Shinran and Causality that Runs through the Three Worlds (Part 1)

By Kentetsu Takamori

Q: I understand that Buddhism teaches “causality through the three worlds.” What exactly does that mean? What is the connection between that teaching and Shinran’s emphasis on salvation now, in the present?

A: You rightly point out that “causality through the three worlds” is a fundamental precept of Buddhism. Without a firm understanding of it, Buddhism would make no sense.

To begin with, “causality” means the chain of cause and effect, and the “three worlds” refer to the three temporal worlds of past, present, and future. The past world covers all the time before we were born, the present world encompasses the time from our birth in this world until our death, and the future world is the eternity following death. Buddhism teaches that our life flows eternally through the three temporal worlds of the past, the present, and the future.

Some may well question the existence of past and future worlds. But a person’s birth into this life is obviously an outcome that has to have a cause. What led to that particular outcome? Why is a given person born not in China, with a population of 1.3 billion, but in neighboring Japan, say, with a population of 120 million? Why are some born now, others in the twentieth century or earlier? Countless young men were born in the twentieth century only to be carted off to war to die like flies. Had they been born in a time of peace, their lives would have been vastly different.

Out of the seven billion people on this earth today, no two were born at the same time and place, and no two share the same looks and abilities. Such factors have immeasurable impact on our lives. How are they determined? Here is what Śākyamuni Buddha taught:

Close Translation:

If you desire to know the seeds of the past, look at the fruit in the present. If you desire to know the fruit of the future, look at the seeds in the present.

Amplified Translation:

If you want to know what seeds you havesown in the past, look at the results you reap in this life. If you want to know what you will reap in the future, look at the seeds you are sowing now.

In other words, if you carefully examine the present you will know all about the past and the future, because the limitless past and the eternal future are embraced in the present moment.

According to this teaching of Śākyamuni Buddha, the different circumstances of each person’s birth today are due beyond a doubt to the different actions that each of the seven billion people on earth took before they were born. “Good seeds yield good fruit, bad seeds yield bad fruit, own seeds yield own fruit”: in line with this rigorous law of cause and effect, our deeds in the past world have given rise to our situation in the present world.

Just as we each have a past world, naturally we each have a future world as well. If there were no future world, we would be forced to recognize an exception to the law of cause and effect.

(To be Continued...)

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #31 | 2013, Shinran and Causality that Runs through the Three Worlds

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