Good and Evil in Buddhism
Plus Forthcoming Events for w/c 11th April 2022
The ongoing war in Ukraine has highlighted for us here in Europe, and elsewhere, the fragility of the gilded bubble in which we live.
Rather like King Suddhodana, locking Prince Gautama into the palace, we too have created a bubble around ourselves so we do not have to be confronted by the horrors that man can inflict on man.
There is the story of the young man who found himself standing in front of Yama, Lord of Death, who complained that he had been taken without any notice, and that this was unfair. Yama asked him if he had ever seen an old man? A sick man? A corpse? The man replied that he had indeed seen these things. Yama responded to him that these are the omens he should have paid attention to because these are our reminders of the precariousness of life.
We have had 'plague' followed by 'war', now we are facing scarcity of energy and quite probably of food also.
The Buddha taught the five ascetics, in his first sermon, the truth of dukkha, translated as suffering or dissatisfaction. The Buddha taught that dukkha is part of the weft and weave of samsara the realm in which we find ourselves. Thus there is no escaping this fact, no matter how much we might try to defend ourselves against it. In other words dukkha is a feature not a bug, as a contemporary digitalised idiom puts it. Being a feature it resists elimination and can only be held back temporarily. Sooner or later we have to come to terms with it.
This view is compounded by the understanding that all things are impermanent so the notion that goodness can vanquish evil and prevail forever is simply impossible. In a world where all things are subject to change there can be no absolutes either. Like the YinYang, one thing turns into its opposite in time. What is more, this way of the world means that good can come from evil and evil from good. As we have seen the horrors of war have seen many people showing great bravery and charity.
Seeing good and evil as two separate things also leads to scapegoating. 'I' see the evil in others but fail to recognise it in myself.
When Mother Theresa visited London she made a trip to see the homeless in London. A TV interviewer asked her who was responsible for this condition? She looked at him and replied: "You are, and so am I, because we let it happen." This struck me as very profound. Here was the exact opposite of the scapegoating mind-set. Here was a saintly woman, on her way to pick up a Nobel Peace Prize who shared in a collective responsibility for the plight of the homeless. Buddhism teaches that all things are inherently interconnected, if so, then all that is good and all that is evil is our collective responsibility. It is not possible to entirely separate myself from what happens. This is not the same as denying the existence of culpability of individuals for crimes or immoral acts. The Buddha did not teach this as a way of evading responsibility, rather it is to stop 'me' splitting the world into 'us' and 'them', where 'I' am good and 'they' are bad. What is it like to live in this way? It means that rage is no longer an escape from horror and instead replaces it with a deep and profound sorrow. Sorrow moves us to help and motivates us to be careful not to make things worse.
Thursday may be the day before the Easter holidays begin but we are still having our usual live-streamed Zazen meditation at 1900hrs BST. You can find the link on the meditation page (where else?).
Module 4 of Living with Uncertainty will be posted up this week. This time it's 'Wisdom' on the menu.
In the meantime wishing everyone a Happy Easter Holiday time. Don't forget to take a few days off the practice (daily life practice and Zazen), for those who have been earnest in their efforts!