Overview of Cause and Effect

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Tainted Phenomena 

To discuss the Buddhist presentation of cause and effect, which is extremely complicated, we need to have some background. So, we have further divisions of phenomena. One division is tainted (zag-bcas) and untainted (zag-med) phenomena. A tainted phenomenon is one that derives from disturbing emotions or attitudes (nyon-mongs) and that causes further tainted phenomena to arise. They include all nonstatic phenomena, except the fourth noble truth – in other words, true pathways of mind, which mean true understandings of reality – so all non-static phenomena except correct understanding of reality. Correct understanding of reality doesn’t come from a disturbing emotion and doesn’t lead to more confusion. 

Untainted phenomena are these correct understandings (they’re non-static) plus all static phenomena. Static phenomena don’t derive from anything; they’re not caused, and they’re not created by something.

Tainted phenomena are divided into three types according to their ethical status. When we talk about an ethical status, we’re not talking about moral judgment; we’re not talking about good and bad. We don’t have this concept of moral judgment in Buddhism. There’s no judge, and because there’s no judge, there’s no guilt. 

The three-fold division is destructive phenomena (mi-dge-ba), constructive phenomena (dge-ba), and unspecified phenomena (lung ma-bstan) – the latter being phenomena that Buddha did not specify as being either constructive or destructive, so they’re ethically neutral. They take on the ethical status of what they accompany. We have to be careful here with how we translate. It’s not “unspecific,” it’s “unspecified.” 

Destructive Phenomena 

As for destructive phenomena, there are a number of types. No need to list them all, but one of the important divisions concern certain things that are destructive by their essential nature (ngo-bo-nyid-kyis mi-dge-ba), so they are naturally destructive. A destructive phenomenon is defined as a nonstatic phenomenon – something that is affected by causes and conditions – that ripens into harm to oneself or the suffering of unhappiness and difficulties to oneself. That’s destructive. We have that type of expression, at least in English, “self-destructive.” Some things are self-destructive, which we can understand is not a moral judgment. What is naturally destructive are what are called the “three poisonous emotions” (dug-gsum). 

The first one (there are variations of it) is longing desire (’dod-chags) for something that we don’t have. It’s based on exaggerating the good qualities of something and backed by grasping for a big, solid “me” – “I have to have it.” Or if we have it, then attachment, “I don’t want to let go.” Even if we have a certain amount, greed, “I want more.” Perhaps a stronger word for longing desire would be “lust.” We lust for something, whether it’s for some type of food, a type of body, money, whatever it is. 

The second poisonous emotion is anger or hostility (zhe-sdang), repulsion. We exaggerate the negative qualities of something, and we’ve got to get rid of it. 

Then, the third one is naivety (gti-mug). We just don’t know or we incorrectly understand either cause and effect in terms of our behavior or reality or both. We’re naive. An example, a very easy one: Suppose I yell at you. I say something very cruel, but I’m naive and think it’s not going to have any effect on you. Or I come late and think it doesn’t matter, it will have no effect on you. I’m totally naive that it’s going to hurt you. That’s naivety; it’s destructive. Or I’m naive about reality. I don’t think that you have emotions, that you have feelings, so I don’t even take that into consideration in how I treat you. As I mentioned before, naivety has two forms – either “I don’t know” or “I understand incorrectly.” 

These three poisonous emotions are naturally destructive, and anything that accompanies any of the three – other states of mind or ways of behaving – are also destructive. So, it’s the whole package. 

Also, naturally destructive are two more mental factors that accompany all destructive behavior – no sense of values (ngo-tsha med-pa) and no scruples (khrel med-pa). No sense of values means no respect for positive qualities or persons possessing them. No scruples means no sense to restrain from acting in grossly negative ways. We don’t respect people who are honest, and we have absolutely no restraint in lying to them, for example. We have no hesitation because we think it’s perfectly alright. Obviously, there’s some naivety there as well. 

There are other definitions in other texts, but let’s not make this too overly complicated more than is needed. 

With this scheme of naturally destructive emotions and attitudes, we now have a framework for understanding the discussion of cause and effect, because the main topic of cause and effect is karma (las) and our compulsive behavior driven by karma. The Buddhist discussion of causality is not about the laws of physics concerning the cause and effect relations of physical matter and energy. The main focus is on what I call “behavioral cause and effect.” What are the causes within our behavior that affect our experience? That area of causality is what the topic in Buddhism of cause and effect is really concerned with. 


