Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:The Buddha expressed this/that conditionality in a simple-looking formula:
(1) When this is, that is.
(2) From the arising of this comes the arising of that.
(3) When this isn't, that isn't.
(4) From the stopping of this comes the stopping of that.
— AN 10.92
There are many possible ways of interpreting this formula, but only one does justice both to the way the formula is worded and to the complex, fluid manner in which specific examples of causal relationships are described in the Canon. That way is to view the formula as the interplay of two causal principles, one linear and the other synchronic, that combine to form a non-linear pattern. The linear principle — taking (2) and (4) as a pair — connects events, rather than objects, over time; the synchronic principle — (1) and (3) — connects objects and events in the present moment. The two principles intersect, so that any given event is influenced by two sets of conditions: input acting from the past and input acting from the present. Although each principle seems simple, the fact that they interact makes their consequences very complex [§10].
To begin with, every act has repercussions in the present moment together with reverberations extending into the future. Depending on the intensity of the act, these reverberations can last for a very short or a very long time. Thus every event takes place in a context determined by the combined effects of past events coming from a wide range in time, together with the effects of present acts. These effects can intensify one another, can coexist with little interaction, or can cancel one another out. Thus, even though it is possible to predict that a certain type of act will tend to give a certain type of result — for example, acting on anger will lead to pain — there is no way to predict when or where that result will make itself felt [§11].
The complexity of the system is further enhanced by the fact that both causal principles meet at the mind. Through its views and intentions, the mind takes a causal role in keeping both principles in action. Through its sensory powers, it is affected by the results of the causes it has set in motion. This creates the possibility for the causal principles to feed back into themselves, as the mind reacts to the results of its own actions. These reactions can take the form of positive feedback loops, intensifying the original input and its results, much like the howl in a speaker placed next to the microphone feeding into it. They can also create negative feedback loops, counteracting the original input, much like the action of a thermostat that turns off a heater when the temperature in a room is too high and turns it on again when it gets too low.
Because the results of actions can be immediate, and the mind can then react to them immediately, these feedback loops can at times quickly spin out of control; at other times, they may act as skillful checks on one's behavior. For example, a man may act out of anger, which gives him an immediate sense of dis-ease to which he may react with further anger, thus creating a snowballing effect. On the other hand, he may come to understand that the anger is causing his dis-ease, and so immediately does what he can to stop it. However, there can also be times when the results of his past actions may obscure the dis-ease he is causing himself in the present, so that he does not immediately react to it one way or another.
In this way, the combination of two causal principles — influences from the past interacting with those in the immediate present — accounts for the complexity of causal relationships as they function on the level of immediate experience. However, the combination of the two principles also opens the possibility for finding a systematic way to break the causal web. If causes and effects were entirely linear, the cosmos would be totally deterministic, and nothing could be done to escape from the machinations of the causal process. If they were entirely synchronic, there would be no relationship from one moment to the next, and all events would be arbitrary. The web could break down totally or reform spontaneously for no reason at all. However, with the two modes working together, one can learn from causal patterns observed from the past and apply one's insights to disentangling the same causal patterns acting in the present. If one's insights are true, one can then gain freedom from those patterns.
From: Wings to Awakening by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Why is linear causality (pleasure or pain is caused by past actions and present actions will cause future pleasure or pain) deterministic? Would it be like being asleep, unable to appreciate the process of life?
Thanks / dhammapal.