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The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

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Overview of Cause and Effect

Alexander Berzin
Knappenberg, Austria, March 2010

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (0:51 hours)

Yesterday we presented various divisions of existent and nonexistent phenomena: valid and invalid, etc. When we have a scheme such as this, it helps us to analyze what we’re actually experiencing. The purpose of analyzing what we’re experiencing is to eliminate the suffering, the unsatisfactory aspects of what we’re experiencing. I wanted to illustrate an application of this scheme (most of the elements of this scheme) so that perhaps it becomes a little bit clear, or clearer, how it is actually applied and what the benefit of such a scheme is.

We can talk about my suffering from the fear of monsters attacking me. That fear is an existent phenomenon (yod-pa) and it’s presently happening (da-lta-ba). What is nonexistent (med-pa), however, are the monsters. So the valid phenomenon (srid-pa) here is the presently-happening fear, and that’s an affirmation phenomenon (sgrub-pa), the fear. Also a valid phenomenon is the not-yet-happening (ma-’ong-pa) of my liberation or being parted from this fear. So I can aim for that. That’s a negation phenomenon (dgag-pa): being separated, no longer having fear. It’s a negation phenomenon. What is an invalid phenomenon (mi-srid-pa) is a presently-happening parting or separation (bral-ba) from that fear, right? It’s not presently happening. I might think that I am, but I’m not. So it’s an invalid phenomenon. And a nonexistent invalid phenomenon would be presently-happening monsters. Now, the no-longer-happening (’das-pa) of fear, it’s a nonstatic phenomenon (mi-rtag-pa). It’s valid. It’s happening now.

I’m sorry, I didn’t add one thing that I have to specify here. Now we have to talk about an incident of fear. I don’t have this fear all the time. We have incident number one of fear (let’s call that fear number one), and then fear number two – another incident in the future that hasn’t happened yet. So now I am in the interval in-between, between one and two. So what is valid is the no-longer-happening of fear number one and the not-yet-happening of fear number two (another occasion). I had it before; I could have it again.

The non-fear during that interval, it’s a negation phenomenon. Huge difference between “negative” and “negation,” so please be very, very careful not to confuse the two. That non-fear, during this interval, that’s a negation phenomenon. It has a beginning and it has an end. It’s nonstatic because it changes from moment to moment as that period goes. In other words, the no-longer-happening of fear number one, that’s a nonstatic phenomenon. It no longer happened one minute ago; that changes to no longer happened two minutes ago; then no longer happened three minutes ago. It’s changing. That interval also has a beginning and an end. The never-happening-again of fear, when I’m liberated from the fear, that will have a beginning but no end. It’s static. At that time, there is no fear. That’s a nonimplicative negation (med-dgag). There’s no fear. Finished. Doesn’t imply anything else. During that interval between time one and time two, what do I experience? I’m experiencing not-fear. That not-fear, this happiness that I’m feeling, is not fear, so it’s implicative (ma-yin dgag, implicative negation phenomenon): I’m feeling something else.

The never-happening-again of monsters attacking me, that fact “never happen again,” that’s a nonimplicative negation, but its object is a nonexistent phenomenon. So there’s a difference between the never-happening-again of the fear and the never-happening-again of the monsters. You can have a parting forever from fear; but you can’t have a parting forever from monsters, because the monsters never existed.

You see, if you analyze your situation of having fear from monsters with these categories, it becomes quite clear what we are working with: what is static, what’s nonstatic, what actually you can get parted from. It is very, very helpful for understanding a course of treatment, in a sense, of how you would overcome this fear; because although the monsters don’t exist, the fear does exist. So you have to see what course of action you’re going to take. You’re going to get a ghostbuster to come in and get rid of the monsters, or are you going to try to get rid of the fear?

Okay? A little bit clearer, I hope. Obviously you have to work a lot with such a scheme in order to be able to apply it easily.