To go further in our discussion, we need to have a short five or ten-minute course on karma, which, as you can imagine, is an enormous topic. There are two general presentations of karma in the Buddhist texts that the Tibetans study. I will discuss the one that is a little bit simpler. 

First of all, what is karma? Karma, according to this scheme, is a mental factor (sems-byung). It’s a way of being aware of something (shes-pa) that accompanies our consciousness in a moment of cognition. It is equivalent to a mental urge (sems-pa) or mental impulse. It’s different from an intention (’dun-pa). An intention is the mental factor of intent, the wish to accomplish some goal, often in relation to some person or object. An urge, as a mental impulse, is the compelling mental factor that propels the mental consciousness and its accompanying mental factors, like intention and an emotion, in thinking about committing a destructive, constructive or unspecified action with our body or speech. It is also, then, the compulsive mental factor that propels the body consciousness, together with the intention, emotion and so on, to engage the body or speech in some method to cause that action to take place. This second type of karmic impulse of the mind gets us into starting the action, sustaining the action and ending the action. 

Do you follow? For example, we are sitting here and, all of a sudden, we feel like having a glass of juice; the thought arises to have some juice. The intention to go to the refrigerator and get a glass of juice then arise. This is what we would like to do, what we want to do and what we intend to do. We could act on that intention or not, but when we actually decide to do it, we get up, go over to the refrigerator, take the juice and drink it. The mental impulses that propel our mind to think about and decide to get the juice and then to engage the body in each of these steps – getting up and so on – these compelling mental impulses that urge us on throughout this process are karma. They are karmic impulses.

Karmic impulses are not the same as an action, although many people will translate it as “action.” Karma refers to the mental urges that propel our minds and their accompanying mental factors in thinking about and carrying out actions. The actions driven by them are called the “pathways of the karmic impulses” (las-lam); they are not the karmic impulses themselves.  

When we talk about our actions or behavior, they can be either physically doing something, saying something (communicating), or thinking something. All those are actions. We can communicate in, well, I guess nonverbal ways would be physical ways – sign language and stuff like that – so that would be a physical action. Actually, that could be debated. When we shake our head, is that an action of speech, of communication, or is that an action of the body? Let’s not debate. We won’t debate that. These are the types of things that Tibetans love to debate. But, in short, there is a mental urge and there is an action brought about by the mental urge. The mental impulse of an urge is the karma. 

In addition to karmic impulses, there are positive karmic potentials (bsod-nams) and negative karmic potentials (sdig-pa). They are usually translated as “merit” and “sin,” which are inappropriate translations. It has nothing to do with getting points and, at the end, if we get enough points, we win the game. Or sin, in terms of moral judgment. There is no judgment – so, simply positive karmic potential and negative karmic potential. 

Positive karmic potential is constructive. Negative karmic potential is destructive. They include both the action itself and what’s left on our mental continuum (sems-rgyud) after the actions have reached their outcomes. 

We spoke yesterday of a division of nonstatic phenomena (mi-rtag-pa) into forms of physical phenomena (gzugs), ways of being aware of something (shes-pa), and things that change and affect what we experience but which are in neither of these first two categories. For short, let’s call the latter “neither phenomena,” the “neither” things (ldan-min ’du-byed). An example that I gave was age. However, these potentials that are left on our mental continuum after the outcome of our actions have been reached are another example. A potential is a neither-type of phenomenon. It is not physical. It’s not something we can see in our mental continuum. It’s not a way of being aware of anything, so don’t try to think of it in terms of conscious and unconscious things; that’s totally irrelevant here. We have this technical term here – you’ll hear it a lot in Buddhism – it is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of the mental phenomena. An imputation phenomenon is something that cannot exist and cannot be known independently of a basis. Age, for example, cannot exist or be known independently of being the age of something. 

How do we understand this in terms of a potential? We have a cause; we have an effect. Or we can think in terms of an incident of yelling at someone and a next incident of yelling at someone. What connects these two incidents over the interval in-between? There’s a karmic potential and a tendency (sa-bon) for another incident of yelling. A tendency is similar to a karmic potential, except that a tendency is an unspecified phenomenon, whereas a karmic potential is either destructive or constructive. Both a tendency and a karmic potential for yelling are imputation phenomena on the basis of these two incidents. They can neither exist nor be known independently of the two incidents and they account for the connection between them. 

