Sunday, January 31, 2010

Good and Evil

The other day, I was trying to make a point to our ten-year old daughter.

Min Zhen Shakya wrote an interesting book called the Seventh World of Chan Buddhism. In this book, she was talking about Jungian psychology and how children, when they do something bad, begin to split off a "shadow self" to take the blame for their bad action. Kids, after all, wish to be the "good kids", even though as children they are often prey to their "bad" impulses. Over time, there is a barrier (or as Gurdjieff might say, "buffer"). When people get older, they are unable to be objective about themselves as they have fallen into a habit of blaming their shadow for their shortcomings, and see themselves as saints. One point of analysis is to allow people to re-integrate with their shadow, a very Taoist sort of view. No wonder the Jungians were into Taoism.

I learned this the hard way, through intensive, Gurdjieff-style exercises. Needless to say, I want to minimize, if possible, this shadow in our children. So I was explaining that just because some one does something bad doesn't mean they are bad.

In fact, this cannot be the case. If people were inherently bad, no good would be possible. If inherently good, no bad would be possible. Yet good people are bad, bad are good, some criminals become saints, and saints become sinners.

The best explanation I came up with is that good and bad can only apply to actions. What we are, we simply are. Thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc. all arise and pass. There is nothing good or bad about these things, just like there is nothing good or bad about the rain, trees, or beetles. In all reality, there is nothing really good or bad about actions as well, but I didn't want to burden her young mind with such a shock at this age.

There is a Zen saying that says when we act with compassion, it is said the Buddha comes into the world. When we act from hate or anger, it is said the Buddha leaves the world. Very succinct, very true.

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