For our discussion of cause and effect, which is extremely complicated, we need to have some background. So we have further divisions of phenomena. One division is tainted (zag-bcas) and untainted (zag-med). A tainted phenomenon is that which derives from disturbing emotions or attitudes (nyon-mongs) and they cause further tainted phenomena. And that is referring to all nonstatic phenomena, except the fourth noble truth – in other words, true pathways of mind, true understanding of reality. All nonstatic phenomena except true understanding, correct understanding of reality. Correct understanding of reality doesn’t come from a disturbing emotion, and doesn’t lead to more confusion, and it didn’t come from disturbing emotion. And untainted phenomena are these correct understandings (that’s nonstatic) plus all static phenomena. Static phenomena don’t derive from anything; they’re not caused, they’re not created by something.

Tainted phenomena (this is going to be our topic here) are divided into three types. We’re talking about all nonstatic phenomena, all things that are affected by causes and conditions other than correct understanding of reality. These are divided into three divisions according to their ethical status. Now when we talk about an ethical status, we’re not talking about moral judgment, we’re not talking about good and bad. We don’t have this concept of moral judgment in Buddhism. There’s no judge. Because there’s no judge, there’s no guilt.

The three-fold division is destructive (mi-dge-ba) phenomena, constructive (dge-ba) phenomena, and unspecified (lung ma-bstan) phenomena – these are phenomena that Buddha did not specify as being either constructive or destructive, so they’re ethically neutral. You have to be careful here with how you translate. It’s not “unspecific”; it’s “unspecified.” Buddha didn’t say, didn’t specify, he didn’t say specifically that it was constructive or destructive or either of those two.

So, destructive phenomena. There are a number of types, but we have certain things that are destructive by their essential nature (ngo-bo-nyid-kyis mi-dge-ba), so they are naturally destructive. And “destructive” is defined as something that’s a nonstatic phenomenon – something that is affected by causes and conditions – that ripens into harm to oneself or suffering of unhappiness and difficulties to oneself. That’s destructive. So we have that type of expression, at least in English, “self-destructive.” Things are self-destructive. Which you can understand is not a moral judgment. And so what is naturally destructive are what’s called the three poisonous emotions or attitudes (dug-gsum).

So the first one (there’s variations of it), it is, for instance, longing desire (’dod-chags) for something that I don’t have. It’s based on exaggerating the good qualities of something. A big solid “me” – “I have to have it.” Or if we have it, then attachment – “I don’t want to let go.” And even if I have a certain amount, greed – “I want more.” This longing desire, perhaps a stronger word for it would be “lust.” I lust for it, whether it’s a type of food, a type of body, money, whatever it is.

The second one is anger or hostility (zhe-sdang), repulsion. We exaggerate the negative qualities of something and we’ve got to get rid of it.

Then the third one is naivety (gti-mug). Naivety: I just don’t understand cause and effect in terms of my behavior; or I just don’t know it: reality. Naive. An example, very easy: I yell at you, I say something very cruel, but I’m naive and I think it’s not going to have any effect on you. Or I come late and I think there’s no effect. I’m totally naive that it’s going to hurt you. That’s naivety. It’s destructive. Or I’m naive about reality. I don’t think that you have emotions, that you have feelings, so I don’t even take it into consideration. This is either “I don’t know” or “I understand it incorrectly” – naivety has these two forms. So these are naturally destructive; and anything that accompanies it when I’m experiencing this, other states of mind that are with it, that’s destructive. So, the whole package.

Also naturally destructive is – and these accompany all destructive behavior, these last two – no sense of values (ngo-tsha med-pa). No sense of values means no respect for positive qualities or persons possessing them. The other one is no scruples (khrel med-pa). No scruples means that no sense to restrain from acting in grossly negative ways. I don’t respect people who are honest and I have absolutely no restraint in lying to you, for example. No hesitation because I think it’s perfectly alright. So obviously there’s some naivety there as well.

There are other definitions in other texts, but let’s not make this too overly complicated more than is needed.

Now we have a little bit of some of the scheme or framework for understanding the discussion of cause and effect, because the main topic of cause and effect is our behavior: karma (las). It’s not talking so much about laws of physics, in terms of cause and effect of physical matter and energy. That’s not really the main focus. The main focus is on what I call behavioral cause and effect. What are the causes within our behavior that affect our experience? That area of causality is what the topic is really concerned with.

