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Why Bad Things Happen to Good People?

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Ah, just some random musing today.

The title question has always puzzled me and I am sure to thousands or millions of people before me. Why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. If good and ethical behavior is no insurance against misfortune and pain, then what point is it?

Religions explain this unexplained balance is by introducing the concept of afterlife and almighty.

We cannot explain what we see,  so we conclude there must be something we can explain but cannot see, with the assumption that balance must be preserved. If we cannot explain things in terms of actions of humans and animals around us, then there must be something or someone beyond seen life i.e. God. If we cannot explain the contents of life of humans and animals, then there must be life beyond death, i.e. afterlife.

A while back I posted the Story of Tao. About how your perception is a “catch-up” between your expectations and state of the world. And your expectations can change and the same state of the world is interpreted totally differently by you.

On one of my walks, I stumbled upon an hypothesis. Ethical behavior is not so much about avoiding bad experiences and pain. They simply cannot be avoided. Good and bad is part of life. It will always be there.

But with ethical behavior you will find yourself in cognitive resonance with the universe. You will gain insights and wisdom. That will eventually lead to enlightenment.

If you were to keep an account of material gains, it will be pretty much the same for ethical and unethical behavior in the long run.

If you are unethical, you will find yourself in a state of “cognitive dissonance” with the universe. This will lead to ignorance, clouded vision, muddied intellect and loss of freedom.

Some days back, I had read an article about management styles. How the symptoms of bad management when managers are trying to control too much are ironically same as symptoms of too little control. This is a situation where cognitive dissonance can happen. It’s a level of wisdom that can lead you to discern the right thing from symptoms.

What use is this wisdom if we cannot avoid pain? Tremendous. Answers Buddha. This is where the gem of Mahayana philosophy comes in. There is a distinction between pain and suffering. Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. Pain is a sensation, an experience, an activity of nature. Suffering is an activity of mind. For an enlightened mind which is perfectly at peace, there is no suffering in the gravest pain.

For good and bad people pain remains the same. But for good people, suffering goes on diminishing.


Birth Of A Habit

Reading an interesting book right now on mindfulness. “The Mindful Way Through Anxiety”

The book makes an excellent point on how habits are reinforced, and how we are not even aware that we are reinforcing habits.

Say a woman reads somewhere that some children died in summer camp. Then the woman avoids sending her children in summer camp. And then when the woman takes a look at her children sleeping in bed peacefully in the night, she thinks the very reason the children are safe because she protected them by not sending to the summer camp. Once in a blue moon the woman will read that another child died in summer camp and she will totally convince herself that she did the right thing by not sending the children to summer camp and keeping them home. She will totally ignore the news on next page about how children died in a house fire and would never think that keeping children at home is dangerous.

In reality overwhelmingly large number of children have gone and safely returned from summer camp. But the woman thinks it is her habit of being overprotective that kept the children safe. Thus the habit of being overprotective is reinforced.

Then next time the woman does not send children to playground, to park, to their friends. Every time when she sees her children safe, she concludes being overprotective is what saved her children. Statistically all the activities she prohibited her children from doing are very safe.  But she ascribes the safety of her children to her protective nature. Her children end up missing good stuff in life.

This is how habits are born. This is how phobias are enforced. When we avoid something and we remain safe, we attribute our safety to the act of avoiding that thing, may it be a lift, a boat, a closed space, a public speaking opportunity, or whatever. The truth is we would have been alright even if we had not avoided the experience and gone through the moments of fear and discomfort.

The new currents in psychology are recognizing this. Just like you can immunize someone by injecting a small amount of disease in their body, you can desensitize yourself to fears and phobias by exposing yourself to it in small steps, not running away from it or taking medications.

Story – The Prostitute and the monk

I didn’t have any particular topic in mind today. So I decided to put this story from Indian mythology here.

Long long ago, on the bank of a river, there lived a monk. Right across the street from him, lived a prostitute. The monk always hated the fact that he had to live next door to the prostitute. He took every opportunity to rebuke her about her profession. He would take every opportunity to show her what a horrible person she was. In his mind, he always compared himself with her and took big pride in the fact that he was accruing so much good Karma compared to her.

