New Members Meeting

The Simultaneity of Cause and Effect

Chapter New Members Meeting: The principle of cause and effect forms the basis of Buddhist thinking.

Photo: © iStockphoto / Saiva

From an early age, we learn how the law of cause and effect works. When we touch a hot stove, for example, we get burned. When we smile at someone, most times they smile back. And as we grow older, we experience things that show us how our words and actions can cause us to experience joy and happiness, as well as pain and suffering, not only for ourselves but also for those around us.

This principle of cause and effect forms the basis of Buddhist thinking.

The conventional Buddhist view of causality is that the present negative and positive effects we see in our lives are a result of negative and positive causes that we created in the past. So in order to attain Buddhahood, which is the goal of Buddhist practice, it would take lifetimes of painstaking efforts to replace all the negative causes we’ve made with positive causes, while avoiding making additional negative causes. Based on this view, the possibility of attaining Buddhahood seems remote and almost impossible.

In contrast, Nichiren Buddhism teaches that the law of cause and effect is simultaneous. At the exact time that we make a cause, the effect is created. This is symbolized in the lotus blossom, in which the flower (cause) and the seed (effect) develop at the same time, unlike most other plants that flower then produce seeds.

The effect may not appear immediately, however, due to various conditions. It isn’t a question of “if” it will manifest, but simply a question of when it will manifest. This could be likened to getting paid at work. The moment we clock in at work, westart accumulating money. We don’t see the money accrue each minute we’re at work, but after a period of time—usually one or two weeks—the
hours we put in at work manifest in the form of a paycheck.

This view of causality serves as a vital framework of Nichiren Buddhism, which is based on the Lotus Sutra’s teaching that all people without exception inherently possess the supreme life state of Buddhahood, and that each person can bring forth this supreme life state just as they are in this lifetime—not in a future lifetime. The aim of our Buddhist practice, then, is to bring forth this Buddhahood within ourselves while helping others do the same. This constitutes the greatest cause.

When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we cause the life state of Buddhahood to arise from within our lives. As Nichiren Daishonin explains: “The benefit of all the other sutras is uncertain, because they teach that one must first make good causes and only then can one become a Buddha at some later time. With regard to the Lotus Sutra, when one’s hand takes it up, that hand immediately attains Buddhahood, and when one’s mouth chants it, that mouth is itself a Buddha, as, for example, the moon is reflected in the water the moment it appears from behind the eastern mountains, or as a sound and its echo arise simultaneously” (“Wu-lung and I-lung,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1099).

When we apply our understanding of the simultaneity of cause and effect to our daily lives, we come to see that what’s most important is the present moment. What are we thinking, saying and doing at this moment? The causes we make at each moment determine the direction of our lives.

The key to a happy and victorious life, then, is to live confidently, right now. In facing difficulties or challenges, by chanting Nam-myoho-renge- kyo to the Gohonzon with the firm resolve that we are already Buddhas, we elevate our life condition and gain the wisdom, courage and power to joyfully decide: “I can learn from this and grow stronger!” “This is my chance to bring out my Buddhahood!” This is how we change the trajectory of our lives—from lives of negativity and defeat into lives of conviction, joy and victory.

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