Like an acorn

From: Awakening from Belief 1
Full transcript (Available soon)
When I studied with Kalu Rinpoche in India in the early seventies, Rinpoche taught us about karma, which as you well know is usually translated as the law of cause and effect. He would always draw a diagram of a tree. We have a seed which grows into a shoot, and grows into a tree, and it has branches, and then it has leaves, and then it has fruit, and then the whole thing starts up again.

The translation as cause and effect is, I think, quite wrong, quite misleading. And I've had the discussion with a number of translators, and the first thing they do is they laugh me out of the room. I had one person said, "Well, if this word in Tibetan isn't cause, then this isn't a book!" And he held up a book. He just thought it was the most ridiculous thing.

But I want to pose a question to you: does an acorn cause an oak tree? Is the acorn a cause of an oak tree? Well, in a certain philosophical sense yes, but it's not how we normally use the word cause. Karma is much more a process of evolution. That's what happens with an acorn. You put it into the ground, and water soaks into it, and things start happening inside it. And after it goes through all of these changes, and roots starts to go down, stuff starts to come up, and then breaks above the ground, and then it starts getting stuff from the sun. And it evolves stage by stage into an oak tree, which then evolves into leaves, and flowers, and things happen to them and they eventually become other acorns. But in the process, the original acorn is long since gone.

So, the idea that actions that we do now cause things to happen in the future--which is often how people think about karma--that's not how I've come to understand it. It's that the actions that we do now are like the acorn. That's something we've done and in doing that action we've started a process and that process evolves in a number of different ways--and if we have time over the next few days, I'll try and sketch that out--but it evolves into an experienced result. It doesn't cause an experienced result. The action itself evolves into an experienced result, because it creates conditions so that other things happen--and just goes on, and on, and on.