The prostitute was a humble girl. She always respected the monk. She tried not to talk back when he was yelling at her. She felt bad about the choice of profession she made, but was not in a position to get out of it. She would always try to listen when the monk prayed, hoping that listening God’s name would help her wash off some of her sins.

The monk kept on his routine of massaging his own ego by comparing himself to the prostitute. Eventually he got so obsessed that he kept a jar with him and for every one person who visited prostitute, he dropped a pebble in the jar.

The prostitute kept her own routine. She was also watching what the monk was doing. She had a jar too. And every time the monk prayed, she put a pebble in the jar.

One day there was a big flood on the river. Both the monk and the prostitute were washed away and were dead. Upon their death, their souls stood in front of God of death.

To everyone’s surprise, the God of death ordered the prostitute to go to heaven and the monk to go to hell. The monk could not believe this. “What an injustice. You can still find a jar in my house. I have kept count of how many times this prostitute sinned. How can she go to the heaven? There must be some mistake.”

The prostitute also added humbly “I think the monk is right. I don’t deserve to go the heaven. But he does. I have a jar where I kept count of the number of times I heard his prayer. He prayed a lot. So I think he should go to heaven and I should go to hell.”

The God of death smiled and said “The judgement is correct. It does not matter what word is in your mouth. It matters only what is in your heart. The monk’s heart was filled with prostitute’s sins while he was saying his prayers. While the prostitute’s heart was filled with love of God while engaged in lifestyle of sins.  The heart that has love of God goes to heaven and the heart that judges others and is filled with jealousy goes to hell.”

Looks A Lot Like Hinduism!!

A friend forwarded me this Newsweek article talking about how the evolving religious viewpoint in USA is looking kind of like Hinduism.

I always thought that Hinduism is more of Meta-religion, more of a framework where spiritual traditions evolve. Having multiple gods gives a sense of fragmented-ness, a sense of lack of coherence in spiritual beliefs. But at the same time it gives a tremendous ability to transform itself.

There is no single governing body for Hinduism. There is no indoctrination as such, where you go to a specific place on a specific day and you hear about what is right practice of Hinduism and what is not Hinduism. There is no conversion machine, no coordinated effort to take Hinduism to people and make them Hindu.

Being polythestic (that is the correct word for worshipping multiple gods) gives Hinduism a solid respect for diversity and tolerance for other religions. Because then one more religion or prophet is just one additional gods, which is not a problem at all. That’s why you will find Hindu people going to a durgah or church far more often than the other way round.

Also if you are not familiar, you may find it hard to believe but even the religious Hindus don’t regularly worship or pray to more one than one god. Mostly people find one of the few big gods, like Rama, Krishna, Shiva to whom they resonate to, or to whom their family has been praying.  There might be other idols in the house, but one god or goddess gets most of the attention. In a sense, they are practicing one-god worship. Just that their god does not make it necessary to eliminate other gods from the picture.

Was this diverse nature part of the vision of founding fathers of Hinduism? Again, I don’t think there were any founding fathers as such. The traditions, the philosophy and the rituals can be traced to ancient civilizations in India, but there is no defining moment that made Hinduism this way.

In many ways worshiping multiple gods satisfies more of a political need rather than spiritual need. It is likely that many many empires, gurus and prophets over the years fought and finally decided that since we cannot eliminate each other, let’s learn to live with each other, respect each other.

Modern world is going on strikingly similar path. It is slowly dawning to people that fighting is not worth the gains most of the times and that violence is a bird that always comes back home.

Even if people get converted to your religion, they can still screw you. So world is better off by being let others be themselves. My god is good and your god is good too.

So tomorrow people might be worshiping Jesus, Mohammad and Moses together. Not too far from worshiping Bramha, Vishnu and Mahesh. Just different names.

And, to me that looks a lot like Hinduism.