The example that I often use, since I like coffee, is: “I drank coffee yesterday; I drank coffee this morning; I drank coffee right before the class, and I’m quite likely to drink another cup of coffee during the break.” What connects or relates these phenomena to each other? Are they totally unrelated to each other? No.  

Do potentials and tendencies exist? Of course, they do. Can we know accurately and decisively? Yes, of course. However, they are not something physical sitting inside my head or sitting somewhere. There’s not an image of a cup of coffee sitting inside somewhere and that comes up, and now I’m going to drink a cup of coffee. Also, it’s not a way of being aware of something: I’m not always thinking, “coffee, coffee, coffee.” For those of you who are mathematically educated (maybe there are some, I don’t know), it’s like the first integral. We have a series of dots, and it’s like the line that connects the dots. Is there a line? Yes, there’s a line. Does it exist and can it be known independently from the series of dots? No. A line is a spatial imputation phenomenon and a potential or tendency is a temporal imputation phenomenon. It is based on a sequence of occurrences rather than on a sequence of dots. 

We have these karmic potentials, both positive and negative. They include our karmic actions and what’s left on our mental continuums after them. There are also tendencies. Tendencies only start after the action; they don’t include the action, and they are unspecified: they’re neither destructive nor constructive. What’s left after we have done something and what’s going to help to bring about the recurrence of something or a result will be these positive or negative potentials, which are destructive or constructive, and tendencies that are neutral (unspecified). 

When these karmic potentials and tendencies ripen, there has to be a set of circumstances that help that to happen. “Ripen” means to bring about a result. We’re not talking about ripening in the sense of a fruit on a tree getting riper and riper, and when it’s really ripe, then it will fall off. We’re not talking about ripening in that sense. We’re talking about ripening in the sense of the fruit actually falling off the tree. When the circumstances are all gathered, then the potential and tendency will ripen; they will bring about the result. They may bring about only one occurrence of the result, or they may continue to bring about a sequence of results.

There are a lot of circumstances here for me to drink the next cup of coffee: the fact that the schedule is constructed in such a way that we’ll have a break; the fact that there’s a coffee machine in the hall; the fact that there is coffee; the fact that the water is working, so there is water; and there’s electricity. There are many circumstances that have to be gathered together in order for me to drink the next cup of coffee. 

Once the circumstances are all gathered together, then first of all, what ripens is a thought: “I feel like having another cup of coffee.” Then comes a wish to have it. That wish is called the “intention.” I intend to have a cup of coffee – that is the goal I am aiming for. This is what I would like to do and want to do. It’s only because I have a tendency to drink coffee that I would want to have another cup of coffee. Actually, I could want to have a cup of coffee even before the circumstances are all complete, but we’re talking about what will immediately lead to the urge, the karmic impulse that will get me over to that coffee machine. That karmic impulse may or may not be preceded by another karmic impulse that drives the mental action of thinking it over and deciding definitely to have a cup of coffee. 

You see, there are various steps that occur. We can stop the process at several of these points – when the thought arises, “I feel like having another cup of coffee” or after the intention arises, “I’d like to have another cup of coffee; that’s what I want” There are a lot of things that we’d like to have: “I’d like to have a million euros.” That doesn’t mean that we will either get them or act on getting them, does it? For example, we’re on a diet, but we feel like having a big piece of chocolate. Of course, we feel like having some chocolate, but that doesn’t mean that we actually want to get some and want to eat it, or that we actually will do that. 

Once we want another cup of coffee – that is our intention, karma kicks in. Karma refers to the compulsive impulse of the mind that propels our mind to engage our body to get up and go to the coffee machine, make a cup of coffee, and drink it. These acts may or may not be preceded by a compelling impulse of the mind that propels our mind to think it over and decide to do all that. At any point of this sequence, we can stop it from continuing, although once we start drinking the coffee, it is hard to stop. 

