28 March 2011



How do we make sense of the tragedies that visit our own lives or of those near and dear to us? If I get cancer, have I brought it on myself? If someone dies in an accident, is it an “accident”, or is it God’s will? When the horrific Japanese tsunami killed so many and left others miraculously alive, is it just random chance, a matter of fate, or is karma at work? Is there something or someone we can say is the real “cause” of the major events in our lives?

In the last blog we discussed the View, the two choices and their consequences.

The first choice:

It does not make sense, there is no consistent rhyme or reason to life’s events. Clearly the planning and the effort we do make affects what happens in our lives to some degree. In many areas of our lives we can observe a cause and effect relationship operating that links what we do with what happens later.

But then, can it be that accidents are purely accidents? Is there no "cause" to an accident? Can a person’s life be turned upside down by a pure accident? Does that make sense? Is it fair? Is it just? Was it the case that I may as well have been diagnosed with cancer as the person next to me? Can major life events occur as an exception to the cause and effect rule?

And what if this were true? It seems that such a notion leads fairly logically to the person involved feeling themselves to be a somewhat hapless victim of their circumstances. It would be easy to imagine such a person developing a pretty depressed attitude to life and their place in it.

If we are powerless before random fate, are we not best described as victims? If we can get cancer through just having “bad luck”, then what does that say about our chances of recovering? Is recovery basically a matter of luck too?

For me, that is why the fatalistic View is so unhelpful. It feeds the powerless victim mentality. This is also why I have railed against people being described as cancer “victims”. Happily this descriptive is not used nearly as much as it was in the early days of my work back in the early eighties.

The Second Choice:

For me, feeling empowered, being empowered, is a better choice; and in my experience leads to significantly better outcomes.

So how do we make sense of the big events in our lives? Where is the rhyme and the reason? Let us go “Out on a Limb” and consider the dual concepts many around the world believe provide the answers: reincarnation and karma.

While searching for meaning, one of the first questions concerns timeframe.

When I had all my troubles as a twelve year old, I could not make any sense of them in terms of this one life. There seemed to be no justice in one young boy being afflicted by three such major traumas. People often say a similar thing to me when confronted by cancer in young children - what did the child do to deserve that?

And just the word “deserve” plunges us deeper into issues to do with blame and guilt. What do you mean “deserve”? Did anyone deserve to get cancer? To be killed in an accident or a tsunami?

Not necessarily in my View. But maybe there is a relationship between what has happened in the past and what is happening now. If someone is a smoker these days, they know of the risks. Do they deserve to get cancer? Tough question; but you would have to say there is a very strong relationship between the smoking and the cancer.

But what about the kids that get big problems so early in life? And what about someone like Mozart and his prodigious talent? Maybe we need a bigger timeframe to understand all this.

The majority of the world’s population do believe in reincarnation; the notion that our human experience is not limited to just this one life. They hold the View that a part of us, that more essential part of our being, survives after this particular body we are in now dies, and then comes back in a new one. And this process is repeated over and over.

For many Hindus and Buddhists, reincarnation is as much a fact of life as the fact that the sun sets each day, passes into night and rises again each new morning. Some scholars are of the opinion that reincarnation was an integral part of the early Christian belief system too; only to be removed from the Churches doctrines at the council of Nicaea in AD325. Esoteric Christian groups like the Anthroposophists (who are involved in the Steiner schools and Anthroposophical medicine), still hold the belief to this day.

Many Buddhists say that reincarnation can be understood intellectually; that it is a logical premise, not simply a belief or an article of Faith.

What I found helpful as I came to learn more about reincarnation was that it did make sense of many of the apparent mysteries and inequalities I observed in life. For example, how was it that at such an early age, Mozart just knew how a piano “worked” and had written his first symphony by the age of eight? How is it that some children are born into such apparently tough circumstances, while others have it so easy? Again, is it all ultimately random chance? Just good or bad luck?

If we live in the world of the loving God of the Christians, how do we make sense of these apparent inequities? Where is the justice?

