Whose Fault is it that Life is Painful? (Part 2)

*This is a continuation of yesterday's article Whose Fault is it that Life is Painful (Part 1) - Click here to read Part 1*

Why We Can't Accept the Law of Cause and Effect

Seeds not sown will never grow, while seeds sown will never fail to grow. All results that you experience, whether good or bad, stem from the seeds that you have sown. No-one would deny this upon hearing it, but can we really believe that the seeds we sow bring about all results we receive when misfortune and disaster fall upon us?

Do we not instead reject the line that says, “One’s own deeds produce one’s own effects,” look for the culprit behind our suffering, and resent and curse that person? “It was his fault!” “She did this to me!” Let us read about the experience of the octogenarian Mr. M.

As a child, Mr. M went to Sunday school at a temple, and there he memorised the Hymn of True Faith. He had always wanted to know the meaning of this hymn and had thus sought it out. Though he was unable to find any good books on it when he looked in bookshops, 14 years ago he discovered a Buddhist magazine on the true teachings of Master Shinran. “I never knew that Master Shinran’s teachings could be taught in a way that is so easy to understand,” he said. Feeling joy at this discovery, from then on he began listening to Buddhism with great passion.

However, one day Mr. M was struck down with a terrible illness. He had undergone a successful operation, yet for some reason he still had a slight fever. When he had another medical examination, the doctor simply said, “Please go to hospital right away.” Upon requesting further details, he was told that bacteria from the needle that had been used to give him an anaesthetic injection had apparently gone into his spinal cord.

The symptoms gradually worsened. His illness progressed to the point where his spinal cord became filled with pus and showed up as bright white on X-ray photos, and severe pain left him lying on his back facing the ceiling, unable to move. He couldn’t even sleep at night. Each day was hellish, and he suffered like this for three months. In the end Mr. M was left with a gait abnormality, and anger and resentment towards the hospital that put him in this situation burned inside him.

Though the hospital apologised, he could not contain his anger. He intended to sue the hospital in hopes of thoroughly settling the issue. However, suddenly Mr. M had a thought: “Why, out of all the thousands of patients at that hospital, did this happen to me in particular? If only the hospital hadn’t made this blunder, I wouldn’t have ended up becoming disabled and suffering because of it. Therefore,” he thought, ?the cause of my misfortune was the hospital’s mistake. Anyone would naturally have thought the same.”

Even so, he noticed that this alone didn’t suffice as a cause for the unfortunate fate he was presently experiencing. “Although the mistake had been made by the hospital, the fact remained that if I hadn’t chosen this hospital, I would not have fallen victim to this illness. Had it happened to someone else, I would have thought it just another unfortunate incident in the world. Yet still, why had that happened to me in particular? Since the responsibility for the infected injection itself lay with the hospital, I would need to have them conduct a thorough investigation into the cause of the blunder. However, even though I knew the cause behind that, I did not know the reason why I was the one who fell victim to this suffering. After all, it wasn’t as though the hospital had been targeting me. Just as there absolutely had to be a cause behind the injection becoming infected, there must have been a reason why I was the victim of this blunder. But what was it?”

He finally thought, ?I eventually realised that the cause was my own past deeds, while the hospital’s blunder was the condition, and that these had combined to bring about the results I was experiencing ‘here’ and ‘now.’ This is the Buddhist teaching of ‘one’s own causes produce one’s own effects.’”

All Phenomena Have a Cause and Condition

This is taught as the “union of cause and condition.” The Law of Cause and Effect is more precisely called the Law of Cause, Condition and Effect, as results come about when a cause and a condition combine with each other. To give an example, the cause of rice growing in a field is the rice seeds that were planted there at the beginning of spring. However, rice seeds would not grow into rice on their own, even if the autumn came. Various conditions, such as placing the rice seeds into the ground, watering the seeds, and having them be exposed to sunlight as well as a moderately warm temperature, must come together so that rice may grow. A cause alone cannot bring about a result, and nor can a condition. It is only when a cause and conditions are combined that a result will come to be. No result will ever occur to you if the cause does not exist within you.

To bear such resentful feelings as, “If only the hospital hadn’t made a blunder, my body wouldn’t have ended up this way” is understandable on an emotional level, but a person will feel this way because they are mixing up cause and condition.

"When I Learned that 'One's Own Causes Produces One's Own Effects,' I Calmed Down Inside Right Away"

Mr. M said, “Even if the cause of the infected injection was a failure by the hospital, why did it affect me in particular? There was no way I was going to find the cause on the hospital’s side. The reason why I had to receive a result like this must have been within my own self. That would be ‘karma’. There’s no mistaking it: my own karma is what brought about my present situation. ‘So I was at fault!’ My heart had been bursting with resentment towards the hospital and the doctors, but when this realisation came to me, I calmed down an incredible amount inside.”

He also said, “If I sued them and got compensation, I would only have a small amount of the compensation money left after paying my lawyer a princely sum. Therefore my suffering would still go unresolved, and the time and effort I had put into this would have gone to waste. Going to court while in my physical condition would have shortened my life too. I thought that with what time and energy I have left, I would instead use my money to listen to Buddhism and achieve the purpose of life.”

When he told his family that he was going to abandon the lawsuit, they became interested in Buddhism. “Now that I think about it,” said Mr. M, “When I first read the Buddhist magazine and gained a bond with Buddhism, I saw the Law of Cause and Effect of the Three Worlds written in that magazine. I was saved by the teachings of Master Shinran. I will use what I have left of this life to take this chance to listen intently to Buddhism.”

The painful results we are receiving in this present life come from nothing other than the seeds we have planted in the past. We must see this clearly just as Mr. M did. Furthermore, how our futures play out will change according to the seeds we plant from now on. Our mindset and behaviour will change as we are made to know the Law of Cause and Effect more and more deeply. When we harvest good results, we will feel more gratitude for the protection of the Buddhas and the Patriarchs and make even more effort in our lives in order to gain good results.

When, on the other hand, we experience misfortune, we will not begrudge or curse our situation, and nor will we resign ourselves to it. We will instead reflect upon and repent our own behaviour and mindset, then make effort to progress towards a bright future.

In favourable circumstances we will feel gratitude and make extra effort, while in times of adversity we will repent. Through both the good times and the bad, we should take all opportunities to move towards the true purpose of life and progress all the more on the path of listening to Buddhism.

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

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