Kongokai Diamond realm MandalaThe Vajracchedika-prajnaparamita or Diamond Sutra is one of the most important teachings in Buddhism. It’s a relatively short sutra from the massive Prajna-paramitra or Transcendent Wisdom Sutra. A Chinese version, a scroll printed in 868 CE, is the world’s oldest, dated, printed book.

The Diamond Sutra is paradoxical, the meaning difficult to grasp immediately. It emphasizes the illusory nature of all phenomena and stresses the value of compassion, especially the spirit of giving without expecting to receive something in return.

This is my interpretation of the Diamond Sutra, a much condensed version, intended to be conducive for chanting:

Diamond Wisdom That Cuts Through Illusion

On the path to liberation, true heroes of the mind
Lead all beings to shore of bliss, leaving none behind.
They have no thoughts of beings; they have no thoughts of bliss,
For the highest wisdom is non-wisdom such as this.
Om Vajra-cche-dika
Om Prajna-para-mita

This teaching is like a diamond, wisdom shining bright.
It cuts through all illusion; the light of all insight.
Yet there is no teaching, no wisdom to be taught.
Fearless is he or she who understands this thought.
Om Vajra-cche-dika
Om Prajna-para-mita

Do not depend on perceptions of beings, self or soul.
Cultivate compassion and let all discrimination go.
What has no self, no soul nor separate being cannot be seized.
All things are Buddha; all things are awakening.
Om Vajra-cche-dika
Om Prajna-para-mita

Buddha has said, do not think that I have attained a pure and perfect mind,
Nor that I sit or stand, or come or go anywhere at any time.
Those that think they see me cannot really see,
And not a grain of anything has been attained or proclaimed by me.
Om Vajra-cche-dika
Om Prajna-para-mita

The awakened have gone beyond all concepts to reveal
This diamond doctrine, its meaning hidden deep but not concealed.
Like a dew drop, an illusion, a shadow, a bubble floating in a stream,
Like a dream at night, a flash of light, so is this world to be seen.
Om Vajra-cche-dika
Om Prajna-para-mita

Seeds of Peace is a book by Sulak Sivaraksa, a Thai social activist. It has the Buddhist seal of approval with a foreword by the Dalai Lama, a preface by Thich Nhat Hanh and a blurb on the back cover by Joanna Macy.

I have seen the book at Borders and other places many times and it was one of those books on my list, but I figured I would wait until I ran across it in a used book store which was bound to happen sooner or later. Yesterday, I saw it on one of the selves in my local thrift store, and it was dirt cheap, at only 50 cents.

Sulak Sivaraksa is founder and director of the Thai NGO Sathirakoses-Nagapradeepa Foundation, a social, humanitarian, ecological and spiritual movement. The back cover says that in Seeds of Peace, “Sulak draws on his study and practice of Buddhism to approach a wide range of subjects, including economic development, the environment, Japan’s role in Asia, and women in Buddhism.

Published in 1992 Seeds of Peace is still very relevant, considering the recent unrest in Thailand and the ongoing discussions over the role of women in Buddhism. On the later subject, he devotes an entire chapter, which he concludes by saying, “If those in Buddhist countries would study the life and teachings of the Buddha, much of the prejudice and ignorance of the present day would be alleviated.”

You’d think that would be the first thing Buddhists would do . . . study the life and teachings of the Buddha . . .

Another chapter that piqued my interest is “Buddhism with a small ‘b’”, and although his focus is on Asia, like the statement above, people everywhere can benefit from his point of view:

Buddhism, as practiced in most Asian countries today, serves mainly to legitimize dictatorial regimes and multinational corporations. If we Buddhist want to redirect our energies towards enlightenment and universal love, we should begin by spelling Buddhism with a small ‘b.’ Buddhism with a small ‘b’ means concentrating on the message of the Buddha and paying less attention to myth, culture, and ceremony.

We must refrain from focusing on the limiting, egocentric elements of our tradition. Instead, we should follow the original teachings of the Buddha in ways that promote tolerance and real wisdom. It is not a Buddhist approach to say that if everyone practices Buddhism, the world would be a better place. Wars and oppression begin from this kind of thinking.

