Shinran and Causality that Runs through the Three Worlds (Part 2)

(Read the previous part HERE)

Let us imagine a scenario that might serve as an example. Someone kills another person and is sentenced to death for his crime. If the action of killing one person (cause) could be atoned for by dying once (effect), then someone who killed ten people would have to be executed ten times, a clear impossibility. If there were no future world, then the result for the murderer would be the same whether he killed one person or fifty: a single execution.

Different causes produce different outcomes: this is the law of cause and effect. If a job were advertised as paying a hundred dollars a day, someone who worked a hundred days would naturally expect to be paid ten thousand dollars. A job that paid a hundred dollars whether you worked one day or a hundred would find few takers.

Only someone ignorant of the universal law of cause and effect would make the reckless assumption that different causes can produce the same outcome. Even if the results of our present actions do not appear in the present, they will appear without fail in the world of the future. The truth of “causality through the three worlds” is unchanging throughout space and time.

Understanding the true meaning of the Buddhist law of causality through the three worlds brings home the vast importance of the present.

When viewed with a closer and closer lens, the world of the past is not only our numberless past lives but last year, yesterday, an hour ago, and the breath just exhaled. In the same way, the world of the present is this year, this day, this hour, this breath. The world of the future similarly comes down to next year, tomorrow, an hour from now, the next breath. Therefore, we are taught that the three temporal worlds of Buddhism meet in every breath we inhale and exhale.

Each passing moment of our lives contains the three worlds. This is why if we fix our eyes on Now, then the self that has transmigrated through the aeons will become clear to us, and we will become aware of the crucial matter of the future. That fact is evident from these words of the Chinese monk Shan-tao (613-81), quoted by Shinran in his masterwork Teaching, Practice, Faith, Enlightenment:

Close Translation:

I am, now, a foolish being imbued with evil and caught in the cycle of birth and death, constantly submerged and constantly wandering for all these countless aeons without ever a chance for liberation: this is clearly revealed to me.

Amplified Translation:

Right now I am the vilest and most depraved of sinners. I see myself clearly as someone who has suffered from ages past without limit and who will never be saved in the future.

Without salvation in the present there can be no salvation in the future. This is why, through the basic doctrines of genshô futai, (obtaining absolute happiness in this life), heizei gôjô (achieving life’s purpose while alive), and futaishitsu ôjô (salvation in this present life), Shinran emphasized the importance of being saved now.

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

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