Do you follow this? This is actually very important in terms of our compulsive behavior. You said something nasty to me; I feel like saying something nasty back to you. I am intent on saying that to you when I see you next. Although that’s what I feel like doing and want to do, I may not actually say it. Even thinking it over and deciding to say something nasty is a destructive act, and of course actually saying it is also destructive. The mental impulses that drive the mind to first engage our speech when thinking it over and deciding to say something nasty and to then engage our speech to say nasty words are also destructive. Both actions – one of the mind and one of the speech – function as a potential to repeat the action of speaking harsh and nasty words and leave the potential to repeat it after each incident of speaking that way ends. The karmic impulses themselves are not a potential. 

The Benefits and Need for Analyzing Cause and Effect 

We only have a half-hour left for our discussion of the different types of causes and effects, but we can’t really understand all of this without this scheme of karma and karmic potentials and tendencies. 

As for the textual sources, there are two Indian abhidharma (chos mngon-pa) texts on special topics of knowledge – one by Vasubandhu and one by Asanga. Vasubandhu explains six main types of causes. In Asanga’s version, he takes the first of these six and divides it into 20 types. 

What’s one of the main things that we can learn from such a complex analysis before I give you the analysis? It’s a very Buddhist method that before we study something, we need to be motivated to study it, so we need to know what the benefits are of learning something. If we understand what the benefits are, then we’ll be more interested in learning it. This is a Buddhist didactic method – quite intelligent – which obviously we could apply if we’re trying to teach something to someone or just trying to learn it ourselves. 

The point is that things happen in our experience – we’re talking about what we experience – things happen in our experience for a multitude of causes. It’s not that there’s just one cause. I can’t remember if I gave this example here or just in a private discussion with someone, but one of my students came to me and said that there was this big argument between his parents, and he said something to the mother in order to try to help her to deal with the situation, and the mother had an attack of high blood pressure and was quite ill. My student thought, “It’s my fault. I caused this sickness, this problem with my mother,” and he felt guilty. 

However, there are many, many causes, I explained to him, for his mother having this high blood pressure attack. First of all, the situation between the mother and the father. Then there is the mother’s state of health. There are many, many causes and conditions, the mother’s emotional state, and so on. So, he really just contributed a circumstance for this high blood pressure attack to occur, but there are many, many other factors involved. It’s absolutely absurd, irrational for him to think that, “The only cause of this is me, and therefore I’m guilty.” He contributed, but he’s not the sole cause. 

It is very useful, then, to analyze what all the causal factors are for understanding why things happen to us or to anybody else – to deconstruct our experience so that we don’t have misplaced blame, guilt, and accusations of others. They just cause us a tremendous amount of suffering and problems. So, that’s the benefit of understanding the various types of cause and effect.

Types of Causes 

Now, types of causes. First, there are acting causes (byed-rgyu). The acting causes are all phenomena, other than the result itself, that do not impede the production of the result. What does this imply? This implies the interconnectedness of absolutely everything. What are the acting causes for my being able to have this cup of coffee during the break? They are everything that has ever happened and existing in the universe since the time of the Big Bang, aren’t they? If there wasn’t the formation of our solar system, I couldn’t have the cup of coffee. If there wasn’t the evolution of life on this planet, I couldn’t have that cup of coffee. If we think about it, if all of history didn’t happen, that somehow we didn’t have the people from Europe going to Arabia or South America and finding the people there drinking coffee, I couldn’t have that cup of coffee. And imagine the people who originally thought to drink coffee and figured it out, that this bean which somehow got burned in a fire, it somehow could make a drink. Those people are acting causes as well. All of those are acting causes for my being able to have a cup of coffee, aren’t they? And the people who built the roads to bring the coffee here and built the trucks to bring the coffee to the store, and the people who run the store, everything – all these are acting causes. 

Seeing that this category can be divided into 20 different types of acting causes gives us a glimpse into the interdependence of everything, which is a very fundamental Buddhist view. Everything is interconnected. Its application is especially important for developing concern for others. We see that when, for instance, we think of how many people and animals and so on are involved and have worked and done something for me to be able to have that coffee – the people who planted the coffee, picked the coffee, transported it, packed it, sold it, built the roads that allowed the transportation, etc. Everything that we have and use is the result of an incredible amount of work of an unbelievable number of beings. Being aware of that is the basis for appreciating the work that they have done. Whether they did it purposefully to benefit us or not is irrelevant. Therefore, it is appropriate for us to care about them and help them. 

