It Is All Good…….But Is It Really?

How many times when something really bad happens you hear someone say “it’s all good?”   I thought today we might examine this phrase.  How can someone who has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness, a person sentenced to prison, a baby diagnosed with a developmental disability, someone whose spouse after many years of marriage announces they want a divorce……how can that be “all good?”  I think the statement “It is all good” maybe just a form of denial.

Bad things are going to happen.  They don’t just happen to bad people – but they happen to all of us.  If it was “all good” there wouldn’t be samsara.  But as the Buddha taught 2,500 years ago life is characterized by samsara.

When unexpected tragedy strikes us it seems there are three ways people typically respond:  1.  Is to simply rest in denial.  I feel people who say “it is all good” are doing this.  2.  Is to become really stressed out.  I can think of some people I know who don’t deal very well with stress.  When they are faced with some devastating news they fall apart.  Some people even resort to very self-destructive behavior in dealing with adversity. The third way is what Buddhist practice is all about.  It is neither denying the situation nor falling apart – but accepting it as it is – and moving on from there.   I believe this is what Buddhist practice is really about and is only possible when living a mindful life.

Tough times won’t last, but tough people will. Many people have lost money (example of Rime couple who lost their entire saving in the Enron collapse) and many are losing their jobs, homes, or at least making cutbacks. Many others have faced life-changing natural disasters, such as hurricanes and fires, as well as health and family difficulties.

Everything that happens to us in life is the result of our past karma – we can’t do anything about that.  As they say, “You can’t do anything about the cards you are dealt, but only in the way that you play them.”

This is where meditation practice comes in.  If you have a strong practice, and you have really cultivated mindfulness in your every day life – then it is going to be much easier to deal with life’s difficulties as they arise.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had Rime members who are facing really difficult life’s circumstances tell me, “You know Lama Chuck without my practice I don’t know how I could get through this.”  But as a result of my practice I feel that it will be OK and I can deal with it.

So, I begin this blog by being critical of those who say, “Its all good” and I think in relative reality that is true.  But in the ultimate or absolute sense they are right.  It was the 2nd century brilliant philosopher, Nagajuna who said, “There isn’t a whit of difference between samsara and nirvana.”  Now I know on the surface that may not make sense……but because both are empty of inherent existence there is no difference between them.  Samsara (or suffering) is simply nirvana not yet realized.

Samsara and nirvana are only different in the relative sense, because they designate entirely different things. Again, in the ultimate sense, there is no difference, because of their emptiness. Everything is empty, including emptiness.

This many sound like theoretical nonsense, but it has a practical application. The aim of this thinking is to shatter all dualities and destroy all avenues for grasping. When we can get past dualistic thinking, that is, seeing only the distinctions, not recognizing the parity or the correspondence between things, then the world opens up for us. We then see the wholeness of life. We become whole. Being whole means to be healthy, and this sort of spiritual health translates into release from the things that bind us to suffering.  It is freedom.   So, in an ultimate sense the saying, “It is all good.” Is in fact a correct statement – as long as you recognize the emptiness of what is good (or bad).