It’s Cause and Effect All Over Again

by | Mar 10, 2024 | Buddhism for All

There is an important theme you see over and over again in Buddhism, and that is the central importance of cause and effect.  All of Buddhism can be said to revolve around the one vital insight that suffering has causes, and that if you take away any necessary cause of suffering, then suffering ceases.

A deep understanding of cause and effect is so fundamental to Buddhism that it can even serve as a proxy for stream-entry (the first stage of enlightenment).  One story that illustrates this is the stream-entry of Sāriputta and Moggallāna, the Buddha’s chief disciples.[1]  Sāriputta and Moggallāna were best friends and earnest seekers of the truth.  They promised each other than whoever finds “the deathless” first will quickly inform the other. 

One day, the monk Assaji was in Rājagaha begging for almsfood.  Assaji was one of the five original disciples of the Buddha and, by this time, he was already fully enlightened.  Sāriputta saw Assaji and was immediately impressed.  He approached Assaji and asked, “Venerable Sir, your features are serene, your complexion is pure and bright.  Who is your teacher and what is his dharma?”

Assaji explained that his teacher is the Buddha and he uttered this short four-line summary of the Dharma:

Of those things that arise from a cause:
The Buddha has declared the cause,
And its cessation.
This is the teaching of the great master.[2]

Upon hearing those words, this dustless, stainless Dharma-vision arose in Sāriputta: “Whatever has the nature of arising, also has the nature of ceasing.”  There and then, Sāriputta gained stream-entry. 

Sāriputta immediately set out to look for Moggallāna.  Moggallāna saw Sāriputta coming from a distance and could immediately tell that something profound had changed in him.  He asked Sāriputta, “Friend, your features are serene, your complexion is pure and bright. Can it be that you have attained the deathless?”

“Yes, friend, I have attained the deathless.”

Sāriputta taught Assaji’s four-line summary to Moggallāna, and Moggallāna too attained stream-entry right there and then.  They both went to see the Buddha to join his sangha.  When the Buddha saw them coming from a distance, he declared to the other monks, “These two will become my chief disciples.”  Within weeks, both would attain full enlightenment.

There are three important places where cause and effect show up very prominently: the teachings of karma, dependent origination and emptiness.  We will explore them in the upcoming articles.


  • Reflect on this post with Angela:
    • We can reflect on this truth of interdependence, with this translation from Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh: “’This is, because that is. This is not, because that is not. This is born, because that is born. This dies, because that dies.”
    • Pick a situation in your life. Investigate the causes, conditions and effects. Can you see how this came to be because of that? And when that ceases, this also ceases?
    • What insights, learning, or reflection came up for you from this article?


[1] This story is from the Theravada Vinaya Khandhaka 1.23.

[2] Soryu’s translation.

Featured image by Colin Goh.

Chade-Meng Tan

Meng is an award-winning engineer, international bestselling author, movie producer and philanthropist. His work has been nominated eight times for the Nobel Peace Prize. (Read Meng's story)

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