The Myth of Good and Evil
In his book The Three Pillars of Zen (1965), Philip Kapleau explains that the mind has two primary expressions — the buddhi (awakened) mind and the discursive mind. The buddhi mind is focused upon a stable and meditative path leading to the full realization of one’s true nature, while the discursive mind is characterized by its constant agitation and movement, like a car spinning its wheels in the mud but never getting anywhere. This mind spends all day every day expending and wasting a tremendous amount of energy in the “ceaseless production of useless thoughts,” while the buddhi mind is prone to calm, peaceful, and appreciative reflection upon what is. Kapleau suggests that our day to day life is comprised of a sort of battle between these two minds while the goal of daily meditation is to assist in the victory of the buddhi mind over the discursive mind since the latter draws us away from the realization of our true nature, which is inherently divine and completely unified with and in all that is.
In a similar vein, David Frawley, in his book Yoga and Ayurveda: Self-Healing and Self-Realization (1999), explains that every soul vibrates along a certain magnetic frequency according to a larger magnetic force that is cosmic in origin and expresses itself, like all magnetic forces, in a dualistic way:
There is both a cosmic force of attraction and one of repulsion. The attractive force has an internalizing or spiritualizing effect and elevates our consciousness. The repulsive force has an externalizing or materializing action and lowers consciousness. The attractive force promotes unity, healing, and integration. The repulsive force causes conflict, disease, and fragmentation. (p. 73)
In the Yogic philosophies described here by Frawley, it is this repulsive cosmic force that “governs the descent of spirit into matter and creates the external world of names and forms” while the “force of attraction draws the embodied soul back to its divine Self and origin” (pp. 73–74). So one force draws consciousness into the external world of matter and entangles it there, while another draws it away from the external world into a transpersonal dimension that is qualified by its post-material verity. Frawley explains that these two forces are antithetical to one another, and that, like the buddhi and discursive minds mentioned above, their relationship constitutes a kind of battle. The divine force of attraction allows us to gain spiritual knowledge and to expand into beings of wisdom and awakening, while the divine force of repulsion aggravates us into egoic life expressions, in other words, into a life of seeking pleasure in the external world.
I have observed lately that these kinds of dichotomous ideas are usually portrayed in myths, fairy tales, and religious folklore as the battle between good and evil. The force which draws consciousness into experiences of bliss and unity is “good” and the one which drags us into complex entanglements within the material world and binds us there is “evil.” Frawley explains in no uncertain terms that the force of repulsion and the force of attraction are “magnetic currents” that “possess tremendous force,” and that they are autonomous realities to which we are subjected in perfect reality. This is to say, these forces are real, and, according to Frawley, “at the soul level, we have only one basic choice: which of these two types of magnetism should we become receptive to?” (p. 75). So it is a question of alignment and intention. There is never a moment when one of these forces is not working upon us with vigor. So it becomes rather serious when we realize that we can and must choose and that we must do so consciously.
Elsewhere I have written about my sense that the battle between good and evil, an image that has captured human imagination since time immemorial, is ultimately a struggle between consciousness and unconsciousness. Why? Because the discursive mind that spins its wheels in unfruitful explorations of myriad thoughts is a force that drags consciousness around so much so that the individual has no more agency over experience. Consciousness ruled by a discursive mind must go where the mind goes, and since the discursive mind is essentially fragmentary and psychotic, the experience of consciousness becomes identical with fragmentation and psychosis. Being dragged downward into material reality by the force of repulsion, we find ourselves at the doorstep of names and forms, all of which clamor for our attention and response. But since, at this point, we are essentially operating out of ego (ahamkara) adaptations, we become fully engrossed in the world of external reality and (mis)take it as the only reality. What’s more, we just stay there forever, thinking that material reality and its ten thousand things are the only expressions of life worth pursuing.
I am inclined to see fully realized consciousness (or one that is steadfast in its quest for the same) as the force described in myths as “good” and the darkness of unexamined ego-based unconsciousness as the force portrayed in folklore as “evil.” There are malevolent forces in this world, just as there are love and goodness and joy and bliss. At the end of the day, it becomes incumbent upon each individual to become aware of this cosmic truth and decide on which side of the scales they wish to deposit their life energies.
In the past, I was deeply enthralled by negative and dark storylines about my life, about the sad and traumatic things that happened to me. But more recently, I have discovered that regurgitating those storylines day after day is a way of aligning myself with the forces of evil. Because those storylines drag me into deep identification with my embodied and earthy self while separating me from the reality of other dimensions of experience. I am not negating my body or my physical reality here, just paying attention to the reality of other verities which are also present. There can be no spiritual life without a body, without a mind, without a soul. All elements are needed on the path. But it is important how we use our tools and where and how we place our attention and upon what. In which direction is our energy flowing, and toward achieving which goals is our heart-mind aligned? To whom or what are we in service? And which part of our consciousness is in charge of where our life is going? I think these are important questions to reflect upon.
David Frawley (1999) explains that
We can observe to what degree our soul is magnetized to the divine or the undivine, to spiritual or worldly forces. We can see whether our love and attention are naturally directed internally to consciousness or externally to the world of form. We can see if our nature is to seek inner peace or outer enjoyment, inner expansion of awareness or outer expansion of possessions. As our present humanity is not very spiritually evolved, we will observe that most of us are caught in the current of ignorance and only have moments in which we are receptive to divine grace. However, we can cultivate this inner power and through it change the course of our lives. The inner current can overcome the outer current if we open ourselves up to the flow of grace. (p. 75)
This sounds very much to me like a call to awakening stating that good can triumph over evil at any moment, provided we expend the necessary effort needed. On a personal level, we can expand and fructify consciousness to the degree that it becomes sensitized to the reality and availability of divine grace. In other words, we can choose. This choice, that we can make for ourselves when we are conscious enough, is what is meant by free will. There is no free will in unconsciousness, and this, to me, is ultimately what evil means — it is that locus of consciousness where there is no choice, where we are impelled by forces beyond our awareness into actions whose far-reaching and detrimental results we are scarcely aware of, a force often called by another name we are all too familiar with: karma.