Elias has a good post on causation over at the forum. I've written a reply which I'll reprint and expand upon here:
One thing I might point out is that the question of the "nature of the mind" also depends on the "nature of reality", especially in regards to understanding how such things as insight meditation work.
If meditation is viewed as a causal process, in which inner peace and happiness are an effect produced by the cause of meditation, it implies that they did not previously exist, and thus are dependent on meditation to bring them about. So the question is, where did they come from, and how did they appear in our consciousness? Were they actually produced by meditation, or were they simply not previously noticed?
The approach of Advaita and Ramana (and such Buddhist paths as Dzogchen) is that peace and happiness are always the case, but the egoic mind is deluded by appearances such that it does not see them. The purpose of meditation and spiritual practice, therefore, is merely to dispel illusion, not to actually produce any effect of peace and happiness. Not to beat a dead snake, but the snake-rope analogy applies here. If we bring light to the snake, it does not cause the rope to come into being. The rope was already there. The light merely illuminates our illusions, and thus dispels them, leaving the rope obvious.
The point here is that the that peace and happiness are uncaused. The effort to engage in some activity which will cause peace and happiness to come into being is rooted in the notion that they can be caused, that some special meditation technique has the magical ability to make ropes for us all, or some alchemical trick that turns snakes into ropes. But these are illusory processes, since the rope was there all along. Someone posing as a magician, wearing all the right outfits and hats, pronounces a few magic words, waves his hands, and viola, we see a rope appear. And then disappear. We misunderstand what has happened. We think that the magician has some secret trick for producing ropes, or changing the snake into the rope, and we think if we can learn his trick, and get really good at it, we can get the snake to go away and have the rope persist for a very long time, maybe forever if we're really good at it. But this of course requires tremendous effort and persistence and "faith" in the magical process we have learned. What it lacks is a genuine understanding of what is really going on.
Magical activities, like ordinary methods for gaining respite from our miseries, play upon a basic fact - that real happiness and peace are uncaused, and we can experience that directly in moments in which our minds are briefly suspended and the effort of seeking is temporarily abated. That relaxation can release the underlying peace and happiness of our own being into the mind and life. The "knots" of the mind and body can open, and we can experience a flood of peace and happiness. But once that moment passes, there is a return to the norm. If we don't understand how that happened, we can become deluded into thinking that the magical activity itself produced the peace and happiness we experienced, and thus we pursue this new "path" of trying to experience deeper and deeper effects from these new causes. This become bondage, however, since we are operating under the illusion that our happiness was caused by these methods, rather than that it was already true, and we merely glimpsed this truth in a moment of insight.
The common search for peace and happiness is rooted in this causal presumption, that we can engage in actions - eating ice cream, for example - that will create peace and happiness. So we pursue those activities which seem to correlate with that result. The problem is that this misunderstands the nature of peace and happiness, and presumes that it can actually be caused by our efforts, as an effect of them. Which is why people engage in all kinds of actions to gain happiness, to pursue it, etc. They think that these actions will either kill snakes or produce ropes. In reality they do neither. At best, they can produce temporary relaxations of our craving, usually when we achieve some kind of pleasurable result. But even then, we identify our happiness with these stimulated states of pleasure, rather than with the underlying nature of reality.
What "works" is, as you say, to merely observe the process of mind itself, and to penetrate its illusions and see its fundamental nature, which is peace and happiness. But this is not a way of actually engaging in a causal approach. There must be an actual "insight" to guide this process, the insight being that peace and happiness is already the case, and not something to be produced at all. The meaningful process is one of the removal of illusions, not the production of peace and happiness. And the method of removing illusions is a matter of direct insight into the very nature of our own minds, not a technique that produces results.
It's important to note that even the removal of illusions is not a causal approach. There is no formula for the removal of illusions, such that if one does x, y, and z, illusions will vanish. Again, it doesn't work that way. Illusions don't have a cause, and they can't be removed by one either. The search for a primal cause to our illusions is like looking for a primal snake in the rope. That is itself part of the illusion. There is no "Devil" producing the illusion that there is a Devil in us. That is the illusion to be dispelled. And what dispels it? Nothing more than the inherent power of our own consciousness, the "light" of which is our own awareness. If that awareness is brought to our own mind, then the "snake" illusion is dispelled, and the peace and happiness which are our own real nature become conscious in us, rather than hidden in unconsciousness. But even this is not a causal process, as there is no actual snake to act upon or be removed, it is merely an appearance that naturally vanishes when the light of our own awareness is brought to the mind. We are not battling snakes with light/consciousness. We are just noticing what is really and truly the case.
Using this understanding to examine our ordinary activities in life can be extremely interesting, in that if one thinks that cause and effect actually do guide our actions, then that is what we will see, just as if we think that snakes really do exist, that is what we will see, and not ropes. This is why the recommended approach is not to observe and analyze objective events, since what one sees will be determined by the underlying presumptions of our own mind. Instead, insight meditation directs us to examine the mind itself, and its presumptions, so as to break the grip of these illusions upon us. In that process, nothing is "caused". Even so, as our illusions begin to fade, even a little bit, we begin to experience the peace and happiness that is inherent to our own existence. It's easy to mistake this for a cause and effect process, and to become re-enslaved to some new system of "de-conditioning", as if there really is a cause of our illusions, and a way of removing these causes by some other cause. This is one of the primary traps of the spiritual process, one which can keep us ensnared for a very long time, and undermine the entire process of dispelling our illusions by creating new ones which have the patina of spiritual authority to them.
It's important to recognize how deeply our minds are fooled into thinking that we are unhappy and lacking in peace, and how in need we are of some grand cause that can remove our unhappiness and give us the peace we desire. It's important not to proceed with spiritual life, or even ordinary life, on the basis of these assumptions. Instead, it's necessary to at least suspend judgment on these matters, and look instead to the nature of our own minds, and simply be attentive to how our minds have become structured to believe in cause and effect at so many levels it's hard to untangle them directly. It's best to simply be agnostic on these matters, and to examine one's own mind directly, without presumptions, and find our real nature. If the truth is that we really, truly are lacking in peace and happiness by our very nature, well then, we really do need to construct some kind of peace and happiness that can be renewed by our efforts, or just accept the fact that we'll never actually be happy and just make do the best we can - whatever that means.
But if we have the insight that breaks through these illusions, even for a moment, and don't confuse that insight with some methodology that is seen as its cause, or some great Magician who holds the secret to reproducing it, then we have an opening we can exploit. We can use that insight to expand this opening, and create a window onto reality that will dispel more and more of our illusions, and increase our awareness of the natural peace and happiness of our own real nature. This means nothing more than becoming more and more aware of who we are, by allowing our awareness to know itself as it is. It is a process of surrendering to ourselves, and allowing that uncaused process to be the guiding principle of our lives, not some method that seeks to produce this as an effect. It is using freedom not to fight bondage, but to multiply itself by self-procreation. This aligns us with the real process of consciousness itself, which is uncaused through and through, and naturally includes the awareness of all. Illusions merely fall by the wayside in this process, they are not empowered by it.What is empowered is our own native strength and happiness, which is not properly understood as a cause of anything, but a natural form of intrinsic harmonious relationship to everything that appears in and through and as our consciousness and awareness.