Peace In the Midst of Chaos
Q: May I ask how your people and their philosophy live and think of what is going on all around the world and still manage to be happy and smile? There are so many cruel and inhuman things going on in the world that I find it hard to still have a positive outlook on life sometimes. I just feel like there is this part of the puzzle that is missing. How come we don't have any explanation about all this? How does "life" or "God" or whoever you believe in decide what happends to someone, whether that person is going to suffer a lot,just a little bit or even not at all? You can't tell me that a 13 years old girl has chosen to get assaulted!
Its so annoying that we have absolutely no answer to any of our questions, and yet we are suppose to go ahead with our lives and live them without even knowing very much. And if we do figure out a way to explain things...well, let's be honest, we still dont know if it's true. I guess my question is, how do you stay "zen," at peace with life, knowing that there is darkness in this wonderful world?
I must have a long way to go because I thought that thruth was the key to freedom!
A: It isn't that "our people" are not aware of the suffering going on in the world. Indeed, we are acutely aware of it. But this does not mean that we cannot open ourselves to what's good in the world and to smile about it occasionally. The fact that we know that good exists allows us to cultivate it within ourselves and to apply it where needed (and it is sorely needed these days!). This is what makes our path so hopeful, and hope is a commodity we are sorely in need of.
Actually, we do have an explanation for what is going on. We call it karma, cause-and-effect. Because we engage in harmful actions, deeds and thoughts as the result of our craving, anger and delusion, we create the conditions for our suffering. The hopeful part is that karma is not fixed, that it can be purified or even eliminated. This is hard work, but it can be done. The Buddha showed us an answer to the "question" you're talking about. The answer is called the Noble Eightfold Path. This is one of the things that gives us that hopeful smile you're trying to understand. The Eightfold Path is the way we get beyond suffering while assisting others to do the same. It helps us to eliminate the root causes of our deluded behavior while helping others as well as ourselves.
The simple answer to the question, "Who decides what happens to us" is, "We do." This doesn't mean that the 13-year-old girl you talk about has chosen to suffer, but rather that the karma-creating actions from that girl's previous existences have created the conditions for that suffering to occur either now or in the future. This is why we must cease to engage in harmful behavior, because it not only hurts others but it hurts us in either the long run or the short run. This is how we see it, and it's a hard thing for those unfamiliar with our path to accept sometimes, which is fine.
How do we "stay Zen?" By putting one foot in front of the other, by doing everything with as much mindfulness as we can muster, and by maintaining our awareness so that we may see and actualize our true nature which is boundless compassion and wisdom itself. We do not ignore the sufferings of the world; in fact, we vow daily to do whatever we can to end those sufferings. If we can do this with a calm mind and a peaceful demeanor we can help more people to end their suffering than we could if we were agitated and sad all the time. If our realization is true, we see directly that we are one with those suffering beings we are trying to help, and so we do whatever we can.