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Thread: Thy will be done

  1. #1

    Thy will be done

    I was flipping through some of my Mom's old National Geographic magazines the other day. The February 2007 issue had an interview with Francis Collins on how he manages to reconcile his strong religious faith and his work as director of the Human Genome Project. He's also a doctor and has worked with a lot of dying patients. I really connected with one of the things he had to say:

    In my own experience as a physician, I have not seen a miraculous healing, and I don't expect to see one. Also, prayer for me is not a way to manipulate God into doing what we want him to do. Prayer for me is much more a sense of trying to get into fellowship with God. I'm trying to figure out what I should be doing rather than telling Almighty God what he should be doing. Look at the Lord's Prayer. It says, "Thy will be done." It wasn't, "Our Father who art in Heaven, please get me a parking space."
    I kind of feel that "Thy will be done" is a useful concept even for non-Christians. One of the most common objections I hear against the existence of the Abrahamic God is: "How could a just and merciful Creator allow so much suffering in the world?" Which is a pretty legitimate question, IMO.

    But then, my first reaction to the law of karma was "How can you say that somebody deserves to suffer now because of something they did in a past life? It's not fair!" And I've never really found any explanation of karma to be completely satisfying. It made me think about Jundo's early webcast about "accepting without accepting." Not in a fatalistic sense, but finally taking a reasonable attitude on what I can change and what I can't. Trying to get past It's not fair!.

    So whether our lives are dictated by the whims of a personal and omnipotent God, or by a blind, impersonal system of karma, or by nothing at all...does it eventually boil down to Thy will be done?

    It's a bit late here and I'm tired, but I hope this post made a bit of sense to someone. Sorry for rambling on!

  2. #2
    well, I believe this ties in very closely to our societies view of Karma...

    Last week I went bowling with a friend and his sister. My friend botches pretty much the entire game and ends up with like a 40 ( were all novice bowlers by the way...highest I've ever gotten is a 110). So his sister rambles on about how his bad karma caused him to mess up each and every throw.

    I sat their laughing in my head a bit while just sitting and listening to this girl. But now that I think of it, this is how society views Karma.

    As Buddhists, we are told that every action has a reaction ( in layman's terms). We believe that we are the reason that things are the way they are. Our society believes that Karma is being dished out by some benevolent "white bearded guy".


  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Murah
    As Buddhists, we are told that every action has a reaction ( in layman's terms). We believe that we are the reason that things are the way they are.
    Yes, that's the difficulty for me. That I expect a sensible action/reaction - do something good and the outcome will be good. But it doesn't always work.

    The biggest example of this type of thinking, in my life, was when I got involved in a kind of 'micro-loans' project for Afghan war widows. No, I didn't go to Afghanistan (far from it!), a group of people at my university supported the project though. Under the Taliban, these women weren't allowed to work, or even to beg for money. The aid organisation came up with a great plan where they would provide the widows with livestock (esp chickens) so that they could support themselves and their children. And it was so well planned out, there was no way that these businesses could be accused of immodesty, the laws of the country were scrupulously observed.

    But the Taliban shut it down almost immediately. They even killed all the animals. No reason given. And, since this was well before 9/11 or even the USS Cole, it barely made the one seemed to care about Afghanistan back then.

    I think that is the most furious I've ever been. I don't know if anybody else can understand why this was such a big deal to me....but it was huge. Even years later I would get caught up in resentment and anger.

    I guess it's about realising where my own involvement with a situation ends. How I can (to some degree) control my actions, but the effects of even my own actions aren't predictable and quickly fall out of my hands. At what point do I have to let go...etc

  4. #4
    I'm very fond of thesci-fi author Philip K Dick. A character in his book VALIS is a very heavy-duty atheist, gets incredibly hostile at any mention of God. For him, everything that's wrong in the world can be symbolised by his dead cat. The cat ran out in the street and got hit by a car - but it was a very quiet street, that was the only car on the road, and 3 seconds difference either way would have spared the cat. The character keeps repeating that, if he ever meets God face-to-face, he'll pull this dead cat out from his coat and hold it out to God (by its tail, "like a frying pan" :? ) and demand an explanation. Why did you kill my cat?

