Causes and Conditions

There is often some confusion on the concept of causes and conditions within Buddhism. Many believe it is a simple matter of cause and effect and move on to study other concepts. This concept, however, is one of the most important and is deeply rooted within the Buddhist philosophy. There is often some confusion on the concept of causes and conditions within Buddhism. Many believe it is a simple matter of cause and effect and move on to study other concepts. This concept, however, is one of the most important and is deeply rooted within the Buddhist philosophy. Causes and conditions are the reason for the existence of all phenomena that we encounter in our lives and our lives have a subtle but tremendous impact upon all phenomena.

The concept of causes and conditions is one of universal interaction. The reason for the existence of any phenomena is because something has caused all of the conditions to be present for the rise of such phenomena. In a simple cause and effect relationship the view is too narrowed. One often narrows the scene down to a single action which has a reaction which may cause another reaction. This chain of events often is seen as having a definite starting and ending position and are linear in nature. An example of such a cause and effect would be simple example often used in physics where some force is exerted on a block. This block then hits another block and by the transference of force the second block also moves forward. This closed system has a finite starting and ending point. The push was the reason for the first block to move causing it to hit the second block, which in turn has the effect of the second block beginning to move. Causes and conditions moves beyond such small simple examples.

The concept of causes and conditions can seem very vague or insubstantial unless it is illustrated with an example. One of the most common examples found in Buddhism is the example of a flower. For a flower to grow and bloom certain conditions must be met. There must be ample sunlight, nutrient rich soil, and the appropriate amount of water and the seed of the flower. If any one of these conditions is missing the flower cannot grow. If any of the conditions exists but is not enough or too much, the flower cannot grow. This example, though simple illustrates the basic principle of causes and conditions. Some cause brings together all of the conditions such that a result or phenomena can occur. But what is that something that ensures these conditions are met? Is it nature, or God, or the Buddha? No it is simply more causes and conditions.

Each phenomena that arises from causes and conditions is itself another cause or condition for another phenomena. For example, the flower that has now bloomed because of the appropriate conditions may now provide pollen necessary for the bee to pollinate a fruit tree resulting in the phenomena of the tree yielding fruit. In this way all phenomena are linked together to forge an ever growing changing state of phenomena that effect each other.

How does this affect each of us in our daily lives? One can easily see that with the understanding of causes and conditions that all of us are linked together. The actions of one person affect other people, their environment, the world. While this is true it is only the surface of what this means to each individual. Each person has an effect on all other things, but the important thing here is that they have the choice on how they impact other causes and conditions.

People always want to have the best for themselves, their lives, their families. Many, however, go through life at the whim of the impact of others. Their jobs, the economy, the environment all impact them and and they may not have achieved or become what they believe they should. By observing and understanding the relationship between all things through causes and conditions, they have the opportunity to achieve greater things. While they cannot control the outcome, they can set up the appropriate conditions for their success. Revisiting our flower example, if someone prepares nutrient rich soil and adds fertilizer and water in a well lit area, the seeds that they plant are more likely to grow and bloom. Their active intervention by interacting with the causes and conditions has increased the chances of a favorable outcome. This is also true with the things in our lives. If someone would like to achieve a certain position within their career field, they can work hard, study diligently, and do their best giving each task their full attention. This is more likely to result in this person achieving what they want. As we can see, their actions have an impact on the causes and conditions surrounding them and good choices help them get closer to their goals. Doing things that are counterproductive harm the chance of achieving what they want. Planning ahead and being aware of the causes and conditions that surround them will help them in achieving what they want. If the person would like to grow roses but instead plants tulips there is no chance that roses will grow. The wrong conditions are present to grow roses because tulip seeds were used instead. By planning ahead someone can adjust the causes and conditions that they affect for a positive outcome.

Often one positive outcome causes the necessary conditions to arise for another favorable outcome. Sometimes it can seem that some people have it all and that everything comes easy for them. These people understand at least to some degree the concept of causes and conditions. They build upon the result of each favorable outcome and find ways to alter the effects of non favorable outcomes so that they will turn favorable in the future.

It is also important to realize that since all causes and conditions create the necessary elements for further conditions and create an infinitely linked system, that natural cycles develop. For example the flower that blooms will eventually wither and fade and die as the seasons and conditions change. This passing though sad provides necessary nutrients back into the soil so that another flower may bloom in its place at another time. This cycle is natural and provides balance. It ensures that the flowers do not become overgrown and undesirable and that future flowers will not be weak for lack of nutrients. What we can take from these cycles is that while seemingly good and bad things exist to not dwell on them too long. The situation will always change and both seemingly good and bad will come and go and change as the causes and conditions surrounding them change.

Spending time to think on the meaning of causes and conditions and how we individually relate to them can provide great insight into our lives and place within all things. All people and all things and all events that have ever been or will be are intertwined through causes and conditions. It simultaneously makes one seem very insignificant in the face of all things with which we are connected while empowering us to know that we do matter and that we can affect things sometimes in ways we did not anticipate or comprehend.


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