As long as evil has not borne fruit,
The fool thinks it is like honey.
But when evil does bear fruit,
Then the fool suffers. (verse 69 translated by Gil Fronsdal)
Fresh milk takes time to sour.
So a fool’s mischief
Takes time to catch up with him.
Like the embers of a fire
It smolders within him. (verse 71 translated by Thomas Byrom)
I’ve paired these two non-sequential verses because they make the same point: the results of our actions (good or bad) don’t appear instantly; they may ripen with a reward or punishment at the most unexpected times, in unexpected contexts. Thomas Byrom’s translation (verse 71) was clearer to me than some other translations, and I hope it illustrates the point for you.
We’ve either experienced or witnessed the feeling of “getting away with” something that shouldn’t have been done, and thinking there would be no consequences. Then later, when the same attitude of seeking a short cut creates an awkward situation, we may not recognize the discomfort as a consequence of earlier actions.
Because karma is only occasionally instant, as when our inattention causes us to break or knock into something, we might conclude that our actions have no consequences beyond the immediate. But every time we think or act in a way that increases our greed, hatred or delusion, we are creating karmic ruts that can be increasingly hard to get out of. When we practice generosity, kindness, and compassion we are strengthening our citta (heart/mind). Because these two pathways are internal and invisible, we give them little importance, but they are the driving forces of our days.
The power of the unwholesome roots is insidious; they are always lying in wait for us. It takes a modicum of wisdom to recognize that we are all vulnerable to the forces of wanting and hating and self-delusion, and it takes some determination to establish mindfulness throughout the day so we can stay alert to their appearance. We can say “Aha, I see you” when they arise and pause to re-set our intentions. We can also train ourselves to notice and act on our generosity, compassion, and wisdom when they arise. As with any activity, the more we practice it, the better we become at developing mindfulness.
Unless we have countervailing training, we tend to be lazy. We don’t like to think that ALL of our actions and words have power. Even though the laws of karma, of cause and effect, are subtle and hard to perceive, they are powerful. We cannot behave in unwholesome ways and reap beneficial rewards; and we cannot maintain a truthful and generous attitude and fail to benefit. Things just don’t work that way.