To understand this we need to have a short five or ten minute course on karma, which, as you can imagine, is an enormous topic. There are two general presentations of karma in the Buddhist texts. I will discuss the one which is a little bit simpler.

When we talk about karma, first of all what is karma? Karma, according to this scheme, is a mental factor (sems-byung). It’s a way of being aware of something (shes-pa). It is equivalent to a mental urge (sems-pa), or mental impulse. It’s different from an intention (’dun-pa). An intention is a mental factor that draws us in the general direction of some action for a certain purpose. And an urge, or an impulse, is the mental factor that actually gets us into starting the action, sustains the action, and stops the action. Do you follow? I am sitting here. I have the intention to go to the refrigerator and get some food, get a glass of juice. Now I could act on that intention or not. But when I actually decide to do it, then that mental urge – that gets me up, gets me over to the refrigerator, and I drink the juice… Well now we’re just talking about getting the juice, so I go and get the juice and then I finish getting the juice. That whole mental impulse that brings me into the action, carries it out, and stops it – that’s karma.

It’s not the same as the action, although many people will translate it as “action.” But that’s a bit too general, a bit misleading, when we look at all the different systems for explaining karma. When we talk about action or behavior it can be either physically doing something, saying something (communicating), or thinking something. All those are actions. We can communicate in, well, I guess nonverbal ways would be physical ways – sign language and stuff like that – so that would be a physical action. Actually that could be debated. When you shake your head, is that an action of speech, of communication, or is that an action of the body? Let’s not debate. We won’t debate that. These are the types of things that Tibetans love to debate.

So we have the urge, we have the action. Urge is the karma. And then we have a positive or negative potential; and that’s usually translated as “merit” and “sin,” which are absolutely inappropriate translations. It has nothing to do with getting points – and at the end if you get enough points you win the game! Or sin, in terms of moral judgment. It’s just neutral in that judgment. Positive potential (bsod-nams) and negative potential (sdig-pa).

So, positive and negative potential. Positive potential is constructive. Negative potential is destructive. And it covers both the action itself and what’s left over on our mental continuum afterwards. Mental continuum (sems-rgyud) – I guess I shall have to explain that and what we mean here by continuing with the mental continuum. We spoke yesterday of a division of nonstatic phenomena (mi-rtag-pa) into forms of physical phenomena (gzugs), ways of being aware of something (shes-pa), and things that change and affect what we experience but which are in neither of these first two categories. For short, let’s call it “neither phenomena,” the “neither” things (ldan-min ’du-byed). An example that I gave was time. But these potentials are another example. A potential is a neither-type of phenomenon. It is not physical. It’s not something you can see in your mental continuum. It’s not a way of being aware of anything. So don’t try to think of it in terms of conscious and unconscious things; that’s totally irrelevant here. We have this technical term here – you’ll hear it a lot in Buddhism – it is “imputed” (ming ’dogs-pa) on the mental phenomena, or “labeled” on the mental phenomena. We’ll be talking quite a bit about this later.

What does that mean? We have a cause; we have an effect. Or we can think in terms of our example of the incident of fear number one and the incident of fear number two. What connects these two incidents over this interval? There’s a potential – or we get another term, “tendency” (sa-bon) – for fear. So that tendency or potential – tendency is another category here – the tendency or the potential, it is mentally labeled or imputed onto these two phenomena (fear number one and fear number two) in order to explain the connection. It exists. Potentials and tendencies exist. The example that I often use, since I like coffee, is: I drank coffee yesterday; I drank coffee this morning; I drank coffee right before the class; and I’m quite likely to drink another cup of coffee during the break. How do we connect or relate these phenomena? Are they totally unrelated to each other? No. You would say in order to – as a scheme to explain it, mentally labeled onto these phenomena – we would say that I have a tendency to drink coffee. I have a habit to drink coffee; and there’s a potential that I will drink another cup of coffee.

