Monday, April 29, 2013
Everything happens for a reason?
The two questions worth examining here is why the phrase is repeated so often – is it true? — and why it becomes an irritation.
I'm not sure we can treat this all in a single essay, so we may need to break it up.
In the first place, it is true on the physical level that everything happens for a reason. The reason that all events take place is quite precisely because the ones before them took place. In every instance, the universe is in the state of re-creation. That is to say, the entire will of God in all its infinite perfection reforms itself over and over again in each instant; but each instant of reformed truth, of the reemergence of the Dharma — let us remember, Dogen advised that the Dharma re-creates itself something over 1,700 times per second — follows precisely on the last one. There can be no reality that is not in complete relationship with the instant that came before it.
This model is, of course, the deterministic universe, in which physical actions cannot deviate from law. And indeed, the material universe follows such a law. Gurdjieff succinctly summed that up by saying that for one thing to be different, everything would have to be different. The statement seems like a limited one, about an individual human being's situation, but it extends all the way down to the quantum level.
The deterministic universe, of course, is a mechanical explanation, and yet it provides a foundational truth from which to examine the question. The metaphysical argument, which is that there are reasons, overarching Divine initiatives and principles, for what happens, is the one people are tossing off when they make this statement. The statement itself is so superficial as to be flippant; yet some of the greatest philosophical and religious minds in the world have examined the question in enormous detail. Ibn Arabi developed elaborate understandings of this question which would take years to study; yet his conclusion that overarching Divine initiatives and principles drive the manifestation of the known universe was inexorable. In addition, he insisted that this could only be known directly through Divine revelation, no matter how much intellectual firepower one directed at it. In this, he was in firm agreement with great spiritual masters from every tradition. In the end, our intellect cannot master the question.
The whole point of philosophy is to conduct an inquiry as to whether there are reasons; whether there is a higher moral good, and whether there is a God. Atheists, who want to shear the wool from the sheep and just keep the wool, arguing that there is no sheep, are still left with the need to claim that there is some kind of good, lest they be accused of a morally bankrupt ideology. The irony here is that insisting there is no meaning still leaves human beings with the need to assign meaning; and atheism's attempt to defend a moral code derived from what they claim is an entirely an accidental and random rationalism proves this. Atheism— the idea that nothing happens for a reason— has failed to fire the imagination of human beings in general simply because the idea itself is false, and thinking human beings who are not internally damaged can instinctively sense this.
Sri Anirvan provides what is to me one of the most insightful and beautiful dissertations on the question of the greater meaning of actions in the universe in his fine book, Inner Yoga. His observations ought to be required reading for those seeking more contemporary conversation on the matter. The essential gist of his argument is that even the most awful events are part of a much greater whole that turns itself on a plan for the good which cannot be discerned in its microcosmic manifestations.
Cosmologically speaking, this has to be true. As I've explained before, every single object, event, circumstance, and condition is inextricably linked with all other objects, events, circumstances, and conditions, and thus from a metaphysical point of view, we understand the following situations. First, that every such element of manifested reality is in its wholeness a perfect and complete expression of God (Ibn Arabi underscores this over and over again) and that second, since each apparently individually iterated manifestation of God is in fact not separated from God but in a metaphysical sense the entire expression of God, each object, event, circumstance, and condition contains all other objects, events, circumstances, and conditions, all of them born into Truth through inevitability. None of them can be separated; all of them are perfect; and everything is God.
Following on this argument, it is impossible to separate the good from the bad, since each one of them is an absolute manifestation of truth, arising within the limited relativity imposed by the constraints of material reality. This means that everything we call the good cannot exist without the bad and actually has the bad with in it.
Ibn Arabi explained this conundrum, which appears to equate the good with the bad and assign them equal value, by insisting that the bad is put there in order to turn men back towards the good. Now, as we pointed out before, even atheists believe in a good; so whether one is a Deist or not, one must admit that the good exists. Since it cannot be separated from the bad, we must take the bad is a necessary condition for the good. Ibn Arabi even goes so far as to point out repeatedly that if we did not have the bad, we would not know what the good looks like; and Swedenborg makes exactly the same argument.
As I suspected, we are not going to get this matter resolved in a single essay; so you will have to turn to the next one for a further commentary.
May your soul be filled with light.