Stephen Hawking recently took some heat for the non-statement of the year – heaven and hell are fairy stories for people who are afraid of the dark.
I’ve always liked the guy.
Now Hawking’s view appears to be based on science but it is also a philosophy, of course, that suggests our lives are completely a matter of random, meaningless chance.
Is that the case? Is this a just universe? Does the invisible hand of God or karma that make it right and just and meaningful?
And is there freedom from our suffering? Or is it like Lucinda Williams sings in “Ugly Truth” from Blessed:
From the cradle to the grave
You will always be a slave
To the quiet darkness
Of your memories.
To know if there’s freedom, we need to know the cause of our suffering, no?
Take, for example, a young person I once knew who came into this life with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and pretty much all the other letters of the alphabet in various combinations (ADHD, EBD, DCD, ODD…).
Her mother was an alcoholic, crack addict and prostitute. Of course, they were very poor. There’s evidence that the girl was probably abused in about every way that a child could be abused.
Then things got bad. In her early teens she witnessed her mother’s murder.
This child was born into a shit storm and yet had less innate capacity to deal with it than just about any other human on this little planet.
Do you still believe this a universe characterized by justice? Do those who do good receive good results and those who do harm receive harmful results? Or does God have a plan for everyone? Then how about this kid?
In addition to heaven and hell, justice and randomness, I’ve been re-reflecting on karma and rebirth since reading All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age. Click here for my review.
Here’s Dale S. Wright in The Six Perfections (p. 66) on this point:
“The first dimension of the Buddhist doctrine of karma that warrants reflective scrutiny is its assertion of ultimate cosmic justice. All of the world’s major religions have long-standing traditions of promise that at some point good and evil lives will be rewarded with good and evil consequences and that everyone will receive exactly what they deserve. But all of these religionis are also forced to admit that this doctrine contradicts what we sometimes experience in our own lives.”
As Job found in a covered-with-boils way, monothiestic traditions tend to leave it to God to straighten out the mess and it simply isn’t the business of large-brained primates to speculate. God, after all, made the mountains and oceans.
Buddhism relies on past lives.
So maybe this kid had been a malicious mass murderer in a past life and thus was getting her brutal just desserts. Does that ring true for you? Not me.
Or maybe God and Satan were hanging out looking for someone else to mess with, like they did with Job. But only a seriously inferior being would take advantage of a kid like this.
So what kind of universe is it?
“Although we certainly care about matters of justice, it may be that the larger cosmos does not,” writes Wright.
Reminds me of Katagiri Roshi shocking some his students (and delighting those with a sour disposition) during a practice period at Hokyoji, insisting again and again that “Buddha doesn’t care.”
So is the cosmos caring or not? Just or not? Good or evil?
Bottom line for me – I don’t know. But “I don’t know” isn’t an excuse to be uncaring, unjust and evil, thereby clearly creating more suffering.
The cosmos is not something out there, apart from us.
“I don’t know” implies that it is up to me to make it caring, just and good by my intentional, meaningful actions.