If you’d like to know more about Sulak Sivaraksa, visit his Wikipedia page or his website.

Ku: Emptiness

Ku or emptiness, from The Book of Five Rings

Stephen Prothero is a Boston University religious scholar who has been a rather prolific article writer as of late. He has a book he’s promoting and that is probably the reason he has been submitting so many articles. Prothero’s theme is “God is Not One” or “All Religions are Not Alike.” He argues that seeing all religions as teaching the same thing is misleading and dangerous.

I think that’s an important message, however based on Prothero’s most recent article, “The Dalai Lama is Wrong,” I have concerns about the messenger.  Prothero’s article is a response to a piece for the NY Times the Dalai Lama wrote recently entitled “Many Faiths, One Truth,” in which the Buddhist teacher says that one way to counter the rising tide of intolerance is for world religions to find common ground and bridge differences.

I haven’t read much of Prothero’s work, only an article or two, so there might be some nuance that I am unaware of, however in general, I already know the message. I know not all religions are the same. I am reminded of that each day when I switch on the television to hear about the latest terrorist plot or someone’s religious concept that makes no sense to me.

In his piece, the Dalai Lama writes that when he was young he felt that Buddhism was superior to other religions, and now he understands how “naïve” he was. I used to feel the same way. I was a young Buddhist revolutionary out to save the world from “heretical religions.” Nowadays, I am more concerned with trying to get people to understand that Buddhism is not witchcraft and that we are not in league with Satan. I see the threat of religious intolerance, and you cannot find intolerance with more of the same.

So, now I try to be more tolerant. I still recognize the vast differences between the faiths, as does the Dalai Lama. He remarks on these differences often when he gives teachings. He’s not that naïve.

Prothero childes the Dalai Lama for suggesting there is “’one truth’ behind the ‘many faiths,’ and that core truth . . . is compassion.” However, that is not what the Dalai Lama stated, instead he wrote that in his discussions with Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, “A main point . . . was how central compassion was to the message of both Christianity and Buddhism,” and that “In my readings of the New Testament, I find myself inspired by Jesus’ acts of compassion,” and “[The] focus on compassion that Merton and I observed in our two religions strikes me as a strong unifying thread among all the major faiths.”

The Dalai Lama is right when he says that compassion is one truth behind many faiths. That is not the same as saying it is The One Truth, as Prothero implies.

Prothero says that “Jesus did not die on a cross in order to teach us to help old ladies across the street.” Well, no Jesus was not a Scout Master, that is true. But try telling millions of Christians around the world that the central message of Jesus’ teachings was NOT love, and see how they respond. Prothero also says that “Jesus came, according to most Christian thinkers, to stamp out sin and pave the path to salvation.” Well, yeah, sorta.

From my understanding, the prevalent view is that Jesus came so that people could know God. In John 17, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Supposedly, God loves us and sent Jesus so that that we could return His love. Jesus, out of love, in the ultimate compassionate act, took on the sins of humanity to open the door to a relationship of mutual love with God, and thereby, the kingdom of Heaven. But, maybe Prothero is thinking what’s love got to do with it?

Prothero’s real problem is that he does not understand who the Dalai Lama is. At one point, he says, “I know that when it comes to the Dalai Lama we are all supposed to bow and scrape.” Yes, it’s proper etiquette to show the Dalai Lama some respect. But he’s not the Buddhist Pope and he’s not infallible. I’ve heard him say many times that he is not a living Buddha, or the reincarnation of a mythical Bodhisattva, and that “I don’t claim to have any great realizations.” Behind all the pomp and circumstance, he is actually a rather humble man. He’s also complex and paradoxical, and so is the world he inhabits, all of which are subjects for future posts.

I think of the Dalai Lama as a teacher of Madhyamaka philosophy. Madhyamaka or Middle Way is a Buddhist tradition based on the teachings of Nagarjuna, the philosopher who systemized the doctrine of sunyata or emptiness.

