The law of cause and effect
The concept of karma is essentially based on the law of cause and effect, which states that every cause has an effect and every effect has a cause. The law of cause and effect is not only a Buddhist concept, but also a universal principle that governs everything in the Universe. In today’s post, I will take another approach to shed light on the law of cause and effect. I will go back to the principle of the Five Elements and explore the law of cause and effect from the Five Elements viewpoint.
The Five Elemental cycle
As you see above, what is interesting about this interaction is that the interaction occurs only in one direction. The energy circulates from Wood to Water in the order of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and back to Wood, making a circle. Think of it this way, Wood burns itself to produce fire. Fire engenders ashes to enrich Earth. Earth produces Metal. Metal can be liquefied. Water nourishes Wood.
The relationship among the Five Elements is comparable to that of mother and son. The Wood Element nurtures the Fire Element and thus is the mother of Fire. The Fire Element nurtures the Earth Element and thus is the mother of Earth. The Earth Element nurtures the Metal Element and thus is the mother of Metal. The Metal Element nurtures the Water Element and thus is the mother of Water. The Water Element nurtures the Wood Element and thus is the mother of Wood.
The principle of the Five Element relationship in the Universe
If we understand the relationship among the Five Element, we can better understand the universal law of cause and effect. When Wood transmits its energy to Fire, Fire transmits the energy to Earth instead of reciprocating with Wood. Earth, Metal and Water do the same. In the end, the energy that Wood transmits to Fire returns to Wood, after circulating through Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Although it is Fire that receives energy from Wood, it is Water that returns the energy to Wood. In this way, Wood eventually receives what it sends out.
The relationship among the Five Elements demonstrates the interconnectedness of everything in the Universe, and sheds light on the law of cause and effect. As everything is interconnected, every cause must exert an effect. This is the law of cause and effect. As none of the Five Elements can exist without the other, nothing in this Universe can exist on its own. As none of the Five Elements can take an action without producing a reaction, every action we take also produces a reaction.
Why do we fail to recognize the working of the law of cause and effect?
When there is a cause, there is an effect. However, this law is not obvious to many of us because there is a time delay and it does not happen in a clear and obvious eye-to-eye fashion.
In order to better understand this, let’s go back to the aforementioned Five Elemental cycle.
After Wood sends energy to Fire, Wood has to wait until the energy is transmitted to Earth, Metal, and Water, before Wood can receive the energy from Water. As you see, there is a time delay between Wood’s initial action (sending energy to Fire) and the final result of this action (receiving energy from Water). Besides, even though Wood sends energy to Fire, it receives energy from Water, which may seem illogical to many of us who expect the law of cause and effect to work in an eye-to-eye fashion.
Similarly, there is a time delay between cause and effect, and it does not happen in a clear and obvious fashion. This is why many of us often fail to recognize the working of the law of cause and effect in our lives.
The value of charity
Whether we recognize it or not, the law of cause and effect is constantly at work. Every action produces a reaction and in that sense, no debt can stay unpaid in this Universe where everything is interconnected. Think of the aforementioned five elemental cycle. The Wood Element is nourished by the Water Element only because the Wood Element has already nourished the Fire Element. We receive what we send out.
This principle teaches us the value of charity. When we render financial help to starving children, for example, the money we send out will not necessarily come back from the children we help. However, the money will travel in the Universe and will return to us from another source and possibly in another form. There is a time delay, so we will have to wait a while. However, it will eventually happen, since we live in the Universe which is governed by the law of cause and effect.
Furthermore, when we help others in need, we feel good about ourselves. We feel loving, generous, and even noble. It is like planting good seeds that will bear good fruits. Therefore, when we give out money with good feelings in our hearts, it will eventually return to us multiplied. Again, there is a time delay and it does not happen in a clear and obvious fashion. Therefore, we may not be able to recognize it when it returns to us. However, nothing escapes the law of cause and effect in this Universe.
“The sage does not hoard. The more he helps others, the more he benefits himself, The more he gives to others, the more he gets himself.” — Lao Tzu