Monday, October 26, 2009

The Metaphysics of Evil

Bottom line, there is no such thing as metaphysical evil. The human struggle with evil, though very real within the context of earthly life, is simply not a reflection of any higher or metaphysical reality. In this I am in complete agreement with modern psychology, science, and even atheistic views. Much of what religion has taught us is simply false. There is no Devil, nor even any demons. There are no evil spirits, and no soul-damning karmic consequences to the various acts human commit that we might call evil. There is no hell where evil people are sent, and no demons trying to lure us there. All of that - literally all of it - is a projection within the context of human beings struggling to come to terms with the various mechanical and psychic problems of incarnation. 

The worst examples of evil we can think of, a Hilter say, or a serial killer, are not of demonic origin, and have not "gone over to the dark side", simply because there is no dark side. The "dark side" is a product of human ignorance, literally, about the process of incarnation. The primary problem we all tend to face in this matter of being born here is that we have very little conscious understanding of what is going on, where we are, where we came from, how we got here, what we are doing , and what we are supposed to be doing. We are not generally aware that we are actually incarnating here at all - most people simply take things at surface appearances, and we assume we are just born here as bodies in a material world that poses a lot of challenges and threats.

As mentioned in previous posts, we don't often consider the possibility that this world is an illusion of sorts, an appearance within our conscious experience, but even if we do, we don't tend to understand the mechanics of that. Even those who intuitively believe in reincarnation don't quite understand what it means. We tend to think that we just drop into this world, live for a time, and then leave it, not grasping that there are a great many biological and mechanical issues involved in the process which profoundly affect the quality of our experience here. Nor do we realize that when that process is disrupted, or not understood properly, and when it becomes aberated in some respect, this creates even more illusions within our minds about all of these matters. Trying to straighten out those illusions can be very difficult and take a lot of time, and as a human species we still have much to comprehend about this process.

Our traditional religious cultures have attempted to understand this process, but in most cases this has only made the confusion worse, in large part because the people leading the way in many of these cultures were disturbed and deluded themselves about the process that were trying to comprehend, and their maladaptation to it created projeccted notions about the state of the world and the universe and God that are simply reflections of their problems with incarnation, rather than a pure vision of what that process involves. Chief among those maladaptations are the various notions of demonic forces and evil beings who are thought to be opposed to human happiness and Divine enjoyment of our existence. We all know these examples almost by heart, depending on the culture we were raised in. Their universality, unfortunately, only tends to lend credence to the notion that such things are real.

My own experience in Adidam, for example, included being taught that such demonic spirits were a serious factor in human life, and that the great spiritual Adepts really did engage in spiritual warfare of a kind with these demons. Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita is said to be engaged in a battle with the demonic asuras, and his admonition to Arjuna is to righteously fight these demons. It is of course acknowledged at some level within Hinduism that these asuras are metaphorical, that they really represent our various desires and urges which keep us bound to the world-illusion, but the widespread belief throughout Hindusim nonetheless is that these kinds of spirits are indeed real, and that we have to be wary of them, and engage in endless kinds of purifying rituals and practices in order to keep them at bay. The Hindu priesthood still makes a pretty penny from offering their ritual services for this purpose, as they have since ancient times. 

I remember a sad but funny incident in my later days in Adidam that illustrates this point. I was at the Mountain of Attention Sanctuary for a celebration, which consisted of a long puja and chanting at Seventh Gate, which opened onto the gorunds of Adi Da's personal house. He was there at the time, and near the end of the Puja I was tapped on the shoulder and asked to help with a special service. Some of the ladies from the kitchen (which was in a building just to one side) need a man to carry a large crate of very expensive dishware to be used to serve Adi Da's celebration meal that day - the kind of thing only brought out on special occasions. I had to carry this crate along a narrow footpath, on one side of which was a fairly steep cliff. The ladies were very wary of this cliff, and one of them warned me in a deeply worried voice that I should be extremely careful, because if I dropped these dishes down the cliff, I would be facing terrible karmas for lifetimes to come. I nearly burst out laughing, but then realized these ladies were deadly serious. They actually believed in some kind of spiritual reward/punishment system. It was no wonder of course. In his later years Adi Da spoke at great length about the terrible consequences that could come when devotees messed up something or other of seemingly minor significance. He also spoke endlessly about demonic spirits, and his own struggle fighting these spirits who were opposing his work and doing great harm in the world. In fact, that kind of talk was one of the key matters that made me begin to suspect that Adi Da was not a genuinely free realizer, but one who was himself bound to a number of simple illusions about the world, and spiritual life altogether. In that of course Adidam is not much different than a whole host of other religious traditions, and it can certainly point to those traditions for support of its own beliefs about these things. I'm merely suggesting that all of those traditions harbor the same faults, rooted in a problem with spiritual incarnation that creates projections of evil onto both the material world and the spiritual realms. In Da's case, it's not hard to see that his own problems manifested a delusional cosmology that perpetuated some fearful notions about evil, ones that fostered fear and unhealthy supestitions in his devotees. The same pattern holds true for a great many other religious figures and traditions, of course, I only single Da out because that's where my own experience of these kinds of religious themes comes from. Catholics and Hindus and others can I'm sure relate from their own repetoire of religious demonology.