In his teachings, Nagarjuna sought to lay bare the basic truth of all philosophies, and all activities of human beings. In Middle Way philosophy, all views are considered to be empty. K. Venkata Ramanan, in Nagarjuna’s Philosophy, writes, “The rejection of views which is an essential point in the philosophy of the Middle Way means that no specific view, being specific, is limitless, and no view, being a view, is ultimate. The ultimate view is not any ‘view.’ ‘Silence is the ultimate truth for the wise.’” This is a complicated point, and at the risk of over-simplifying it, I will say that it means all views are relative. It does not mean to go to the extreme of literally having no views, but rather understanding that all views can be equally valid from the side of each viewer, and at the same time, all views are ultimately non-substantial or empty. That’s why it is called Middle Way because it is the middle path between extremes.

This must be entirely lost of Mr. Prothero, who, one would think, should be aware that this philosophy constitutes the core of not only the Dalai Lama’s teachings but also his approach to the problem between Tibet and China, which he calls the Middle Way Approach.

Nagarjuna regarded non-contentiousness (anapalambha) as the very heart of the Buddha’s teachings. The tendency to seize, to cling, is the root of conflict and suffering:

The wayfarer that can understand this does not seize, does not cling to anything, does not imagine that this alone is true (and not that). He does not quarrel with anyone. He can thus enjoy the flavor of the nectar of the Buddha’s doctrine. Those teachings are wrong which are not of this nature (i.e., non-contentious and accommodative). If one does not accommodate other doctrines, does not know them, does not accept them, he indeed is the ignorant. Thus, then, all those who quarrel and contend are devoid of wisdom. Why? Because every one of them refuses to accommodate the views of others. That is to say, there are those who say that what they themselves speak is the highest, the real, the pure truth, that the doctrines of others are words, false and impure.

In stressing a few of the similarities between religions and calling for mutual understanding, the Dalai Lama is fulfilling his duty as a teacher in the Gelug sect, a Middle Way school. How could anyone expect him to shirk his responsibility? He is only asking us to cease clinging to our views long enough to establish some common ground so that we might make the world a safer place.

Prothero also says “And I cannot agree with the Dalai Lama’s claim that ‘the essential message of all religions is very much the same.’” I have read the Dalai Lama’s article several times and I can’t find that statement.  If Prothero were paraphrasing that might be all right, but to put it in quotes to give the impression that those words in that order is what the Dalai Lama wrote, is either a case of sloppiness or just plain distortion.

Finally, Prothero says that the Dalai Lama makes “the equally fantastic claim that all the religions are at heart vehicles for compassion.” No, he does not. He is merely pointing out that all the religions can be a vehicle for compassion, if we can just get over ourselves, and our dogmas.

The Three Marx GurusI am a Marxist. To the left is a rare photograph of my three principle gurus, Harpo, Groucho, and Chico. Last week at a press conference in New York, the Dalai Lama announced that he, too, was a Marxist. Unfortunately, we’re talking about two different kinds of Marxism.

Frankly, I don’t care if the Dalai Lama is a [Karl] Marxist or not. It’s not going to have much of an impact on the world economy. I don’t see eye to eye with the Dalai Lama on everything, but I think he is a nice guy and just about the only person in the world today consistently giving deep teachings on Madhyamaka philosophy and God love him for it. While I have not been able to find a complete transcript of the press conference, from what I’ve read about it apparently the Dalai Lama did draw a distinction between Marxism and Communism,  for whatever that is worth.

Now, as a True Marxist, I believe that a little socialism is a good thing and that too much capitalism can be bad. After all, as Groucho said, “Money cannot buy you happiness, and happiness cannot buy you money.”

Few are aware that Groucho was a student of Madhyamaka philosophy. Here’s a couple of passages that demonstrate what I mean.  The first comes from Nagarjuna’s Averting the Arguments (translated by JL Garfield):

If I had even one proposition,
It would be just as you have said.
Although if I had a proposition with the characteristic
that you described I would have that fault,
I have no proposition at all.
Thus, since all phenomena are empty,
at peace, by nature isolated, how could there be a proposition?

