Readjust 'The Adjustment Bureau'

by Shen Shi'an, The Buddhist Channel, Aug 24, 2011

Singapore -- What if, one day, you discover, to your horror, that all the deliberations and accidents in your life are predetermined, with even your choices somehow puppeted by a mysterious and secretive bunch of men?

Or rather, to ask the question more realistically, what if you have a dream-like experience, in which you realise these men are present in your life. Upon awaking, you are unsure if they really exist. How would you live your life from this point onwards? Would you become complacent, resigned to your so-called fate, or would you struggle even harder to counter these agents of fate?

The truth is, whether you believe these agents of fate exist or not, there are indeed such ‘agents’ in your life, albeit not necessarily ‘men in black’, as portrayed in the movie. These unseen or seldom seen agents are our habitual forces, be they positive or negative. All accidents which affect you, for instance, in the context of the Buddha’s teachings, are actually negative karmic effects from attachment, aversion and delusion. Even your deliberations are conditioned by how you habitually choose to behave. Just as the hero in the film becomes increasingly mindful of the men in black to regain control of his life from them, mindfulness of our inner demons is the key to master your destiny.

We can’t truly tell how much free will we have, unless we are totally mindful of how we decide and act. Mastery of mindfulness itself is truly the way to total freedom – away from our inner compulsions and outer temptations. Before such mindfulness is realised, it would be right to say we are not completely free yet, as trapped as we are enslaved by our defilements, the devious demons in the blackness of our minds, not illuminated by the light of mindfulness. Trapped indeed is one who believes he is already totally free, when he is still thoroughly unenlightened, fettered. What we have now is just the illusion of absolute freedom.

We are our own adjustment bureau, who choose, as much as we can, to readjust our destiny from moment to moment. The story portrays the men in black taking great pains to follow an unseen chairman’s plans, to ensure things occur as he decided. It’s amusing really. If everything is supposed to be predestined, why not simply create all without free will, as the story hints of the chairman being a creator god? No free will, no rebels, no problems. With free will, expect rebels, expect problems. And it’s sadistic really – if there is a creator who creates the illusion of free will when there is none, or when we are expected to struggle to follow the creator’s will which might be against ours.

In Buddhism, there is simply no creator god. We are the re-creators of our lives from moment to moment. It is logically impossible for there to be a creator who created free will as the created can never be given free will in the first place to decide whether they wish to be created or not. Even if it is possible for there to be creator who created free will, it is obvious that it is a bad idea. Just look at the amount of evil done freely in our world. A good creator would simply not create free will, while willing everyone to be perfectly moral and happy. To give free will is to create the sources of immorality and unhappiness. Such a creator then, is by default immoral… the greatest and original source of immorality in fact.

Are some things meant or not meant to be so in certain ways? How tightly should we cling to each moment before opportunity slips away? We can never know for sure – till we struggle against the odds to make the best of the situation for our goals to find out. Is there an ideal destiny to stick to that we deviate from? Of course, there always is one best choice in the moment, whether we know it or not. Who decides what is the path to take? Some unseen higher power? What matters is the power you know you wield, and any other power you can connect with. Like it or not, you chair the adjustment bureau of your life! Plot your destiny. Make it noble and wonderful, for the welfare of one and all!

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