It’s very tempting to believe that when something happens, it does so as a way to reward or to punish people. We see this when someone claims that a hurricane destroyed a city because of “sinful people” living in that city. At the individual level, there is the belief that if someone was mugged on the street that he or she deserved it. People have faith in such notions because we see the world through individual lenses. We’re subjective thinkers.
When we let go of our subjectivity for awhile, and study why things happen, we see that phenomena are indifferent to our beliefs and practices. Hurricanes occur because of global weather conditions and the natural tendency of the troposphere to spawn storms. Hurricanes and Typhoons just happen. A similar situation happens when there are muggings and robberies. There are some people who steal stuff from
other people. Thieves and muggers generally attack at random not because of some divine instruction. If blame is to be placed, it should be on the criminal, not the victim.
We like to view things or events as auspicious or inauspicious. Society used to interpret the appearance of comets in the sky as symbols of divine displeasure and as signs of impending doom. These days, we understand that comets are simply physical objects that have highly eliptical orbits around the Sun. Their appearances can be predicted through observation and mathematical formulae. Comets are
A phenomenon happens regardless of our opinion of it. It is our interpretation of an event that causes hope or fear in our minds. The unscientific mind selectively chooses “signs” that back up and justify its opinions and beliefs. If something happens to us we automatically personalize it.
If something fortunate happens, I might say, “I am lucky”. When something bad happens I might bemoan the fact by saying, “I’m an unlucky guy.” Maybe another person will claim that my misfortune is “a judgment from God.” The temptation arises every day to attribute meaning to random phenomena. A better approach is to be mindful of a phenomenon. What is the actual cause of it? What naturally happens because of it.
When the weather service predicts that a hurricane will collide with your city, you don’t need to worry if a divine being is angry with you or your neighbors. You can make preparations to better help you survive the extreme winds and flooding.
While you wait out the storm, perhaps you may wish to examine possible motives of doom-mongers who attribute special meaning to the natural event.
Understanding phenomena as indifferent does not mean that we must react with indifference to them. Indifferent events often act as catalysts that reveal compassion and our inate humanity. Most of us feel moved to provide aid and comfort to victims of natural disasters or violent crime. We can pay attention to this reaction and follow through to help in ways that we are able.
On a personal level, seeing phenomena in their natural light helps us avoid unskillful thinking, elitism, and spiritual pride. When some unpleasantness happens to someone, we don’t need to assign blame to them. The same goes for when something pleasant happens to oneself. The happy phenomenon doesn’t necessarily mean it came about because that person is a member of a select, exclusive category or belief system.
What it may mean is that what occurred was the result of hard work or by the means of random selection. Understanding that phenomena are indifferent is one way to prevent lazy thinking, greed, fear, heartlessness, and cruelty. Knowing that phenomena are indifferent reveals that all of us are in this life together and we all deserve sensitivity, kindness, sympathy, and compassion.
Understanding that phenomena are indifferent can be the great equalizer that helps to level the playing field for everyone.