Contingency & conditionality

Contingent – contingency, definitions: “of uncertain occurrence; liable to happen or not ….. happening by chance; fortuitous …. conditional; dependent on …… not predetermined by necessity; free …. subject to accident; at the mercy of …” and, in legal circles: “dependent on a foreseen probability.” [Shorter Oxford English Dictionary]

There is a poignancy to life, to all that exists, as we contemplate the inherently fragile, impermanent, serendipitous, contingent nature of existence. In a sense we are born and die at each moment of consciousness. We celebrate and mourn each breath.

It is fortuitous that we happen to be here. The conditions were, and are, just right to enable us to be alive at this moment. So many conditions have to be realised for us, and for any phenomenon, to exist. There is an uncertainty to being here that infuses us with a feeling of surprise, wonder and thankfulness. To be here is a miracle – contingent on so many other miracles.

In a universe of ceaseless change – of comings and goings, births and deaths – everything that exists is both unique and dependent on almost infinite currents of causality. All things realise suchness (tathata) – they are just as they are, never-to-be-repeated, unique, special, one-offs – and yet they are also manifestations of dependent-arising (pratitya-samutpada) – dependent on all the other entities and events, moving through and around them. Whenever we consider an object, event, or being, as distinct and seemingly independent, we need to be mindful of its intrinsic interdependence – its inseparability from everything else.

As Stephen Batchelor suggests: “Instead of hankering after the past and speculating about the future, one sees the present as the fruit of what has been and the germ of what will be. Gotama [Buddha] did not encourage withdrawal to a timeless, mystical now, but an unflinching encounter with the contingent world as it unravels moment to moment.” It is this day-to-day mindful encounter with the everyday world that constitutes awakening. When we pay attention, without clinging or disturbance, to the contingent, fluid, dynamic uncertainty of each moment, we are at peace with the world and with ourselves. Undisturbed by not knowing what the future holds, and unclinging to what has occurred, we maintain equanimity and peace of mind.

As we go about our daily lives, we pay mindful attention to the uniqueness, and transience, and interdependence, of everything as it arises and passes through our consciousness. We value each moment for what it is, and for what it is dependent on, and for what it gives rise to. In being mindful we care and treasure each moment, as we mourn and let go of it. Being awake, being here, is to be alive to our good fortune, even as we feel life running through our fingers, as we say hello and goodbye at one and the same time.