Clients in difficult situations sometimes say to me: “Why me?” Or “What did I do to deserve this?” Or “Why does this keep happening in my life?” This is a very natural but ultimately futile question. Our karma is so profound over this and many previous lifetimes that it is impossible to work out what causes you have made in the past that are producing today’s effects in your life. And as I was taught when I trained as a coach, ‘Why?’ is a negative, backward-looking question. Much healthier, say the coaching textbooks, to “look at the hows of the solution in the present rather than the whys of the problem in the past.” But there is a third approach that combines the best of the first two because Nichiren Buddhism reveals that it is healthier to look at ‘Why me?’ as a positive, forward-looking question.
This happens when you consider your present problems (or “heavily disguised gifts” as I prefer to call them), chant about your future (or visualise it if you’re not a Buddhist) and begin your answer not with a backward-looking “because I did…” or “because I am”, but with a forward looking: “So that I can…” Then from your own reservoir of boundless Buddha wisdom will spring insights that complete the answer:
“So that I can… be more compassionate / learn to love my parents / fulfil my full potential at work / treasure my health / find a relationship based on deep respect… and so on.” This is known in Buddhism as ‘transforming karma into mission’, harnessing all your suffering to strengthen your sense of purpose. This approach – long and painful though it can sometimes feel – turns you into an architect of your future instead of a victim of your past.
It is the approach taken by Mariane Pearl – see recent post – who described how she transformed despair into hope following the decapitation of her husband by Islamic fundamentalists. By the way, ‘mission’ does not necessarily mean a destiny to discover new planets, or a noble calling to work with the disadvantaged, but indicates a strong sense of purpose and a sense of personal responsibility that guide your every day choices and actions, reveal your unique individual talents, and help you make a positive difference in society.
I love this extract from a poem called ‘Courage’ written by my fellow SGI Buddhist Patti Dale:
You cannot trade your blotted page
For a clean sheet
You must create
From where you are now
Knee-deep in your own garbage:
In it lie the ingredients
Of your humanity.
It reminds me that one of the most important symbols in Nichiren Buddhism – the beautiful lotus flower – only grows in the muddy pond of daily life.
So, next time you find yourself asking, “Why me?” make it the Why that looks forward, not back.