Cause and Effect, and Documentaries

I’m helping out in the Zen 1 class on Wednesday evenings and I enjoy listening in as a review. Last week the Abbot’s lecture on on causation & effect was particularly interesting to me since I had, the night before, watched a documentary that was a very fine example of the interconnectedness of events, cultural attitudes and economics. The title of the documentary is A Walk to Beautiful and it is about the country girls in Ethiopia and their pregnancy injuries. As in any good documentary, they went into the whole story in a very thorough way, dealing with the personal stories of five different girls. In the Ethiopian countryside, as in other developing countries, most of the hard work is done by girls and women hauling water and wood. They start this work at a very early age, and they get good food but inadequate calories, so often a girl of 17 might be only the size & height of a 10 year old. They marry young and are sometimes even kidnapped from school or the market and married. Now the documentary said that world-wide, 5% of pregnancies are “problem” pregnancies, that is, when a girl needs to go to the hospital right away to save her baby or have a c-section. But sometimes when she is in labor in the village for 5 or 10 days, the girl is injured and the baby dies and she ends up in the hospital anyway, but with an injury resulting. Then, because she is “dirty”, the family members make her live apart from the family and the husband finds a new wife and sometimes the girls just “wait for death” or kill themselves. But, if the girl makes an effort she travels to the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa  and is given spinal anaesthesia and surgery so she can have a normal life. I was thinking that breaking any link in this linear Chain of Causation would result in a very different outcome for the thousands of girls in this situation. If, for example, young girls got easier work & more calories so they could grow to normal size, or if they married when a couple of years older, or if girls with labor problems were taken into the hospital quicker, or if there was more support for them from the husband and family (instead of automatic social rejection) then many more babies could be saved and mothers could be saved from injury. Or if there were more hospitals available to the country people–this would help as well. The breaking of one single link could change the outcome in the right direction! So hearing the lecture on cause and effect reinforced the message of that documentary. Anyway, I am sorry to say that the Australian charity that funnels funds to Dr. Hamlin’s hospital started refusing contributions to her because of some mix-up about “Christian values.” The young girls are getting considerate treatment and free surgery and then are given a new dress and a bus ticket home. They leave with smiles on their faces and a new outlook on life! I think someone doing good work–for whatever reason–and saving thousands of lives five decades…they might cut her a bit of slack here & there! Buddhists have a much more laid-back attitude to religious differences. They offer the Dharma to whoever is receptive, but are neither exclusionary nor evangelical; anyone who wishes to study and practice is welcome, and we are encouraged to follow our own conscience in religious matters.

In one class, some time ago, I commented “If we had the godlike view; if we could see the long term effects of all we think, say, and do, we could act appropriately in every situation.” That’s what I was remembering as I watched the TLC documentary Half Ton Killer? Mayra seemed stuck: she was obese and bedridden, cared for by her husband and recruited for babysitting by her sister and the crooked boyfriend. Her 18-month-old nephew had been killed, but by whom? Mayra was taking the rap and not even her defence attorney believed she had the capability or the propensity to commit the crime. Both the D.A. and her lawyer thought she was covering up for her sister’s boyfriend, out of fear. The mystery was eventually solved, and the guilty party taken into custody, in a way no one expected. Allowing toxic situations to develop to the breaking point, looking only one step ahead, “stepping from the frying pan into the fire,” and then eventually beginning to change the situation in a healthier direction was the theme of this documentary. Looking at the causal chain that resulted in any situation, but without judgement of anyone involved, is a helpful Zen exercise.

Involved in a problem? Don’t ask “why me?” You don’t actually expect to get some kind of answer to that, do you? Simply ask “How?”

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