How do we think about and respond to the evil that exists in our world? One of my readers put this question forth when they responded to my Reader Survey:
“How can you always talk about good and good when the world is full of wicked, manipulative and negative minded people? All is not always well within, I think once in a while we would like to hear your views about these facts of life.”
Thank you for asking so honestly. You’re so right, we’re not always well within. In fact, many of us are thrown about by our own litany of thoughts, emotions, and habitual patterns.
Anger, desire, greed, envy, anxiety, fear, and doubt are just a few of the emotions that seem to constantly spark us. Even those who aspire to lead a wholesome life are confronted by their dark emotions, not to mention those intentionally engaged in foul actions.
The Meaning of Always Well Within
So please let me clarify “always well within” is where we want our mind and heart to be. It’s not necessarily where it is now. At the same time, we can be there in any moment when we operate from a space of goodness and clarity.
“Always well within” doesn’t mean a static state of peacefulness or a complete absence of thoughts and emotions. It means being aware of whatever arises in our mind, recognizing it’s impermanent nature, and through repeated practice not allowing it to trigger negative thoughts, words, and actions.
It takes dedication and training to achieve this stability of mind and kindness of heart, but what could be more important in our chaotic world?
“Always well within” also doesn’t mean being blasé about evil. It means recognizing that good fosters good and harm is like a boomerang that will come back to haunt you. Therefore, it’s only sensible to take full responsibility for the impact of your thoughts, words, and actions.
I know myself it’s possible to be “always well within” because I’ve personally been near great spiritual teachers like the Dalai Lama and witnessed their spacious way of being.
Teachers likes this retain a compassionate heart though many have faced horrific tragedy themselves. They have the capacity to see the world as it is, but still have faith in the fundamental goodness that lies within each individual however obscured it might be at present by undesirable beliefs and behaviors. They’re not stupid nor do they intentionally put themselves in harm’s way.
The Challenge of Evil
“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” – Gandhi
Yes, there are people who act in wicked, manipulative, and negative ways. But, we need to separate the person from the actions. The actions are negative, but the person is not necessarily fundamentally wicked.
Evil is complex. It’s not just a question of the good guys and the bad guys. We all have light and dark within, and the purpose of our life is to purify the darkness. Evil comes from ignorance, and often many different factors combine to bring it about.
Just think about how we over consume in the West and how this adversely impacts others around the world. Perhaps we would never personally shoot or torture someone else, but collectively our actions are causing pain and even death for countless individuals who are already suffering the ill-effects of climate change.
We need to look very deeply to see the full truth of what evil is.
Compassion: The Remedy for Evil
I believe the only true remedy for evil is compassion not hatred. But, compassion is not blind or passive.
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Most people are redeemable. Milarepa, one of the greatest saints of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, wiped out an entire village during his early years. But, later, he was horrified by his errors and became an exemplary spiritual practitioner. According to his confessions, I’ve heard, St. Augustine wasn’t exactly saintly in his youth. You probably know of someone yourself who has made a positive turnaround in their life after committing unsavory acts.
I won’t argue that everyone is redeemable, but great spiritual teachers advise us to have compassion for those who act aggressively and even unforgivably out of their own ignorance. If you believe in the law of karma or the idea that we reap what we sow, these individuals are not only hurting others in unthinkable ways, but cementing their own future misfortune in place as well.
I know that it’s not necessarily easy embrace this idea, especially when you or someone you love have been harmed. I feel distressed by the inequities and atrocities in this world, too and I’m not a stranger to violence myself. Containment may be in order, but retaliation won’t necessarily solve any problems.
How did Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, or Aung Sang Suu Kyi find forgiveness during their years of imprisonment? I don’t know, but they inspire me to believe that it’s possible to have a larger perspective anchored in love.
“Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This is what I’ve come to know about change:
- You can only change yourself. You cannot change others, but you can inspire others to change by being the change you wish to see. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take outward action for equality and justice as well.
- You can work on behalf of goodness for a better world. By so doing, you can help and inspire others, but you still have to do your inner work. I worked on behalf of battered women and abused children for a number of years. Such work is beneficial of course, but it doesn’t necessarily stop the cycle of violence unless people change within.
Looking over my blog archive, I can see how my writing could seem trivial when you consider that 780 million people lack access to safe drinking water. I’m glad many people do write about the serious problems that exist in our world. But, the focus of my writing is to help others find peace within so they can be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
You’re right, I don’t write about evil or inequity much. I sometimes think I should when I read articles like this one about The Last Walk For Water. I’d like to share a few of my articles that have touched on evil or suffering because I agree it’s important to think about these dilemmas.
Yes, there are wicked, manipulative, and negative actions occurring in this world every moment. Yet all spiritual traditions beseech us to love and to forgive. There are no easy answers, but we can at least begin to reduce the harm that exists in our thoughts, words and deeds.
What are your thoughts on good and evil? If you’re reading offline, please come by to join the conversation.
I’m glad you’re here and thank you for sharing my posts. If you’re new, please consider subscribing for free updates by email. With love, Sandra