84 Is there evil? 16 Oct 2020
Article 12 teaches that you are the light that reveals the happiness around you. Light carries warmth, spreading happiness. Light illuminates, making the happiness visible. Think of it as a bidirectional flow of cause and perception.
Alternatively, think of sound. The adjective form of the word identifies a longitudinal pressure fluctuation: sound wave (type of wave). The noun form is illustrated in the grade school saying that a tree falling in a vacant forest does not make sound. Various dictionaries associate that meaning of “sound” as a noun with “auditory impression,” “sensation,” or “can be heard.” There “sound” is the perception, not the wave.
I am introducing the principle “it depends on what you make of it.” The above illustrations describe physical phenomena that can be measured. Both examples ignore the physical quantity and concentrate on the human perception.
Some say that by creating good, God created evil—that is, He created the categories when He separated one quality from the other. Neither “creation” makes sense. Good and evil are not physical phenomena that anybody creates. They describe measurements that “depend on what you make of them.” I am comparing that process to the perception of light and the hearing of sound. What follows is a discussion of interpretation.
When things go wrong
During many months of writing a pollyannaish happiness blog, I have worried about the possible reality of the world we are not creating together. I have been treating it like darkness: it is only the absence of a light that is real. The “evil world” is not a creation; it is a condition that disappears when the light goes on.
Today I reinforce the model that there are not parallel good and evil universes engaged in an existential struggle. Although we are still creating it, there is one unitary world that appears dark (suffers) until we illuminate it. We are realizing (revealing and achieving) the world of our creation by turning on the light. (Note: here we will speak of the physical and social worlds we inhabit and not stretch the metaphor to apply to black holes in galaxies.) The humanist says there is nothing so dark that light cannot illuminate it. The Christian says that there is nothing so depraved that there is no redemption.
I am sad that so many descriptions of the four noble truths of Buddhism use the word “suffering.” Early on, I decided that the word does not refer to disturbances like divorce and toothaches. I take it to represent anything that is not in its highest state of being. Enlightenment is not a weapon for expunging the evil world. It is rather the illuminating condition that marks the right order. The darkness is gone when we turn on the light. The suffering ends without going anywhere.
I omit a list of the world’s pains. You must learn to evaluate your being and your circumstance. From that, contemplate the higher order as we have done many times in this blog. Intelligence is the power to project our ideals beyond our current conditions. We are creating our worlds, and today’s article is one more encouragement to do so thoughtfully toward the best outcome. It is indeed what you make of it (articles 30, 60, 78, and search the word “wrong” in this course).
Article 83 teaches your duty to find the good and support it. This is never a fight (articles 14, 38, 45, 78). Instead, it is adding your unique light to others to provide the widest possible coverage.
I grieve over the cruelties I am not naming. Suffering is not healing. We divert abuse by patiently rehabilitating perpetrators and lighting their candles to give them a blessing to pass on to others. Should we die before our love has dissolved someone’s hatred, let us at least leave guideposts and stepping stones along the trail to enlightenment.
From negative to profound
Albert Schweitzer, the musician philosopher and physician who taught “Reverence for Life,” told a story from his leprosarium at Lambaréné. He had asked one of his patients or a visitor to that patient to fetch a utensil for another patient with whom he was working at the moment. The one requested replied “but he is not brother to me.” Dr. Schweitzer had learned patience with this sense of tribalism, although it grieved him when his basic teaching had not been learned. The lesson of our brotherhood is still missing in too many lives.
Since the beginning of this blog I have tried to gain the courage to share one of my most ignorant deeds. It is appropriate here next to Dr. Schweitzer’s story.
While in early grade school, I frequently did shopping errands for my mother who operated a senior care facility and needed household help. On one trip, she explicitly authorized me to buy an ice cream cone with part of the change from the grocery purchase. The price was then five cents. After I began to place the order at the window, one of my school friends appeared and greeted me by name. I welcomed talking to him but was uncomfortable with the purchase I was making. In my weakness, I let the ice cream shop finish filling my order and ate the ice cream cone on the way home. I justified my rudeness by telling myself that if the friend wanted to avoid suffering, he could just leave me to my ice cream and come by some other time.
When we arrived at my home with the groceries and half the ice cream cone still in my hand, my mother immediately asked where my friend’s ice cream cone was. I explained that I had been authorized to buy only one. To my mother’s eternal credit, she gently explained to me that the feelings of other people should override my immediate pleasure. I owed a certain respect to my friend. She provided the five cents for another ice cream cone and gave me the redemptive assignment of buying my friend an ice cream cone that he would eat as he returned with me. Stepping into the position of this “brother to me” was the best healing I could have experienced then. It underlies everything I have written in this blog.
That ice cream incident is one of the most powerful teachings of my life. The social etiquette I learned (as if I could not have figured it out by empathy) was much smaller than the real teaching: my mother taught me that her love was stronger than my weakness. By avoiding any tone of punishment, she gave me the opportunity to improve and trusted that that was my intent. That trust is the reason her name (Waltraud) is half of my business alias name “Ernstraud.” My father (Ernst, the other half of “Ernstraud”) was of like mind. Together they always assumed that it was my wish and my intent to do good. My life still witnesses to that.
Is there evil? Is there a war going on between two realities, two opposed universes? A week ago I fell into reflection of the bad in the world. I questioned my positive outlook. Is it unreal? Am I selling something that isn’t true? Through the week, something wonderful emerged. Today’s article begins questioning what to make of evil and culminates in a story about an ice cream cone. I found my place in a unitary world where my light makes a difference. Join me as I shift perspective, going from negative to profound. I learned to trust my light.