Worldly and World-Transcending Cause and Effect

A closer look at the Four Noble Truths shows us two kinds of cause and effect at work. One is called 'worldly cause-and-effect,' which leads to suffering; the other is called 'world- transcending cause-and-effect,' which leads to liberation.

Worldly cause-and-effect takes place in space and time, and whatever exists in space and time is characterized by impermanence. Yesterday, you were not here in this hall; today you are here listening to me; after the talk today you will be gone. When we experience this as individuals, we are experiencing impermanence. This sense of change also gives us a sense of continuity in our lives. But as the days go by, our lives are also coming to a close, day by day. So impermanence is essentially this progression from birth to death, from existence to non-existence.

To experience impermanence we must exist in the space-time continuum. Our sense of space can be great or small-- we can sense a multitude of spaces or a very limited space. The difference is the key to how we experience the workings of causes and conditions. These various factors coming together and dispersing give us a sense of time. The very fact that the different aspects of our lives shift, alter, and transform, results from these causal relationships. The workings of causes and conditions, which take place in space, are inseparable and imbedded in time, so we experience time and space together. As I said before, the world is what comes together in space-time, and this experience of constant change is impermanence.

Simply put, world-transcendence is freedom from worldly cause-and-effect, freedom from suffering in time and space. The awakened ones--arhats and buddhas--are no longer fettered by time and space, therefore not influenced by the suffering which impermanence brings. For this reason the state of world-tran-scendence is a state of liberation.

How do the worldly and world-transcending realities relate to the Four Noble Truths? Worldly cause-and-effect encompasses the first two noble truths of suffering and the origin of suffering. Suffering is actually an effect of living in time and space, and its origin is our ignorance as to the true nature of living in worldly reality.

Surely, you are thinking, there must be some kind of happiness in life, and indeed, there are many occasions in life of joy and happiness. The Buddha himself did not deny these states of joy and happiness, but when he spoke of impermanence as suffering he had in mind the very subtle way impermanence permeates even the joy that we feel. Even in the midst of happiness there is loss and decay. This happiness will fade away just like anything else. Nothing in time and space, nothing in the world lasts or can be truly acquired, however great our desire for things to be other than what they are. This suffering includes our ultimate inability to escape old age, sickness, and death. Since we are not our own masters, on the coarse as well as very subtle levels, suffering is inherent in all aspects of our experience.

World-transcending cause-and-effect relates to the third and fourth noble truths of the cessation of suffering and the path that leads out of suffering Cessation is the state in which worldly cause-and-effect is abandoned, there is no more accumulation of karma, and nirvana is realized. One is free from suffering, and the process of reaching this state is the path. Later we will elaborate on the way of practicing the path.

Thus, when the Buddha turned the Wheel of the Dharma, he also taught that the path of liberation is the path of moving from the worldly to the world-transcending modes of acting, thinking, and speaking. And after three turnings of the Dharma wheel, the three expositions of the Four Noble Truths, all five mendicant monks achieved liberation.

Source : "Setting in Motion the Dharma Wheel"