Foundations of karma and buddhist thought

the dhammapada opens with
1. Mind is the author of all things. All things are mind made.
If a person speaks or acts with an unskillful mind
suffering follows him like the cartwheel follows the ox.

2. Mind is the author of all things. All things are mind made.
If a person speaks or acts with a skillful mind
happiness follows him like his shadow.

note: it is important to notice the verb follows here. follows implies a passage of time, either short or long.

3. Those who maintain thoughts like
"That person abused me, hurt me, stole from me." do not still their hatred.
4. Those who do maintain thoughts like
"That person abused me, hurt me, stole from me." Still their hatred.
5. Hatred is never eased and ended by hatred in this world.
By non-hatred alone is hatred eased and ended. This is an eternal law.


All things are representations
All the things we experience are recreations of the world in the mind. while there is an external, objective world, the buddha's teachings focus on the psychological ramifications.

if i am angry with you, i am angry with a representation of you in my mind
if i am clinging to you, i am clinging to a representation of you in my mind
the mind is experiencing the anger and clinging its aiming towards the outside

while we have to make our way in the world, we conveniently forget that everything we're experiencing is a representation

as all things occur in the mind, all our hatred or kindness towards representations occurs in the mind anger and cling don't disperse out in the world, they disperses out in the mind; kindness and letting go disperse in the mind as well.

our thoughts and actions have results:
some immediate
some take longer.

the immediate results we notice, as the connection between the cause and effect are obvious.

the long term results we often don't notice, as our attentions jumps to something else and the connection between the cause and effect has been lost over time.

for example:
i'm angry at you, i scream at you, you go away, i feel safer
the short term result: my screaming gets rid of you, which alleviates a chunk of my anger
the long term result: a trail of rehashing the anger, self-justification, guilt, and an underlying physical stress that echoes out from the action

2nd example:
i'm angry at you, but i forgive you, you don't go away, i have to wait for the feelings to dissipate
the short term result: i'm stuck feeling all of my anger
the long term result: no trails rehashing the event, self-justification, guilt, no lingering physical stress

this notion of cause (my thoughts and actions) and effect (what i experience as a result) lies at the heart of the dhamma. the mind likes to focus on the immediate survival implications of our actions; it is not hardwired to notice the underlying stress that lingers in the aftermath.

key principals
at the heart of this cause and effect are a couple of key principals:

what i do has results, obvious in the short term, and less obvious in the long term. a fool can see the short term results, it takes wisdom to see the long term results.

the chief factor governing the long term results of an action is to be found in the motivating intentions. if i harm you accidentally, the long term effects will be less great than if i harm you intentionally. (while people do rehash accidents, what causes the suffering is actually adding the thoughts "i should've known" not the original event)

thoughts and actions based on aversion, greed (resistance to change) , or self-centeredness (what will happen to me, who am i, what do people think about me?) tend to give birth to long term stress and suffering.

thoughts and actions based on kindness, letting go (adapting to change) and focus on the present without fabrication, tend to give birth to long term peace of mind.

some unskillful actions take people to mental hell realms while in others they don't; this is because some people have created so much virtue through previous actions that a single error is like a pinch of salt in large river; others who haven't created create virtue may suffer inordinate stress of single actions.

while most thoughts and actions result in good, bad or mixed results, there are some meditation based practices that lead to an ending of causation.

note: while other people may do things that disappoint or please us, we have no control over their actions, and the long term results of what they do pale in comparison to the thoughts we create in response.

the buddha discovered causation by hindsight, not by foresight. the future results of our actions are unknowable; we learn by reflecting on what actions gave birth to our present state of mind, and putting this learning into effect.

basics of causation

Buddha: What is the method that is correctly given to us by wisdom?

When there is this, there is that. When this arises, that arises.
When there isn't this, there isn't that. With the cessation of this, that ceases.
AN 10.92

another way of putting it:
when i do this, i will experience the results of doing that.
when i don't do this, i wont experience the results of doing that.

what we are experiencing are effects of our own intentions.
rather than caused by the world, our happiness and stress are caused by our actions.

for the goal of ending stress and suffering, causality can be understood entirely in terms of mental objects that are experienced in our direct experience (while unconscious and social factors we're unaware of may play a roll in our actions, they do not play a great role in ending suffering)

foundations of the four noble truths
once the buddha saw that what we experience is caused by our own intentions, or cause and effect, he asked himself, what is the cause of stress and suffering we experience?

and from this he authored the four noble truths. for the four noble truths are nothing but a restatement of the law of causation, put in terms of suffering.

there is stress & suffering in life, and its caused by our hunger for short term pleasures and security. there is anding of stress & suffering in life, and its caused by letting go of our hunger for short term pleasures and security.

the buddha further elucidated how one goes about letting go of our hunger for short term pleasures & security in the eightfold path.

one sees how causation works, one puts this learning into effect by releasing unskillful thoughts and actions, such as unskillful speech, action and livelihood, and by focusing on skillful intentions, such as right effort, mindfulness of internal states and concentration on skillful mental objects.