Groucho, the master philosopher, proclaimed this in Horse Feathers:

I don’t know what they have to say,
It makes no difference anyway,
Whatever it is, I’m against it.
No matter what it is or who commenced it,
I’m against it!
Your proposition may be good
But let’s have one thing understood:
Whatever it is, I’m against it.
And even when you’ve changed it or condensed it,
I’m against it!

Both avert every argument. There is essentially no difference between the two, except that Groucho’s verse rhymes. Where Nagarjuna rejects all propositions based on emptiness, Groucho rejects them based on contrariness. But contrariness is merely a state of being that is ultimately empty, so there you are.

Groucho’s sense of space and time is comparable to that of another Buddhist philosopher, Dogen. In Moon in a dewdrop, an anthology of Dogen’s works, Kazuaki Tanahashi writes, “To become familiar with Dogen’s concept of the time-being, we may need to remind ourselves that all phenomena are in motion, and that motion is perceived in relation to time.” He goes on to say that since every motion is relative, motion for one person may be stillness for another, and naturally the opposite would hold true.

There is a scene in Animal Crackers, where Groucho, as Capt. Spaulding, the African explorer, arrives past the time he was expected at the party. Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont) is exasperated that her guest of honor is late, and when Groucho does finally make his entrance, it is only to say:

Hello, I must be going. I cannot stay, I came to say I must be going. I’m glad I came but just the same I must be going. I’ll stay a week or two, I’ll stay the summer through, but I am telling you, I must be going.

From Mrs. Rittenhouse’s perspective, Groucho has just arrived and should be staying, and especially since he is the guest of honor, she expects him to be in motion no longer. However, Groucho’s penetrating insight into space and time and deep compassion compels him to tell his hostess that he is always in motion, and further suggests that time is a continuum not marked by coming and going. In this way, Groucho echoes Dogen’s words: “Should you reckon one-sidedly that time only goes by, you will not comprehend time as something that has not yet arrived.”

I much prefer the Marxism of Harpo, Groucho and Chico, to that of Karl. He had only one good line and that was about religion being the opiate of the people, and no jokes. The Marx Brothers, on the other hand, had plenty of jokes and awfully good lines, such as Chico’s “Mustard’s no good without roast beef,” and Harpo’s immortal “Honk, honk.”

I must also admit that in addition to being a Marxist, I am an Lennonist:

God is a concept by which we measure our pain. I’ll say it again. God is a concept by which we measure our pain.

I’m not sure what Lennon means by that exactly. I don’t know what anyone means. The only thing I know for sure is that everybody’s got something to hide except for me and my monkey.

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood with his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago with his friend, a jealous monk . . .

Einstein on Desolation Row

Now you would not think to look at him but he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin on Desolation Row.

- Bob Dylan (b. May 24, 1941)

Speaking of Einstein, here’s something that was translated by a friend of mine from a speech he gave in Berlin during the 1920′s:

To belong to those humans who are allowed and able to devote their best powers to the observation and research of objective, non-temporary matters means a special grace.

How happy and thankful I am that I am blessed with this grace, which creates a far-reaching independence of personal fate and of the behaviour of fellow man.

But this independence must not make us blind of the knowledge and duties which binds us constantly to the former, present, and future humankind. Our situation on earth seems strange. Everyone of us appears to be here unwilling and uninvited for a short stay, without knowing  why and what for. We only feel in our daily life that man is because of others. Because of those we love and numerous other beings with whom we are united in destiny. Often I feel oppressed when I think how largely my life is based on the work of my fellow man. And I know how much I owe them.

I never strove for affluence and luxury. And I even feel contempt for it. My passion for social justice often brought me into conflict with people, as well my dislike of any relation or dependence which didn’t appear to me absolutely necessary.

Always I respect the individual and harbor insuperable dislike of violence and of the club. For all these motives I am a passionate pacifist and antimilitarist, I decline all kind of nationalism, even it behaves as patriotism.

