Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Is There "Evil" in the World? (video)

Wisdom Quarterly (revisiting a question)
The banality of "evil" -- What would possess humans to such conduct? Otherworldly entities or our own psychological makeup?

There are unseen beings -- yakkhas, petas, narakas, bhummmi-devas, nagas, kumbandhas, and so on -- in Buddhist lore. They correspond to those of European legend: ogres and "demons," spirits of the dead, hellions, mischievous faeries, reptilians, dwarfs, trolls, gnomes, and poltergeists in general.

Like humans, they have personalities and tendencies. They are not strictly malevolent, but are subject to anger, jealousy, territoriality, and delusion.

They may communicate with humans, some of whom due to past karma are able to see them, offer advice, mislead, or even haunt. They frequently inhabit the wilderness and old homes but are, as in the case of pretas ("hungry ghosts" who linger after they have passed from the human world due to strong attachment).

What is "Evil"?
Evil is an interesting concept. We must separate it from Judeo-Christian connotations. There is Mara, a tempter figure in Buddhism who sounds like Lucifer but is more akin to the ancient Greek Cupid. He is not the devil. The Buddha often referred to him as Namuci ("the Evil One") because of his misguided tendency to obstruct attempts at enlightenment and liberation from the sensual realm.

Mara's "evil" is human-evil. That is to say, the roots of good and evil are present in all of us at birth to a greater or lesser degree. These are known as the Three Poisons:
  1. Greed (lobha)
  2. Hate (dosa)
  3. Delusion (moha)

They are best understood as categories. Under "greed" falls: selfishness, lust, envy, jealousy, lack of consideration. Under "hate" falls: fear (bhava, which is so serious that it is sometimes categorized separately as a fourth poison of the heart) annoyance, irritation, anger, vengeance, ill-will, spite, begrudging, blaming, and unfriendliness. Under "delusion" falls: wrong-views, misperception, distortion of reality, ignorance, sophistry, and foolishness.

There are said to be many maras (obstructors). They can, and often are in the commentaries, viewed as mental defilements and hindrances to virtue, concentration, and wisdom rather than as independent entities.

The ogres (yakkhas) who support Mara are called "demons," but this is misleading. They are from an external point of view beings reborn on the basis of anger. Their good karma has led to a less unfortunate state than might have been, for they can be powerful, clever, and influential.

That a mara could wield influence over them is only because of that being's own good karma having come to fruition placing it in possession of great powers, now misused in the service of lust, anger, and delusion. But Mara's goal, unlike the Christian conception of Satan, is not that beings end up in the hells.

Even Yama, the mythological "king" or "judge" of the dead, does not want that. Mara, like Cupid, is instead an obstacle to liberation, wishing everyone to remain within his sphere of influence, which is the Sense Sphere (kama-loka).
The tormented narakas, denizens of various unfortunate destinations commonly referred to as hells, none of which are eternal but do last a miserably long time, might appear in the world only to warn someone or to grab a moment of respite, their karma allowing.

Pretas -- who are often confused, lacking direction and motivation, and are terribly sad and hungry in their pathetic state -- likewise do not mean to harm. They stand at the edges around houses wishing to come in, it is said in the Petavatthu. They are the ill-born departed.

Something can be done for them, by way of offering and merit in their name. This helps them move on IF, looking on, they approve of such actions. (It is their own mental karma, that of rejoicing in well done deeds, that liberates them, not some magical transference of merit).

But malcontent or disturbed pretas -- the "ungrateful dead" -- can sometimes become poltergeists. Modern parapsychological research reveals that this tends to happen in the presence of pre-adolescents, whose vital energies can be misdirected.

As for the others, nagas (powerful beings, particularly reptilians) and devas (demigods, whose lives are like that of the gods of the Greek pantheon) and so on, they are "evil" to a degree -- just as humans are evil to a degree.

Even celestial devas (radiant light beings inhabiting space) have not, generally speaking, overcome and eradicated greed, hatred, and delusion. Having suppressed these hindrances and contaminants of the heart, having undergone a fortunate rebirth based on some skillful karma (any deed, word, or thought rooted in nongreed, nonhatred, or nondelusion), they are beautiful, long lived, and enjoy many delights.

Their lives, too, are temporary. They are reborn in the future according to their karma, their "just desserts." Only the arahants, the enlightened ones, have overcome all that can upset. Only the Arya have even set foot on that route to freedom from all suffering.

Is there evil in the world? Yes, when defined as the Three Poisons. Is there good? Absolutely, when defined as the converse of those poisoned states of mind. Good can be summarized into three categories:
  1. Nongreed: generosity, beneficence, love for oneself as one loves others and vice versa (metta), compassion (karuna), happiness in others' happiness (mudita), impartiality (upekkha). [These four are called Divine Abidings, Brahma Viharas, here and now.]
  2. Nonhatred: forbearance, forgiveness, fearlessness, friendliness, loving-kindness, tolerance.
  3. Nondelusion: wisdom, right-view (samma-ditthi), insight, understanding in accordance with the truth, knowledge, clear comprehension, mindfulness of what is in this very moment.