"Everything Happens For A Reason"
"Everything happens for a reason." You hear this expression often, especially when things have gone very wrong, and a person is trying to make sense out of his setbacks, or even his calamities. At such times, it is comforting to tell oneself that there may be some higher purpose in all that is happening, and that, in the end, everything will turn out well - for the better, even. After all, who wants to feel like an ant thatís just been stepped on, and left behind, crushed on the sidewalk?
Whether it is true, or not, that everything that happens does so for a reason, and that in some way it will all be for the best, is hard to know. Sometimes, it certainly does not seem that way. But, on the other hand, there are undeniably cases in which it is true. Rumi, the brilliant Sufi poet and mystic, gives one compelling example of this in his poem, "Joy At Sudden Disappointment", translated by Coleman Barks in The Essential Rumi (p. 170):
Remember the incident of Muhammad and the eagle.
[Hearing a voice calling him to prayer, Muhammad] asked for water
to perform ablutions. He washed his hands
and feet, and just as he reached for his boot,
an eagle snatched it away! The boot turned upsidedown
as it lifted, and a poisonous snake dropped out.
The eagle circled and brought the boot back,
saying, "My helpless reverence for you
made this necessaryÖ"
Muhammad thanked the eagle,
and said, "What I thought was rudeness
was really love. You took away my grief,
and I was grieved!"
The eagle, who at first had seemed a thief, was really a protector, an instrument of God. And Muhammadís loss is what saved his life.
This theme is presented, in equally dramatic fashion, by Baba Muktananda in the following story, a copy of which was sent to me by a prisoner in a federal penitentiary. The story was provided to prisoners, there, by the Siddha Yoga Prison Project of Emeryville, California, and the tract, which may be based on excerpts from the book I Have Come Alive, is entitled: "Every Place Can Be A Sacred Place: A Message By Baba Muktananda For Prisoners." I record the story (which I have translated back into English from Spanish), below:
There was once a great Prime Minister in India who understood that everything that happens does so according to the will of God, and that all the places, moments, and events of oneís life are, therefore, sacred. Whenever a father would say something like, "My son has died," this Prime Minister would say to him: "Great. Itís fine. Everything that God does is for the best." If a woman came crying to him, "My husband has passed away," he would tell her, "Itís all right. Donít worry. Everything that God does is for the best." The people reacted with violence and indignation against him. They considered him to be crazy and insensitive, and continuously schemed to drive him out of power.
One day the royal barber was shaving the king, who had fallen asleep in his chair. As he proceeded to cut the kingís nails, the barberís hand slipped, and he accidentally cut off one of the fingertips of the king. The enemies of the Prime Minister realized that this misfortune presented them with a marvelous opportunity to teach him a lesson. They went running to see him, and as soon as they had located him, exclaimed, "Prime Minister, Prime Minister, the barber has cut off the kingís finger!" The Prime Minister, as they expected he would, replied: "Itís all right. Itís fine. No problem. Everything that God does is for the best." The Prime Ministerís enemies, who had heard just what they wanted to hear, then ran back to the king to tell him what his trusted adviser had said. Outraged, the king called the Prime Minister before him, and shouted: "Idiot! Youíve been eating my food and living from my wealth, and now you have the nerve to say that itís good that my fingerís been cut off?!" And he ordered his soldiers to throw the Prime Minister into prison, and told them to give him nothing to eat except stale, hardened bread. "Now youíll get a firsthand chance to see that everything God does is for the best," he told the Prime Minister, mockingly.
The Prime Minister remained sitting in his cell, calmly reciting the name of God. He did not act as one afflicted by misfortune, and later, when people went to visit him and ask him how he was doing, he replied: "Very well. God put me here, and itís good."
Several days later, the king went out on a hunting expedition into the woods. During the course of his journey, he encountered a band of fierce outlaws, whose chief was a worshipper of the Goddess Kali. The bandit chief was required to sacrifice a person of importance to his Goddess, and for this reason, he audaciously kidnapped the king, himself, and dragged him to a temple to be slain. But upon carefully inspecting the captive king in order to see if his body was whole, since they could only offer a perfect specimen to their Goddess, they discovered that the point of his finger had been severed, and told him: "Your body is imperfect. It is not pure enough to be offered to the Goddess. You are not worthy." They therefore released the king, who realized that were it not for the fact that he had lost a finger, he would have lost his head. Remembering what the Prime Minister had told him - "Everything God does is for the best" - he realized that the adviser he had just recently thrown into prison had been right, after all.
The king, returning quickly to the capital, ordered the prisoner to be set free, and when the Prime Minister appeared before him, the king told him of his adventure, and said: "In my case, it was, indeed, good that I lost my finger, but, what, I ask you, was the benefit to you, that you were put into prison and given only dry scraps of bread to eat?" The Prime Minister, at no loss of words, replied: "Your Majesty, if I had not been locked up in prison, and left behind, I would have gone hunting with you, and since my body is intact, the bandits would have sacrificed me to the Goddess." And he concluded with his habitual refrain: "Everything God does is for the bestÖ"
Whatever oneís take on this controversial perspective, it cannot be doubted, that many times, failure and defeat are not quite what they seem. And that loss and even tragedy may sometimes contain secret benefits, hidden amidst the pain and disappointment, like diamonds hidden inside a dark mine. In such cases, is what happens for the best, or merely usable? Again, who knows? One of my favorite philosophers, the ancient Greek Stoic Epictetus, wrote: "Is my [angry] neighbor bad? Bad to himself, but good to me: he brings my good temper, my gentleness into play. Is my [unjust] father bad? Bad to himself, but good to me. This is the rod of Hermes: touch what you will with it, they say, and it becomes gold. Nay, but bring what you will and I will transmute it into Good. Bring sickness, bring death, bring poverty and reproach, bring trial for life - all these things through the rod of Hermes shall be turned to profit." (Translation by Hastings Crossley.) Here, Epictetus does not necessarily say that when disaster strikes, it is for the best; but he does tell us that there is value hidden, even in disasterís midst, and that if we have the courage and insight to find it, we will be able to turn what was an utterly negative experience into something useful, that will make us stronger, wiser, in some way better than we were before.
Learning this way, and growing this way, is never easy. But it is surely better than finding nothing in the adversity, and withering away, like plants whose roots do not struggle enough to reach a drop of water. Whether everything happens for a reason, or not, we can make what happens have a reason, by finding a reason, and, in this way, turn our losses into foundations for being greater than we were before.
Thanks, from my heart, to the "prisoner" who sent me the tract by Baba Muktananda. I am praying for you to turn the ordeal of your own captivity into gold, and to come out of prison freer and stronger than those who never went in. God bless you. May you be supported every step of the wayÖ
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