Privileges springing from position and property always appeared to me as unjust and disastrous. As well an excessive personality cult. It is true, that I am a typical “one-horse-carriage” in my daily life, but the consciousness to belong to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice never allowed the feeling of loneliness to arise.

The most beautiful and deepest that man can experience is the feeling of the mysterious. It is the foundation of religion as well as of all deeper striving of art and science.

Who never experienced that seems to me if not a dead person but then a blind person.

To feel that behind the experience of things there is something hidden and unreachable for our spirit, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirect and as a weak reflection, that is religiousness.

In this sense, I am religious. It is sufficient for me to have a presentiment in amazement of these mysteries, and to try with humility to comprehend intellectually a weak reflection of this sublime structure of being.

Buddhaghosa was the Indian Buddhist scholar who stands out as the pre-eminent commentator on Theravada understanding. His Visuddhimagga, or Path of Purification, believed written in Ceylon in the beginning of the fifth century CE, is a comprehensive study of Buddhist doctrine and meditation technique.

The Visuddhimagga is divided into four sections: 1) Virtue, 2) Concentration (Samadhi), the Purification of Consciousness, 3) Understanding, the Soil of Wisdom, and 4) Wisdom. This selection is from the introduction to “Description of Virtue,” and is based on the translations of Pe Maugn Tin (Pali Text Society,1922) and Bhikkhu Nanamoli (Singapore Buddhist Meditation Centre, 1956).  These are the opening lines to the Visuddhimagga, a nice blend of poetry and dharma.

‘The man who is, on virtue planted firm,
Develops intellect and intuition,
Then as a seeker ardent and perceptive
He may untangle this tangle.’

Thus it was spoken. But why was it spoken?

It is said that to the Awakened One, then staying at Savatthi, there came one night a certain celestial being who, in order to have his doubt removed, asked this question :

‘Tangle within, tangle without,
Sentient things are entangled in a tangle.
And I would ask of you, Gotama,
Who can untangle this tangle?’

Briefly the meaning is this: By ‘tangle” is meant the net of craving. For craving is like the tangle of the network of branches of bamboo-bushes and the like, in the sense of an intertwining, because it arises again and again, repeatedly in connection with such objects as visible things. And it is said to be a ‘tangle within and a tangle without,’ because it arises as craving for one’s own needs and others’, for one’s own person and others’, and for consciousness subjective and objective. Sentient beings are entangled in such a tangle. Just as bamboos and the like are entangled by such tangles as bamboo-bushes, so all living beings, are entangled, enmeshed, embroiled, in that tangle of craving, this is the meaning.

And because of such entanglement, the meaning of, ‘I would ask of you, Gotama, this,’ is to be understood in this way: So I ask you, addressing the Awakened One by his family name, Gotama, ‘Who can untangle this tangle?’ means: Who is able to untangle this tangle which has entangled existence?

When questioned in this way, the Awakened One, walking in unobstructed knowledge of all things, confident with the Four Confidences, bearer of the Tenfold Strength, possessor of unimpeded knowledge and the all-seeing eye, spoke this stanza in answer:

‘The man who is, on virtue planted firm,
Develops intellect and intuition,
Then as a seeker ardent and perceptive
He may untangle this tangle.’

In setting forth, according to the truth,
The meaning of the stanza of the Sage,
which speak of virtue and such other things,
I will expound the Path of Purification,
Which relies on the teachings of the devout
Dwellers at the Great Monastery, and contains
Purest exposition, gladdening even those
Who never may find purity
For all their striving, though they seek it here,
Not knowing of the Path of Purity,
Which holds all virtue, and is straight and safe,
Though they have gone forth as seekers and attained
That which is hard to attain in the Victor’s realm.
Devout men, whose desire is purity,
Listen attentively to the things that I relate.