Do those potentials, habits, and tendencies exist? Of course. Can I know it? Of course. Validly? Yes. But it’s not something physical sitting inside my head or sitting somewhere. There’s not a cup of coffee sitting inside somewhere, that comes up, and now I’m going to drink a cup of coffee. And it’s not a way of being aware of something: I’m not in my head always thinking “coffee, coffee, coffee.” So it’s a little bit like an abstraction, okay? For those of you who are mathematically educated (maybe there are some, I don’t know) it’s like the first integral. You have a series of dots and it’s like the line that connects the dots. What is a line? It’s a collection of points, actually. A line is ascribed onto it. Is there a line? Yes, there’s a line. But actually it’s a series of points. Okay?

So we have these potentials. Karmic potentials, positive and negative. They include the action and the legacy – what’s left over after it. And there are also tendencies. Tendencies only start after the action; they don’t include the action. And tendencies are unspecified: they’re neither destructive nor constructive. What’s left over and what’s going to help to bring about the recurrence of something or a result will be these positive or negative potentials which are destructive or constructive, and tendencies which are neutral (unspecified). When they ripen – there has to be some circumstances for something to ripen, to bring about its result. “Ripen” means to bring about a result. And we’re not talking about ripening in the sense of a fruit on the tree getting more and more ripe, and when it’s really ripe then it will fall off. We’re not talking about ripening in that sense. We’re talking about more the sense of it actually falling off the tree. So when the circumstances are all gathered, then the potential and tendency will ripen, bring about its result.

So there are a lot of circumstances here for me drinking the next cup of coffee. The fact that the schedule is constructed in such a way that we’ll have a break. The fact that there’s a coffee machine in the hall. The fact that there is coffee. The fact that the water is working, so there is water, etc. There’s electricity. There are many circumstances that have to be gathered together in order for me to drink the next cup of coffee. So once the circumstances are all gathered together, then first of all what ripens is I feel like having another cup of coffee. It’s a wish. It’s only because I have a habit and tendency that I would want to have another cup of coffee. But actually I could want to have a cup of coffee even before the circumstances are all complete. But we’re talking about what will immediately lead to the urge, to the impulse that will get me over to that coffee machine.

So you see we have various steps that occur. You can stop the process at several of these points. I’d like to have another cup of coffee. I’d like to have a million Euros. There are a lot of things that I’d like to have; that doesn’t mean that I will either get it or act on getting it, does it? I’m on a diet, but I would like to have a big piece of chocolate. Though we could refrain, for example: “I feel like having a piece of chocolate,” of course I feel like having chocolate, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to go out and get myself a big bar of chocolate and stuff my face with it.

And then an intention would follow. So I have the intention to get up and go get the cup of coffee. And then karma will kick in, the actual impulse that gets me up and going there to take the coffee. Once the impulse is there, it’s hard to stop; but even with the intention, I still have the opportunity to reject acting on it. I mean, you follow this? This is actually very important in terms of our behavior. You said something nasty to me; I feel like saying something nasty back to you. I have, then, the intention of what I’m going to say to you when I see you next, but I may not actually say it. And even thinking, planning what I’m going to say, that’s a destructive mental action. But then when I’m actually with you, that impulse with which I choose the words to say to you and actually say them, that’s the karma. Okay?

Now we only have a half hour for actual cause and effect. But you can’t really understand all of this without this scheme.

We have here from one text… Remember we had Asanga and Vasubandhu writing these abhidharma (chos mngon-pa) texts on topics of knowledge, specific topics of knowledge. So you have two versions of this. This is the simpler one, of Vasubandhu: six main types of causes. In Asanga’s version he takes the first one and divides it into twenty types.

What’s one of the main things that one learns from such a complex analysis before I give you the analysis? It’s a very Buddhist method. Before you study something you need to be motivated to study it, so you need to know what are the benefits of learning something. If you understand what the benefits are, then you’ll be more interested in learning it. So this is Buddhist didactic method – quite intelligent, which obviously we could apply to learning anything – if we’re trying to teach something to someone, or just to learn it ourselves.

