Monday, December 10, 2007

Why do bad things happen to good people? A Buddhist perspective

Why do bad things happen to good people? This was one of questions asked by someone in my last post. Since the post about the death of my friend with lung cancer, I had more bad news. A colleague of mine has been recently diagnosed with a type of bone cancer. This doctor too is a very kind and a compassionate person, well liked by all his peers and patients. I am yet to hear a complain about this doctor, who may have saved many thousands of lives. Since this bothered me so much, I decided to explore this question further, "why do bad things happen to good people?"

We all know that wholesome kamma should produce good results. So ideally a "good person" should not get "bad results". However we all know that this does not always happen. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. How do you explain this? The timing of Kamma is a very complex subject. There are basically three types of kamma with regard to the time of their results: (1) kamma resulting in this life-time (ditthadhamma-vedaniya-kamma), (2)kamma resulting in the next life (upapajja-vedaniya-kamma), (3) kamma resulting in later lives (aparapariya-vedaniya-kamma). In Buddhist literature there are some instances where even fully enlightened monks had to repay their previous kamma from past lives. ( Ven. Mugalan and Losaka)

Buddhists believe that some of the inequality of humans can be explained by kamma although it is not the sole determining factor. Buddha's teachings explain that there are five orders or processes – Niyama Dhamma 1.Utu Niyama(Physical-Seasonal changes and climate) 2.Bija Niyama(Biological/Genetic inheritance)3.Kamma Niyama (Ethical /Consequences of one's actions)4.Citta Niyama (Psychological/Will of mind) 4.Dhamma Niyama (Laws of nature).
What really happens to us at the end may be a result of a complex interactions of physical, biological, psychological, ethical, or laws of nature. The karmic potential may be the main player and it ripens as a result of the other four conditions coming together. Therefore kamma is only one of the five factors that come into play when something happens to us, either good or bad.
Our journey through Samsara is like a movie with a long reel of film. In this life what we really see is only "one frame" of the film. It is just a very small fraction of the entire movie. Therefore it is difficult for us to pass judgements or make assumptions like what happened to this person is "good" or "bad," without playing the whole movie. It impossible to replay the entire movie from the beginning. In fact Buddha even said that"I cannot see a beginning." What is more important is for us to realize that there is an end. This is the end to all suffering called Nirvana.
Related Suttas and discussions:
Kamma -Kamma A Study Guide prepared by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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