the fruits you are reaping today, and consider your past actions.

Then imagine the future you want, and ask yourself: what kind of seeds must I plant now?

Judge each day not by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.
Robert Louise Stevenson

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Originally published at FG.