Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pulling Strings

We have a saying in the law business: We are deemed to intend the natural and probable consequences of our acts. In other words, defenses like "Sure, I hit the window with a sledge hammer - but I didn't actually expect it to break!" don't cut it.

Sometimes I picture the universe as having absolutely every single point in space-time joined by a string to absolutely every other point. Any movement, anywhere, affects us. Everything we do - and think, which is a form of action - to some extent affects everything else.

Because of the infinite complexity of this interconnectedness, we generally move almost totally blind to the radiating consequences of our actions. Nevertheless, we place great store in feeling in control of our lives - that when we turn the steering wheel to the right, the car will go to the right and not into oncoming traffic.

I noticed that I had been thinking about the string analogy recently when I had an urge to eat something nonvegan.  It goes like this:

Taking a roast chicken from the supermarket shelf pulls a string that goes into the storeroom and magically pulls another roast chicken out onto the shelf to take its place. Each roast chicken in the storeroom is connected by a series of strings to a live chicken. As sure as night follows day, whenever a roast chicken leaves a store in a shopping cart, far away and unheard, a wretched chicken is dragged out of a house of misery into a slaughterhouse, whether we want to think about it or not.

Remembering the string analogy helps me choose actions that don't naturally and probably lead to suffering ... or does it? If every action is the result of the sum total of the influence of every other action, everywhere, do we even have free will?

My inclination is to fall back on "I don't know - does it matter?" and just carry on acting as if I do have free will, one step at a time.

I was taken with Kokyo Henkel's post Karma, Free-Will, and Determinism over at Sweeping Zen:

A bodhisattva is one who is willing to play the game of appearing as a sentient being who is in control of herself and living in accord with other sentient beings, completely willing to receive the effects of karma, even though ultimately the set of conditions we called “me” that did the action is not the same set of conditions called “me” that receives the result. The freedom of the bodhisattva is that by seeing the illusory nature of free will, they are willing to receive whatever effects come.

Suffering exists.

The laws of cause and effect exist.

We can't control them, but we can unreservedly throw ourselves into them.

And act, when we feel a pull ... on our heartstrings.
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