An excerpt from Consequences in Buddhism; Why Things Happen.
There is rarely just one specific thing that causes someone to have something happen to them. We live in a world that is complex, integrated, interdependent and constantly in a state of flux. We miss most of that and generally focus on our own immediate needs and what’s happening in our immediate world. We too often forget that there are many things happening all around us that affect to us – often things we can’t see or, for that matter, things we aren’t even aware of.
The wind, waves, gravity, cosmic rays, speed of light, geology, cosmology, etc. Whether or not we “believe” in gravity, you will fall if you jump off the garage roof. If you stand on the tidal flat and wait, you will get covered in water. When you build on a fault line you will experience seismic events. These things appear self-evident, but we don't always take them into account. We live in a world that we have perfectly adapted to and when things in that world happen, we are affected.
Genes and Chromosomes
There are random mutations dropped into our gene pool to help the species experiment with faster, better, smarter versions of ourselves. Sometimes the experiments don’t work and that branch of the species might not last long. If our parents and their parents were prone to a particular disease or condition, then it’s likely we too shall be prone to such conditions.
This is an ethical component of why some things happen to us. If we are skillful and practice our living with skill, helping others and limiting the harm we do to ourselves an the environment, good things tend happen to us. If we are unskillful and go though our lives harming others, hindering good deeds and being careless with the environment, unfortunate things tend to happen to us. Karma is within our control to alter. Others might simply say, “What goes around comes around.”
A Buddhist might recognize that deeds in past lives may not have had an effect in that life, but may be held over to the next, or the next, etc. This might explain why some people who always seem to do mischief, can attain success in this life.
One’s religious or spiritual practice affects not only the practitioner, but others as well. Everything we do or see will be filtered through one’s religious or spiritual views. In Buddhism we call this the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha. If you are a Christian, you view the world in a particular way and your actions and words will reflect that view. Perhaps you follow the advice of the Ten Commandments. If you are Muslim, your words and actions will reflect that particular point of view. Regardless of what our religion, spiritual practice, or set of values we choose to follow, it will inform our, compassion, charity and view of the world … IF we stop to take a moment to consider.
Our mind leads everything. Our mind creates “reality.” Our world isn’t really “out there,” but what’s happening in our mind. If we employ delusional thinking then things will happen to us for no reason that we can divine. When our thinking becomes clear and acute then we see that things happen for a reason. When we don’t understand the nature of a tidal flat, then we get wet. When we know the nature of a tectonic fault line, then we can avoid building our house astride one.
Lets pretend that we’re vaguely aware of what our mind is doing. It's talking to us, making judgments, assessing risk, planning, thinking of the past, preparing for the future and generally running amok. It’s a miracle we get out of bed, but we somehow do. If we’re aware of our mind working (if not it’s workings) then we at least have a chance to see where it “sticks.”
By “sticks” we mean that some thoughts slip by our general level of mental awareness, almost every day, because we haven’t bothered to examine them in years – if at all.
Here’s an example that came to me the other day. “Streetcars are good.” This is a basic premise I’ve held for dozens of years. I won’t burden you with why I think this, suffice it to say that I believe it to be so. I successfully defended that view when I was a member of the Harbourfront Parks and Open Space System in 2001/02
I haven’t examined this premise for at least twenty years, but I examined it the other day during a discussion, with Toronto Councillor Mary Fragedakis, about bicycle lanes, park space and urban transportation. Given new circumstances, an evolving urban fabric, new transportation tastes and technology, I have honestly found streetcars to be barriers to transportation system progress. I can see a good place for them, sure, but using them now, in the same way we have used them since the early 1900s seems short-sighted and confining. It was a bit of a shock to find myself suddenly advocating for fewer streetcar lines, rather than more.
The “stickiness,” of the streetcar premise just kept passing under my awareness radar. It was a no-see-um (gnat) that just passed through the mosquito netting with impunity to bite me in the ass. It is a perfect example of delusional thinking.
Failure to assess pre-conceived notions without regard to changing circumstances is flawed reasoning. Delusion is another word for it.
This sticky or delusional thinking crops up every day in every way. We see it on the street, we see it at work, we see it in relationships, we see it in schools, churches, gymnasiums, literally everywhere we go. It is as pervasive as cell phones and people playing Pokemon Go. As I write today, I see it in American politics. I see half of the voters closing their eyes, putting their head in the sand and shutting down to any further discussion around real issues that are going to affect them and the world for years to come. You know who you are ... actually you probably don't.
Plainly, the difficulty here is this; our world is defined, not by what it is, but by what we think it is. Our realm is defined by our thinking – no matter how clear or muddled. We live in the isolation of our minds. That’s a little scary isn’t it?
It's the nature of the universe that strange things occasionally happen to us. While we love to think the universe was built or has evolved with perfect symmetry and laws that govern everything, it wasn't. Chaos is an important part of the perceived order. Random stuff crops up that no one imagined coming. Without an element of chaos everything would be exactly the same - forever. Only chaos inputs an element of change, and our lives are, if anything, an ever changing stream of events, thoughts, actions, words, meals, trips, ad infinitum. Change is the central theme of all our lives.
YouTube is full of people just walking along the street or chatting on the phone at the corner, when a car, bus or truck comes out of nowhere and misses them by centimetres. The poor scared person had not done anything wrong. They may have been looking ahead, to where they were walking - perhaps waiting for the lights to change so they could safely make their way across the street, when suddenly a vehicle appears from off-camera, crashes through a bus shelter or over a construction barricade to miss the poor pedestrian by a hair. Completely random. Just search YouTube for “close call for pedestrian,” to see random close calls.
We need to guard our thoughts against becoming too complacent in believing things are going to be what they are today, tomorrow.
Simply, we need to stop blaming the world for things that happen to us. We need to wake up and see the way the world operates. Our failure to understand that consequences arise from previous actions is contrary to good sense. It’s also contrary to Buddhist teachings. We must recognize that all things are impermanent and everything changes whether we want it to or not. When we develop an unhealthy attachment to people, things and ideas – especially ideas – we can be sure they will disappoint us and cause mental suffering. We can rarely point to one particular thing and say, “There! That is the cause of my suffering.” It’s almost always a series of things or circumstances and occasionally some random event that gives us grief. Meditation, undertaken conscientiously and with discipline, can help sharpen the mind and relieve us of our delusional thinking and eventually ease our suffering.