The Application Of The Law Of Causation To Morals

Although it may be needless to state here the law of causation at any

length, yet it is not equally needless to say a few words about its

application to morals as the law of retribution, which is a matter of

dispute even among Buddhist scholars. The kernel of the idea is very

simple-like seed, like fruit; like cause, like effect; like action,

like influence--nothing more. As fresh air strengthens and impure

air choke
us, so good conduct brings about good consequence, and bad

conduct does otherwise.

Zen lays much stress on this law. See Shu-sho-gi and

Ei-hei-ka-kun, by Do-gen.

Over against these generalizations we raise no objection, but there

are many cases, in practical life, of doubtful nature. An act of

charity, for example, might do others some sort of damage, as is

often the case with the giving of alms to the poor, which may produce

the undesirable consequence of encouraging beggary. An act of love

might produce an injurious effect, as the mother's love often spoils

her children. Some may think these are cases of good cause

and bad effect. We have, however, to analyze these causes and

effects in order to find in what relation they stand. In the first

case the good action of almsgiving produces the good effect of

lessening the sufferings of the poor, who should be thankful for

their benefactor. The giver is rewarded in his turn by the peace and

satisfaction of his conscience. The poor, however, when used to

being given alms are inclined to grow lazy and live by means of

begging. Therefore the real cause of the bad effect is the

thoughtlessness of both the giver and the given, but not charity

itself. In the second case the mother's love and kindness produce a

good effect on her and her children, making them all happy, and

enabling them to enjoy the pleasure of the sweet home; yet

carelessness and folly on the part of the mother and ingratitude on

the part of the children may bring about the bad effect.

Dr. H. Kato seems to have thought that good cause may bring

out bad effect when he attacked Buddhism on this point.

History is full of numerous cases in which good persons were so

unfortunate as to die a miserable death or to live in extreme

poverty, side by side with those cases in which bad people lived in

health and prosperity, enjoying a long life. Having these cases in

view, some are of the opinion that there is no law of retribution as

believed by the Buddhists. And even among the Buddhist scholars

themselves there are some who think of the law of retribution as an

ideal, and not as a law governing life. This is probably due to

their misunderstanding of the historical facts. There is no reason

because he is good and honourable that he should be wealthy or

healthy; nor is there any reason because he is bad that he should be

poor or sickly. To be good is one thing, and to be healthy or rich

is another. So also to be bad is one thing, And to be poor and sick

is another. The good are not necessarily the rich or the healthy,

nor are the bad necessarily the sick or the poor. Health must be

secured by the strict observance of hygienic rules, and not by the

keeping of ethical precepts; nor can wealth ever be accumulated by

bare morality, but by economical and industrial activity. The moral

conduct of a good person has no responsibility for his ill health or

poverty; so also the immoral action of a bad person has no concern

with his wealth or health. You should not confuse the moral with the

physical law, since the former belongs only to human life, while the

latter to the physical world.

The good are rewarded morally, not physically; their own virtues,

honours, mental peace, and satisfaction are ample compensation for

their goodness. Confucius, for example, was never rich nor high in

rank; he was, nevertheless, morally rewarded with his virtues,

honours, and the peace of mind. The following account of

him, though not strictly historical, well explains his state

of mind in the days of misfortune:

"When Confucius was reduced to extreme distress between Khan and

Zhai, for seven days he had no cooked meat to eat, but only some soup

of coarse vegetables without any rice in it. His countenance wore

the appearance of great exhaustion, and yet be kept playing on his

lute and singing inside the house. Yen Hui (was outside) selecting

the vegetables, while Zze Lu and Zze Kung were talking together, and

said to him: 'The master has twice been driven from Lu; he had to

flee from Wei; the tree beneath which he rested was cut down in Sung;

he was reduced to extreme distress in Shang and Kau; he is held in a

state of siege here between Khan and Zhai; anyone who kills him will

be held guiltless; there is no prohibition against making him a

prisoner. And yet he keeps playing and singing, thrumming his lute

without ceasing. Can a superior man be without the feeling of shame

to such an extent as this?' Yen Hui gave them no reply, but went in

and told (their words) to Confucius, who pushed aside his lute and

said: 'Yu and Zhze are small men. Call them here, and I will explain

the thing to them.'

The account is given by Chwang Tsz in his book, vol.

xviii., p. 17.

"When they came in, Zze Lu said: 'Your present condition may be

called one of extreme distress!' Confucius replied: 'What words are

these? When the superior man has free course with his principles,

that is what we call his success; when such course is denied, that is

what we call his failure. Now I hold in my embrace the principles of

righteousness and benevolence, and with them meet the evils of a

disordered age; where is the proof of my being in extreme distress?

Therefore, looking inwards and examining myself, I have no

difficulties about my principles; though I encounter such

difficulties (as the present), I do not lose my virtue. It is when

winter's cold is come, and the hoar-frost and snow are falling, that

we know the vegetative power of the pine and cypress. This distress

between Khan and Zhai is fortunate for me.' He then took back his

lute so that it emitted a twanging sound, and began to play and sing.

(At the same time) Zze Lu hurriedly seized a shield and began to

dance, while Zze Kung said: 'I did not know (before) the height of

heaven nor the depth of earth!'"

Thus the good are unfailingly rewarded with their own virtue, and the

wholesome consequences of their actions on society at large. And the

bad are inevitably recompensed with their own vices, and the

injurious effects of their actions on their fellow-beings. This is

the unshaken conviction of humanity, past, present, and future. It

is the pith and marrow of our moral ideal. It is the crystallization

of ethical truths, distilled through long experiences from time

immemorial to this day. We can safely approve Edwin Arnold, as he


"Lo I as hid seed shoots after rainless years,

So good and evil, pains and pleasures, hates

And loves, and all dead deeds come forth again,

Bearing bright leaves, or dark, sweet fruit or sour."

Longfellow also says:

"No action, whether foul or fair,

Is ever done, but it leaves somewhere

A record-as a blessing or a curse."