Good and Evil are indentical

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”


4 thoughts on “Good and Evil are indentical

  1. Very excellent, and thought-provoking post.

    I like the word “equilibrium” to describe what I think you’re talking about: there is a balance between things which is inherently present in the world and, in actuality, this balance is what allows things to exist. Rather than being polarizing energies, like magnets, good and evil are instead like a wave. The energy expended by an individual determines whether it’s off balance, like a tsunami, or if it’s achieved “equilibrium” and evened out, pulled back in with the current.

    I wonder if that’s a bit too abstract, but I think it works. That’s what I got out of reading your post, anyway.

    1. rt, I think you got the point very well, and equilibrium is a good word to use. So is harmony. Forces in the universe, in nature, are always in harmony with each other, although to us it doesn’t always seem that way. For instance, people talk about the environment being out of whack. But there is nothing wrong with the environment per se. Global warming is just the natural way the environment reacts when a lot of junk is poured into it. We are the ones who are out of whack.

      Individuals have natural equilibrium and harmony but when we allow junk like desires and attachments to fill our mind, it tilts us out of balance.

  2. David — I have an inkling you have read, or would enjoy reading, “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn.

    I can’t say too much else about it — other than it’s one of the books that hit me the hardest in high school, and I have since shared it with a lot of friends and teachers, who have all loved it.

    The book profoundly influenced my view on the world and the environment, in line with equilibrium and harmony.

    Try to find it if you have the time.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation. I am not familiar with “Ishmael” by Quinn, but I took a peek at it on Amazon and looks interesting. I will add it to my books to read list, which is quite large at the moment.

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