The earliest religions we know of were all shamanic in nature, and generally believed in evil spirits which had to be battled with by humans, with the aid of priests and medicine men, and of course by appeal to friendly Gods and spirits who could help us. The results of human life were generally thought to be the fruits of this battle between good and evil spirits. WHen good things happened, it was because our appeals were well recieved and our Gods were able to defeat the evil spirits, and when things went poorly it was either because our appeals were insufficient, not properly conducted by the right ritual, or that the Gods we prayed to were simply not powerful enough, and we needed better Gods. Those who lost wars to other tribes or nations often assumed that this was because their conquerer's Gods were stronger, and so the conquered people would happily convert to their conquerer's Gods. 

We are a bit more sophisticated than that now, and tend not to believe that the Gods and spirits function in quite that way, but we do still tend to believe in a similar kind of superstition, whether religious or secular in nature. Even the scientific atheists or agnostics among  us believe in the superstitions of chemistry, looking for the right combination of anti-depressants and pharmaceuticals to ward off the bad diseases and chronic conditions of human unhappiness. I'm not even suggesting that all of that is wrong, only that it lacks a realistic understanding of the genuine sources of our disturbed state of mind and body. The real problem we face is that of incarnation, of finding a way to merge our spirit-awareness with our bodily experience. 

The reasons people believe in Gods and spirits so readily is easy enough to understand. It's because we are spirits ourselves, and as spirits we are intuitively aware that our true source is spiritual in nature, the product of an immense and overwhelming love by the very Force and Power that creates and give life to all things, both material and spiritual. There's a scientific effort to explain our belief in Gods and spirits through evolutionary neurobiology, which entertains the notion that our brains and nervious systems contain the capacity for an imaginative error to see things which are not there, and to impose the sense of an entity upon these interior neurological sensations. I have to say, this scientific explanation is actually close to the truth, but no cigar. There is in fact a neurological origin to this belief in Gods and spirits, but it is based in the reality that Gods and spirits actually exist, that we ourselves are spirits, and that our connection to this world through our own bodies is that of a spirt entering into symbiotic conjunction with a physical body. As problems arise within that neurological connection, it's easy to become confused and disturbed, and to imagine that some kind of "spirit" is causing the problem, even that there are evil spirits causing all kinds of problems for us, and that the nature of the cosmos is some kind of struggle between good spirits and evil spirits, with us poor humans stuck in the middle between heaven and earth, or even heaven and hell. 

The reality is that there are no spirits trying to interfere with or negatively influence the process of our life - except, of course, the spirits of other humans who are likewise trying to incarnate in this world, and who become confused and frustrated in the process. That frustration can lead to many very poor choices, as we can see all around us. Some of those choices are violent and cruel, and what we often call evil. And yet, frustration and difficulty are simply a natural part of the long struggle to incarnate in the physical worlds, which we engage in over many lifetimes, with many patterns built up in our spiritual psyches which have to be overcome over time. These patterns are what the Hindus call "karmas", or vasanas, the tendencies of attention. It's a mistake to think of karmas some kind of list of good and bad acts we have done in our past lives. There is no such scorecard, no Santa Claus keeping track of our deeds. Instead, there is simply a complex pattern in our own spiritual bodies, a literal built in set of connections we have tried to grow over time that enable us to function through human physical bodies, and which reflect the past disturbances we have created in previous attempts to incarnate. This governs how and why we will incarnate in various sets of bodies, sometimes as a way of accentuating the patterns in our spirit, at other times to overcome problems we have developed over many lives. The overall goal is simply to create a clean and pure spirit who can connect cleanly and purely to a human body without introducing aberated patterns of mind and body to either side of the equation. Clearly, this is much more diffficult than we can probably imagine.. It does indeed require purification of old patterns, even what we might call "evil" patterns, but this is no different in kind from taking a bath or a colonic to wash the dirt and filth from our souls and bodies. 

In other words, there is no sense of "punishment" going on in the universe. Karma is not about giving bad people bad experiences and good people good experiences. Good people may require bad experiences to grow, and bad people may require good experiences to grow. The Hitlers and serial killers of the world do not go to hell to burn for eternity, or even a long time. They go through purifications to be sure, but so do we all. Their future lives are not ones of guaranteed torment until they pay for their sins, their future lives are not terribly different from our own, they get what they need to learn their appropriate lessons and grow the proper spiritual capacities to connect rightly to their future bodies. 