    I recently re-read this book and realised that the Afghan war widow fiasco is my own personal version of this guy's cat. Dead cats aren't generally funny, but the insistence that he'll show up in Heaven wearing a trenchcoat with the cat in his pocket is so ridiculous that I had to laugh.

    I think a lot of people may be clinging to a similar "proof" of injustice, refusing to let go of it until somebody can answer Why?

  5. #5
    Hi Drut,

    I think this whole thread was my attempt to say pretty much the same thing as you just did. Unfortunately, I tend to ramble off topic a lot. So my posts are long and hard to understand.

    I find it still rather annoying, but the notion of 'retributive karma' seems to be fairly well-entrenched in many Buddhist communities. I once sat through a debate on whether my epilepsy was due to committing acts of violence in a previous life Cula-kammavibhanga Sutta:
    Here, student, some woman or man is one who harms beings with his hands or with clods or with sticks or with knives. Due to having performed and completed such kammas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a state of deprivation... If instead he comes to the human state, he is sickly wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to sickness, that is to say, to be one who harms beings with one's hands or with clods or with sticks or with knives.
    ...or from being a drunkard in a previous life Vipaka Sutta:
    The drinking of fermented & distilled liquors when indulged in, developed, & pursued is something that leads to hell, leads to rebirth as a common animal, leads to the realm of the hungry shades. The slightest of all the results coming from drinking fermented & distilled liquors is that, when one becomes a human being, it leads to mental derangement.
    I told 'em that epilepsy was not a form of mental derangement. :roll: I did get some encouraging news from a Thai monk though - although having epilepsy prevents someone from taking monastic vows, it doesn't make it impossible for them to attain stream-entry. However, people born blind, deaf, or with ambiguous sex organs are probably SOL. (I don't know the source of this one, I think it's in the Abhidhamma somewhere?)

    You can probably imagine that I took all this a bit personally at the beginning. But these attitudes don't bother me so much anymore. I don't think it's particularly important.

    I think a natural reaction to bad things happening is to demand Why? How? When? with the idea that getting an answer will lead to that silly therapist-speak state of "closure."

    I think that there was a time when I finally decided that no answers were really going to satisfy me. That I was wasting my time and energy revisiting these old wounds. That "closure" was a silly idea - like if you can do/ say/ think the right things you won't ever get sad anymore? :?

    The term "surrender" has so many negative connotations, but I think it can be the healthiest and most mature response to circumstances. Here and now, these are the way things are.

  6. #6
    If one accepts, Dependent Origination ( the 12 link chain), then previous karma must be accepted. One of the main benifits of Enlightenment, is to realise the cause of karma and so prevent the creation of further karma.

  7. #7

    thy will be done

    Hello Paige:
    That word surrender is not one that works well for me and pain.
    Acceptance comes closer, but also not quite (both words have a 'I give up' quality which isn't a good reflection of what I'm doing.
    For pain, I seem to respond better with the word 'allow.' There is something spacious in that word for me. I can let the muscles, the nerves 'allow' for whatever is occurring at the moment. 'Allow' seems to let my body be completely open with all doors, all windows and the pain races in and around and settles into wafting through.
    Anyone got some good words out there for letting pain be (just what it is)? All contributions would be gratefully accepted--they don't even have to be English words (but please include the English translation/equivalent)!

  8. #8
    I find the best way is to just think "pain", yet try and alter my perception of the _word_ pain. Instead of thinking pain=bad, I try to think pain=annoyance/irritation/discomfort. I do agree with you about the idea of "surrender"; that's a very negative word in painful situations. Even acceptance is not quite right to me either.


  9. #9
    Hey, I just noticed that Everyday Zen, from our book club has a chapter named "Thy will be done." I wonder what Charlotte Joko Beck's take on that phrase will be.

    I don't really consider "surrender" a bad word anymore. But perhaps "renunciation" is better? I've found a quote from Hsu Yun at The Zen Site explaining what was meant by "renunciation" in Ch'an practice:

    Give up your whole body, as if you were dead, and the six sense organs, the six sense objecting. and the six sense organs, the six sense objects and the six sense consciousness will naturally disperse. Greed, hatred, ignorance and love will be destroyed. All the sensations of pain, suffering and pleasure which attend the body ---hunger, cold, satiation, warmth, glory, insult, birth and death, calamity, prosperity, good and bad luck, praise, blame, gain and loss, safety and danger--- will no longer be your concern. Only this can be considered true renunciation --- when you put everything down forever. This is what is meant by renouncing all phenomena.

