Tuesday, 4 July 2017
PERSPECTIVES ON THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
One of my favourite Guru/Disciple stories is the one of the disciple who has committed some offence and is banished from the Guru's presence. He is found that night shivering with cold sheltering from the rain under an archway outside the ashram. "What are you doing here?"the Guru asks sternly. "Where else could I go?", the poor disciple replies. I hope I haven't made that up...but it has certainly been embellished! Anyway, the point is a sweet one... Where else can a devotee of God or goodness or a divine teacher go even in the face of disaster and despair?
This is the problem of all those resolving to give a noble and spiritual life only to find that the world does not suddenly turn into a rainbow heaven, and that on the contrary troubles increase along with sensitivity. There is a "bent-ness" to the world at present, a piling up and growth of dark energies and forces, acting sometimes in pretty scary ways... A loudmouthed bullying demagogue as US president...continuing terrorist activities...corrupt governments...insanely greedy corporations...and just a tide of ignorance rising everywhere — or in fact always there. Not all is lost, not all is totally bent, but only a fool would ignore the strain of disharmony, violence, and cultural madness that is all around us. It impacts us in numerous ways, such as unfair taxes, rip-off bills for essential services, a pervasive feeling of not being safe and constant infringement on individual liberties. It can manifest in so many ways... urine stains by Indian temples; graffitti scrawled over signs; fights and brawls and idiotic mass hysteria.
The English writer CS Lewis, creator of the famous Narnia stories, also wrote a trilogy of what I guess you could call spiritual science fiction, in which our universe is a glorious place, planets ruled by mighty and wise beings. But something has gone wrong with Earth. It is called "Thulacandra" or the Silent Planet because it has come under the influence of a "Bent Oyarsa"... A spirit that has diverged from the path of goodness and sacrifice.
This trilogy was written in the 1940s as World War 2 raged (about the same time his friend JRR Tolkien was finishing off the Lord of the Rings) and from a Christian perspective. Christian faith revolves around our being "fallen" because of the figure of the Dark One, the nameless one. The book also strongly echoes what is called the Manichean view of dualism...Manichee was an ancient non-Christian prophet and this religion flourished two thousand years ago, with a belief that this world was bent and twisted by a spirit powerful enough to cause prolonged suffering to human beings.
The Vedic view has different approaches. From the stand point of Brahman consciousness the entire universe is an illusion, or the play of Divine Mother who has her fierce as well as benign side. It is Maya, or Lila, a drama or play created by the Divine who sees and experiences all of it. Our souls, our Jiva, are like sparks from a flame, made of god-stuff but appearing for unknown reasons to be entirely and absurdly separate from the source.
We cannot pretend, however, that saying "ah the world is just an illusion" stops insects from biting, nasty people hurting us, poverty, suffering afflicting us all. 80pc of the worlds wealth is concentrated in the hands of 1pc of the global population... And of that tiny percentage a lot is in the hands of dynastic families, criminals, and successfully greedy and aggressive individuals. Bent stuff! A world with so much evident injustice is hard to take. Even worse for the highly sensitive is the very realisation that life exists everywhere by something feeding on something else. Even plants show an urge to crowd out competitors.
So...evil. The existence of a force apparently always out to ruin the beautiful and good, or more precisely our beautiful and good. So lets take a look at it from a distance if we can...like picking up a scorpion and putting it safely in a container.
Now one answer to all this is that the pain and suffering we inevitably meet in life is our karma coming back at us from some unspecified point in the past, maybe from many lifetimes. we have parachuted in to a reality that pushes us to work out things. There is an element of the deeply absurd about it, as we don't precisely know what these "things" actually are in our lives.
Another view is that God takes a malicious interest in hurting humans and terrorising individuals for no seemingly logical reason....which point of view has certainly made atheists out of many. Or...the Manichean view....God only has limited jurisdiction in this manifested universe: its a reality in which God is somehow losing grip.
Then the view of evil can be that it is the inevitable result of limited intelligence and the greed and lusts of most human beings, who are after all basically apes and monkeys filled with very basic biological urges to fight and kill for food, territory and a mate.
Whatever view on "bentness" you have, all of this is individual and unprovable speculation and theory, but when your faith in goodness gets so battered and bruised by pain, there is a sort of natural howl of sorrow and complaint.
The existence of evil, from one viewpoint is a manifestation of signal noise. I am no engineer but every system that transmits something from A to B runs into "noise", an inevitable manifestation of chaos that surrounds order, that indeed coalesces to make up order. Think of this like the ripples and waves on still water whenever anything touches it. We experience this noise throughout our life.
My own life has seen plenty of moments when I have basically said...if I remember to say it all.. "This is too much, I cannot bear so much." Deaths, various relationship disasters, unemployment, poverty, loneliness, great chronic physical pain....all this has unfolded through my life.
It has not been the simple joyful world that I hoped it would be when I was a very young and idealistic meditation teacher 40 years ago. But....and there is always a but....with age has come too a genuine admiration at the way the Divine plays all around, in me, outside me, and the indescribable sensation that God really does know exactly what He is doing, down to the last millisecond. Now you can intellectually decide this is so, repeat "I am not the Doer" a thousand times, but actually living this is like surrendering to what really is. and what really is, is that we have almost zero free will, we are not the free beings we believe ourselves to be, and... out come 1000 spiritual cliches.. we need to look within.
Then, too, the simple logic that in the manifested world everything casts a shadow (beyond self luminous yogis) and that is how it is.
Light playing on objects casts a shadow. But the shadows cannot exist without the light. And that light to me seems absolutely inseparable from the quality which we call Love. Love is so strong, so ominipresent that we can never hide from it. Our incarnation gives us the chance to play , to try and hide...but Love always triumphs. Evil never lasts. So...I believe in Love and I follow Love. The road may be thorny and long..and wearisome and tough. But others are there too... Those who nourish Love.
In the end it comes down to which side you decide to stand on. George Harrison put it brilliantly when discussing the Hare Krishnas, who have their own fairly absurd chaotic history, and saying "At the end of the day, you know, if I have to choose where to stand... I stand with them."
This is an individual choice. This might sound like some awful exhortation from a religious system, but why not choose to get over yourself, admit that evil is there, that life is absurd, but nevertheless commit to flying the flag of Dharma. No, it won't lead to instant joy, no one might even notice. But fly the flag of the borderless nation of Dharma. Jesus sums up dharma for this age: "Love God and Love your neighbours". Fly it even though you know the world does not agree with you. Fly it but don't make a point of it. You are bound to mess this up.. fly the flag upside down, drop it in the mud. So what. We need your courage!