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Everything Leans

"Deep is this dependent origination, and deep its appearance."

"Whoever sees dependent origination sees the Dharma;
whoever sees the Dharma sees dependent origination."

- Buddha [MN:28, DN:15]


Investigating the nature of cause and effect in our lives is a valuable part of the path of freedom. It is an effective way of exploring, explaining, and understanding Dependent Origination. When used skilfully it imbues us with a worthy sense of purpose and possibility. Seeing; when this is - that arises, and when this is not - that does not arise, can be life changing. If we don’t crave as much; if we can ease the demand for life to be otherwise we don’t suffer nor feel distressed in anything like the same way.

We could describe cause and effect by an esoteric word like karma, and it would still mean the same thing. It can be helpful to understand that karma (or kamma in the Pali) means action (cause) more than outcome (effect). It particularly focusses on the flavour of an action, which is scented by the intention behind it. Intention is one of the sankhara in the 12 links schema of Dependent Origination, which places it early on in the process. And means it can have radical (deeply rooted) effects on later outcomes. As expressed in the Cetana Sutta: Intention.

Seedy Intentions

If we act motivated by greed, hatred, or delusion we are planting seeds of suffering, yet if we act with the intention of generosity, wellbeing, and wisdom we will plant other seeds; those of abundance and happiness. This is admittedly relatively simplistic, but a good stance to explore our experience from. For many of us this is more of a reflective task, than a moment to moment observation of karma. For it does mean getting our hearts and minds into a position wherein we can observe the subtle movement of intention.

Somewhere within or before every movement there is an intention to move. Try and feel the intention to do something now, give this time, it isn’t easy to do. Feel for the intention to lift your hand, to get out of or into a chair, or to turn your head. Intention is a very subtle movement of mind, and difficult to dissect away from the movement ‘it’ intended. It must be there, but it’s hard to see.

What You Don’t Know Matters

Intention is not a root cause, and it too is an effect. The cause for such sankhara (intentions) in the cyclical links is avidya (blindness or ignorance about the way things appear). With this in place consciousness is flavoured in the direction of the contracted karmic (volitional) factors that arise when influenced by avidya. But likewise (yet opposite) when vidya (wisdom, clear knowing, or understanding) underlies the 12 links a very different outcome arises, and different intentions and volitional momentums unfold. As expressed in the Avijja Sutta: Ignorance.

Intentions shape the consciousness so to speak but not only that; they also flavour and shape all that is to come. With avidya the volitional sankhara factors like intention; what Thich Nhat Hahn skilfully calls ‘The Will To Live’, move toward selfishness, a sense of lacking, fearfulness, and thereby present and future dukkha. But with wisdom ‘The Will to Live’ will be guided towards service, fulfilment, compassion, and thereby present and future wellbeing. These radically different intentional or volitional movements matter, those rooted in ignorance are the cause of distress and welfare for all of us.

Take Away Time

Cause and effect relations usually exist in time; meaning a prior cause caused/affected a later effect. Yet maybe we can hold a sense of things causing and effecting each other in the present moment. If you have a beneficial thought; one of care and wellbeing for another being, it actually feels nice in the present moment even before you have enacted it. Likewise a thought and intention of greed feels unpleasant in the moment. This furthermore reveals the entanglement of dukkha, tanha, and contraction. They have a quantum mechanical nature of cause and effect. Which perhaps stretches our definition of causes and effects, yet corresponds again with how intentions transmigrate through all the other links. Which is something we can go further into in No Cause No Effect

Written by Nathan Glyde