    When all phenomena are renounced , wrong thoughts disappear, discrimination does not arise, and attachment is left behind.
    Saying "I give up!" is generally seen as cowardice (and sometimes it is) but Zen practice requires us to "Give up body and mind."

    Or... put another way - I've met a few recovering addicts in my lifetime. The 1st step of AA/NA is to "admit we are powerless over our addiction," and every recovering addict I know has said that this step was the hardest (I think I'd have more issues with the "higher power" stuff personally). Admitting powerlessness isn't saying "Well, I can't do anything about it, so why bother trying?"

    I'm not a drug addict, but there are many things over which I am powerless. And it's hard to admit, I'd prefer to believe that I am in total control of my life.

  10. #10

    thy will be done

    Hello Paige:
    Thank you for your Yogi Berra quote--it is one of my all time favorites!!

    This business of 'dropping body and mind' is certainly worth looking into.
    The problem I experience with "I give up" isn't so much the sense of cowardice as it is with the "I" and with the "give" and with the "up"
    Who is this "I" and just what is it it is trying to do?
    For me, somehow, 'allow' is the 'magical' word for pain which somehow doesn't have an "I" doing anything. Don't ask me how, but for me, that word is like saying 'relax', only 'relax' doesn't work for me--'allow' gets me to 'relax' faster and more efficiently than 'relax' does (!!go figure!!). And I think these individual quirks and idiosyncracies with regard to language is true for each of us.

    For each of us there are words (and images those words convey) which are helpful and words (and images those words convey) which hinder--different authors of things zen try to take us to that which is beyond words by using words.

    So here we are trying to understand what is beyond words by reading words!!! (Does it get more fun than this?) While it is impossible to do,
    there still is the space between the words, and the 'reading between the lines' in which it can be done.

    One of the things I have stumbled across which has been very helpful is that over the course of time I've had a chance to sit with different groups and, of course, each has their own translation of the Great Heart of Wisdom Sutra and their own translation of the Four Great Vows. Just one word here, and there, ever so slightly different and a vast world opens up in a glimpse!

    What I have found with reading things zen is that less reading is better for me--if I go on and read more at one time, I get less and less out of it.

    It is curious that we use this cluttered mind to un-clutter mind.
    It's kind of like the self-cleaning oven: using the oven to clean the oven, or the self-defrosting refrigerator--using the refrigerator to clean the refrigerator). But I do think this is true and a fact--after all, a dog's coat uses a dog's teeth to groom itself, a cat's coat uses a cat's tongue
    to clean itself self cleaning dogs and cats, every cell and system in our body 'self' cleans--why would mind be any different?

    So it's a question of finding this 'hidden' feature.

    Authors writing things zen tell us where to find it, how to find it. For me, this is like reading an instruction manual for a new appliance. Yes, the manual can be helpful, but only by holding this appliance in my very own hands, seeing it with my very own eyes, and then when I have some 'hands on' experience and I go back to the manual can I then say "Oh, yeah, now I know what they're talking about--what they said is true!" But up to that point, I'd have been scratching my head, various levels of frustration circling around me, just waiting for an opportunity to manifest, and I would have been saying "What the heck are they talking about?"-- most likely with a few juicy expletives thrown in!

    When I started out I wanted to get somewhere and now, now....
    I just love it that it is endless (the 'getting' of it) and I love it that it's like pedaling a bicycle--I have to keep pedaling or I fall over and I love it that there's no where to 'get' to!

    No 'I'? What's there not to love about this practice?


  11. #11
    My pregnant sister and her children are visiting for a while. This morning, my nieces were arguing over whether they were going to have a baby brother or a baby sister - the older one wants a boy, the younger one a girl. The discussion became quite heated and I interrupted to remind them that the sex of the new baby was not for them to decide.

    My older niece nodded sagely and said:

    "You get what you get and you don't get upset!"

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