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Helping the Children

Q: Why do children suffer & how can the suffering of all children be ended forever?  Why are children born to horrible parents?  This world is truly horrific despite its few graces and beauties. Why do innocent and vulnerable beings exist in a world that is absolutely unsafe and inhospitable to them?

I cannot reconcile the innocence of children to the horrors of this world. I struggle with this daily even though it inhibits me from living my personal life the best that I can. The only hope I find is the thought that maybe there can come a time when no innocents are harmed and instead they thrive.

There is nothing that makes the suffering of children okay, not one moment of it. It makes me ill to know that it happens. I am writing you because I'm basically at a loss for any guidance or help or advice from any other source.

A: Karma, the law of cause-and-effect, is not "fate" as is understood in the western world.  Karma means that the results of one's thoughts, words and deeds will manifest in this lifetime or in a subsequent lifetime depending on the conditions which are present.  In order to understand the karmic answer to your question it is necessary to understand that Buddhists believe in rebirth.  Buddhism teaches that we live in a cycle of birth, death and rebirth and that the karma we have accumulated during this cycle has a great deal to do with the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  Buddhism also teaches that karma is not fixed, that it can be purified, negated or altered by actions, thoughts and words which do not create suffering and pain.

From the Buddhist standpoint, children are "born to horrible parents," as you put it, as the result of previously generated negative karma.  This may sound rather cold and heartless, but if one believes in the cycle of rebirth (which Buddhism is trying to teach us to transcend) one can understand that the karmic consciousness which is reborn is subject to the same cause-and-effect phenomena that were experienced in previous lifetimes.  That we carry our karma with us is an undeniable fact to Buddhists; but another undeniable fact is that we can do something about it, which is the hopeful part.

From the Buddhist perspective a child born into unfortunate circumstances is certainly not responsible for having created those circumstances in this life, but from that same perspective, the negative karma accumulated in the lives which preceded this rebirth were the cause of the unfortunate circumstances.  This is why we must do our best to control our behavior and to purify our negative karma while we are aware of its existence and are able to do something about it.  This does not mean that we simply ignore the suffering of others, saying, "Well, it's their karma."  That would be cruel and heartless.  Compassion dictates that we do something to help them.  But at the same time, wisdom dictates that we recognize where this seemingly unexplainable suffering comes from.  Understanding the source of suffering makes us better equipped to help those who are experiencing this suffering.

You are correct in saying that the suffering of children is not okay.  The suffering of any being is not okay!  This is why we must do our best to end our own suffering as well as the suffering of others.  It is fine to hope that a time when no one suffers will come about; but if we do nothing to hasten the arrival of that day, the world will indeed be "truly horrific."  We have the power to change the seemingly horrific nature of the world.  We simply must have the compassion, wisdom and will to do whatever we can to bring that about.  Knowing that suffering exists is just the first step.  We must be "doers" and not just "knowers."

One other thing: yes, there are many things about the world that are "truly horrific," but there are other things about the world that are exactly the opposite.  From the Buddhist perspective, each individual's essential nature is that of Enlightenment itself, of Boundless Compassion and Wisdom itself.  This is cause for great hope.  The road to creating a world which is not horrific begins with the individual.  We must work to calm and focus our minds and hearts so that we may more accurately see the true nature of existence.  Once seen, the road to liberation for ourselves and others is clearly mapped out.  But if we do not work to perfect ourselves and so reach out to those who are suffering, the horror will only continue.

I hope this has been helpful to you.  Be well.

Zendo ChopZendo Chop