The Principle of Action and Reaction

“When you force something toward an end, you produce the contrary”

This Principle explains that all things and all people have their own characteristic behavior, and that they will resist or facilitate our projects, depending on how we act. When we are moved by irrational impulses and pressure something to go against its own behavior, we will find that although initially it may yield to our demands, sooner or later consequences will return that are different from what we wanted.

Human beings are forgers of events, they define directions for things, they plan and carry out projects. That is, they aim toward goals. But the important question is: How should we move toward these goals? Suppose a problem comes up; how can we make the other person understand how to solve it? Do we use violence, or do we use persuasion? If we use violence, sooner or later there will be a reaction. If we use persuasion, sooner or later our strengths will add together.

Many people think “the ends justify the means,” and they tend to force everything around them toward the end they desire. And they may often achieve successful results. But if they do this, difficulties will surely follow. They achieve their goal, but they will not be able to maintain it for long.

This Principle can be applied to two different kinds of situations. In one kind, the goal is reached but the consequences are opposite to what was hoped for. In the other kind, a negative “rebound” is produced by forcing the situation. We will illustrate one of these cases with a legend and the other with a teaching.

Let us first consider the legend:

Old Silenus was a satyr, half goat and half man, wise counselor of Dionysius, god of wine. Silenus’ spirit was profound and wise, but it was hidden beneath a grotesque appearance.

Because of his looks, some peasants captured him one day while he was sleeping. Proud of their catch, they bound Silenus in chains and brought him before the king whose name was Midas.

Midas recognized the satyr’s nature. After freeing him, he held great feasts in his honor and paid him great homage, begging him to forgive the peasants for the confusion they had caused. Wise Silenus did as the king asked. Then, wanting to reward the king for his pious spirit, he told him:

“Ask whatever you want, and I will grant it to you. But be reasonable since what I give cannot be taken back.”

So Midas asked the satyr for what he had always wanted. He asked that everything he touched be turned into gold, explaining his desire this way: “My kingdom is poor, but its people are good and united. If I were rich, happiness would end all struggle and all privation. The whole kingdom would benefit from such a gift from its beloved king.”

Silenus granted Midas’ wish and disappeared.

Immediately, the robes that were in contact with the king’s body were converted into gold. So to everyone’s astonishment and gratitude, Midas began to run through his realm converting everything into gold: the peasants’ homes, the reservoirs, the crops and the animals.

But he returned to his palace that night to find a pitiful clamor arising. His subjects were arriving with mounting complaints.

“I cannot milk my golden goats!” said one, “and that means my family will be left without milk or meat”

“Our trees won’t bear fruit!” cried others.

Thus, the king was confronted with all kinds of lamentations. Midas, meditating on the solutions to these problems, poured himself wine and brought fruits and other food to his mouth. All were turned into gold and there was no liquid or food he could swallow.

In this situation, his wife went to comfort him, fondling him, but immediately she was converted into the most beautiful golden statue.

Midas became penitent, invoking Dionysius to break Silenus’ sorcery. The kind god returned everything to its original state.

The gold faded, the goats turned back into goats, and the reservoirs held their water; the crops moved to the wind and the king’s wife emerged from her golden sleep. Then, being able to eat and drink, Midas and his people gave thanks to the god for having granted them poverty.

Let us now consider the following teaching about when an action “rebounds”:

Buddha said, “If a man wrongs me I shall repay him with my affection; the more wrong he does to me, the more goodness will come out of me; the perfume of goodness always reaches me and the sad airs of evil flow towards him.”

An insensitive man insulted Buddha, who then asked him:   “If a man rejects a gift he is given, to whom it shall belong?” And the other replied: “In this case, it will belong to the one who offered it.”

“Good,” replied Buddha, “You have mocked me, but I refuse the gift and I pray you keep it for yourself. Will this not be a source of misery for you?” The imposter  did  not  answer  and Buddha  continued, “A perverse man who offends a man of virtue is like someone who spits at the sky; his saliva does not besmirch the sky, but instead falls back and wets his face.”

“The slanderer is like someone who throws dirt at another when the wind is against him: the dirt only flies back in his face. Whoever wants to get what is not meant for him, ends up getting what IS meant for him.”

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