As It Is ~ WHAT IS FAIR?
WE SOMETIMES HEAR
people say, when they are struck by misfortune: "Why
is this happening to me? It's not fair! I don't deserve
this! I've never done anything wrong or bad!"
(We might even have said the same thing ourselves).
Some recount all the good they have done, like following
certain moral rules and religious practices, donating
money to charity, helping people, becoming vegetarian,
etc., thereby revealing that they had done such things
with the idea of getting something back in return,
and not as an expression of their understanding.
Who said life is or should be fair? Wherever
did we get this notion from? To expect life to be
fair only increases our problems. But, though life
might not be fair according to our standards, it is
impartial; the rain wets rich and poor, young and
old, male and female, intelligent and dull, powerful
and powerless, beautiful and ugly alike; life does
not show favoritism, and cannot be petitioned, bribed,
or cajoled. If we understood more about life's impartiality,
we would accept things that we cannot change, and
would not waste so much time complaining, which only
makes matters worse; as an old proverb puts it: "It
is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness."
We cannot stop the rain, but we can carry an umbrella.
When things go well for us, we accept it
without question, and never ask: "Why me? Why
not these others?" Our ways of looking at things
are self-centered and biased, and of course we get
only a narrow picture, like when we look through a
keyhole. We cannot reasonably complain that this is
all there is to be seen.
Why do we not make use of the world's wisdom?
There is an abundance of it, and always has been,
just waiting for people to pick it up and make it
their own. We live in spiritual poverty, when all
around us is a treasury of wisdom. And it is amazing
how simple aphorisms can strike a chord in us ? and
this phrase 'strike a chord' is very apt, because
something resonates within us as we recognize and
thrill to something from outside ? and make a great
deal of difference in our lives, like this one from
Lao Tsu, for example, written over 2,500 years ago:
"Accept misfortune as the bodily condition, for
without a body, how could there be misfortune?"
Thus, we can be somewhat reconciled with misfortune,
and learn how to deal with it better than we do.
If we believe that the universe was created
by and is maintained by an omnipotent Being or God,
we are faced with a dilemma, namely: Why do things
go 'wrong,' or is that all part of the plan? It is
a question that most thoughtful people have asked.
Do we see the hand of a good, kind, omnipotent, and
omniscient Being in the world? Even a human father,
with a modicum of love, would not allow his children
to suffer as in places like Somalia, if he could do
anything to prevent it. So what is all this talk about
"God is Love?" The Somali parents love their
children, but cannot feed them; it isn't because they
don't want to, but because they are unable to. The
Somali warlords are able to feed the children, but
don't want to; they have power, but no love. Now,
if 'God is Love,' but doesn't do anything to help
people in distress, it must be because he is not able
to; and if he is able to do something but doesn't
do so it means he is not Love, no matter what people
claim. One cancels out the other; they can't both
A Scottish philosopher by the name of David
Hume, (1711-1776), looked objectively at nature thus:
"One would imagine that this grand
production has not received the last hand of the maker,
so little finished is every part, and so coarse are
the strokes with which it is executed. Thus the winds
... assist men in navigation, but how oft, rising
up to tempests and hurricanes, do they become pernicious!
Rains are necessary to nourish all the plants and
animals of the earth, but how often are they defective!
how often excessive! There is nothing so advantageous
in the universe but what frequently becomes pernicious
by its excess or defeat; nor has nature guarded with
the requisite accuracy against all discord or confusion.
"A perpetual war is kindled among all
living creatures. Necessity, hunger, and want stimulate
the strong and courageous; fear, anxiety and terror
agitate the weak and infirm. The first entrance into
life gives anguish to the newborn infant and to its
wretched parent; weakness, impotence and distress
attend every stage of life, and it is at last finished
in agony and horror ... Observe, too ... the curious
artifices of nature, in order to embitter the life
of every living being ... consider that innumerable
race of insects, which either are bred on the body
of each animal, or, flying about, infix their stings
in him. Every animal is surrounded by enemies, which
incessantly seek his misery and destruction. Man is
the greatest enemy of man. Oppression, injustice,
contempt, violence, sedition, war, calumny, treachery,
fraud; by these they mutually torment each other ...
"Look around this universe. What an
immense profusion of beings, animated and organized,
sensible and active! You admire this prodigious variety
and fecundity. But inspect a little more narrowly
these living existences ... How hostile and destructive
to each other! ... The whole presents nothing but
the idea of a blind nature, impregnated by a great
vivifying principle, and pouring forth from her lap,
without discernment or parental care, her maimed and
A pessimistic way of looking at things?