Here, by ‘Purity’ is meant Nibbana, which is free from all stains and is exceedingly pure. The Path to this purity is the ‘Path of Purification.’ The means of its acquisition is called the ‘ Path.’ I am going to speak of that Path of Purification. This Path of Purification has been set forth in terms of simple insight in which it is said:

‘All things conditioned are impermanent,
When one understands this
And turns away from what is unwholesome and ill,
This is the path to purity’

Vietnamese Zen Master, peace activist and poet, Thich Nhat Hanh is the most respected Buddhist teachers in the world today. His teachings are clear and simple, deceptively simple. During the Vietnam War, his work for peace inspired Martin Luther King Jr. to nominate him for the Nobel Peace prize in 1967.

In addition to his gentle social activism, Thich Nhat Hanh has also been instrumental in bringing Buddhism to the West, and engaging in Interreligious dialogue. He is also credited with coining the term “Engaged Buddhism.”

The Huffington Post has just published an exclusive interview with “Thay”, as he is affectionately called by his students.  In the interview he says,

It’s plain to see that there’s too much violence, poverty and suffering all around us; but we think we’re too small and powerless to make any difference in these things. Maybe there’s suffering right here in our own family; maybe a family member is in so much pain that one day he or she will end up in a desperate situation of drug addiction or violent crime. We tell ourselves we don’t know how to help that person, and we have our own busy lives to lead.

What is it we’re so busy with, exactly?

“Busy”, by the way, is derived from Old English, besig, meaning “careful, anxious, busy, occupied.” According to Dictionary.com, in the 17 th century, busy was a euphemism for “sexually active.” The first use of “busy” in relation to the telephone was in 1893 and the term “busy work” was first coined in 1910.

Well, if you are not too busy right now, you can read the entire Huffington Post interview with Thich Nhat Hanh here.

Dogen and NichirenActually, I don’t believe these two 13th Century Buddhists ever met each other, although it is possible. Dogen, however, was Nichiren’s senior by 22 years.

Today, the followers of Nichiren worldwide number in the millions; I have no idea how many practice Soto Zen, founded by Dogen, but it developed into the second largest school of Japanese Buddhism.

There are a number of similarities between the two. Both were outsiders. Nichiren as “the son of an untouchable along the beach” who was not admitted to the clannish circles around the top teachers at Mt. Hiei and while Dogen was from a noble family, his mother had been in an unfavorable situation which checked his acceptance among the aristocracy. Both were ordained into the Tendai sect, studied at Mt. Hiei, and they were both disgusted by the spiritual corruption they found there. And they both relied heavily upon the Lotus Sutra, albeit to different degrees.

To my mind, their philosophical approach, their methodology, are like night and day. Still, in bottom line terms, they were not that far apart, especially in regards to the universal potential of Buddhahood. I imagine that the greatest difference between them was in personality. Nichiren was a fiery street preacher. When I think of Dogen, I think of stillness, quietude. Dogen taught only a few disciples. Nichiren on the other hand envisioned a mass movement. One other significant difference is that Dogen rejected the notion of the Three Periods (Former, Middle and Latter Day of the Law), maintaining that all people could attain enlightenment regardless of the age they lived in. For Nichiren, the Three Periods were crucial and even though his time line was off by 500 years, the faith-only ideology associated with the Latter Day of the Law is the all-important context for his teachings.

I thought it would an interesting exercise to put the writings of Dogen and Nichiren side by side to compare and contrast. I considered putting together a collection of brief quotes but felt there might be some question over objectivity going about it that way, so I looked for writings that were similar in title and/or subject matter. The ideal writings are far too long to quote in their entirety. Instead, I am presenting relatively short excerpts.

The first comes from Dogen’s Soku Shin ze Butsu and Nichiren’s Soku Shin jo Butsu. The titles are essentially the same, meaning “this mind is precisely Buddha” or “attaining Buddahood in this very life.” Nichiren gives his explanation of this well-known Japanese Buddhist concept a slight twist. In other writings, he adheres to the phrase as usually defined, but in this work “Soku shin jo Butsu” takes on the connotation of “earthly desires are Buddhahood.”

The sources are Shasta Abbey’s translations of Dogen’s Shobogenzo and the original Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin published under the aegis of the Soka Gakkai:

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Karl Jaspers (1883 –1969) was a German  psychiatrist and philosopher. He wrote a book called The Great Philosophers. This is from his chapter on Nagarjuna, the first section, “The Operations of Thought.” I like it.

