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The Divine

At that time in 2011 when the wedding of Will Windsor and Kate Middleton displaced all other news, I overheard the following exchange:

“But wasn’t it sad that Diana couldn’t be there?”

“Yes, I thought so too; heart-breaking, really. She would have been so proud.”

“Such a beautiful person she was; she did so much good. I still don’t understand why she had to die.”

“No, it wasn’t fair.”

The two shook their heads inconsolably.

I could have said something at this point, but it sounded rather brutal in my ears: “She died because she was in a terrible car accident.” I kept it to myself, wondering. They presumably thought she’d died according to some cosmic plan.

Human beings need to believe, but beliefs aren’t free; they must be defended, buttressed and rationalized. It’s a lot of work, and it’s not always worth it. I try to keep mine to a bare minimum.

My mother was a devout Catholic and drew great consolation from her faith. It never worked for me, though. I learned from Buddhism to prefer resolution to consolation. Nevertheless, resolving inner conflicts isn’t always pleasant — you have to face your demons; so, I understood her preference.

This conversation, however, left me wondering. If the agent of Diana’s death — God, the Universe or Fate — decided that she ‘had to die,’ where’s the consolation in that? It seems the divine agent has no interest in being fair which, if you’re looking for consolation, amounts to pretty much the same thing as an indifferent, godless universe.

Then there’s the notion of ‘karma,’ which nowadays is usually just a new word for the old idea of divine retribution, rather than the momentum of personal actions described by the Buddha. If it was Diana’s ‘karma’ to die, then perhaps she did something bad in an earlier life, which of course is something we’ll never know.

Either way, investing in this belief delivers no benefits. In fact, it seems to do the opposite. Believing in an agent with the power to save, but not the inclination to do so, is disappointing; actually, it’s downright disheartening.

Back in the Buddha’s day the Brahmins were a force to be reckoned with. They performed rituals and magical incantation to propitiate the gods. The Buddha was polite to them, and many of them actually turned to his teachings, but he had no time for their magical gobbledegook. He apparently thought it not so much wrong as a plain waste of energy. He likened them to a line of blind men, each following the one in front, all convinced they were on the right path because they went where everyone else went.

Instead of believing in things of which we can never be sure, he proposed that each of us discard speculation and seek out whatever can be known and changed, and to get to work on it. Even within present-day Buddhism, with its twenty-six centuries of accumulated interpretation and sophistication, there are those who devote their life to theoretical speculation. Admittedly, it’s fascinating; sometimes it’s helpful … but it’s really not the point. Life is short; what counts is not what we believe but how we live. Sometimes, as Sigmund Freud pointed out, a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes a terrible accident is just a terrible accident.

 

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3 responses to “The Divine”

  1. Caroline

    maybe we commiserate on Diana’s death simply to console one another. Is that a bad thing? i think most people don’t know the truth about her death, but they do agree it was very sad.

  2. André Vézina

    Hi Stephen;
    We were exposed to really great Britain moments,last week.
    We were born to die anyway. Until this happen, life is ours to do our best in the respect of others and enjoy.
    Other agent…. is unlikely to interfer.
    ‘karma,’ as you already explained is good enough, for me.

    Have nice day.
    Regards
    André

  3. Adeeb Mahfood

    This question has occurred to me but all sorts of problems now raise up. If we are not responsible for our fate, the way live our success and or failure, if we are not responsible for our fate, but are puppets of a divine will, we cannot be judged. If that is so, what the criteria for granting success or failure to each individual life be unfair, this is not reasonable. One cannot have a verdict without performance. That being the case we would expect if all favoured, we would have heaven on earth, but all religions require us to wait for the next round. Meanwhile we are here to do our best, in all we can do, my cousin Robert Haag, in his capacity does his best, in different way.

    What is fairness? In Jamaica 80% born to a one-parent family, with all the disadvantages. A small proportion have great parents who are able to give them discipline ,and good rules, and give them all the good things for living the good life. But even these are not all born equal: legs not as long, reflexes not as quick, a bad leg, autistic, mind not as sharp, so not as great a thinker, the inherent inequality of life is obvious, science in its study of the origins of life of all kinds of life has given the answer
    Darwin’s theory of evolution states our world around 5 billion years of age. The method of aging by radioactive aging, by the study of rock formation is scientifically sound. iving life forms appeared about 4 billion years ago. The amazing part is that the molecules and atoms that started it all had the capacity to merge with others, to become multi-cellular, and adapt to the myriad life forms have today. The other day I saw what appeared to be a feather drifting on the patio; looking closer it was some sort of insect with wings flying around. I ask you for what purpose was this insect created? It all fits together. Here we have as Darwin stated “Design without a designer’.”This is what evolution is, with of course living cells with capacity to adapt, to change so that new life forms can evolve more efficiently, better than it was before.

    The Buddhists who believe in Reincarnation may be closer to the truth than we think. Science also now postulates our present universe started with the big bang 14 billion years ago; that from then the universe has been flying apart and expanding at the speed of light and when it has expanded far enough where light which is the measuring stick is receding so fast it cannot be seen, there will be empty sky, who knows the process will begin again. So these magical molecules that make life possible will be recreated and form life and its variety again; so in fact what is, will never really be destroyed or lost but come again.
    The Desderata is a poem which sums it up best. We are part of the universe, and have as much right to be here as the stars and the trees that make up the universe. So to put greater store on Homo Sapiens is incorrect. In the many billions of years it took modern man to evolve, 4 billion only over the last 70,000 years has Homo Sapiens “’Thinking Man” has this marvel appeared, with laws for behaviour and conduct, religion for way of life all in the last 5000,years.It would appear humanity in life is still a work in progress. Of the 5 billion persons there will be soon 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 billion and our earth big as it is will be turned into a vast desert. That is it will be so if the Republicans have their way.

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