The point is that things happen in our experience – we’re talking about what we experience – things happen in our experience for a multitude of causes. It’s not that there’s just one cause. I can’t remember if I gave this example here or just in a private discussion with someone, but one of my students came to me and said that there was this big argument between his parents, and he said something to the mother in order to try to help her to deal with the situation and the mother had an attack of high blood pressure and was quite ill. And so my student thought, “It’s my fault. I caused this sickness, this problem with my mother,” and he felt guilty. But there are many, many causes, I explained to him, for his mother having this blood pressure attack. First of all, the situation between the mother and the father. The mother’s state of health. Many, many causes and conditions. The mother’s emotional state, and so on. So you really just contributed a circumstance for this high blood pressure attack, but there are many, many factors involved. So it’s absolutely absurd, irrational for you to think that “The only cause of this is me, and therefore I’m guilty.” You contributed, but you’re not the sole cause. Very useful, actually, for understanding why things happen to me or to anybody else, what all the causal factors are. To deconstruct our experience so that we don’t have misplaced blame, guilt, and accusations of others, and so on, that just cause a tremendous amount of suffering and problems. Okay? So that’s the benefit.

Now, types of causes. First we have the acting cause (byed-rgyu). Acting causes, plural. The acting causes are all phenomena other than the result itself and which do not impede the production of the result. I don’t know if I’m using the same definitions that you have here from the handout, because there are many different ways of defining these. But this is everything other than the result. What does this imply? This implies the interconnectedness of absolutely everything. What are the acting causes for my being able to have this cup of coffee during the break? It is everything that has ever happened and existing in the universe since the time of the Big Bang, isn’t it? If there wasn’t the formation of our solar system, I couldn’t have the cup of coffee. If there wasn’t the evolution of life on this planet, I couldn’t have that cup of coffee. If you think about it, if all of history didn’t happen, that somehow you didn’t have the people from Europe going to Arabia or South America and finding the people there drinking coffee… Imagine the people who originally thought to drink coffee and figured it out: that this bean which somehow got burned in a fire, that that somehow could make a drink. All of those are causes, acting causes, for my being able to have a cup of coffee, aren’t they? And the people who built the roads to bring the coffee here, and the ships, and who built the trucks to bring the coffee to the store. The people who run the store. Everything.

So you can see this category could be divided into twenty different types of acting causes, but it really gives us a clue into the interdependence of everything – which is a very fundamental Buddhist view. Everything is interconnected. And especially its application is in developing concern for others. When one thinks how many people and animals and so on are involved and have worked and done something for me to be able to have that coffee: the people who planted the coffee, picked the coffee, transported it, packed it, sold it, built the roads that allowed the transportation, etc. Everything that we have and use is the result of an incredible amount of work of an unbelievable number of beings. So that is a basis for appreciating the work that they have done. Whether they did it purposefully to benefit us or not is irrelevant. Therefore it is appropriate for me to care about them and help them.

Let’s use an example for illustrating these six types of causes that hopefully will make it a little bit clearer. I yelled at somebody, said cruel words, and I have a tendency to do that. And what I will experience as a result is feeling like yelling again at somebody, and actually yelling at them, and also experiencing them yelling back at me. So many acting causes here. There’s my tendency to yell; there’s the fact that we meet each other – and so how we met, and who built the street, and so on. So there are so many things that are acting causes here for me to experience this person yelling at me and me yelling back at them, having an argument.

Then there are simultaneously arising causes (lhan-cig ’byung-ba’i rgyu). These are causes that arise simultaneously with their results. I am yelling at this person, right? So I have a body. The body is making various gestures, various sounds; so the simultaneously arising causes would be the elements of my body. If I didn’t have a throat, if I didn’t have a mouth, if I didn’t have vocal cords, if I didn’t have a heart that was beating, and so on – I couldn’t be yelling at this person, could I? But this body and all its parts are occurring simultaneously with my yelling. They are a cause, though, of my yelling, aren’t they? The simultaneously arising cause. And my seeing you and my hearing what you say. That’s happening at the same time. If I didn’t see you or hear what you said, it would be very difficult to yell at you; but it’s happening at the same time. As you start to analyze, these are things that you never actually think about as causal factors, but without them, the experience of yelling and being yelled back at could not occur.

