I’ve been beating the drum for non-duality a lot lately. I hope I am not overdoing it, but it’s an important subject and deserves a certain amount of attention. In light of recent events, I thought it might be worthwhile to revisit the non-duality of good and evil.
T’ien-t’ai master Chih-i maintained that the mind, although intrinsically enlightened, contains all the potentials for both good and evil, that it is both pure and stained, and that even Buddhas possess evil natures. He developed a meditation in which one “entered” evil in order to cultivate mindfulness of it. This supposedly allowed the practitioner to exercise control over evil.
The focus here is on the negative side of the coin, but there is also the positive side. Neal Donner, in his essay, Chih-i’s Meditation on Evil, writes,
[Chih-i shows] that there is no contradiction between evil and the Way. Even if evil is constantly present in one’s mind, good will always be found somewhere within it, for every element of existence is present in every other . . .”
This notion of the interpenetration of various qualities within the mind is one of the core principles found in T’ien-t’ai philosophy. The other day I mentioned how suffering never actually ceases, it just becomes dormant as we active more positive qualities. Chih-i put it this way:
Although the Buddha does not remove inherent evil (Ch. hsing-er), he fully understands the nature of evil. As a result, he is not defiled by it and can be the master over evil. Additionally, owing to his observation, evil never arises, and the Buddha does not create evil again.
The Profound Meaning of the Kuan-Yin Sutra (Kuan-yin Hsuan-i)
Because of my pop (and pulp) culture inclinations, I can’t help but think of The Shadow: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” The Shadow was a crime-fighter who used hypnotism to “cloud men’s mind” so they would think he was invisible. He also had to rely on physic powers to see in men’s hearts. You and I as ordinary beings don’t need physic powers or hypnotism, nor do we really need to enter into esoteric meditations to see inherent evil. As with emptiness, the power of understanding, in this case, understanding of the non-duality of good and evil, combined with self-reflection, will suffice.
However, there is still the question of how make sure that inherent evil remains in a dormant state. One point that seems clear in regards to the recent shooting in Aurora is that it is not just an issue of guns or violence, it’s also an issue of mental health. Most of us will never perpetrate that kind of evil, but we are perfectly capable of committing small wrongdoings, what you might call “little evils.” So, the short answer to the question would be that we should insure that our minds stay healthy. Naturally, I recommend the practice of Buddhist meditation as an excellent way to accomplish that.
Again, it doesn’t seem necessary to engage in esoteric meditations to maintain a healthy mind. Nor, as a rule, do we need to become knee-deep in psychotherapy. Simple, basic meditation, such as mindfulness meditation, is good enough. Along with calming the mind and developing a greater awareness of the present moment, meditation also helps us suppress the negative states of mind that create non-virtuous emotions and actions. When we get up from the meditation mat, our calmness and inner health will serve us well when we face situations in daily life charged with potential negativity.