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Significance of Coincidences

JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
edited June 2012 in Arts & Writings
This is from Buddhism Connect of the Awakened Heart Sangha, taught by Lama Shenpen Hookham. You can subscribe for a free biweekly student teacher question.

Here is the text of the current one...

I'll add my own reaction if anyone else participates.

Summary: Coincidences seem to happen more and more as one progresses on a spiritual path, and they arise from real connections which are only known by non-conceptual awareness. We would have to be fully enlightened to really understand them, but we can intuitively navigate our way through life by recognising the auspicious signs of these connections as they manifest in our lives.

A student asks:

Is it chance that we meet someone just at the right time when the odds of it happening are a million to one? Are coincidences just a distraction, or are they an indication that the nature of reality is very different from the way we habitually regard it?

Lama Shenpen replies:

I think you are entirely right in thinking that all this is a sign that the nature of reality is very different from the way we habitually think. I think Jung talked of this kind of phenomenon in terms of synchronicity. It seems to happen more and more as one embarks on a spiritual path. I have noticed it throughout my life but especially since I seriously embarked on the path to Awakening. It happens at University where someone hands you the exact book you need, significant meetings of people on street corners where the chances of that happening are so remote it does make the hairs on the back of your neck tingle. Coincidences of names and numbers, signs and symbols and so on – just as you describe in fact. Even in simple ways such as it always rains when I go on holiday. If it were true, what kind of universe would it be? Yet we sense something like this going on all the time don’t we? It relates to the fact that actually there is only beings and the connections between them. There is no other reality ‘out there’. Dependent arising might sound as if it relates to the fact that things ‘out there’ in the physical world and things ‘in here’ in my personal experience depend on each other, (which they do to a large extent). However when one looks more closely the things outside and inside are merely projections of our own minds. We create them from our thoughts. However our thoughts are triggered by the real connections between things that are neither inside nor outside, nor in between. They are not anywhere. Even the idea of a place is a projection of our minds. So the real connections that determine what triggers our ideas about things are deep and mysterious and only known by non-conceptual awareness. They appear to our senses as the world out there and the mind in here. This means that it is natural for what appears outside to correspond to what is happening inside. One would expect synchronicity to be happening all the time and perhaps it is and we just don’t notice it or know how to read it.

Very realised Lamas will often make all the major decisions in their life based on what they call ‘tendrel’ which is often translated as auspicious signs. They also spend a lot of their time creating tendrel or auspiciousness in the sense of making sure that all the right causes and conditions are brought together with the right aspirations and intentions, empowered by the adhistana or blessing power of the mandala of Awakening for the benefit of all beings. This is all about the same level of reality that I allude to above. It is not the external conditions and connections that are going to produce auspiciousness, nor the internal ones. The external and internal connections are emanating from that primordial non-place and non-time represented by that point in time and space where the conditions came together. How that kind of connection works is totally beyond our conceptual mind. These are the real connections between things – they are sometimes referred to as the Dharmata connections. You have to be fully Enlightened to be privy to them, to the Totality of everything. Nevertheless we can intuitively navigate our way through life by recognising the auspicious signs of these connections manifesting in our life circumstances. The very fact that we meet who we meet in life means there is a deeper connection there than merely the apparent circumstances happening right here and now. That is why Tibetans always say that it is never by chance that we all meet together for an auspicious occasion conducive to Awakening. The connections that brought it about span lifetimes and universes and different realms of existence. It is not just this time and place. How limited the effects of our actions would be if their existence ended when we left this world? Our actions might leave an imprint on this world for a while but we would no longer be part of it. The effects of our actions would be lost to us.

The Buddhist teaching is that the effects of our actions contribute to the real connections between ourselves and others so that they are never lost. This is more than just my actions affect the world I live in and will rebound on me from that world. This is about the effects of my actions determining the connections I will encounter throughout all my life times in this or any other realm of existence.

So yes the nature of reality is very different from the way we habitually think!


  • tmottestmottes Veteran
    edited June 2012
    @Jeffrey thanks for sharing: I really enjoy this topic actually. I have conversations with my partner all the time about coincidence and synchronicity (We met in Tokyo under highly synchronous events). At first I was always awe-struck when seemingly highly improbable things would happen, but now I really feel like its more commonplace than I am aware. I feel like there is something "right" about these situations. Needless to say, I don't believe in coincidence any longer: I believe in a cause for each effect.
    One would expect synchronicity to be happening all the time and perhaps it is and we just don’t notice it or know how to read it.
    This is basically how I feel about the whole thing. I also feel like the more I follow the spiritual path, the more I am aware of synchronicity. One day I was in the bookstore and found a little book called god winks. It was a collection of stories of synchronicity involving more famous people. The overarching premise was that when we are doing what we should be doing, we will experience this phenomenon (god winking) more frequently. I have forgotten the exact details now, but at the time it was a very synchronous event for me to find this book.

    It is probably a very juvenile way to look at it, but I feel like each of these moments seem to point to the absurd. They are little things that cause our brains to skip a bit and during that skip we can be aware of something else, something non-conceptual.

    I had a rather powerful experience like this when I was in Oaxaca, Mexico last christmas. We were walking along one of the main streets, it was packed with a ton of people celebrating christmas eve. We had just gotten some street food and were just soaking in our surroundings when I heard my name being called. There in front of me was a young couple with whom we had stayed in the Philippines a year to the date. Granted people who travel frequently are more likely to "run into each other" than those who don't, but this was still incredible. They were actually just heading back to their hotel room, so if we had stopped for a few seconds we would have missed the entire encounter. At the moment when I saw them, before I had a chance to process what was happening, I felt that non-conceptual sensation. Then I realized who they were and how unlikely it was to happen.

    Anybody else experience this same thing?

  • Were it not for one particular sperm and one particular egg, would any of us be here?
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator
    I enjoy this topic a lot, but have a hard time putting words to it. I'm reading with much interest! :)

    When I was about 20 years old, I went on an impromptu trip to Texas with my dad. On the way back, we left from the Dallas/FW airport, and at the last minute they bumped us to a different flight, and then the attendant asked us to switch seats because someone with a small child had been seated in the emergency row. so after switching planes and seats, we found that the people next to us, it turned out, knew my grandma. They told stories about her the whole plane trip. My grandma had just died about 5 months before that, and they lived near her. The plane trip was from Dallas to Minneapolis, and my grandma and this couple lived in a town about 5 hours north of Minneapolis.

    I've had other similar things happen that appeared more true coincidence than synchronocity. For me it has a different feeling about it, almost a Deja Vu type of feeling. It also seems some people are more open to having these connections. They happen to my sister all the time. She ran into someone she went to school with 10 years ago, at a parade in northern CA (we're from Minnesota).
  • I have things happen in real life that happened in my dream the night before. Usually I just tookk it as I'm in the right spot in my life.
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