2. Basic Concepts of Dao

Law of Cause and Effect (Consequence)

There are universal laws, or laws of Nature, that govern all objects and actions in the universe. Such laws are the foundation of the various scientific disciplines. For any given action, the laws determine the effect or consequence of such action. For example, when a force is applied to an object, the object will either move or be subject to increased pressure. The application of the force is the cause and the movement of, or increased pressure on, the object is the effect. The same is true of nonaction, such as a state of existence. For example, an object at rest tends to stay at rest, and for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The fundamental concept underlying all the laws of Nature is that of Cause and Effect. In the Islamic Koran it is referred to as "an eye for an eye" and in the Christian Bible it is "as ye sow, so shall ye reap." In the vernacular it is "what goes around comes around." If this law did not exist then the universe would be a very different, chaotic and seemingly random place. But our universe is far from random or else science cannot exist.

So is it any wonder that all living beings are also subject to this universal law? Of course, only when we know or can discover the cause of a consequence can we more readily accept what is happening. But what if we cannot readily find the cause? Does this mean that the consequence is without cause? Is this even possible? If so, it would imply that some consequences are in fact the result of a universe playing a cruel joke on us. But what if we consider that there is in fact a cause or reason that we cannot see or understand? Time is a continuum, and it is important also to think of life in the same way. Consider that at any given instant, life can be in any one of at least two states: tangible (physical) or intangible (spiritual). We see this phenomenon in Nature: a photon can be in either a particle state or a wave state. So for all sentient beings, there is existence before this physical life began and there will continue to be existence after this physical life is over. Causes accumulate in the physical life and their consequences are also most likely felt during the physical life, although it may be in a different and subsequent physical life.

It is because one does not necessarily reap the consequences during the same lifetime as the original cause, that we sometimes encounter consequences for which we do not see the cause. Here's a simple example: You have a tree in your yard and one day you discover that it is in fact an apple tree when it starts producing apples. You did not plant this tree, and you don't even know who planted it or when it was planted. But you are certainly reaping the benefits. In this case, the seed was planted (this is the cause) by someone else, but you were able to harvest the fruit (this is the consequence). Although in this example the person who sowed the cause was not the same as the person who reaped the consequence. But still, one can understand that there must have been a cause (the planting of the tree) even though one did not see it happen.

Karma and Karmic Affinity

This brings us to discuss what we call karma. Karma is in essence the accumulation of causes (actions) in this lifetime and prior lifetimes which then determine the consequences to be reaped now and in the future. When dealing with everyday objects, it is very easy to see and understand the effects of cause and consequence as we have learned from the basic laws of physics in school. However, when dealing with other sentient beings (living organisms that are responsive to or conscious of sense impressions), things get complicated. Our interactions do not merely involve the laws of physics, because sentient beings can make choices and behave unexpectedly. For example, if humans behaved according to the laws of physics, then it is reasonable to assume that if you hit someone, that person will hit you back in the same way (physical law: an action produces an equal and opposite reaction). But people do not always behave that way. Jesus even taught people not only to not fight back but to “turn the other cheek.” Because we are not merely physical beings, our emotions, desires and virtues have a much greater effect on our behavior.

Now let us talk about a more extreme case: Say in a fit of anger you “accidentally” killed someone. Well, obviously, the dead person can't kill you now. But remember that life continues in a different state of existence even when physical life ends. The person you killed will likely harbor hatred or at least anger that you took his life. If this is the case then you better watch out, because he will avenge his own death. So you have created what we call bad karma. This is karma that will result in bad consequences. But humans can reason and they have a choice. That is why Jesus said to turn the other cheek and to forgive. By forgiving you, the person you killed will not come after you wanting to take your life. So does that mean your bad karma is forgiven? Well, although your victim may not come after you, you may still have to suffer for your actions (otherwise, we can ask where is justice in the universe?). The problem with bad karma is that it can lead to a vicious cycle: I kill you, you kill me, ad nauseum. As long as no one is willing to forgive, the cycle will continue. That is why all sages, buddhas, and saints taught people to forgive and to love. Only in this way can the cycle be broken.

So humans can forgive, but what about animals? We know that animals are hard to reason with, and they often have a temper. So if you kill an animal, what do you think will happen? Of course, you've created bad karma. The problem is the animal spirit will want revenge—it knows no other way to reach closure over its death. Therefore, you will definitely suffer the same fate in another life. However, your fate may be mitigated through cultivation and the accumulation of merit (this will be discussed later). So the point of all this is to realize that there is a way to break the vicious cycle of killing, if only we can control ourselves and to forgive and to be compassionate.

So far we've talked about bad karma, but one can also create good karma. This is when you do good deeds (helping people, helping animals, helping the environment, etc.). We already know that there are consequences to be suffered for bad karma, and the same principle applies: we reap the benefits of good karma.

There is an important concept that one must be able to accept and to understand—that of karma and karmic affinity. In the simplest of terms, this can be said to be predestiny or fate. What determines predestiny or fate? The only logical explanation is that there must have been prior cause. So how does one have prior cause? The only way is if one lived or existed prior to one's current life. This is where past lives come in. If the notion of predestiny is to be taken as true then it follows that the notion of reincarnation must also be true.