“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” With these words Dickens began his famous novel A Tale of Two Cities. But this cannot, alas, be said about our own terrible century. Men have for millennia destroyed each other, but the deeds of Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Napoleon (who introduced mass killings in war), even the Armenian massacres, pale into insignificance before the Russian Revolution and its aftermath: the oppression, torture, murder which can be laid at the doors of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and the systematic falsification of information which prevented knowledge of these horrors for years—these are unparalleled. They were not natural disasters, but preventable human crimes, and whatever those who believe in historical determinism may think, they could have been averted.
Why Ralph Waldo Emerson said that Cause & Effect is the "law of laws."
Compensation from Essays: First Series (1841)
Ralph Waldo Emerson
The wings of Time are black and white,
Pied with morning and with night.
Mountain tall and ocean deep
Trembling balance duly keep.
In changing moon, in tidal wave,
Glows the feud of Want and Have.
Gauge of more and less through space
Electric star and pencil plays.
The lonely Earth amid the balls
That hurry through the eternal halls,
A makeweight flying to the void,
Or compensatory spark,
Shoots across the neutral Dark.
Man's the elm, and Wealth the vine;
Stanch and strong the tendrils twine:
Though the frail ringlets thee deceive,
None from its stock that vine can reave.
Fear not, then, thou child infirm,
There's no god dare wrong a worm.
Laurel crowns cleave to deserts,
And power to him who power exerts;
Hast not thy share? On winged feet,
Lo! it rushes thee to meet;
And all that Nature made thy own,
Floating in air or pent in stone,
Will rive the hills and swim the sea,
And, like thy shadow, follow thee.
ESSAY III _Compensation_
Ever since I was a boy, I have wished to write a discourse on Compensation: for it seemed to me when very young, that on this subject life was ahead of theology, and the people knew more than the preachers taught. The documents, too, from which the doctrine is to be drawn, charmed my fancy by their endless variety, and lay always before me, even in sleep; for they are the tools in our hands, the bread in our basket, the transactions of the street, the farm, and the dwelling-house, greetings, relations, debts and credits, the influence of character, the nature and endowment of all men. It seemed to me, also, that in it might be shown men a ray of divinity, the present action of the soul of this world, clean from all vestige of tradition, and so the heart of man might be bathed by an inundation of eternal love, conversing with that which he knows was always and always must be, because it really is now. It appeared, moreover, that if this doctrine could be stated in terms with any resemblance to those bright intuitions in which this truth is sometimes revealed to us, it would be a star in many dark hours and crooked passages in our journey that would not suffer us to lose our way.
I was lately confirmed in these desires by hearing a sermon at church. The preacher, a man esteemed for his orthodoxy, unfolded in the ordinary manner the doctrine of the Last Judgment. He assumed, that judgment is not executed in this world; that the wicked are successful; that the good are miserable; and then urged from reason and from Scripture a compensation to be made to both parties in the next life. No offence appeared to be taken by the congregation at this doctrine. As far as I could observe, when the meeting broke up, they separated without remark on the sermon.
Yet what was the import of this teaching? What did the preacher mean by saying that the good are miserable in the present life? Was it that houses and lands, offices, wine, horses, dress, luxury, are had by unprincipled men, whilst the saints are poor and despised; and that a compensation is to be made to these last hereafter, by giving them the like gratifications another day, — bank-stock and doubloons, venison and champagne? This must be the compensation intended; for what else? Is it that they are to have leave to pray and praise? to love and serve men? Why, that they can do now. The legitimate inference the disciple would draw was, — 'We are to have _such_ a good time as the sinners have now'; — or, to push it to its extreme import, — 'You sin now; we shall sin by and by; we would sin now, if we could; not being successful, we expect our revenge to-morrow.'
The fallacy lay in the immense concession, that the bad are successful; that justice is not done now. The blindness of the preacher consisted in deferring to the base estimate of the market of what constitutes a manly success, instead of confronting and convicting the world from the truth; announcing the presence of the soul; the omnipotence of the will: and so establishing the standard of good and ill, of success and falsehood.
Suffering and death are two of the most fundamental issues with which we must ultimately come to terms.
In this process, it can help to remember that pain is an inherent aspect of finite, physical experience. Suffering, on the other hand, is a mental / psychological / emotional construct, and while it arises naturally in conjunction with any narrow, individual identification, it is an experience we do not have to create.
Even common knowledge reminds us of this simple truth with the frequently quoted phrase: "Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional."
It is also important to remember that brutality, cruelty and intolerance arise from a profoundly narrow sense of identity, which limits our ability to understand and relate to others.
In contrast, compassion is born of a broad sense of identity, which enables us to identify with others -- and to experience forgiveness.
Suffering is the ultimate challenge to a narrow and limited sense of identity. It provides an invaluable opportunity for each of us to discover that we are more than the finite body, mind and emotions with which we tend to identify.
As we begin to recognize our ability to observe our own suffering, we will also begin to recognize that the Essence of who/what we are is not bound or limited by suffering as it arises. We are, instead, the nameless Reality which lies beyond. We are that vast field of Awareness which contains our suffering, and all the experiences of our humanness.
It is natural that we should recoil from the tragedy and pain in our lives. These difficult experiences challenge our understanding of the larger benevolence of Reality.
And, yet, at the same time, their inevitability drives us into a recognition of a Reality far larger than our individual pain and suffering.
Beyond and within the immediacy of this moment lies the Infinity of Truth. This Reality will never die. How can we ever despair knowing that Truth is also supremely Real?