Let’s use an example for illustrating these six types of causes that hopefully will make it a little bit clearer. We yelled at somebody, said cruel words, and we have a potential and tendency to do that again. That potential and tendency are types of acting causes. There are two things that we will experience as a result of these acting causes. One is liking to yell at someone as what we prefer to do when they do something we don’t like. The other is being unknowingly attracted to people and situations where we will be yelled at. There are so many other acting causes here as well – all the factors that brought about our meeting this particular person and that caused the argument so that we experience them yelling at us and us yelling back at them. Even the people who built the street where we met are acting causes.

Then, there are simultaneously arising causes (lhan-cig ’byung-ba’i rgyu). These are causes that arise simultaneously with their results. We are yelling at this person, right? So, we have a body. The body is making various gestures and emitting various sounds, so the simultaneously arising causes would be the elements of our body. If we didn’t have a throat, if we didn’t have a mouth, if we didn’t have vocal cords, if we didn’t have a heart that was beating, and so on, we couldn’t be yelling at this person, could we? 

This body and all its parts are occurring simultaneously with our yelling. They are a cause of our yelling, aren’t they? Our seeing them and hearing what they say are also simultaneously arising causes for our yelling. They’re happening at the same time. If we didn’t see them or hear what they said, it would be very difficult to yell at them. As we start to analyze, these are things that we never actually think about as causal factors, but without them, the experience of yelling and being yelled back at could not occur. 

Then, we have equal status causes (skal-mnyam-gyi rgyu). These are causes for which the results are later moments in the same category of phenomena that they are in. We say something nasty, so the first words we say are the equal status cause of the next words in the sentence that we’re saying, aren’t they? There’s a connection, there’s a sequence, and they’re remaining in the same status – the same status here being destructive and nasty. 

Or we can look at the sequence of destructive behavior. We have many instances of yelling at others, separated by a potential for yelling, and all are destructive. One instance of yelling is the equal status cause of the potential to yell and the next instance of yelling. They are all destructive. The same is true of the repeated instances of anger that accompany our repeatedly yelling.

Then, there are congruent causes (mtshungs-ldan-gyi rgyu). “Congruent” means sharing certain things together with the result. It is a subcategory of simultaneously acting causes. What this is talking about are the mental factors, such as attention, that accompany a consciousness, such as visual consciousness. When seeing someone while yelling at them, the attention that accompanies our visual consciousness is a congruent cause of that visual consciousness. It’s going on at the same time. 

That paying attention shares five things in common with the visual consciousness of seeing the person while we’re yelling at them. Seeing them and paying attention to them have (1) the same focal object: both are focused on the body of the person we are yelling at. Or if we are talking about hearing them yell at us, our audio consciousness and our attention are both focused on the sound of their voice. They share (2) the same mental aspect (rnam-pa), which refers to a mental hologram of the sight of the person. When we see something, light from the object strikes the retina, gets transformed into electric impulses and they get transformed into a mental image, a “mental hologram” of a sight by the visual cortex of our brains. Both attention and visual consciousness share the same mental hologram that arises. 

Next, they both rely on (3) the same cognitive sensors, the photosensitive cells of the eyes for seeing. They both occur at (4) the same time. Seeing them and paying attention to them are happening at the same time, aren’t they? We can increase the attention that we pay, but some level of paying attention occurs at the same time as our seeing. They also each share the feature of each coming from their own (5) homogenous class (ris-mthun). In other words, just as visual consciousness is the only consciousness in this cognition, the level of attention in it is the only level of attention in it.

Then, there are omnipresent causes (kun-’gro’i rgyu). They are omnipresent throughout the universe. For instance, these are the disturbing emotions and attitudes that generate other subsequent disturbing emotions and attitudes. While we’re yelling at them, there’s a disturbing emotion of anger, isn’t there? It can be the omnipresent cause for generate another disturbing emotion, such as holding a grudge and being vengeful. 

Then, there are ripening causes (rnam-smin-gyi rgyu). They have a difficult definition. They are the destructive phenomena or tainted constructive phenomena that, together with craving, have the power to produce the unspecified phenomena contained in the body and mind of a future rebirth and that do not obstruct our attainment of liberation. Unhappiness, for example, is an unspecified phenomenon – it is nether constructive nor destructive – and it does not obstruct our attainment of liberation or enlightenment. 

