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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 4: Deepening the Understanding of the Path > Causes, Conditions, and Results

Causes, Conditions, and Results

Alexander Berzin, July 2005

The Six Types of Causes According to Vasubandhu

Causes (rgyu, Skt. hetu) bring about the production or arising of something. Conditions (rkyen, pratyaya) help shape the identity of what is produced or arises.

According to the Vaibhashika presentation, as explained in Vasubandhu's text, A Treasure House of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa'i mdzod, Skt. Abhidharmakosha), there are six types of causes:

  • Acting causes (byed-rgyu, Skt. karanahetu) – all phenomena, other than the result itself, which do not impede the production of the result. There are (a) potent acting causes (byed-rgyu nus-ldan), such as a seed for a sprout, and (b) impotent acting causes (byed-rgyu nus-med), such as the space that allows a sprout to grow and the mother or the clothes of the farmer who planted the seed.
  • Simultaneously arising causes (lhan-cig 'byung-ba'i rgyu, Skt. sahabhuhetu) – causes that arise simultaneously with their results. This refers to two phenomena, specified as cause and result, that mutually contribute to the production or arising of each other; in other words, one cannot exist without the other. Examples are the four constituent elements of a material object and the material object made of them, the mental factors and primary consciousness with which they are congruent, and defining characteristics and the basis having those defining characteristics.

[See: Congruent and Noncongruent Affecting Variables.]

  • Equal status cause (skal-mnyam-gyi rgyu, Skt. sabhagahetu) – causes for which the results are later moments in the same category of phenomena as they are. The same category refers to their being in the same ethical category (rigs) – constructive (whether tainted or untainted), destructive, or unspecified – as well as to their being on the same level of existence (sa) – the plane of sensory desires (desire realm), of ethereal forms (form realm), or of formless beings (formless realm). Examples are prior moments of something, such as patience, being equal status causes of later moments of it, and moments of something being equal status causes for the next superior level of it. An example of the latter case is the discriminating awareness in the plane of sensory desires that comes from listening being the equal status cause of the discriminating awareness in the plane of sensory desires that comes from thinking.
  • Congruent causes (mtshungs-ldan-gyi rgyu, Skt. samprayuktahetu) – causes that share five things in common with their results: namely the same focal object, mental aspect, cognitive sensor, time, and slant. This refers to the primary consciousness and its congruent mental factors. Thus, congruent causes are a subcategory of simultaneously arising causes.
  • Driving causes (kun-'gro'i rgyu, Skt. sarvatragohetu) – disturbing emotions and attitudes that generate other subsequent disturbing emotions and attitudes in the same plane of existence. The cause and result here do not, however, need to be of the same ethical status. For example, a deluded outlook in the plane of sensory desires toward a transitory network ('jig-lta, Skt. satkayadrshti) is an unspecified phenomenon and can be the driving cause of attachment in the plane of sensory desires, which is a destructive phenomenon.
  • Ripening cause (rnam-smin-gyi rgyu, Skt. vipakahetu) – destructive and tainted constructive phenomena, not devoid of the moisture of craving (sred-pa, Skt. trshna), that have the power to produce the nonobstructive unspecified items (ma-bsgribs-pa'i lung ma-bstan, Skt. anivrta-avyakrta) contained in the five aggregate factors of future rebirth states, such as the body, the types of consciousness, and the feelings.

[See: Constructive, Destructive, and Unspecified Phenomena.]

The Four Conditions According to Vasubandhu

According to Vasubandhu, there are four types of conditions:

  • Causal conditions (rgyu-rkyen, Skt. hetupratyaya) – all the causes that have the power to produce a specific result. This refers to the five types of causes other than the acting causes.
  • Immediately preceding conditions (de-ma-thag rkyen, Skt. samanantarapratyaya) – the immediately preceding moment of awareness, which produces the appearance-making and cognizing (gsal-rig; clarity and awareness) of the next moment of awareness as its result. Only primary consciousness and mental factors have immediately preceding conditions.
  • Focal condition (dmigs-rkyen, Skt. alambanapratyaya) – that which presents an aspect of itself to be an object of cognition.
  • Dominating condition (bdag-rkyen, Skt. adhipatipratyaya) – that which produces the essential nature (ngo-bo) of something, such as the eye-sensors for the visual consciousness and congruent mental factors of a visual cognition. This condition is called "dominating" – literally, the "overlord condition" – because it rules what the essential nature of its result will be. Causal conditions, on the other hand, produce the special features (khyad-par) of something, such as a mental factor that accompanies a visual consciousness being attachment. In the case of forms of physical phenomena, dominating and causal conditions are the same.

