Thursday, January 6, 2011


      Causality describes the relationship between causes and effects, is fundamental to all natural science, especially physics, and has an analog in logic. It is also studied from the perspectives of philosophy, computer science, and statistics. I think it is fair to say that the study of and analysis of Causality Is fundamental to our so called modern scientific world view. All of the so called Laws of Newtonian Physics were simply statements of material causality.
      We humans have always had a very practical interest in why things are occurring as they do. History has also shown that as a species we are simply unable to accept the idea that things “just happen” without an underlying explanation as to what caused these things to occur. This resistance to the “shit happens” world view has in fact served the human race well.
       Learning what has killed the sheep is an important step in protecting the herd. Was it wolves, bad clover or space aliens? If a sheep herder is to succeed he has to have an answer. Knowing what causes to things to happen has allowed us to survive and prosper. In cases where an obvious cause is not discovered, humans may attribute the events to miracles or to evil supernatural agencies. But the one thing we have always rejected is the idea that events are just random, that things occure without a cause. There is a learned preference for some alternative to saying that something occurred without there being a reason for it.
       I have found that in both Tibetan and Chan Buddhist teachings there is a very fundamental teaching as to what a student of Buddha must have as a mind set if he or she is to proceed successfully. In his book on the fundamentals of Buddhism Geshe Kelsang Gyatso states these clearly. In “Master HSU Yun’s discourse in the CH”AN HALL” Lu Kuan Yu quotes his master , Hsu Yun, ( Hsu Yun was perhaps the greatest Chan master of the last century) as stating these very same criteria that Gaytso avers as fundamental to Tibetan Buddhism.

As stated by Master hsu Yun the prerequisites to all Ch’an training are:

1. Firm Belief in the law of causality (i.e. Karma)

2. Strict observance of the rules of discipline ( i.e. The Ten Major Precepts)

3. Faith: The firm belief that the Buddha’s teachings are true, not false and that we all have the tathagata’s wisdom within us.

      These three basic mindsets that both these schools teach have become antithetical to modern Zen. Teachers like Brad Warner’s head would explode at the mere sounding of these teachings. In every modern so called book on Zen I see clearly the modern Deism and the new religion science’s worldview that disconnects spirit and matter. I don’t see these modern Zen teachings as Zen founded but rather a result of the now faltering “rationalistic” world view of the 19th and 20th centuries.
       Perhaps the least supported one of these mindsets in modern Zen is the very first one; a firm Belief in the law of causality (i.e. Karma). Despite the fact that causality is fundamental to all our so called modern sciences and despite the fact that virtually every social system presently in the world operates in the firm belief in causality modern western students of Buddha reject the very idea of spiritual causality. Even quantum theory has several theories of causality. So I must ask myself why so few modern students of Buddhism feel comfortable admitting to the idea of Karma.
       Modern quantum theory suggest that everything material is also mental and everything mental is also material that matter isn’t different from mind. That form is emptiness and emptiness is form. Why then should the law of causality not rule the entire spectrum of reality?
      I can only believe that as the world view of the last so called modern era crumbles this resistance to the nature of Karma will fall away.
       Maybe one day American Zen teachers will again feel entirely comfortable teaching the above three “prerequisites to all Ch’an training”.


  1. I find all three premises firmly supported in modern American Zen. There is perhaps a labeling issue in that folk might not like talking about karma, find cause-and-effect–a.k.a. causality – laced through everything I've ever read on Zen. Discipline seems to me given in any teaching by one who advocates sitting zazen. Perhaps faith may be the weakest of the three, but again, it's observance seems implied by me, for anyone pursuing the practice.