Monthly Archives: May 2015

Proof of Cause and Effect Part One

I get asked often how to logically prove the concept of cause and effect, so I thought I would write some about it.

The basic outline is this: there are three possibilities. Either things are random, God makes everything happen, or results have causes. Often, if we investigate our own minds, what we find is that we are using all three: if something good happens to me it’s cause and effect (I deserve it), if something bad happens things are random (bad luck), and if I really need something I ask a higher power for it.

But these are contradictory, so if you want to be logical, you have to pick one. But the first thing to do is to analyze the situation and see for yourself if you agree with these three categories, to make sure there are not others. To be fair, there are, but if you think about it you’ll be able to fit them into one of these three. For example, the law of attraction is an attempt to describe a kind of cause and effect. Science is either deterministic and therefore another attempt to describe cause and effect or where it gives up (singularities or describing why you got cancer and not someone else) is equivalent to arguing for randomness. But you have to explore this for yourself.

Once you’re okay with the three basic categories, then we start to explore them. The basic framework will be to prove that randomness and “God makes it happen” are illogical, leaving cause and effect as the only reasonable alternative. At that point, then we have to logic out what cause and effect really is.

Okay, so why are things random? Because if they were, you wouldn’t be able to make anything happen. You go to work, raise children, and build relationships with family and friends, because you believe that something will happen as a result of that effort. I tend to use a silly example, but let’s run the tests and see if it’s true or not:

Consider the idea that things are random,

It’s not true,
Because if things were random it could start raining monkeys right now.

True or false? Run the tests: is there a relationship between #1 the subject (randomness) and #3 the reason (if that idea were true it could start raining monkeys). Yes, if things were truly random then at any time it could start raining monkeys. (That would be pretty random, wouldn’t it? Yet fun; I almost wish it was true.) What about test #2: is it true that it must be the case that (#3) because it’s could not start raining monkeys right now, the world is not random? I think so, unless you really believe that it could start raining monkeys. Test #3: if things were random, would that mean that it could start raining monkeys? Yes, if there were no cause and effect, if things were truly random, then at any moment it could start raining monkeys. Or you could turn into a monkey, a monkey could turn into you, or the moon could turn into a monkey, or any number of wonderful, yet impossible, monkey scenarios could happen.

If you don’t think that’s possible, then you don’t really believe things are random, or as we say colloquially, “sh!t happens.” Sh!t does not just happen; if sh!t happens it’s because there is a cause for it.

And if you don’t believe that, I have a monkey umbrella I can sell you.

Hardcore Buddhism: Arhats without Remainder

I just got back from teaching some Buddhist courses in Sacramento, so my mind is involved in some Buddhist logic right now.

So this post is only for the Buddhists. 😉

I taught a class recently and debated (Hinayana) Arhats with a student. For the record, Arhats are defined as those who have achieved Nirvana. Nirvana is defined as having ceased all mental affliction obstacles permanently.

This is great news if you’re a Buddhist, because mental afflictions (bad thoughts like anger, jealousy, desperately wanting something for yourself) are, according to the Buddha, the cause of all of our pain. We think bad thoughts towards or about others and this forces us to see people who want (and do) hurt us.

So do Arhats experience suffering? Well, by definition they have eliminated the causes for pain. But unfortunately, according to Buddhism, they have been collecting those causes previously for infinite time. So there’s still a lot of bad seeds there waiting to go off.

Buddhism calls that “Nirvana with remainder.” What that means is that although Arhats are not collecting any new bad mental seeds, they still have plenty left over from before that. In particular, if an Arhat was born with a body of flesh and blood, that flesh and blood destructible body was born of seeds that were still impure. So the result must be impure: a body that will get old (hopefully make it that far) and die. So even if someone reaches Nirvana in this life they will necessary still have some bad results to experience, because causes have results.

There are lots of stories here; the King of Kalingka is one (he’s an arhat but gets all of his extremities chopped off) and another is the story of Angulimala (after becoming an arhat he’s beaten to death by the family of former victims).

But the sutras say that once an Arhat with remainder passes into Nirvana, they won’t experience pain anymore. So what does that look like? Well, they take rebirth into a formless realm.

So the question is, do Arhats see suffering? Well, it depends. Are they Arhats with or without remainder? Arhats with remainder definitely see suffering, because they still have the bad seeds to see suffering (and their fingers chopped off or themselves being beaten). But what about Arhats without remainder?

Consider Hinayana Arhats without remainder,
They can’t see suffering,
Because they exist in a formless realm.

True or false? Run the tests. Do Arhats without remainder exist in the formless realm? Yes, they no longer have the seeds to experience a suffering body. So they born somewhere without one.

If they exist in the formless realm, must it be the case that they cannot see suffering? Yes, they do not have the seeds to suffer themselves nor do they have any one else to see suffer (that’s why it’s called the formless realm; no forms to see).

So what’s that like? Well, not so great. It takes a lot of good seeds to see a Buddha paradise, and they don’t have those seeds either. So they don’t see pain, but they don’t see paradise either. Instead, what the scriptures say is that eventually some goodness they have done in the past ripens in their mind and they meet a Buddha, who convinces them to go back and help others. This Bodhisattva motivation then creates the seeds for them to finally reach full Buddhahood and get to a Buddha paradise.

So the question is, when they have a seed to ripen in their minds to “see” a Buddha, how do they do that in the formless realm?