Be the Master of Your Life

Grand Master’s Dharma Talk:

      Buddhadharma teaches us to understand causes and recognize their supporting conditions and corresponding effects. Then, we can change our fates and master our lives. The virtuous ancients said:

“With the right causes and conditions, success comes easily.
With the right causes but not conditions, the fruit cannot appear.
If in doubt, just watch the willows by the winter river.
All grow new leaves when the spring breeze blows.”

The principle of causality is a fact of human life. Causes are from within ourselves; conditions refer to external conditions. When we have both wholesome causes and conditions, our every step will be on a bright path. But when we accumulate unwholesome causes and conditions, our lives will head toward a darker and darker future.

All dharmas are empty of self-nature, they arise from causes and conditions.

      “With the right causes and conditions, success comes easily,” means that no matter what we do, we must first cultivate ourselves, body and mind, if we want to be successful—this is a cause. Besides the cause, we also need favorable conditions. “With the right causes but not conditions, the fruit cannot appear,” means that even with unrivaled talent, we cannot easily succeed without the right outside conditions. “If in doubt, just watch the willows by the winter river. All grow new leaves when the spring breeze blows,” tells us to observe nature if we doubt the law of causality. Look at the willows by the river bank: their leaves all wither and fall during the freezing winter. But when spring comes, they sprout new leaves as soon as the spring breeze blows. Because external conditions change with the seasons, the scenery we see is also different.

      Cultivation is like this too. If we want to realize the fruits of the Way, it is necessary to have both causes and conditions. Vowing to realize buddhahood, we bring forth a cause. But in order to succeed, external conditions are also required: we must learn from enlightened masters and great teachers. Under their guidance, we develop right view with true understanding. Then, we will not take a wrong or winding path—these are some of the necessary conditions. In addition, we also need a pure and quiet location, and Dharma supporters who will support us with clothing, food, accommodation, transportation, etc. When all these causes and conditions come together, our cultivation will succeed more easily.

      There are many people in today’s society who want to cultivate, realize the Way, or ascend to heavenly realms, but head the wrong direction. They cannot be reborn in the heavens, but instead fall into the hells; they cannot realize buddhahood, but instead fall into the path of maras. What is the reason for this? It is because they do not understand the law of causality.    

      It is said, “Bodhisattvas fear causes, whereas mundane beings fear effects.” Whether academics, professional life, or spiritual cultivation, all fields require us to work on the right causes. Bodhisattvas understand that causes are effects, thus they never seek effects outside of their causes. The mind is the cause: the mind is the cause that is nondual with the effect. To work on the cause means to observe and transform our thoughts. If we can do this, then our future will become brighter and brighter. If everyone can do this, families will be harmonious, societies and countries will be peaceful, and the whole world will be influenced. Everywhere will be full of harmony, peace, and joy.  

With the right causes and conditions, the result emerges naturally.

      There are two kinds of conditions: favorable and adverse. No matter which conditions we face, we must act accordingly. How should we act in accordance with adverse conditions? We can use the practice of accepting adversity as taught in The Essence of Mahayana Practice:

“Even though now I have done no wrong, I am reaping the karmic consequences of past transgressions. It is something that neither the heavens nor people can impose upon me. Therefore, I should accept it willingly, without any resentment or objection.”

      If we encounter favorable situations and wholesome conditions, what type of attitude should we have? The Essence of Mahayana Practice says:

“Sentient beings are without a self, being steered by karmic conditions, experiencing both suffering and happiness together as a result of causes and conditions…Knowing that success and failure depend on conditions, the mind remains unmoved by the wind of joy, experiencing neither gain nor loss. This is to be in harmony with the Way. Therefore, it is called the practice of adapting to conditions.”

