Luck: the chance happening that brings fortunate or adverse events
Serendipity: the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.
Four leaf clovers, horse shoes, the number 7, lady bugs are all supposed to tempt luck to come our way, with good things. What about “bad” luck? Well, each culture has its unique words, actions and “things” to guard against it. Superstitions are built up over time. Rational people don’t really believe in them. But since “knocking on wood” has been with us since childhood, there may be a little bit in each of us that thinks “what if? It can’t hurt…”
Buddhism speaks to this. There is no unknowable hand at work, only causes and conditions.
What about serendipity? It isn’t luck, it is totally different. We actually prepare for serendipity without knowing it. The “fortunate discovery by accident” is by accident, but the important word is “discovery.”
You are reading the Buddha Post because of some curiosity, interest or search. You are already preparing for a serendipitous event. Let’s use the exploration of Buddhism as our example. You are gathering knowledge and information to satisfy a curiosity or solve a problem. You have already begun to accumulate words, ideas, names, rituals, dates, etc.
The more knowledge and information you acquire, the more your thought processes work to make sense of the whole. It can take a short time, or long.
Then that “something random happens” you never looked for, never expected and never knew existed. It happens and when it does, you realize it as serendipity because you already have acquired enough information for it to fit as a perfect puzzle piece.
For me, serendipity happened during a chance meeting and conversation with someone at a coat rack in a Buddhist Temple in New Jersey. I made a fortunate discovery, a discovery that connected with all the earlier information I had acquired. I found that missing piece of the Buddhist puzzle that I didn’t even know was missing.
This was not luck; this happened because the process had already begun. Unless you are already working on something, you’ll never experience serendipity, because serendipity requires something to build on. If nothing is there, nothing happens – no serendipity.
Many who begin their travel on the Buddhist path are energized and excited by new teachings and concepts. This keeps us going initially. As we acquire more knowledge and as we experience more of life, we may begin to question why that path hasn’t led us to where we expected. Those who pursue, those who explore the Dharma, those who share with a sangha, those who stay on the path, will come to their moment of serendipity.
It happens, out of the blue. Does this serendipitous discovery make everything perfect, happy and better? No, it does not. That is not the point. But it does wake us up to the reality of this world. It does assure us of our path, a path with greater wisdom and greater compassion for all sentient beings.
Excerpts of Buddhist voices across teachings, across contients, across time.
Nirvana by John Paraskevopoulos
Nirvana is, doubtless, the most important concept in Buddhism. Of course, it is more than just a concept – it is a living reality that pervades everything. Although we often speak about it as something that we may obtain in the future, even after death, it is important to remember that its presence is manifested to us every day in ways to which we are often oblivious.
The literal meaning of the word Nirvana is “blown out” or “extinguished” as in the quenching of flames. In his famous Fire Sermon, the Buddha spoke of people “burning” with the “fires” of attachment, hatred and delusion. The attainment of Nirvana, therefore, represents the dousing of the existential conflagrations that are the cause of our suffering in this world and on favorable reaper in the next.
Nirvana is also the reality to which the Buddha attained in his Enlightenment. This was described by the Buddha as a realm of bliss, purity and peace – the complete fulfillment of all our deepest hopes and aspirations. In the Mahayana sutras, it is taught that Nirvana, also known as the Buddha- nature and its indwelling aspect, comprises our true self to which we awaken when our dark minds are vanquished.
In Shin Buddhism, Nirvana is presented in more concrete terms as the ‘ Pure Land’ of utmost bliss and happiness – a realm into which we are’ born’ after we die. This is another way of referring to the attainment of Enlightenment. The Pure Land tradition also considers Amida Buddha as the dynamic and personal dimension of Nirvana, reflecting its compassionate aspect in a form to which we can respond with entrusting hearts. The awakening of shinjin, which is, in fact, the arising of Amida Buddha as a spiritual force within our own minds, is also the activity of Nirvana itself working towards making itself known to all sentient beings and carrying them to its liberating shores.
The Unhindered Path by John Paraskevopoulos – excerpt: Nirvana, P. 57