Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Living in the Shadows

"Darkness and Light"

Yesterday I watched a sad and frightening CNN news report about the brutal tribal war now emerging in Iraq. Four young soldiers were forced to kneel in the sand and they were then executed by being shot directly in the face with an automatic rifle. The act was so violently cruel that it could not be shown on TV. Horrified by the story, the news reporter commented that such a heinous and brutal act could only be perpetrated by someone who was "intrinsically evil." 

The reporter's comment made me stop and think, "Is it true that people who commit horrible, barbaric  acts of violence against other human beings are somehow "intrinsically evil?" After all, if someone is "intrinsically evil," it means that a propensity toward evil is somehow in the person's very nature- they were born this way, it's genetic.  

But then I started to think about other acts of brutal violence human beings committed against one another over time -the Christian imperialist conquerors "slaughtering" the native peoples of South America - mass murder in the cause of conversion and in the name of Christ. I thought about Southern plantation owners viciously beating their slaves within an inch of their lives, sometimes beating them to death because they dared to disobey the master's orders. I also thought about white-hooded lynch-mobs in places like Mississippi, "stringing up"  their fellow citizens from a tree because they didn't like the color of their skin.

And when I think about all this brutal violence, I ask myself, "Were all these people who did all these horrible things to their fellow human beings "intrinsically evil?" Was there something in their very nature that propelled them to commit these acts- something over which they had no control because it was "intrinsic" to them? 

My answer is "no," I don't think so.  In fact, I don't think anyone is "intrinsically evil."  However, I do think many people live in "ignorance" and they often act out of their ignorance.

The Buddha taught that "relationship" and not evil is "intrinsic" to human nature - everything and everyone is woven together as one dynamic web of relationship. He taught that the idea of a separated and isolated ego-self is a delusion. There are no different others, and so whatever any individual does to others they do to themselves.  

The Buddha also taught that "ignorance" is a lack of understanding of this "intrinsic" nature of the human condition. A person who is inflicted with ignorance lives life in the shadows, in darkness, unenlightened by the truth. 

Acts of violence against others are always done out of "ignorance"because what you do to others you do to yourself.  

The Dalai Lama wisely teaches: 

All suffering is caused by ignorance

So, when I think of the historical record of the many acts of brutality perpetrated over the ages, or when  I hear contemporary news stories about barbaric cruelty in Iraq or in Syria or Nigeria, or when I hear about heinous school massacres, drive-by shootings and child abuse, I don't believe that people who do these things are intrinsically evil. I think rather that they do these things because they are living in the shadows- "ignorant" of the truth about our human nature, the truth that we "are" one another. 

The good news is that since not one of us is "intrinsically evil," those who live in the shadows can be brought into the light. And in my heart of hearts, I do believe that when all is said and done, in the end love will win the day. 

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