We might think that although it is true that life is impermanent and we will die, we won’t have to take birth again – after all, is it not said,

Like wind-blown ashes from a fire,

What is there to be reborn?

Or even if we are to be reborn, are not the happiness and suffering of cyclic existence and its higher and lower states produced by an external creator, or perhaps independently, rather than by our deeds? Will our positive and negative deeds not simply be wasted? Do we really need to practice the Dharma?

But the truth is, the relationship between cause and effect is unfailing, and the results of actions ripen on the doer. How this happens is explained in the Hundred Parables on Action:

Marvel! The world is created from deeds.

Happiness and suffering are produced by deeds;

They come from the gathering of conditions.

It is our deeds that produce our pleasure and pain.

And further:

Even after a hundred kalpas,

Beings’ deeds are never lost.

When the time and conditions are right,

They will ripen as their respective results.

And the Sutra on the Analysis of Actions states:

Parrot, the son of the brahmin householder To’uta, asked: “Oh, Gautama, what are the causes and conditions by which beings have long or short lives, good or poor health? Why are they handsome or ugly, powerful or weak, of noble or humble origins, wealthy or poor, intelligent or dull?”

The Buddha replied: “Son of a brahmin, sentient beings are the product of their deeds. The lot they enjoy is that of their deeds. The place they are born in is decided by their deeds. They are dependent on their deeds and are thus distinguished as sublime, base, or middling; as of high or low status; as good or bad. Beings have all sorts of deeds, all sorts of views, all sorts of experiences. Because of the negative actions associated with these, they take birth in the hells, or as hungry spirits, or as animals. Because of their positive actions, they will be born among gods and humans.”

Accordingly, the result of positive actions is happiness and the result of negative actions is suffering. We therefore need to undertake the former and give up the latter, for the manner in which positive and negative actions ripen as their respective results is said to be inconceivable.

Whether positive or negative, even though an action may be insignificant at the moment it is performed, at the moment of its full maturation, its result will have greatly increased until it has become a hundred, a thousand, or even an infinite number of times greater, like a grain of barley or some other seed growing and spreading.

Unless the deeds we have accumulated are annulled by antidotes, it is impossible for them to be used up until their results have matured.

So it is extremely important to take the adoption of virtue and avoidance of negative actions seriously.

As the Great Master said,

What’s the use of winning happiness in this life through evil deeds

That will lead to misery in many lives to come?

This life is short, a mere few months or years,

And there’s no telling how long one’s future lives will last.

The way, therefore, to make your other lives happy and free of pain

Is to take up virtue and abandon negative deeds.

Source: Rinpoche, Dudjom. A Torch Lighting the Way to Freedom (pp. 117-119). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.

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