One must recognize that the physical world is an innocent place. Even though all things die here, or even get eaten by other creatures, there is nothing evil at work. The Ebola Virus, which human beings might consider evil, is merely an organism trying to survive like every other. It has no evil origin or intent. It just happens that human beings have almost no immunity to it. Nothing about that is evil. Smallpox isn't evil either. Evil is something that can only be associated with human beings because of their aberated spiritual relationship to the body and the world. As I've said, we are not really here, this is not our home, and so human beings feel an intense sense of alienation and disturbance in the mere existential dilemma of being alive. This is something that animals don't generally experience, and I would expect that many alien races of intelligent beings don't feel either. It's not natural for the human bodily organism to feel that way, and it wouldn't if it weren't for the fact that our bodies entertain these unique reincarnational spirits through their minds from birth to death. We don't feel ourselves to be a part of nature because we are not, we are "aliens" of a kind here. That is why we divide the world into "natural" and "man-made". It's intuitively obvious to us that we humans are not of this world, are not a natural part of the material world,. and that we are something quite different in nature from most everything here. And yet, of course, we can't actually see anything around us, or in our bodies, which confirms this feeling, which makes us feel even more disturbed. We imagine we must be crazy sometimes, that we are just imagining all these problems and should simply stop looking for metaphysical explanations, that it's all just a matter of evolutionary glitches in our brains. Or we imagine that some God put us here to fulfill a plan we can't even begin to comprehend, which isn't far from the truth, but the actual truth eludes us, because we don't know where to look for the answers. 

It's a wonder that human beings get anything done at all. It would be much easier for us, I think, if we could comprehend just the simple basics of what how this life of ours is structured, rather than operating upon some half-assed sense of ourselves that never quite comes together as a genuine vision of life. Even the atheistic secular vision, which in many respects is a justified reaction to all our internal delusions, a way of rejecting them all and settling for what it hopes will be a healthy attitude of "don't know" or "don't care" about metaphysical issues - even that can't genuinely provide a healthy vision of life, simply because it also rejects the simple, basic fact of our being spirits incarnating through bodies. One doesn't actually have to believe much of anything about religion to simply acknowledge this. One need only pay attention to one's own mind and awareness for any significant period of time, and one will begin to see where we are coming from. The existential fact of our spiritual awareness doesn't go away simply because we stop believing in heavens and hells and angels and demons. The realities of our lives demand that we address this central experience, because it defines us as both spirits and as human beings. Unless we do create a conscious life around this spiritual vision of ourselves, we are bound to live it unconsciously, and thus create more troubles than we resolve. 

One good thing that I think is beginning to develop in our culture is the rudimentary capacity to actually be conscious of ourselves as spiritual beings, as a spiritual awareness that we are bringing into this world by the mere facts of our birth. There is a growing capacity to actually become aware of ourselves as we are, and to answer many of the most basic questions about human existence, things which have plagued humanity for thousands of years at the very least. I am not even talking about the esoteric understanding of non-dual reality, I am merely speaking of the basic understanding of spiritual reality, which is a necessary foundation for anything further. I'll be getting to that higher, non-dual understanding further down the line, but for right now I just one to emphasize the very basic matters of human life that are so often overlooked or not taking seriously, both by ordinary religious and secular people, and even by many non-dualists themselves. 

Tomorrow I think I'll write about the question of death, and what comes after we have left this material world. That should be fun.


Losing M. Mind said...

I thought, that what you are writing here is grand and sort of amazing in scope. I can't even say I agree or disagree. Because in human life, it does seem that the life is moved by forces that are greater then it, perhaps they could be called spirits. And it seems to me like things like prayer or as you call them appeals work. And who knows, maybe some shamans were jnanis. But it really isn't a matter of agreement or disagreement, what you write you here is profound in scope, and direct and honest.

Randy said...

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant!

Anonymous said...

I concur that evil is subjective and not innate. But that doesn't change the fact that a lot of things can harm you, physically and mentally. Obviously, fighting off "evil" is not our ultimate goal. But it is a necessary process not only for survival but also for spiritual growth, experience, and even sustenance.

As for evil spirits, I'm afraid I disagree in significant levels. If I'm correct you are a Yogi who believe in spirits, so you should probably know the many realms theory (astral, mental, causal, etc). Basically I believe there are many realms of matter and what we know as reincarnation is just a migration of a subtle body from one physical body to the next.

These realms are not clear cut into pure spirit and pure matter. I get the sense though that you believe in a realm of pure spirit. I do to, in a way, but it is obscure and it is not so much our home as our... well, being.

This is a side comment, forgive me if I'm wrong, but you seem to assume that we're spiritually free to go home after death. I disagree. Freedom of spirit requires spiritual work and dying doesn't do it for you.

Digressions aside, there are subtle matter souls who need subtle matter sustenance and for that they have enough incentive to cause you harm, just like in the physical world. I don't think you can just ignore them though it's easy to do so since you don't see them. Just like viruses. They aren't inherently evil, some are simply misguided, but that doesn't mean their harm is an illusion with no effects.

As for alienation and feeling home, that is a very personal thing and has nothing to do with spirit. Some people feel very much at home with certain virtual settings such as online games or tv shows. If you are feeling alienated from this planet, it means you're not playing the game you want to play. Bluntly put, that is your problem. Not that of entire humankind.