Then we have equal status causes (skal-mnyam-gyi rgyu). These are causes for which the results are later moments in the same category of phenomena that they are. I say something nasty; so the first words I say are the equal status cause of the next words in the sentence that I’m saying, aren’t they? There’s a connection. There’s a sequence. And they’re staying in the same status – same status here being destructive and nasty. When I yell at somebody I say a sequence of words; and so the first word in the sentence, saying that nasty word, that’s the cause for the next word in the sentence, and that’s the cause for the next word. So the definition is: a cause for which the results are later moments in the same category of phenomena as they are. So it forms a sequence. One moment happens at a time, doesn’t it?

Or we can look at the sequence of destructive behavior. There’s yelling in the past; and that led to a negative potential that’s also destructive; and then that leads to wanting to yell at you, and intending to yell at you, and yelling at you – that’s destructive. So that’s another sequence of equal status cause. Equal status causes being the sequence that leads to my yelling at you.

Then we have concomitant cause (mtshungs-ldan-gyi rgyu) [or congruent cause]. “Concomitant” means that it is sharing certain things together with the result. It’s a cause that shares things with the result. We’re talking here about, for instance, when I’m yelling at you, I’m seeing you – that’s a simultaneously arising cause. When we talk about various things as causes, something could serve as several different types of causes. So here I am seeing you while I’m talking to you; but what is concomitant with seeing you is, also, paying attention to you. If I didn’t pay attention to you… It’s going on at the same time.

So that paying attention shares five things in common with the seeing of you while I’m yelling. So seeing you and paying attention to you have (1) the same focal object: both are focused on your body. Or if we are talking about hearing, hearing and paying attention is focused on the sound of your voice. And they share (2) the same mental aspect; in other words, “mental aspect” (rnam-pa) is referring to a mental hologram. Remember we spoke about how when you see something, and so on, all the electric impulses and so on are somehow the next thing in the sequence of it – it’s a mental hologram. So they share the same mental hologram. They both rely on (3) the same cognitive sensors, the photosensitive cells of the eyes for seeing. They both occur at (4) the same time. Seeing you and paying attention to you is happening at the same time, isn’t it? We can increase the attention that we pay, but paying attention and seeing occur at the same time – some level of paying attention. And they have (5) the same slant (ris-mthun). In other words, if the seeing is accompanied by some destructive emotion, so that the seeing is destructive, so is the paying attention destructive. The same slant. Slant – I forget the Tibetan word, but it’s the same sort of “thing”.

Then we have the driving cause (kun-’gro’i rgyu). That’s “kundro” – it’s “driving,” it’s “pushing.” These are the disturbing emotions and attitudes that generate other subsequent disturbing emotions and attitudes. While I’m yelling at you, there’s a disturbing emotion of anger, isn’t there? I mean in most cases. And so that’s a disturbing emotion. And a cause for that: my previous moments of anger, and then the potential and tendency to get angry. The anger is also a concomitant cause. The anger is also accompanying and directed at the same object, the same mental hologram etc., and occurring at the same time.

Then we have the ripening cause (rnam-smin-gyi rgyu). That’s a difficult definition, but it’s referring to destructive phenomena or tainted constructive phenomena that, together with craving, have the power to produce the unspecified phenomena of our experience that make up our experience. So one of the things that we are experiencing in this moment of yelling at somebody besides anger, and besides seeing them, and besides paying attention to them, and besides the elements of our body – there’s also unhappiness. We are unhappy. So the ripening cause for that unhappiness (unhappiness just by itself is neutral), the ripening cause for that is destructive behavior. Destructive behavior results in experiencing unhappiness. If we experience unhappiness, it is definite that it is the result of destructive behavior – and that’s at least a five or six hour discussion of why that is the case, but we don’t have time for that. It’s one of the basic principles of karma.