If we live in the logical world of the Buddhists, how can we make sense of all of life’s events in terms of just one lifetime? Sure we can observe a cause and effect relationship operating behind many of the things we do and the things we observe. Many of the things we do plan for, that we do work for do come to fruition in a predictable way. But what about those events in life where the cause is not so obvious? Are they just exceptions, or do we need a longer time frame to find the answers?

How come some people seem to do so many “bad” things and appear to get away with it in this lifetime? And how come, often enough, bad things do seem to happen to good people?

Maybe reincarnation is a part of the answer and worth taking into account. Maybe it warrants reflection? Maybe you have a comment or want to share these ideas with someone else?

Next week, what about karma? Who or what is responsible for what happens to us and those we love?



The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: Sogyal Rinpoche. Excellent elaboration of reincarnation and karma.

The Dragon’s Blessing: Guy Allenby. My biography that recounts how my own View emerged and developed, how it informed the tough times and the bountiful ones.

You Can Conquer Cancer: Ian Gawler. For the chapters on death and dying and philosophy.

Coping With Grief: Mal McKissock. Very useful and succinct manual on grief. A must read as a life skill.


Understanding Death, Helping the Dying: Ian Gawler. Good to listen to with those you are really close to and use as a focus for discussion.

Counselling and Groups

NALAG National Association for Loss and Grief


  1. Many years ago when I was suffering from losing access to my 3 children due to not having any money to afford a solicitor, I also found out the children had been emotionally destroyed by the actions of their father and stepmother. I spoke to a dear friend of mine and he said very gently, "you must realize that we come into this life with lessons we need to learn for our own spiritual development, and this experience of your children is part of that". This gave me the strength to carry on and no longer carry guilt and unhappiness. This is part of the cause and effect that is what so much of our life is about.

    I do hope this helps others who have suffered as I did, and gives them a little light at the end of the tunnel.

  2. Hi Ian,
    I come from a background on being a non-believer in reincarnation. I have regarded it as being a clever ploy by the richer and more priveleged classes in a society to keep the poor and underpriveleged suppressed and less likely to try to be assertive.
    However, some of my own experiences have made me question reincarnation. I was in an emotionally abusive marriage for 25 years. For about the last 5 years,I would keep getting a thought/message which said "it is really important that you leave your husband IN THIS LIFETIME'. I used to question where that came from- it was not the way I would word something, and so I knew it was not a self-generated thought. I finally left my husband after 25 years. Then, 7 months after leaving him, I was diagnosed with a very aggressive sarcoma. When I reflect on this, I wonder whether reincarnation is a possibility- that perhaps there was a lesson I needed to learn in my present life - that I was to learn to be courageous and stand up for myself in this life journey. I am still unsure about reincarnation, but I am much more "open" to its possibility now.
    Mary P

  3. Hi Ian I used to think everything that happened in a big way around me was just a matter of luck. But then I noticed how many coincidences seemed to be going on and it seemed too much to be random. The idea that something or someone is keeping tabs on all this now makes really good sense to me. Thanks for this week and I look forward to the next one.

  4. Just an example: A good friend of mine since childhood has been occupying herself with this very topic since her early teens. We grew up together in Germany. She now lives near Seattle and works as a school psychologist. During a recent phone conversation with her she told me that she was able to remember her birth and that we were friends in our previous life but living in France. Perhaps that solves the mystery of my dreaming in fluent effortless french but can barely put a sentence together when conscious. Cause and effect is all around us... on a small scale and a big scale and an enormous scale. It's everywhere and everything. Very much looking forward to the next Blog and seeing you in Brissy soon, kindest regards and well whishes, Christel.

  5. Hi Ian, your blogs seem to be hitting the mark for me lately. I was brought up in the "one life and your done" catholic church. It took a bout of cancer to get me out of that. I opened to the possibility of reincarnation and a couple of years later ran into a health therapist who seemed to have insights into my life that I couldn't reconcile. When I questioned her about this she admitted, somewhat reluctantly, that while treating her patients pictures of their past lives would run through her mind. I was fascinated. What did she see in me? Over a period of time stories of my past lives, past relationships unfolded. What was more remarkable was that these stories explained much of what had happened in this life.
    I now have no doubt that the essential part of my being carries on past "death" and returns for more experiences.