When I was a little girl, my dad would often say, “Don’t worry, Lori. The good guys always win.” I loved it when he said this to me as it made me feel safe. It provided assurance that there is a logic and order to the world. It reduced our messy and complicated existence to simple dichotomies: good and bad, right and wrong, light and dark.
As I have grown older, I continue to believe in the transformative power of kindness, love, respect and generosity, but it does not prevent terrible things happening to ‘good’ people. It does not explain why so many suffer, or why humans behave in selfish, cruel and destructive ways. It does not justify racism and inequity. It provides no insight into the hoarding of resources or the destruction of the planet.
The older I get, the more I realize that, no matter how I try to wrap my head around it, the world we live in does not make sense. There is no simple and clear explanation. I will never fully understand how the world functions and I cannot ‘fix’ its brokenness. I have finally accepted this truth. The one thing I can do is live my life in the best way possible: one tiny decision and action at a time. I can actively choose to be a source of love and healing.
I am currently reading The Dhammapada by Eknath Easwaran: a Buddhist scripture traditionally attributed to the Buddha himself. The Buddha lived 2,600 years ago. He was an ordinary person, named Siddhartha Gautama, whose insights and teaching continue to ring true to this day. Buddha is not a name, but a title. It is a Sanskrit word that means “a person who is awake.” A buddha is awake to is the true nature of reality. Simply put, Buddhism teaches that we are blinded by illusions created by mistaken perceptions and “impurities” — hate, greed, ignorance. A buddha is one who is able to see clearly.
I experienced an ‘ah ha’ moment the other day when I read the following passage in the book.
The Buddha’s penetrating insight attracted many intellectuals, one of whom, Malunkyaputa, grew more and more frustrated as the Buddha failed to settle certain basic metaphysical questions. Finally he went to the Buddha in exasperation and confronted him with the following list:
“Blessed One, there are theories which you have left unexplained and set aside unanswered: Whether the world is eternal or not eternal; whether it is finite or infinite; whether the soul and body are the same or different; whether a person who has attained nirvana exists after death or does not, or whether perhaps he both exists and does not exists, or neither exists or does not. The fact that the Blessed One has not explained these matters neither pleases me not suits me. If the Blessed One will not explain this to me, I will give up spiritual disciplines and return to the life of a layman.”
“Malunkyaputra,” the Buddha replied gently, “when you took to the spiritual life, did I ever promise you I would answer these questions?”
“No, Blessed One, you never did.”
“Why do you think this is?”
“Blessed One, I haven’t the slightest idea!”
“Suppose, Malunkyaputra, that a man has been wounded by a poisoned arrow, and his friends and family are about to call a doctor. ‘Wait!” he says. ‘I will not let this arrow be removed until I have learned the caste of the man who shot me. I have to know how tall he is, what family he comes from, where they live, what kind of wood his bow is made from, what fletcher made his arrows. When I know these things, you can proceed to take the arrow out and give me an antidote for its poison.’ What would you think of such a man?’
“He would be a fool, Blessed One,” replied Malunkyaputra shamefacedly. “His questions have nothing to do with getting the arrow out, and he would die before they were answered.”
“Similarly, Malunkyaputra, I do not teach whether the world is eternal or not eternal; whether it is finite or infinite; whether the soul and the body are the same or different; whether a person who has attained nirvana exists after death or does not, or whether perhaps he both exists and does not exist, or neither exists or does not. I teach how to remove the arrow: the truth of suffering, its origin, its end, and the Noble Eightfold Path.” (pgs. 55-57).
In essence, the Buddha is saying there is much that is unexplainable and unknown in this world and beyond; but what he does know is we can end suffering through our own actions. In following the the Noble Eightfold Path, we cease harming ourselves and others: Right View, Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. We become a source of light in the darkness.