What can we learn from coincidence? What can it teach us about the nature of reality?

A student asks:

Is it chance that we meet someone just at the right time when the odds of it happening are a million to one? Are coincidences just a distraction, or are they an indication that the nature of reality is very different from the way we habitually regard it?

Lama Shenpen replies:

I think you are entirely right in thinking that all this is a sign that the nature of reality is very different from the way we habitually think. Jung talked of this kind of phenomenon in terms of synchronicity.

It seems to happen more and more as one embarks on a spiritual path. I have noticed it throughout my life but especially since I seriously embarked on the path to Awakening. It happens at University where someone hands you the exact book you need, significant meetings of people on street corners where the chances of that happening are so remote it does make the hairs on the back of your neck tingle.

Coincidences of names and numbers, signs and symbols and so on, even in simple ways such as ‘it always rains when I go on holiday’. If it were true, what kind of universe would it be? Yet we sense something like this going on all the time don’t we? It relates to the fact that actually there is only beings and the connections between them.

There is no other reality ‘out there’. Dependent arising might sound as if it relates to the fact that things ‘out there’‚ in the physical world and things ‘in here’‚ in my personal experience depend on each other, (which they do to a large extent). However when one looks more closely the things outside and inside are merely projections of our own minds. We create them from our thoughts. However our thoughts are triggered by the real connections between things that are neither inside nor outside, nor in between. They are not anywhere. Even the idea of a place is a projection of our minds.

So the real connections that determine what triggers our ideas about things are deep and mysterious and only known by non-conceptual awareness. They appear to our senses as the world out there and the mind in here. This means that it is natural for what appears outside to correspond to what is happening inside. One would expect synchronicity to be happening all the time and perhaps it is and we just don’t notice it or know how to read it.

Very realised Lamas will often make all the major decisions in their life based on what they call ‘tendrel’‚ which is often translated as auspicious signs. They also spend a lot of their time creating tendrel or auspiciousness in the sense of making sure that all the right causes and conditions are brought together with the right aspirations and intentions, empowered by the adhistana or blessing power of the mandala of Awakening for the benefit of all beings.

This is all about the same level of reality that I allude to above. It is not the external conditions and connections that are going to produce auspiciousness, nor the internal ones. The external and internal connections are emanating from that primordial non-place and non-time represented by that point in time and space where the conditions came together. How that kind of connection works is totally beyond our conceptual mind.

These are the real connections between things – they are sometimes referred to as the Dharmata connections. You have to be fully Enlightened to be privy to them, to the Totality of everything. Nevertheless we can intuitively navigate our way through life by recognising the auspicious signs of these connections manifesting in our life circumstances.

The very fact that we meet who we meet in life means there is a deeper connection there than merely the apparent circumstances happening right here and now. That is why Tibetans always say that it is never by chance that we all meet together for an auspicious occasion conducive to Awakening.

The connections that brought it about span lifetimes and universes and different realms of existence. It is not just this time and place. How limited the effects of our actions would be if their existence ended when we left this world? Our actions might leave an imprint on this world for a while but we would no longer be part of it. The effects of our actions would be lost to us.

The Buddhist teaching is that the effects of our actions contribute to the real connections between ourselves and others so that they are never lost. This is more than just my actions affect the world I live in and will rebound on me from that world. This is about the effects of my actions determining the connections I will encounter throughout all my life times in this or any other realm of existence.

So yes the nature of reality is very different from the way we habitually think!

Lama Shenpen Hookham

Find out more about Lama Shenpen’s Living the Awakened Heart Training HERE. The training is a structured, comprehensive, supported distance learning programme in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight, bringing the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings to a Western audience in a pioneering experiential, accessible way, through spiral learning.

 

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