The Nature of Reality

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Cause and effect

When we see something or somebody, when we experience an interaction or someone's action, we view it as having an independent existence. In reality, all things arise in dependence on a complex web of interrelated causes and conditions.

The Dalai Lama offers the example of a pot:

The pot is, to begin with, the result of a potter taking clay and molding it. It is also the effect of many other causes and conditions. To mention just a few of the many possible: the presence of clay, living in a culture that knows pottery making, the circumstances that lead to the potter's decision to make this particular pot, perhaps a need or a request.

The pot is, in other words, dependently originated.

Consider an apple tree.

When you see this tree, you may think of it as existing independently: "That apple tree." Consider the causes and conditions that bring about an apple tree.

The tree certainly arises from a seed. But it also arises from other conditions such as soil, climate, sunshine, nutrients, and water.

The tree also has many effects — it gives rise to many apples, each of which contains many seeds, each of which can become another tree, giving rise to more apples, more trees. Each apple, if eaten, will have many effects, as will the unpicked apples that decompose back into the soil.

What were the causes and conditions that lead to your birth? What were the causes and conditions that lead to living where you now live? What were the causes and conditions that lead to you beginning this course?

We also tend to think of the events (causes) as sequential — a to b to c. In reality, when we look into cause and effect we find a web (network) of causes and effects.

The mind's causes and conditions
Our mental states are generated in much the same way that objects are generated in the physical world. In the same way that a sprout is able to arise because of the combined force of causes and conditions of seed, water, sunshine, and rich garden soil, our states of mind also come about by causes and conditions.

The substantial cause of our present state of mind is the previous moment of mind. Thus, each moment of consciousness serves as the substantial cause of our subsequent awareness. The stimuli experienced by us, visual forms we enjoy or memories we react to, are the cooperative conditions that give our state of mind its character.

Stop reading for a moment. As thoughts arise in your mind—many will—take one as an experiment. Once you have identified the thought ("I was thinking of needing to buy food for dinner..."), trace the origination of the thought. What thoughts gave rise to this thought? The conditions that give rise to a thought may be mental and physical. (For example, a picture of food might be part of the origin of a thought about dinner.)