Making Sense of Samsara

Samsara sucks! Yet it is human nature to try and make sense of it all. Psychologist George Kelly, who invented the psychological model of ‘constructs’ pointed out that people don’t mind suffering and hardship so much if they have a way of making sense of it. When you can’t make sense of the world around you, then you are confused and unhappy. When things are making sense, you feel safe and drift into less conscious modes of mind based on entertainment and distraction.

Yet the world does not make sense. A multi-murderer can walk free and rich in the world (I could name him) while another good person is handed a death sentence via an incurable illness. The idea that God somehow has control of it all is one way in which people try to make sense of the senseless world around us, and is an idea that grows in times of natural disaster. But if God were responsible for it all, then would we not have a just grievance?

Nebraska state senator Ernie Chambers sought an injunction ordering God to stop causing “widespread death, destruction and terrorisation of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants…including “fearsome floods, horrendous hurricanes, earthquakes, plagues, famine, genocidal wars, birth defects, terrifying tornadoes and the like”.

He argued that God is present everywhere, but was unable to provide an address, which was the technicality the court needed to throw the case out.

Scottish comedian Billy Connolly made a film based on the same idea. In the film his boat was wrecked by lightening, which the insurance company called ‘an act of God’. “Well,” thought Billy’s character, “if God did, I will sue God”.

Rebirth and kamma are similar – though valid parts of the Buddhist teaching, they are not explained in depth. Possibly they are handy constructs to make sense of the world – why are some rich and others poor, some healthy and others born into sickness?

Samsara sucks and trying to find ways to understand it, like karma, biology or God is the wrong response. What we should do is take the good health and time that we have and put it to good use. It is called Maranusati in Buddhism – mindfulness of death. It is not supposed to be a morbid practise, and certainly should not be feeding fears of illness or disaster, but be a reflection that encourages active engagement in meditation practise.