You may think so, if you are in the habit of looking
at the beauty of nature and ignoring the ugliness,
or the terrifying and relentless forces that nature
often throws at us, its admirers, without regard for
our lives or property. No, this is realistic, and
nature doesn't give a damn about our feelings; let
us be clear about this; we live forever on the rim
of a dormant volcano, so to speak, or are sitting
on the back of a sleeping tiger, which might wake
up at any minute and devour us. To say to the volcano
or the tiger: "It's not fair!" would be
a waste of breath!
This is an age of great skepticism, but
though this could be one of our greatest assets, it
is more often shallow and superficial skepticism,
and based upon arrogance, than founded upon perception.
Just because we have been to school for a number of
years ? and even to university ? and know how to read,
write, and a few other things, many of us appear to
think we can safely dismiss things with just a cursory
examination, or none at all; our mental life becomes
impoverished by such an attitude. And Democracy, whereby
people are given equal rights ? the illiterate and
ignorant on a par with the learned and cultured, for
example ? goes to our heads, which we then hold high
with pride, like the branches of a tree without fruit.
Skepticism born of inquiry and experience
is a healthy thing, and should be encouraged, to counteract
the dull and lazy trait in many of us of merely believing;
while skepticism of the kind that comes from our personal
preferences and prejudice is, and can only be, narrow
Many people either had no interest in religion
to begin with or, having perceived something negative
about it ? and let's be honest, and admit that there
are plenty of negative things about organized and
formal religion ? have rejected it completely, without
trying to extract anything positive and useful from
it. In some cases, people retain, or continue to be
influenced by, the superstitious aspects of religion,
and this is rather like throwing away the banana and
eating the skin.
To extract the essence and discard or disregard
the packaging (if we must, though if we understand,
there is really no harm in keeping the form, too),
requires intelligence and persistence, as it ? the
essence ? is sometimes deeply hidden ? like diamonds
in the ground ? and is not immediately obvious. It
behooves us to look deeper into things, to try to
find something good; it is always there. I know some
people whose house was completely destroyed by fire,
but instead of bemoaning their fate, they sifted through
the ashes until they came upon their melted-down jewelry.
Any thing, any situation, might be looked at in different
ways, and something positive drawn from it. A loss
doesn't have to be a complete loss, unless we allow
it to be. And anyway, what can be lost will eventually
be lost, but understanding this can be a source of
gain. And how?
Because when something is lost, or disaster
strikes, we might suffer less from it than we otherwise
would by reflecting on it thus: "Well, it came,
and it went. What is surprising about this? How could
it be any different, since nothing lasts forever?"
People reject religion outright probably
because they saw only the form ? the container ? and
never bothered to investigate it to see what it contained,
or just assumed that it is something outmoded, anachronistic,
and of no importance to them. Yet we often see people
turning blindly and superstitiously to religion when
something unfortunate happens to them ? they lose
their job, have an accident, become love sick or heartbroken,
or someone near and dear to them falls sick or dies,
etc., etc. ? and pray to 'God,' Jesus, Mary, the Buddha,
Kwan Yin, Sai Baba, or whoever else they can think
of, to help them in their distress. Well, I can understand
this, of course, and am not saying it's bad, even
though it's not right, because when we are healthy,
there's no need to go to the doctor. But I also think
it's a pity that people leave it until something unfortunate
happens, as it's often too late then. It is better
to think ahead, like when planting seeds for a future
harvest; they do not grow and bear fruit immediately.
Vast numbers of people are scornful of religion
and anything connected with it; but are they so complete
in themselves, one wonders, and have such a degree
of philosophical fortitude that they would be self-reliant
and never turn to religion for help and support, no
matter what happens? Maybe, but probably not. Even
seemingly hard and materialistic people crack under
strain, and fall back ? or try to ? on something that
they think is there when they need it but which really
isn't, as they never bothered to examine or cultivate
Self-interest impels many people to turn
to religion. Driven by pain, fear, hope and despair,
they embrace religion, and finding some solace and
explanation therein, they relax, and sink into the
mud of complacency, not knowing why they call themselves
'Buddhists,' 'Christians,' 'Hindus,' and so on. Instead
of inquiring, and looking deeper, they rest content
with the little they have found so far, and take the
apparent for the real, the container for the contents.
Many of them remain like this for a long time ? some
for all their lives ? but some are gently or rudely
awoken from their slumbers by one or another of Life's
countless methods, and urged to continue their journey.
They are the lucky ones; most of them insist on sleeping
long and soundly.