      The saying goes, “Remain unmoved while adapting to conditions, adapt to conditions while remaining unmoved.” No matter what karmic conditions arise, whether wholesome or unwholesome, as long as they are conditional arising, then they are illusory appearances. Sentient beings exist because of myriad conditions, because causes and conditions come together. When causes and conditions fall apart, then they exist no more. They do not have substantial self-nature, but exist only as illusory appearances. Therefore, the true nature of conditional arising is empty nature. Illusory appearances are the effects of wholesome and unwholesome karma generated in the past. If we created wholesome karma, then we experience wholesome effects; if we created unwholesome karma, then we experience unwholesome effects. But whether the karma we created and effects we experience are good or bad, they are all conditional arising—illusory and insubstantial.

      Since everything arises conditionally, success in our careers is never the result of our own efforts alone. Other people must contribute as well, society at large must be peaceful and stable; we also need various other causes and conditions, like the kindness of sentient beings, before we can succeed. In the same vein, we should perform self-reflection when encountering failure: in the past, we did not cultivate enough merits, or create wholesome affinity with others. This is what caused our lack of success. By performing self-reflection in this way, having contrition and practicing repentance, we will not blame things on fate or other people. Then, we can dissolve our karmic obstacles.

      The Essence of Mahayana Practice teaches, “Knowing that success and failure depend on conditions, the mind remains unmoved by the wind of joy, experiencing neither gain nor loss.” Seeing others in our daily lives enjoy wealth and prestige, we neither grow jealous nor hateful; seeing those who are poor and destitute, we do not secretly feel pleasure or satisfaction. In this state, the mind “experiences neither gain nor loss.”

     If the mind experiences gain and loss, that is to be a sentient being; if it experiences neither gain nor loss, that is to be a sage. Neither increasing nor decreasing, always unmoving as it is—this is the mind of sages, the mind of bodhisattvas. It is also “to be in harmony with the Way”: to resonate and accord with the Way of bodhi, the Way of liberation, the unsurpassable Way. It also means to resonate and accord with the true nature and the pure Dharma body.

      The virtuous ancients said, “Even after a hundred thousand kalpas, the karma we create still remains; when causes meet their conditions, we cannot but bear the fruits.” For numberless kalpas, sentient beings have been trapped in the samsaric cycle of birth and death. If we do not thoroughly purify the unwholesome karma we created in the past through repentance, these karmic obstacles will always exist. Even after one hundred thousand billion kalpas, whenever causes meet their conditions, we must still experience their effects. For example, when two strangers feel close and familiar the first time they meet, it is because they made a positive karmic connection in their past lives. On the other hand, if there is mutual dislike at first sight, it is because they did not create wholesome affinity with each other in the past; it might even be because they made a negative karmic connection.

      The wise firmly accept the law of causality as truth. They cultivate all that is good, eradicate all that is evil; in this way, karmic obstacles will naturally fade away, turning misfortune into blessings. On the contrary, if we create unwholesome karma and do not have contrition and practice repentance, when this karma materializes in the future, we have no choice but to bear the fruits.

      Our thoughts are like radio waves: if their frequency matches with a karmic adversary, the mind can’t settle down, and we run into each other, then we have to experience the effects. This is the sympathetic resonance of karmic affinities. But if we calm our minds in meditation and raise not a single thought, even if adversaries pass by in front of us, we will experience no effects. Why is this so? It is because there are causes but no conditions, or there are conditions but no causes; therefore, no result materializes. When this very mind abides in intrinsic stillness, its frequency will not synchronize with bad karma, because it will have then transcended time and space. This is to dissolve karmic obstacles. 

      Many people do not understand the law of causality. They see palm readers one day, draw fortune telling lots the next, and pray to the Earth Deity after that. All along, their bodies and minds are restless and unsettled; thus they lose the ability to be the masters of their own lives. But if we understand the law of causality, and work on the right causes and conditions, then for every bit of effort we put in, we get an equal amount in return. In this way, we can change our fates and lives.

      Always raise wholesome thoughts with the mind, speak wholesome words with the mouth, and perform wholesome deeds with the body. If we affirm and believe in this truth, the pure land is wherever we are, every moment is a good moment, and every day is a good day.

Chung Tai Magazine #213