We have to deconstruct this experience that we have of yelling at somebody. And the circumstances for being able to yell at them is coming from – everything, from the Big Bang… Right? And all the things that have happened in terms of that other person, that brings them to me and we get in an argument, and so on – which is not my responsibility, actually. I could provide circumstances for their anger to come, but I’m not the cause of their anger. That goes way, way back in terms of their continuum. How their parents treated them, etc., etc. And my physical health is part of it, that has certain causes and things that are affecting that, that allows me to be with this person and yell. The tendency to yell, that’s coming from a certain cause. The anger that I have, that’s coming from another type of cause. The unhappiness that I experience, that’s coming from another type of cause. So we start to deconstruct, and there’s so many things that are going on here in the causal process. Very, very helpful, rather than making such a solid, horrible thing about it. The things that immediately preceded what was going on – I burnt my food, and all sorts of things that would get me in this bad mood – which affects my yelling at this person. So many causes.

We’re going to have to go beyond the time. I’m sorry.

So we have, now, conditions. You have the causal conditions (rgyu’i rkyen). That’s referring to the five types of causes other than the acting causes. We have six types of causes; what’s called the causal conditions are five of them, the five that are other than the acting causes.

Then we have the immediately preceding conditions (de-ma-thag rkyen). So it’s the immediately preceding moment of awareness that is the condition for the next moment of awareness.

Then we have the focal condition (dmigs-rkyen). That would be the body of the person, or the sound of their voice, when we’re yelling and they’re yelling back at us.

Then we have the dominating condition (bdag-rken). The dominating condition would be, let’s say, when we’re seeing the person or yelling at them, the dominating condition would be the eye sensors. Because we’re relying on these photosensitive cells of the eyes; it dominates what we’re experiencing. Here we’re experiencing seeing the person or hearing the person, so that would be the sound sensitive cells of the ears.

Question: Focal condition?

Alex: Focal condition is what we’re focusing on. What presents itself to become this – to generate a mental hologram. So it would be the body of the person when we’re seeing them or the sound of the voice when we’re hearing them. That’s a condition for yelling at them. And the fact that our mind was working the moment before we yelled, that’s a condition for that moment of yelling at them. And we’re seeing them while we’re yelling at them. So what’s dominating that seeing are the eye sensors.

Then we have obtaining causes (nyer-len-gyi rgyu). There’s another set of items here. An obtaining cause is that from which we obtain the result and which ceases to exist when the result arises. So the seed for the sprout. From the seed you obtain the sprout, and when you get the sprout, the seed no longer exists. Sometimes this is translated as “material cause”; that’s totally wrong. It’s not talking about the substance out of which something is made – that’s the simultaneously arising cause. That’s not this cause. So here it would be the tendency to yell or be yelled at. From that, you obtain this next incident of yelling, and so on. And it’s finished – one particular chunk of that tendency. You might have more tendencies, but one particular one is finished when you yell. It ceases to exist. Or the uncooked loaf of bread is the obtaining cause for the baked loaf of bread. This is where people misunderstand it because they think you’re talking about the substance. We’re not talking about the substance. At the time of the cooked loaf of bread, the uncooked dough doesn’t exist anymore.

Then we have simultaneously acting contributing conditions (lhan-cig byed-pa’i rkyen). These are things that must exist prior to the arising of something, and which assist in making the arising happen, but don’t transform into what arises. So the classic example would be the water, and soil, and heat for the sprout. They have to exist before the sprout, but they don’t transform into the sprout; but they help with the arising of the sprout. There are many, many examples that we could give for this in terms of our incident of yelling at the person. Them coming into our presence happens before we yell at them, but that doesn’t transform into our yelling at them. But you had to have that happen. It contributes.

Then we have similar family causes (rigs-’dra’i rgyu). These are things that serve as models for the result. We’re going to yell out nasty words. There’s a whole set of nasty words and nasty things that you could say that we’ve heard before, and so we’re going to choose something from that. So this is a similar family cause. It’s a model for what we’re going to say, isn’t it?