Additional Types of Causes and Conditions

In the general discussion of causes and conditions, several others are mentioned.

  • Obtaining causes (nyer-len-gyi rgyu, Skt. upadanahetu; material causes) – that from which one obtains the item as its successor and thus which ceases to exist when its successor arises. The karmic legacy (sa-bon, Skt. bija; karmic seed) for a visual cognition of a clay pot is the obtaining cause for the visual consciousness of the pot, since it turns into the visual consciousness as its successor and, when it does so, it ceases to exist. It is not the obtaining cause of the visual form of the clay pot. The unfired clay is the obtaining cause for the clay pot, as is the uncooked dough for a loaf of bread, and a seed for a sprout.
  • Simultaneously acting conditions (lhan-cig byed-pa'i rkyen, Skt. sahakaripratyaya) – items that must exist prior to the arising of something and which assist in making the arising happen, but which do not transform into what arises. For example, a karmic legacy for the visual cognition of the visual form of a clay pot is the simultaneously acting condition for the visual form of the pot, as is water and fertilizer for a sprout.
  • Similar-family causes (rigs-'dra'i rgyu, Skt. sajatiyakaranam) – items in the same category of phenomena as their results and which serve as models for them. For example, the karmic legacy of a cognition of the visual form of a clay pot is the similar-family cause for a later moment of visual consciousness of a clay pot. A previously existent external model of the visual form of a clay pot is the similar-family cause for the visual form of a clay pot. Sights, as forms of physical phenomena, do not leave karmic legacies; only ways of being aware of something do that. Therefore, a visual form (a sight) cannot be the similar-family cause of a karmic legacy; and a karmic legacy cannot be the similar-family cause of a subsequent visual form.
  • Natal sources (rdzas, Skt. dravya) of things – that which gives rise to something or from which something arises. For example, a potter's wheel is the natal source of a clay pot, an oven is the natal source of a loaf of bread, and a womb is the natal source of a baby. A natal source may give rise to two inseparable things, such as a clay pot and the belly of the clay pot (a whole and its parts). Alternatively, it may give rise to two separable things, such as two clay pots. Some natal sources cease to exist after they give rise to something, such as a seed as the natal source of a sprout. Some continue to exist, such as a potter's wheel after it produces a clay pot.

The Five Types of Results According to Vasubandhu

Vasubandhu discusses five types of results:

  • Ripened results (rnam-smin-gyi 'bras-bu, Skt. vipakaphalam) – the nonobstructive unspecified items conjoined with the mental continuum of a limited being, such as the body, consciousness, and feelings, and which come from a ripening cause that was also conjoined with his or her mental continuum. The ripening causes must be either destructive or tainted constructive ones. Unspecified actions or impulses do not give rise to any ripened results.
  • Results that correspond to their cause (rgyu-mthun-gyi 'bras-bu, Skt. nishyandaphalam) are of two types: (a) results that correspond to their cause in our behavior (byed-pa rgyu-mthun-gyi 'bras-bu), (b) results that correspond to their cause in our experience (myong-ba rgyu-mthun-gyi 'bras-bu). They can arise from destructive, tainted constructive, or unspecified actions. The former refer to the mental factor of liking (dga'-ba, Skt. priti) to do an action, in a particular moment, similar to what we have done in the past – in other words, feeling like repeating the action. It can also be described as wishing ('dod-pa) to do such an action, in which case it is equivalent to intention ('dun-pa, Skt. chandas). The latter refer to the experience of a situation in which something similar to our previous action happens back to us.
  • Dominating results (bdag-po'i 'bras-bu, Skt. adhipatiphalam, overriding results, comprehensive results) – the type of environment or society in which we are born or enter, and the way it treats us, or objects, such as our possessions, and what happens to them. Such results may ripen from destructive, tainted constructive, or unspecified actions. They are called "dominating results" – literally, "overlord results" – because, like an overlord, they extend over and dominate everything that we experience in a particular rebirth. A variant term for them is commanding results (dbang-gi 'bras-bu). In many cases, these results extend out to and dominate the lives of many others who, for example, share an environment because of having each built up the karmic causes for being born in or living in it.
  • Man-made results (skyes-bu byed-pa'i 'bras-bu, Skt. purushakaraphalam) are of two types: man-made results that are produced or develop (bskyed-pa'i skyes-bu byed-pa'i 'bras-bu) and man-made results that are attainments (thob-pa'i skyes-bu byed-pa'i 'bras-bu). Both are results that arise as the direct result of the effort of a limited being; they do not ripen from karma. Examples of the former type are a bruise from banging our foot and a profit from doing business. An example of the latter type is the attainment of a seeing pathway mind (mthong-lam; path of seeing), the third of the five levels of spiritual pathway minds, as a result of intensive meditation on the absence of true identities (bdag-med, Skt. nairatmya, identitylessness, selflessness).
  • Results that are states of being parted (bral-'bras, Skt. visamyogaphalam) – static states that are attained by means of effort, but which are neither produced by nor ripen from that effort. For instance, meditating nonconceptually on the absence of true identities acts as a circumstance for the state of being parted from a portion of our disturbing emotions and attitudes. But since such a state is static and lasts forever, it neither ripens from nor is caused or produced by the act of meditation. Meditation results in the attainment of this state, but does not produce the state itself.

