Cause and Effect Denied

If you lose the cultural trappings and metaphors, the basic principles of Buddhism are totally compatible with Christianity. If you lose the trappings and metaphors of Christianity, it is entirely compatible with Buddhism. That’s because religion in its essence is a message from the past experiences of human kind that is intended to help us understand the natural law of cause and effect, and how it works in our relationships within populations and in the reality of how life functions. The laws of nature do not differ from one place to another or from one religion to another. In fact the laws of nature don’t know we exist. The laws of nature are what they must be if there is to be a universe, and if we choose to defy them or if we choose to understand them, the laws of nature don’t give a shit. They just are. So, the more we understand about them, the better we can learn how to get what we want in life. Religions are meant to help us toward more rewarding life by guiding us toward doing actions that have beneficial effects.

The basic law of cause and effect tells us things like – if you jump off a tall building you will fall. The evil that has been done to Americans mostly has to do with corrupting the concept of cause and effect, teaching us to believe in things that can’t possibly be, and so destroying our ability to use logic to make sense of our lives.

There is a basic law of cause and effect that we cannot change. The only way we CAN grow a long-term good life is to learn as much as we can about how the real world really does work – and the lies we are being told — and build that knowledge into our lives.

So the first step (“the first noble truth”) is to recognize that pain is unavoidable. The point is not whether or not you like that idea. The point is that if you try for a life that has no pain in it you will make it more painful than it really is. Bitsy’s caretaker’s mother has MS. When I picked up Bitsy yesterday, she was telling me how people don’t like to look at her mother and so they just turn away, and she said they would cause less suffering for everyone if they would learn to: “Deal with it.” Whether or not we like suffering is not relevant in our lives because it’s not one of the available choices. What gives us a better or worse life is how we deal with that and with the choices that are available. That’s what religion is supposed to help us to do more effectively. The more you know about the reality of cause and effect, the more effectively you can deal with it.

The wisdom traditions that are actually useful do not tell you that you can get whatever you want by magic or prayer or wishing or buying something. (For example what I said – if we keep doing whatever we are doing our lives won’t change very much unless of course there is some big change from outside.) If we want to change our lives, then we need to change our behaviors, and we also need to know what does NOT work. For example the American Dream does not work. It claims to benefit the entire population, but it can’t because that goal is biologically impossible using the methods – or behaviors – that we are using. We would be far better off to stop doing what we know is not working. We can’t live without air. We can’t eat without good earth to grow the food in. We can’t destroy the earth and still feed all the people. We can’t be fulfilled human beings by spending our time competing with other people, rather than growing sustainable communities. Those are the things we need to know if we want to find a sense of satisfaction.

The trick of living is to understand what we can NOT do and stop trying to do it. If we do the things that can’t give us what we want – we won’t get what we want. No matter what self-help make-believe someone is trying to sell us. If we want to grow a better future for ourselves or for anyone else, we need to consider the law of cause and effect and the ways in which our behaviors of today are most likely to affect our future(s). We humans know enough science to understand the basic biological realities. What I like about the principles of Buddhism is that they are a useful recipe for the human realities.

I got interested in the principles of Buddhism when I heard the Dalai Lama say just what I said in the paragraph above. I already understood the law of cause and effect as it is studied by science. He recognized this and compared it with Buddhism. Buddhism studies the law of cause and effect as it applies to human behaviors. But the other wisdom traditions also give us essentially the same useful recipe.

We cannot avoid the results of the behaviors of our society, but we don’t have to believe the lies or live out the false claims of the propaganda. The more useful alternatives are well understood.


You know what I think is silly? I think it’s silly to separate everything under different labels. For example, if you take the time to learn the basic underlying meaning of Karma, it sure sounds to me like the universal natural law of cause and effect, expressed in an analytical setting that was useful for the people who were doing the analyzing, and helped them to avoid getting into trouble in their lives, just as a street light, for example, helps us not to crash into each other. If you go flying through a red light, then the effect of your action is likely to be unpleasant, so it’s a useful bit of knowledge that red lights are there to help you avoid pain. But the law of cause and effect is not limited to Buddhism. It’s universal. We can all learn from the reality of the law, even if we don’t necessarily connect with the cultural details of how it is explained to us by a Buddhist. And if we don’t — if we are determined that we know better than 2500 years of life experience — well then we will make a lot of mistakes and some of them are likely to be quite unpleasant.

Evolution Doesn’t Work That Way

Many people today, from the military to the economist to the new age, are basing decisions about their behavior on evolution. Some of us don’t even know we are doing it, and most don’t really know what evolution is. If we are thinking that evolution is “survival of the fittest,” we are making a mistake. It doesn’t work that way. We can’t plan to change physical evolution anyhow, and we would be far better to base our social behaviors on human ethics so as to possibly impact social change, and our physical efforts on not unbalancing the ecosystem.

Physical evolution is the law of nature that involves the information content of life and is the process of change of the entire information content of the ecosystem over time. Or, a change of a part of the ecosystem over time.

We all understand that time does not go backward, nor does it stop. I don’t know why; physicists might know about that. I do know time stops for no living thing. We can’t change what has already happened, so it’s better not to make mistakes. If God created the ecosystem, then, that’s one of God’s laws.

So that takes care of time. We can not change what is already behind us. Furthermore, no matter what we are doing, evolution never stops. It does not happen in the future, or rather it will happen in the future, but it is what is happening in this very moment of time that affects what will happen in the next moment of time. The only thing that actually is changing is — now. So we should think about not making mistakes, and we should think about it now if we want to create a good future for our kind.

The information content of the ecosytem is usually thought of as the gene pool. You could quibble about this and say that there are other forms of information, but I’m talking about the primary source of information that exists at each moment in time in response to whatever conditions exist. That information is all the genes that exist in the gene pool at this moment in time.

So the ecosystem is the largest unit of life as we know it on earth. The information of life is the genes. The gene pool of life is all the genes in that life. The gene pool of a species is all the genes in all the organisms of that species. The gene pool of a population is all the genes in that population. You have only two genes of each kind, and so does everyone else, so your impact on the ecosystem is tinier than tiny. Even if you kill off all your enemies and even if you are more fit than superman, your impact on the gene pool is still tinier than tiny.

So forget the delusions of grandeur. Your individualistic self might make a huge impact in your community of choice, but whatever we believe we are doing won’t matter to the ecosystem if we throw it off balance. Like all living entities, the prime imperative of the ecosystem is to stay in balance so it can survive, and there is no point in any of our physical or spiritual “cures” for our problems if at the same time we continue to unbalance our living home.

“Survival of the fittest” is only an excuse for people like Hitler, and maybe Bernie Madoff. And other people who want to wish away their social and cultural responsibilities by discounting physical reality. Evolution doesn’t work that way.

It would be better to spend out time finding out how it really does work if we want to stop unbalancing our living home.

(Excerpt from “Outside the Circles,” in production)