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What Happens, Happens.


After having studied Buddhism for a while, I have come to some ideas about the philosophy and in particular its’ relation to morality. For westerners especially, Buddhism seems to be paradoxical and difficult to really categorize. I can accept that some things cannot be controlled, that man cannot directly choose his circumstances all the time. However, Buddhism, in particular Zen, which is influenced by Taoism has, throughout its’ teachings a kind of ‘whatever happens, happens’ kind of ideal. It seems to me that this could be fatalistic. If life is out of our control, then what about morality. If bad things just ‘ happen’ and chaos to order, order to chaos is inevitable, doesn’t that destroy our notion of choice? This can also create a kind of unclarity in one’s mind about what is right, what is wrong and can be used as an excuse for surrender to responsibility for one’s own life.


My own chief complaint with Taoism is that it is seems passive in the extreme. Buddhism isn’t quite so passive, however. Yes, it teaches us to accept what comes by not grasping at expectations, but that’s not the same is being helpless to control ones own fate.

Bad things do sometimes just happen. So do good things. We need to learn to roll with the punches and deal with things as they happen. A great deal of suffering and unhappiness results from broken expectations and unpleasant surprises. Learn to see past all that.

This all relates to bad things that come from outside sources, not our own choice to do good or bad. If a truck runs off the road and drives through your house, is there anything you can do about that? No. Yet, if you continually hang around negative, discouraging, “toxic” people, is it likely that you will grow to take that point of view? Yes. You do have control over that sort of thing. You have control over who you call a friend. You have control over the food you eat. You have control over the words you speak and the choice of entertainment you enjoy. Most importantly, you have the choice and the control over your own actions, and this is where the Buddhist ideas of morality come into play. You do in fact have control over your thoughts and actions, and that’s really the only thing you do have control over.

We all need to learn the difference between the things you have control over and the things you do not, and focus your energies on changing the thngs we can. There’s an old prayer (not Buddhist) that goes like this:

“Lord, grant me patience to bear the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

11 comments to What Happens, Happens.

  • Patty Hensley

    How I “see” the circumstances of my life has evolved over time from that of a victim of circumstance to a participant. Taking responsibility for the negativity I put into the world and onto myself, I see more often just how much of my discomfort is brought on by me. Perhaps through meditation I am better able to see my part in my world and take responsibility for what I contribute – loving or negative. Does morality include learning to live a life with increasing respect for all other life?

  • Jerry

    See “Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?” by Ajahn Brahm

  • Jerry:

    At first I thought that was a snarky comment about something. 🙂

    I did a quick search and see that the book you mentioned is very highly rated at Amazon. Check it out here:

    Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?: Inspiring Stories for Welcoming Life’s Difficulties (Paperback)

  • I admit it’s a bit off-topic, but I couldn’t help noticing the ad for scientology above this article.
    I thinks it’s very sad that such a wonderfull and openminded site as is associated this way with such a controversial organisation, known for their agressive attitude towards anyone not agreeing with their dubious philosophy. I just hope that this is either a mistake, or that you don’t have any influence over the contents of the ads on your site (which would be a bit strange).
    Apart from that, I’m glad that the output of your site is slowly getting back to what it was before!

  • Gerard, it’s probably not as bad as the ads for the all-Muslim dating service 🙂

    The ads in the right-hand sidebar (currently Amazon, Mighty Leaf Tea, and eHealthInsurance) are real ads that I put there. I recommend those services and like the companies. Whatever comes up through the other ads is controlled by Google. The ads are generated by Google Adsense, and are content-generated. What that means is that Google sees that this is a site that talks about religion, and places what they consider “appropriate” ads on the site. Sometime Google will pick up on a single word in a post or page and put in whatever it thinks is most relevant.

    No, I definitely do not agree with Scientology, and neither I nor the site have any affiliation with Scientology at all. The ad choice is completely up to Google. Fortunately, Google doesn’t run the same ad for very long, so it’ll go away before too much longer.

    And thanks for the comment; the site will still be part-time this week while I wait for the email service changeover to settle down, but I have big plans for next few weeks.

  • Amy

    The question and answer are solid. However, I keep coming back to another topic that won’t leave me alone as of late: the “power of positive thinking” part of the equation. Studies show that prayer can indeed, as best they can tell, affect health, and that seems sit outside of the idea that we only control our thoughts and our actions.

    And then there’s sports psychology, where the mind plays a strong role in how well you do (I’m tinkering with this a bit as a newbie to the world of competitive weightlifting). We could say that an athlete controls her thoughts, but then those thoughts may indeed control what happens next.

  • Michael Harrison

    I appreciate your commonsense paraphrasing of Buddhist principles and the open mind it demonstrates. By the way, the prayer you quote is not that old. Thanks

  • jon richmond

    I was under the impression that open minded meant you were not closed to other ideas. I think the original, yes fundamental (dirty word) teachings of the Buddha were to accept all beliefs as they are and not to criticize them. We are to respect other people and their ideas. I have difficulty with Islam but there they are. The trouble with westerners is they are overly intense and pick apart every syllable in any book they pick up on the teachings of Buddha or how to clean your toilet bowl. I am a westerner and have been down that road since 1953. I think I have learned something since then. My thought is that you might want to relax and let it happen. Listen to the sound of one hand clapping.

  • Jerry

    Re: “Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?”

    Snarky, who me? 🙂

    I should have said a bit more, but I was in a bit of a rush when I posted that reference. It was in response to the notion that Buddhism encourages passive acceptance of whatever happens, good or bad.

    I think Brian’s response on dealing with things as they happen is exactly right. Buddhists usually refer to that as “skillful means”. The story in the book is about what do you do when you discover that someone has dumped a pile of manure on your lawn. You can carry it around with you and make yourself and everyone else miserable or else you can dig away at it bit by bit, using it to fertilize your garden, and end up with a positive result.

    I think you can read that parable at page 106 at

  • David


    I like the idea of the book Jerry is referring to the title really makes me smile. When I think about life and its ups and downs I usually think of two phrases, both help me in different ways. One is old and a bit cheesy, “that which doesn’t kill us only serves to make us stronger” and one which is newer and a bit off colour, and I sincerely hope this causes no offence but I do like it “sometimes your the lamppost and sometimes your the dog”! Such is life

  • “Whatever happens happens.” Sometimes, ‘bad things happen to good people;’ sometimes, ‘good things happen to bad people;’ and, very often, we have no control over which way things turn out. What happens simply doesn’t give a damn about OUR IDEAS of justice, morality, etc. To my mind, this is simply a corollary to The First Noble Truth.

    BUT, realizing and accepting this doesn’t entail EITHER fatalism OR amorality. It just means that we need to let go of our ideas of justice and morality, and “Just do it!” (our dharma). therein lies enlightenment.