Recently, a friend of mine at work lost a very close friend in a tragic diving accident. As she went about her duties, baking bread and dealing with customers, she politely answered their questions with a smile, even though her mind was in shock and, her heart was grieving. When we finally had a moment to talk away from customers she cried a little and said " Why him, Ron? He was a great guy everybody loved him. He had seven kids. Why did God or whoever is up there have to take him? Why couldn't it have been me? I don't have any kids... and he had such a beautiful family. Now they don't have a dad."
For my friend, for the man's wife and children, and for anyone who has ever suffered through the unexpected death of a loved one, or a personal tragedy the question why is the fuel that stokes the fires of grief and confusion. "Why" seems to be the gateway that leads to suffering.
In reality, any question has the inherent power to cause suffering when an answer is not forthcoming. In the above situation the question "why" has the power to devastate. "Why" is born of desire. It is specifically a desire for understanding or knowledge. By definition it asks: for what cause or reason or purpose. When it comes to situations of great personal loss or tragedy it can also take on a psychological or emotional component, with an unrelenting demand for satisfaction, or justification. When coupled with grief, the demands of the question "why" can cause suffering that for some can be unbearable. Like a scale that is over balanced to one side, only a satisfactory answer to the question "why" can reset a heart and mind lost in grief and confusion.
The psychological/emotional component of the question why derives its power from a sense of unfairness. The unbalanced grieving/confused heart can only cry out in its agonized state."It's not fair. It's not fair that I shouldn't know why something happened. It's not fair that I was not consulted. It's not fair that I was not given a choice. It's not fair that God...."
Sooner or later the heart cries out for an answer to the unknown, to God (however one defines that term), or the universe, or as my friend said to me "Whoever is up there." Someone has to know why. The mind at the very least needs to believe that someone or something knows why. Why did God allow this to happen? Millions of people throughout the ages have asked that question. Instinctively asking for answers from the one believed to be ultimately responsible, only to be met with silence. The one who knows why is not talking, preferring it seems, to let us twist in the wind: grieving, confused, and unknowing. It is at this point that the psychological/emotional aspect comes into play. Now the question why has taken on a second focus, added on a second demand, like the forked tongue of a serpent. Not only does the grieving/confused heart need to know why this happened; now it needs to know why God won't tell me. God is unfair. He knows why this happened. He did it... or at the very least allowed it to happen, and now he sits there in benevolent silence, unmoved by the tears of a grieving creation.
This is not a rant against god, but rather against an idea of god. A creation of our own minds, a god trapped in a dualistic this or that reality. When gods are personified they can't help behaving as we do. They love they hate, they are kind they are cruel, they bless and they curse they forgive and they withhold forgiveness, they are fair, and in reference to the above example they can be decidedly unfair. An unfair god doesn't have to tell you why.
We humans ask why instinctively. It's one of the primary ways we learn. Is there a human child that has never asked why? I doubt it. We want to know everything about everything. As I said the question why is born of the desire for knowledge. "Why" (the question) causes an imbalance in the mind, "Because" (knowledge or the answer) restores it. This mental transaction only exists as a thought; it has no effect on reality. Let me explain. If you throw a stone into a body of water it will sink to the bottom. If you throw it with enough velocity and at the right angle it will skip over the surface of the water before sinking. Why? There are many reasons, good scientific explanations why this is so. We could discuss the density of the stone vs. the density of the water or the degree of the angle of entry vs. the surface tension of the water or the required velocity in miles per hour to achieve the skipping effect. Who cares? It doesn't matter if you understand it or not. Reasons why only matter to the mind that is asking. It has no effect on reality. Throw the stone just right and it skips on the water. Reality, end of story. Why doesn't matter.
Reality trumps the thought of what is understood, or not understood about any given situation. Seeing this clearly allows a person to transcend the mental/emotional suffering imposed by the question why, however great or small that question may be.
Clearly there is no comparison between the degree of suffering caused by not knowing why a stone skips across water, and not knowing why a beloved friend had to die. One makes us scratch our heads with curiosity and the other makes us weep with heartache, and so it should be.
If asking why is the gateway to suffering, then surrender to reality is the gateway to peace. May we awaken to this truth..
Peace be with you,