One of the things that we are experiencing in this moment of yelling at somebody besides anger, and besides seeing them, and besides paying attention to them, and besides the elements of our body, is a feeling of unhappiness. We are unhappy. The ripening cause for that unhappiness is the destructive behavior we committed in previous lifetimes. Destructive behavior results in experiencing unhappiness. If we experience unhappiness, it is definite that it is the result of destructive behavior. There’s at least a five or six-hour discussion of why that is the case, but we don’t have time for that. It’s one of the basic principles of karma. 

We have to deconstruct this experience that we have of yelling at somebody. The causes for our yelling are vast in number. They go back to the Big Bang and onwards, right? All the things that have happened to that other person before we met and got into an argument, all the circumstances that led to our meeting them – all of them provide circumstances for our anger and yelling to arise. But our meeting them is not the only cause of our anger and yelling; it was just the circumstance for this instance of them. Those other causes go way, way back in terms of our continuum. How our parents treated us, our health and so on are all further causal factors and each factor has its own causes. Our tendency to yell comes from a certain cause. The anger that we have comes from another type of cause. The unhappiness that we experience comes from yet another type of cause. 

So, we start to deconstruct and we discover that there are so many things that are going on here in the causal process. This is very, very helpful, rather than making such a solid, horrible thing about this incident of our yelling at someone and being yelled at by them. The things that immediately preceded what was going on – we burnt our food, and all sorts of things that would get us in a bad mood – affect our yelling at this person. There are so many causes. 

Types of Conditions 

There are also many kinds of conditions that also affect a result. There are causal conditions (rgyu’i rkyen). Out of the six types of causes we just described, the causal conditions refer to the five types other than the acting causes. 

Then, there are immediately preceding conditions (de-ma-thag rkyen). They refer to the immediately preceding moment of awareness that is the condition for the next moment of awareness to arise.

Next, there are focal conditions (dmigs-rkyen). A focal condition is the object we’re focusing on. What presents itself to become our object of focus and to generate a mental hologram of it. It would be the body of the person when we’re seeing them or the sound of the voice when we’re hearing them. That’s a condition for yelling at them. 

There are also dominating conditions (bdag-rken). When we’re seeing the person while yelling at them, the dominating condition would be our eye sensors. Because we’re relying on these photosensitive cells of the eyes, they dominate what we’re experiencing. Here, we’re experiencing both seeing the person and hearing the person, so for hearing the dominating condition would be the sound-sensitive cells of the ears. The fact that our mind was working the moment before we yelled, that’s the immediately preceding condition for that moment of yelling at them to arise. We’re seeing them while we’re yelling at them, so what’s dominating that seeing are the eye sensors.

There is also another set of conditions besides those four. There are, first of all, obtaining causes (nyer-len-gyi rgyu). An obtaining cause is that from which we obtain the result and which ceases to exist when the result arises. A seed is the obtaining cause for a sprout. From the seed, we obtain the sprout, and when we get the sprout, the seed no longer exists. Sometimes this is translated as “material cause”; that’s not really accurate. It’s not talking about the substance out of which something is made – that’s the simultaneously arising cause. That’s not this cause. Another example is the uncooked dough that is the obtaining cause for the baked loaf of bread. At the time of the cooked loaf of bread, the uncooked dough doesn’t exist anymore. The flour, water and yeast are the simultaneously arising causes of the bread, not their obtaining causes.

Here, the obtaining cause for our yelling and being yelled at is the tendency left from our previous yelling. From that tendency, we obtain this next incident of yelling, and so on. The tendency to yell can give rise to many incidents to yell, but when it has exhausted all its potential, it ceases to exist. 

Then, there are simultaneously acting conditions (lhan-cig byed-pa’i rkyen). These are things that must exist prior to the arising of something and which assist in making the arising happen but which don’t transform into what arises. The classic example would be the water, soil and heat for the sprout. They have to exist before the sprout, but they don’t transform into the sprout; they help with the arising of the sprout. 

There are many, many examples that we could give for this in terms of our incident of yelling at the person. For instance, their coming into our presence happens before we yell at them, but that doesn’t transform into our yelling at them. However, we had to have that happen; it contributes to what we did. 

Then, there are similar family causes (rigs-’dra’i rgyu). These are things that serve as models for the result. We’re going to yell out nasty words. There’s a whole set of nasty words and nasty things that we could say that we’ve heard before, and so we’re going to choose something from that. This is a similar family cause. It’s a model for what we’re going to say, isn’t it? 