All existence is dharma. The goal of this thinking is stated to be “nonattachment” to the dharmas.

By breaking free, the Enlightened One “will stand outside appearance, outside sensation, outside concepts, outside forms and outside consciousness. “

A Bodhisattva does not learn any dharmas, “to him the dharmas are present in a different way.”

Detachment require a last step. I might suppose that at least the doctrine exists, that his one dharma has being, that the Buddha existed, that the Bodhisattvas who attain Perfection of Wisdom exist. Are they not reality? No, this too is empty.

“I do not see that dharma Bodhisattva, nor a dharma called Perfect Wisdom.”

Perfection of Wisdom cannot be perceived, it is not present as an existing thing. For we cannot speak of appearance in the face of that which is no perfection of appearance, nor speak of consciousness where there is no awareness of sensation, concept, form, this is the fundamental and radical idea: to detach myself from all things then from detachment; to cling to nothing.

Superficially most people tend to think of good and evil as two fundamentally and diametrically opposed principles or forces in the universe. Two primary wills directed towards opposite ends. However, if we analyze the situation objectively, we discover that the fundamental, primary will of all beings throughout the universe is toward the same end, happiness. Thieves,  murderers, even terrorists, want to be happy, although their notion of happiness may differ greatly from our own.

We also discover that evil is merely a result of ignorance and false beliefs that something is a means to happiness when it is not.  Evil can also be a result of conflict between certain individuals, all of whom desire the same end, but get in the way of each other, and as a result, take actions that are destructive to the common good.

We often hear talk about riding the world of evil. This is a common aim and most people believe it is necessary in order to establish a state of happiness for all. However noble it may be, it is not practical in either the ultimate or relative sense, because evil, being that designated the opposite of the common good, must exist, for without it how would we know what is good?

Chih-i, the great Chinese Buddhist philosopher, once said:

“In evil there is good; apart from evil there is no good. It is the overturning of various evils upon which the tenability of good is based. The situation is like the bamboo in possession of the potency of fire. This potency is not actual fire, therefore the bamboo does not burn. But when the potency meets subsidiary causes and is actualized, the bamboo can burn things. In the same way, evil is the potency of good, though it has not actually become good. When it meets subsidiary causes and is actualized, it can overturn  evil. Similar to the potency of fire in the bamboo, which burns the bamboo when actualized, the potency of good in evil will overturn the evil when actualized. Therefore the aspect of evil potency is identical to the aspect of good potency. “

Seen in this light, good and evil are not two antithetical forces, but the same forces. In Chih-i’s philosophy, the universe as a whole is good, and while he asserts the non-duality of good and evil, to say that a bad act is good if viewed from a perfect understanding does not excuse the act nor prevent the suffering that follows from it. Additionally, if there was no such understanding there would be no act, since the act only occurs because of a lack of understanding. Suffering is necessary because it is through suffering that understanding is improved which makes the act no longer desirable.

This is why Chih-i also says,

“If amid evils there were nothing but evil, the practice of the Way would be impossible and people would remain forever unenlightened, but because the Way is present even amid evil it is possible to attain sageliness even though one may engage in negative actions, for example, even Buddhist monks can be angry.”

Evil is the result of false beliefs on the part of an individual who thinks his or her subsidiary aims are in accord with his or her primary aim, when they are not. When an individual realizes this, then the evil can be overturned because the new understanding acquired will prevent the actualization of the evil. The potency will still remain.

It will require more growth, more spiritual evolution, and perhaps innumerable generations before all individuals collectively have sufficient understanding to overcome many of the specific evils that exist in the world. A single individual, developing this understanding, can contribute toward it.

The question then is not why does evil and suffering exist in the world; rather the question should be how an individual should confront his or her own evil and how one overturns sufferings.

That, however, will have to be discussed some other time. For now, a good first step in that direction is to follow the Buddha’s guidance:

“Do not commit any evil deeds
Try always to perform virtuous acts
Subdue your own mind
This is my teaching”