What’s more, the paths the balls take are affected by other things in their past: the time when Fred tried a massé shot and bounced the cue ball off the table, which left a tiny nick in its surface; the wear on the felt from years of amateur games; the humidity that day making the felt more or less soft and so increasing or decreasing the friction; the hangover that makes one of the player’s hands shake.
All of those things are both actions, karma, and consequences of previous actions, vipaka. When Buddha sat down to figure things out, at some point “in the first watch of the night” as the story is traditionally told, he saw clearly that everything has a cause, and an effect, and that the cause was an effect of some previous cause; the causes at any instant went on to cause effects that became future causes as well. Look at the pool table at any instant, and the balls are in some particular configuration; watch over time and you’ll see those configurations change as each shot causes something to happen and produces some effect.
Watching these games, you also notice other things: the balls form configurations, with some balls close and some distant. If you’re creative enough, you may see other patterns, from the Big Dipper to a snuggly bunny, in the way the balls happen to be arranged. Each configuration is the result of karma and vipaka, and as much as some configuration may look to you like a big fuzzy bunny with the one-ball as its yellow eye, it’s not a permanent bunny: the next shot will change it to something else.
What Buddha saw was that everything is the result of cause and effect: what we see now is the result of previous causes, which came from previous causes, and so on. In fact, Buddha looked at the world, and couldn’t see anything that wasn’t the result of cause and effect. Your “self,” in Buddhism, is just a transitory accident of successive causes and effects. When Buddha looked for a “soul” he didn’t find one. In Buddhism, this is called the doctrine of anatman, from atman, or soul, with the prefix an-, which means “without.”
The “things” we think we see, Buddha called skandhas, which is a word that just means “heap” or “pile” or “aggregation.” They come together, like our billiard-ball bunny, as a result of cause and effect from things that happened in the past; they’re inherently changeable and changing, and will disappear, to be assembled into new piles in the future.
Buddha said it this way:
When this is, that is.
What this causes that, that arises.
When this ceases to be, that ceases to be.
In other words, karma and vipaka are simply cause and effect; Buddha’s first realization was that everything everywhere, for all time, is simply a transitory skandha that comes together as a result of cause and effect.
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