Then lastly there are natal sources (rdzas). A natal source is something from which something else arises or, in a sense, is born, like a mother’s womb for a baby or an oven for the loaf of bread. In our example of yelling, it could be the vocal cords from which arises the sound of our voice yelling at them. When we think about it, there are so many things that affect this yelling. If we lost our voice, if we were hoarse, if there’s some problem with our vocal cords, we couldn’t yell at them. 


There are also five types of results. Firstly, there are ripened results (rnam-smin-gyi ’bras-bu). These are the unspecified phenomena (these are neutral phenomena) that do not obstruct our liberation or enlightenment, that are conjoined with our mental continuum (like our body, our consciousness, our feelings of happiness or unhappiness, and so on), and they all come from a ripening cause that was also conjoined with our mental continuum. The ripening causes are the destructive and tainted constructive things on our mental continuum. What ripens from them, their ripened results, would be like our body when we are born, or some sickness that we have or our feelings of unhappiness, these sorts of things. These are neutral phenomena; they ripen from these ripening causes. At the time of our deaths, we are drawn to having these in our next rebirth.

Then, there are results that correspond to their cause (rgyu-mthun-gyi ’bras-bu). They have two varieties: in our behavior (byed-pa rgyu-mthun-gyi ’bras-bu) and results that correspond to their cause in our experience (myong-ba rgyu-mthun-gyi ’bras-bu). In our behavior would be, from yelling at others, the potential and tendency left from them ripens into something similar to the cause. We like to yell as the preferred response to something we don’t like. Results that correspond to their cause in our experience would be our being unknowingly drawn into experiencing other people yelling at us. It’s not that their yelling at us results from our karmic potentials. Their yelling at us comes from all sorts of causes in them as well as external circumstances. What ripens in us is that we are drawn into experiencing them yelling at us; that’s what ripens. The fact that we walked into their presence, that’s coming from all different causes including the people who built the street on which our meeting took place. 

Then, there are dominating results (bdag-’bras). Sometimes we can translate it as “comprehensive results.” It’s our being drawn when we die to being reborn in a certain type of environment or society in which we experience wars or natural disasters, for instance, or in which certain things happen to our objects, like our possessions, for instance they are of poor quality and always break. This would come from various types of causes in this lifetime before we die. We’re drawn to be reborn in a society in which people yell at each other, and there are all sorts of arguments and disharmony. The things that we have are always breaking, so it makes us annoyed all the time and we take it out on others by yelling at them. That’s a dominating result, and it affects not only us but other people as well. 

Then, there are man-made results (skyes-bu byed-pa’i ’bras-bu). Man-made results are what we usually associate with physical cause and effect. We banged our foot against the chair, and the result of that is that we experience pain. There are karmic causes for why we experience banging our foot and why we feel unhappy when that happens, but the actual cause and effect relationship of the banging of the foot and the bruise and the physical sensation of the pain we feel is a man-made result. 

There is one more. Results that are states of being parted (bral-’bras), being parted from something. That’s a static phenomenon, so it’s not really a result, but it’s classified as a result. It’s when we have gotten rid of, forever, our confusion or disturbing emotions, it’s that state of being parted such that they will never arise again. That state itself, that result, is this type of result and it’s static, it doesn’t change. What’s nonstatic and therefore comes from causes is the attainment of this state of being parted, but not the state itself. 


What we’ve seen from this, to summarize, is that in any particular event that we experience – like being in an argument with somebody and yelling at them – all the different components of it have different causes, and those causes happened at different times. In the “real-thing” Dharma, some of them happened in previous lifetimes. There are causes for why we have this tendency to yell. There are causes for why we are unknowingly drawn to meeting with people that we get into arguments with and that yell at us, and there are causes on their side for why they yelled. There are other causes for our anger. There are other causes for our unhappiness that accompanies all of this. There are other causes for us having vocal cords that allow us to yell. There’s a set of models of nasty words that we could say that society has agreed upon are nasty. We don’t yell at somebody saying, “You bunny rabbit!” for example. 

There are so many different causes, and they’re coming from all sorts of different areas. That helps us to see what we need to put effort into correcting and to not make a big, solid monster out of the whole event, the whole situation. So, we’re much more relaxed about how we deal with difficult experiences that we have – much more relaxed.

Original Audio from the Seminar