Why do bad things happen to good people?

Sep 6, 2019

We could just as easily ask, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” For Buddha, the answer is the same: because whatever happens to each of us is necessarily the fruit of our own past actions. This is the law of karma.

The Dalai Lama likes to call it “self-creation”. For the Buddha, we’re the boss. Every second of what we think and do and say necessarily leaves a seed in our mind, our consciousness, that will ripen in the future as our experiences. And every second of what we experience is the ripening of seeds we’ve planted in the past.

To take this idea on board, we need to take as our hypothesis the Buddhist view that our mind, our consciousness, is not physical, and nor is it the handiwork of a creator or our parents. Instead, it’s like a river of mental moments that goes back and back before this birth and on and on after death, and that it’s necessarily our own.

In fact, we come into this life at the first second of conception in our mother’s womb fully programmed with all the countless seeds planted in the past that determine our humanity, our tendencies, our experiences at the hands of others, and even our interaction with the physical environment.

Our consciousness finding its way to our present mother’s human womb was no random event: we must have an intense karmic connection – strong history – with that person from the past. The same with our father, siblings, and whoever we meet in our life, whether they harm us or help us.

Karma is a natural law that runs itself; it’s certainly not punishment and reward, which is what we instinctively feel, because, very simply, for the Buddha there is no one running the show: no punisher or rewarder, no creator. We set ourselves up for our own experiences, good or bad.

This is empowering: if what I experience is the fruit of my past, then the learning is huge. Do I like being lied to? No. So stop lying. Do I enjoy kindness? Yes. Then be kind to others. Do I want harmonious relationships? Yes. So don’t be deceptive. Do I want good health, a long life? Yes. Then don’t kill.

I could to tell the truth – one track of karma: my tendencies, my habits; but not be believed – another track: my experiences at the hands of others. I could steal but at the same time be the recipient of generosity.

If we assume that we began in our mother’s womb, that effectively we didn’t ask to get born – ego’s view – then, of course, bad things happening is unfair, and there simply is no explanation: the source of so much suffering: “Why did this happen to me?” This also applies to good things happening – but we don’t care why they happen! Just give me more, please!

With the view of karma, we have an explanation, for both our suffering and our happiness, so we can learn from it and move forward, growing ourselves into the person we want to become.

Of course, karma works in subtle, nuanced ways, but the fundamental logic is clear. Living this way stops anger, blame, guilt and the rest, because we realize that we’re in charge, we’re the boss of our lives.

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