Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The grand scheme of things

About 2 years back, I went for a lecture by a Buddhist monk by the name of Ajahn Brahm. He was an English chap who gave up his indulgent city life to take on a monastic one. He talked a lot about Buddhism, most of which was difficult to catch. But there was one thing that really struck a chord.

Brahm was talking about what it means to be a Bodhisattva. Now for those who are not well-versed in Buddhist terminology, a Bodhisattva is a person who sacrifices his own path to enlightenment to help others reach a higher state of life. In secular terms, a Bodhisattva is one who wilfully sacrifices his own benefits for the benefits of others. In Buddhism, attaining a life state of a Bodhisattva is highly regarded.

Now Brahm was trying to tell the audience that failure in life is alright as long as we bounce back from it. He was using an example of a school kid failing a test. Then, he added on something about the school kid’s failure which was very interesting.

This is something along the lines of what he said.

Failure is relative. If you (the kid) have failed, then someone else has to have passed. Even if everyone fails, some (you) will fail worse than others. Despite being on the losing end, there is beauty in being a failure. By you taking up the role of a failure, someone else has not. By you suffering, someone else has not. So by becoming a failure, you have given others success. You have in your own way become a Bodhisattva. Of course, your actions do not resemble a Bodhisattva per se. It's not as if you failed willingly just to give others success. You failed despite trying to succeed. But as a consequence of your failure others succeeded. 

This really fascinated me. Even if you screw up on a micro-level, on a macro-level you actually don't screw up. You simply become an agent of the macrocosm- of the system of things to happen.

Interjecting my thoughts here... Think about crime. We all condemn crime. I mean civil society hates thieves and robbers right? After all, they plague our streets. But if you think about it, these criminals give meaning to lives of policemen. They give policemen work to do. They get them incomes too. These criminals even give cities the honour of being crime-free - for if there were no criminals to begin with, then how can you ever be crime-free?

With this in light, isn’t a robber a Bodhisattva in his own way? Yes, his actions are wrong. But he sacrifices his own life and freedom to allow policemen to catch him and send him to jail (not willingly though!). By sending him to jail, the policemen get their own benefits such as income and recognition.

All of this is really fascinating.

But with this there are implications for our conception of sin. Our commonsensical conception of sin is that it is wrong in its entirety. But with these new observations in light, sin can now be right! Sin can now be useful in the grand scheme of things. But does that mean we encourage it? I don’t know and I can’t know.

To give my take on this: I would say we should live our lives to the best of our abilities and free ourselves of sin. But if sin adamantly finds us, then perhaps it's meant to be... and that's the grand scheme of things.

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