The Ethical Law

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What is of great interest, however, is that the law of cause and effect, of action and reaction, not only prevails in the natural processes but, just as strictly, in moral actions.

Consequently, the Buddha’s teaching emphasises that morally skillful thinking, speech and action bring happiness at a given moment, while actions that are morally clumsy result in future pain, suffering and woes. That is why the Buddha says:

“If a person speaks or acts with a pure mind, happiness follows him, like his shadow that never leaves his side.

“If someone speaks or acts with a corrupt mind, misery follows him, just like the wheel of the oxcart follows the ox”. (Dh 1, 2)

This means that if someone projects something positive, they will get something positive back. On the contrary, if they project something negative, they will get something negative back.

Pure Mind – Pure Action – Effect (Happiness)

Corrupt Mind – Corrupt Action – Effect (Misery)

Good Cause – Good Effect

Bad Cause – Bad Effect

This is called the natural law of Karma, i.e. the natural law of cause and effect, action and reaction of our actions. It is also called the law of “moral causality”.

To understand how this law works, it helps to see how other laws work in nature. One such natural law is the law governing weather, atmospheric, meteorological and thermal phenomena. This includes the law of action and reaction, the cause and effect in the natural order of phenomena, like the perpetual cycle of the seasons, the regular order of the seasons, the cause of winds and rains, the causality of heat. This also includes the law of electromagnetism, light, gravity, and the strong and weak forces that dominate the tiny space of the atomic nucleus. That is to say, the meteorological, physical, chemical, geological, astronomical, etc. laws of inorganic matter that are governed by causality.

Another natural law is the biological and genetic law of organic matter, viewing the seed as the cause and the fruit as the effect. For example, the seed of an apple tree cannot produce oranges; only apples. The seed of sugar cane gives a sweet taste and not a bitter one.

This includes the law of heredity in plants and animals through cells, genes and encoded genetic information in DNA.

Similar to the above natural laws, there is also the law of cause and effect, action and reaction in the human mind and in human actions: it is called the “moral law”, or “moral causality”. How does this law work? Why do we become what we think of? How do we experience the effects of our actions?

Suppose a farmer has a piece of land that is good, fertile land. The land gives the farmer a choice: he can plant whatever he chooses. The land will return what the farmer plants, but it does not care what is planted on it. It is up to the farmer to make the decision.

Here, we compare the human mind with the earth, because the mind, like the earth, does not care about what we plant in it. It will return to us what we plant, but it doesn’t care what we plant on it.

Suppose now that the farmer has two seeds in his hands – one is a corn seed, the other nightshade, a plant with toxic fruit. He digs two small holes in the ground and plants the two seeds – one is corn and the other is nightshade. He covers the holes, waters the two seeds and takes care of the land… what is going to happen? As a rule, the land will return to him the fruit of the seeds he planted.

Remember that the earth does not care. It will return toxic fruit in the same abundance as corn. And the two plants and their fruit appear: corn and nightshade with toxic fruit.

Good Cause – Good Effect

Bad Cause – Bad Effect

The human mind is much more fruitful, and incredibly more fertile than the earth, and works in the same way. It doesn’t care what we plant… success or failure… good or bad…, a specific, worthwhile goal… or confusion, fear, anxiety, and so on. But what we plant must be returned to us. That is why the Buddhist texts also mention:

“‘Whatever seed someone sows,

that is the fruit that he will reap.

He who does good, reaps good

and he who does evil, reaps evil.

You have sowed the seed,

now you will experience its fruit. ” (SN Samuddakasuttaṃ)

Many centuries later, the relationship between cause and effect and, consequently, the moral consequence of the law of Karma was also expressed by Apostle Paul, who said:

«whatsoever a man soweth,

that shall he also reap”. (Galatians 6:7)

Eventually, the human mind will return to us what we want, what we choose, what we intend to plant, meaning what we intend to do: good or bad.