“Fairness is Illusion”
by Ven. Wayne Hughes (Ren Cheng)
The Universe is not wise, it is not compassionate, and it is certainly not fair. You only have to view the Universe through a lens that strips away illusion and deception to recognize the truth. This not only leads to the realization that bad things happen to good people, but that good things happen to bad people. You can be the best Buddhist you can possibly be and you will still encounter moments of suffering in life. You can be the worst type of human being possible and still encounter moments of joy and wonder. Doesn’t hardly seem fair . . . does it?
Ryugen Sensei, over his lifetime (and this continues today with his students and their students) created a list of Life Lessons that we refer to. Rule #11 is The Rule of Expectations: Expecting life to treat you “fairly” because you’re a good person is like expecting the bull NOT to charge at you because you’re a vegetarian. Like the bull the Universe doesn’t care WHAT you are, it responds only to HOW you are.
Not sure where this perception of fairness arose but it is believed by many who’ve been acculturated to the notion that the world is supposed to be inherently fair. You only have to look around to prove this is false. Students struggle for high GPAs only to find themselves without job opportunities. Some business people engage in illegal and immoral activities only to find themselves unimaginable wealthy. People live lives of exemplary compassion only to be struck down by genetic diseases. Innocent children are abused. The Universe rolls along with human beings evolving within it, but we aren’t steering it. We have our role as part of its motive power but it also needs the bad weather, steep hills and breakdowns because they are just as important to the workings of the machine. So what if those things make our lives difficult, the machine is just the machine. This means from our perspective that fairness is a fallacy.
There is no compassion, wisdom or fairness inherent in the Universe. There is also no vengeance, ignorance, or bad intent inherent in the Universe. The perception of the Universe handing out cosmic justice or punishment is the result of a misunderstanding of HOW it works. No doubt you can take actions that lead to negative consequences . . . which is why a Buddhist looks to the Three Pure Precepts (cease to do harm, do only good, do good for others) to guide us way from such actions. You don’t have any control over negative decisions made by others, the arising of new diseases, or what the rest of the causal process of the Universe is doing. When bad things do happen you must avoid attaching to them the perception that it was because of something you did, and focus on practicing ways to make situations better. By realizing that the “illusion of fairness” concept is just that, an illusion, and that you are not 100% of the karmic consequences, you will come to realize . . . and here comes the good part . . . that you have the ability to engage in positive transformation of your self and the situations you encounter.
You are not 100% of the karmic consequences . . . what you do matters. Life’s circumstances can sneak up on you. When you develop an awareness of the conditions under which difficulties arise, and that chances are there was no intent to directly harm you, though is may naturally feel so, you’re better prepared to accept them and take appropriate actions. Your personal perception of experiences matter. Your actions do play a significant role in future experiences but they are a part of them, not the whole of them. Not only what you do matters.
You are part of a causal web and the rest of the Universe is too. The concept of “personal karma”, while it has its validity, is not encompassing enough to recognize the broader reality of karmic influence. Causality, what makes karma a reality, is how the Universe reveals its neutrality. It is egoistic for you to believe things happen TO us, or that they happen FOR us. They happen as a result of the nonlinear consequences of causality and you just happen to have a role in that particular experience.
The realization that you are part, but not the whole of the karmic web is actually empowering. It is why you engage in becoming the best possible you, the best possible example of a wise and compassionate human being. That “small” role as one thread joins with the threads of others whose perceptions and intent mesh with your own. The web becomes larger and the probability of snaring positive consequences increases. Things may not happen TO us, or FOR us, but they do happen BECAUSE of us. We are each unique expressions of the Universe and our actions within it have unique consequences.
With the knowledge that you play a role comes the responsibility for your actions. What you do matters . . . negative, positive or neutral . . . how you act, how you respond is what makes personal practice so important. You occupy a part of the karmic web and so have a responsibility to the strand you control . . . YOU. You develop awareness so you can overlay the “personal” with the “global” karma and find ways to improve both. You accept that there will be situations that you can, and can’t control. You learn to take wise actions to positively transform when, and where you can.