Variants and Elaborations from Asanga

According to Asanga's Chittamatra text, An Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa kun-las btus-pa, Skt. Abhidharmasamuccaya), acting causes refer to everything other than the result itself. Potent acting causes include all nonstatic affected phenomena other than the result itself, while impotent acting causes include only static unaffected phenomena. Moreover, causal conditions include acting causes as well.

There are twenty types of acting causes:

  • Acting causes that produce as their outcome ('byung-ba'i byed-rgyu) – for example, the karmic legacy for a visual consciousness, plus the dominating and immediately preceding conditions, produce a moment of visual consciousness.
  • Acting causes for abiding (gnas-pa'i byed-rgyu) – for example, food and water for a limited being to survive.
  • Acting causes that serve as a reliance (rten-pa'i byed-rgyu) – for example, the earth or ground as what land creatures rely on as a place to live, or water for fish.
  • Acting causes for making things clear (gsal-ba'i byed-rgyu) – for example, the light from the sun or a lamp that allows visual consciousness to perceive visual forms clearly.
  • Acting causes for changing something ('gyur-ba'i byed-rgyu) – for example, fire to change wood into charcoal.
  • Acting causes that separate something ('bral-ba'i byed-rgyu) – for example, a sickle for cutting grass and making hay.
  • Acting causes for transforming something (bsgyur-ba'i byed-rgyu) – for example, a goldsmith to transform gold into a piece of gold jewelry.
  • Acting causes for having confidence (yid-ches-pa'i byed-rgyu) – for example, seeing smoke for gaining confidence, through inference, in the presence of fire.
  • Acting causes that make us gain confidence (yid-ches-par byed-rgyu) – the three factors in a line of reasoning that prove a syllogism.
  • Acting causes that allow for an attainment ('thob-pa'i byed-rgyu) – for example, true pathway minds for attaining liberation and enlightenment.
  • Acting causes that are conventions (tha-snyad-kyi byed-rgyu) – seeing the defining characteristics of a basis for labeling, or hearing the sound of a word as a cause for understanding what the object is or what the word means.
  • Acting causes on which something depends (ltos-pa'i byed-rgyu) – for example, feeling hungry as the acting cause for eating.
  • Acting causes that throw (from a distance) ('phen-pa'i byed-rgyu) – for example, the first link of dependent arising, unawareness, as an acting cause for the twelfth link, aging and dying, or our great great-grandparents as the acting causes for us.
  • Acting causes that immediately accomplish (mngon-par 'grub-pa'i rgyu) – for example, the first link of dependent arising as an acting cause for the second link, affecting variables, or our parents as the acting causes for us.
  • Acting causes that take care (yongs-su 'dzin-pa'i byed-rgyu) – the factors that help a result to mature from its obtaining cause; for example, dirt, water, sunlight, and fertilizer for a sprout to grow from a seed.
  • Acting causes that ingratiate (rkud-par byed-rgyu) – for example, flattering, obeying, or pleasing someone as the acting cause for gaining his or her favor and thus gaining favorable circumstances.
  • Acting causes for gaining with certainty a specific type of rebirth (so-sor nges-pa'i rgyu) – the network of karmic and non-karmic causes and conditions for gaining a specific type of rebirth from among the five realms (anti-gods, here, being included among either gods or clutching ghosts).
  • Acting causes that are simultaneous (lhan-cig byed-rgyu) – the network of causes and conditions that must work simultaneously together in order to produce a result, such as the dominating, and immediately preceding conditions, undegenerated power of the cognitive sensors, attention, concentration, and so forth for the cognition of an object.
  • Acting causes that are discordant (with the result) (mi-mthun-pa'i byed-rgyu) – those things that interrupt or impede the production of something, for example, a hail storm as an acting cause for a crop.
  • Acting causes that are not discordant (with the result) (mi-mthun-pa ma-yin-pa'i byed-rgyu) – the absence of a discordant condition and the presence of a concordant one; for example, weather free of hail and of drought as the acting cause for a crop.