I keep thinking of those three toddlers who were killed on Friday when the SUV in which they were riding was rear-ended by a big rig on the freeway, only a few miles south from where Ellie and I happened to be driving, at that very moment, on our way from Los Angeles to Laguna Beach. Their mother and grandmother were critically injured, while the driver of the big rig walked away without a scratch--in one of those searing ironies that remind us of the seeming injustice of the universe.
These sudden deaths were compounded, over the weekend, by news of the tornado in the Midwest which wiped an entire town off the map in an instant--a town that had taken decades, if not centuries to grow, and which represented the collective lives and aspirations of some fifteen hundred human souls. With casual swipes like this, Mother Nature continues to remind us of her power--and our fragility. We may kid ourselves that we humans are in charge of this planet that we live on, but it's increasingly difficult to maintain that arrogant view. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Earth has been trying to educate us on the subject recently with some pretty harsh lessons in humility.
All of which prompts the reminder that Buddhism certainly helps us in learning to accept the truth that death is inevitable for us mortal beings, and that it can come at any moment. If you go that far--and as I have written in these pages before, I myself have difficulty going there--the belief in rebirth might provide some grounds for comfort when it comes to the loss of this human form we are loaned for a period of time that often seems all too brief. The principle of karma, too, provides a way for the mind to wrap itself around such tragedies, though the hearts of those close to victims of this kind would likely find little solace in its wisdom.
I wonder if Christianity has an edge in this regard? An unwavering belief that such events in human affairs are the expression of God's will, and more specifically that human souls--particularly the souls of innocents like those toddlers--will be transported to a new and better life in heaven, must surely be of comfort to both heart and mind. My skeptical mind insists that this thinking is delusional, a story invented by human beings unable to accept the awful finality of death, but some part of me still envies that escape clause available to believing Christians.
The Buddhist belief in rebirth is, of course, subject to dismissal in the light of that same skepticism, and for the same reasons. That's why my mind has such difficulty with it. And yet, if we think of our human existence in terms of the flux of energies, it makes sense to believe that those energies do not simply disappear off the face of the earth, but that they get rechanneled into other forms. I'm no scientist, but I understand that this kind of thinking does not conflct with a rational scientific understanding of reality.
I like the fact that in Buddhist thought, science and religion are not mutually exclusive theories, but that they can coexist and support each other. And as always I'd be interested to hear what others think...