Whose Fault is it that Life is Painful? (Part 1)

It is said to have been one hundred years since advice columns started being published in newspapers. The reason why they have been around for so long must be that no matter how much the world changes, in life waves of suffering endlessly crash upon us one after another without ever letting up. Were we born to suffer? No, we weren’t – but then what is it that we live for? Finding no answer to this question, we feel discouraged and we give up, yet even so we cannot help but keep asking it again and again. We can get a glimpse of this kind of misery from these advice columns in newspapers.

Our Fate and the Law of Cause and Effect

Buddhism is the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha, who appeared about 2600 years ago in India. Buddhism is also known as ‘Buddhist Truth.’ It is clearly taught that the foundation of each and every one of Sakyamuni Buddha’s teachings is the Law of Cause and Effect.

“Seeds not sown will never grow.” It is taught that an effect will never come about without a cause… “Seeds sown will never fail to grow.” … and that a cause will invariably bring about an effect.

In life we experience both fortune and misfortune. The kind of fate we receive is in itself a result, and this too definitely has a cause. So what is it that causes us to experience fortune and misfortune? This is something that all people want to know. Buddhism teaches the answer to this question: One’s own causes produce one’s own effects. This means one’s own deeds (karma) decide all of the results (fate) one receives, whether fortune or misfortune. It is synonymous with “you reap what you sow.” Furthermore, the relationship between causes (deeds) and results (fate) is taught strictly in this way:

Good causes produce good effects Bad causes produce bad effects One’s own causes produce one’s own effects

Jigo Jitoku (自業自得): You Reap What You Sow

The saying “you reap what you sow,” or “jigo jitoku” in Japanese, tends to be used in a negative sense. For example, if a mischief-maker meets with misfortune, people will say behind their back that they are “reaping what they have sown,” meaning that the results they received happened because of the bad behaviour with which they usually conduct themselves.

In this way, “you reap what you sow” is associated with negative occurrences. However, “jigo jitoku” originally came from Buddhism, and it means “one’s own causes produce one’s own effects.” Therefore, we can be said to be “reaping what we have sown” whether we receive bad results or good results.

Buddhism teaches that every result we receive is always “what we have sown,” without any exceptions. If you do good deeds, you will be blessed with a good fate (fortune), while bad deeds will cause a bad fate (misfortune). Therefore, Buddhism consistently teaches “stop evil; do good.” This means if you want to be happy, strive to do good deeds, and if you don’t want to experience a bad fate of unhappiness or disaster, refrain from doing bad deeds.

Understanding this Universal Law

Some readers of this article might have seen or heard time and time again about the Law of Cause and Effect as well as about refraining from evil and doing good, and they might therefore feel they already understand it and would like to hear about something else. However, there is a difference between understanding the Law of Cause and Effect in theory and understanding it in practice. In Buddhism it is taught that only once you practice in accordance with the teachings will you really have “understood” it.

Applying the Law of Cause and Effect to your own life and putting it into practice is no simple task. It is precisely for this reason that it took Sakyamuni Buddha 45 years and more than 7,000 volumes of sutras to explain this Law.

There is a well-known story about how the famous Confucian scholar Bai Juyi asked the Buddhist monk known as ‘Bird’s Nest’ what it is that Buddhism teaches.

When Bird’s Nest replied with, “Stop evil, do good,” Bai Juyi sneered at him. “Even a three-year-old child knows that!” Bird’s Nest immediately shot back, “An infant of three knows it, but even an old man of eighty finds it hard to carry out!”

“Hard to carry out” What Bird’s Nest was expressing here was the difficulty of accepting the Law of Cause and Effect and putting it into practice.

* To be continued tomorrow - Whose Fault is it that Life is Painful? (Part 2)

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #50, Whose Fault is it that Life is Painful?

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