Then we have a natal source (rdzas). A natal source – something from which something is born, gives rise to something, from which something arises. Like the oven for the loaf of bread, or the mother’s womb for the baby. In this example, it could be the vocal cords from which arises the sound of my voice yelling at you. I mean, when you think about it, there’s so many things that affect this yelling. If I lost my voice, if I was hoarse, if there’s some problem with my vocal cords, I couldn’t yell at you. Just as a simple example.

Are you still okay for another five minutes?

Now results. We have ripened results (rnam-smin-gyi ’bras-bu). These are the unspecified phenomena (these are neutral phenomena) which do not obstruct our liberation or enlightenment, which are conjoined with our mental continuum (like our body, and our consciousness, and feelings, and so on), which come from a ripening cause that was also conjoined with our mental continuum. So this is referring to destructive and constructive things on my mental continuum that are the cause. And what ripens from it, the ripened results, would be like my sickness or my unhappiness, these sort of things. These are neutral phenomena; they ripen from that. Or just my body when I was born. So we have certain things that… we act in a destructive way (also constructive; I mean, I’m just using the example of destructive). We act in a destructive way and certain neutral things ripen from that, either in this lifetime or a future lifetime. So the classic example would be our body, all the aspects of our body, our being aware of things, our feelings, happy, unhappy.

Then we have results that correspond to their cause (rgyu-mthun-gyi ’bras-bu). That has two varieties: in our behavior (byed-pa rgyu-mthun-gyi ’bras-bu) or in our experience (myong-ba rgyu-mthun-gyi ’bras-bu). In our behavior would be, from yelling at others, then through having built up a potential and a tendency, then it ripens into something similar to the cause. So we feel like yelling again, and we yell again. Results that correspond to their cause in our experience would be experiencing other people yelling at us. This is coming from karma. It’s not that their yelling at us results from our karma. Their yelling at us comes from all sorts of causes in them. What ripens in us is that we experience them yelling at us – it’s our experience that ripens. And the fact that we walked into their presence, and stuff like that, that’s coming from all different causes.

Then there are dominating results (bdag-’bras). Sometimes we can translate it as “comprehensive results.” It’s the type of environment or society in which we are born or enter and the way it treats us. Or it could also refer to objects, like our possessions, and what happens to them. This would be from various types of causes that in this lifetime we are always in. We’re born into a society in which people yell at each other and there’s all sorts of arguments and disharmony in the society. Or we tend to go to places, move to places like that. Also the things that we have are always breaking, and so on, so it makes us annoyed all the time and we yell. That’s a dominating result; and it affects not only us, but other people as well.

Then there are man-made results (skyes-bu byed-pa’i ’bras-bu). Man-made results are what we usually associate with physical cause and effect. I banged my foot against the chair and the result of that is that I experience pain. There’s a karmic cause for why I would feel unhappy and why I experience banging my foot, but the actual cause and effect relationship of the banging of the foot and the pain is a man-made result.

Then there was one more. Results that are states of being parted (bral-’bras), being parted from something. That’s a static phenomenon, so it’s not really a result, but it’s classified as a result. It’s when we have gotten rid of our confusion or disturbing emotions – so that state of being parted – so that they will never arise again. That state itself, that result, is this thing and it’s static. What’s nonstatic, which comes from causes, is the attainment of it, but not the state itself.

So what we’ve seen from this, to summarize, is that in any particular event that I experience – like being in an argument with somebody – all the different components of it have different causes, and those causes happened at different times. And, in the “real-thing” Dharma, most of them happened in different lifetimes. So there are causes for why I have this tendency to yell. There are other potentials to meet with people that yell at me, that I get into arguments with, and there are causes on their side for why they come and meet us. There are other causes for our anger. There are other causes for our unhappiness that accompanies all of this. There are other causes for us having vocal cords that allow us to yell. There’s another set of models of nasty words that you could say that society has agreed upon. You don’t yell at somebody saying, “You bunny rabbit!” for example. There are so many different causes and they’re coming from all sorts of different areas. That helps us to see what we need to work on to correct, and not make just a big solid monster out of the whole event, the whole situation. So we’re much more relaxed about how we deal with difficult experiences that we have. Much more relaxed.

So let’s end here.