Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 11: The Negatives > Chapter 1: Their Nature
There is that in man which repeatedly works against his finer aspirations, which provides him with opposition. Upon this anvil his character is hammered out, shaped, and developed.
So soon as a being limits interests and welfare to its own self exclusively, so soon is it bound to come into conflict with other beings. Thus evil originates through the first being's ignorance, not through the presence of an absolute and eternal principle of evil.
Where there is total ignorance there is total self-love. From this proceed all negativity, sensuality, indulgence, and discord. Where there is total knowledge there is total turning to the eternal IS. From this proceed harmony, positivity, goodwill. Where hate and cruelty come to excess, there is denial of the divine principle and reversal of the twofold truth. Where attention and attraction are partly turned to the THAT WHICH IS, there is sharing of mind and will between good and evil.
The universal pretense of evil to be good and the occasional presence of some good in most evil create confusion or bewilderment in many minds and lead to wrong judgement in other minds. Is there any absolute way of distinguishing good from evil? The Russian Staretz Silouan, of Mount Athos, thought there was--that however good an end might seem, if the means used to attain it was bad, then it was to be rejected. It is easy for us to see that falsehood intended to lead others to act against their own welfare could be such a bad means, as also could malicious cruelty.
Not to see the world as it is, with all its depravity and malice, is to be a fool, even if one happens to be a saint as well. The philosopher, like the ordinary man, sees its actuality but, unlike the ordinary man, is not stained by it. Moreover, he sees also the goodness and aspiration and, more importantly, the divine World-Idea.
Evil is something which man encounters on his journey to Good. Evil-doing is what he expresses when still far from his destination.
It is true that evil forces do exist but not true that they exist on the highest level. Insight into the ultimate sees them not.
Evil is certainly present, plain to sight and unpleasant to experience; but it is not altogether, nor only, what it seems. It is really an appearance, and reconcilable with the benign source of good.
Why is history such a record of wars, oppressions, exploitations, invasions, and persecutions? Why have all the saviours, avatars, prophets, and saints succeeded only with individual men here and there, not with the mass of mankind? Is the religious dream of universal goodness nothing more than a dream? It is not a help but a self-deception to ignore the double polarity of existence, the yin-and-yang in the universe, the shadow-self in man. Only outside of religion, in the philosophic realm of ultimate being, the Unique, the Real, where the entire world itself is cast out, can we talk of friction-free consciousness, and only in the deepest meditation can we share it. Although the experience is a temporary one, the peace in it so passes the understanding that "the kingdom of heaven" is its fit name. Here indeed is the Good raised to its highest degree. Here is a demonstration that human evil is but privation of good.
What may be true on the ultimate level--the non-existence of evil, the reality of the Good, the True, the Beautiful--becomes false on the level of duality. Here the twofold powers, the opposites, do exist, do hold the world in their sway. To deny relative evil here is to confuse different planes of being.
The man who would deliberately harm his fellows for his own ends is a sinner.
Evil arises only when an entity goes astray into the delusions of separateness and materialism, and thence into conflict with other entities. There is no ultimate and eternal principle of evil, but there are forces of evil, unseen entities who have gone so far astray and are so powerful in themselves that they work against goodness, truth, and justice. But by their very nature such entities are doomed to eventual destruction, and even their work of opposition is utilized for good in the end and becomes the resistance against which evolution tests its own achievements, the grindstone against which it sharpens man's intelligence, the mirror in which it shows him his flaws.
The lower nature is incurably hostile to the higher one. It prefers its fleeting joys with their attendant miseries, its ugly sins with their painful consequences, because this spells life to it.
Everything and everyone has a negative side. One could fill up a lifetime looking for and finding it. One could go on grumbling, criticizing, ranting, and hating. But there is also the positive and opposite side. The philosophical attitude seeks deeper, keeps calmer, for it finds equilibrium on another plane.
The descent from faith in Holy Spirit to faith in unholy spirits happens to those who are either too weak to remain at such a high altitude or too incapable of rising from a sensate view of existence.
Evil can take every form, even that of the guru, the quest, and the learner.
Some years ago someone asked me, "What about absolute evil?" The answer is this: with Confucius we say that sin is due to ignorance, and with Pythagoras that evil is due to the absence of good. Ignorance leads to selfishness, and extreme ignorance leads to extreme selfishness, which in turn leads to extreme evil. Now, all these are relative conditions and pass away in time as the person learns his lessons through the series of experiences and corrects his mistakes during the reincarnations. There cannot be an absolute evil because there is only one Absolute Power, one God, one Supreme Being; and it is this which inspires the highest goodness known to man when he discovers its presence, through the Overself, in his heart. In that sense only I said there was an absolute good. The pairs of opposites exist only in the finite, relative, and limited world. There is no opposite to the Supreme Power in the timeless and infinite world, no Satan with whom God is in everlasting conflict. But, on its own level, Mind knows neither good nor bad. There is only IS-ness.
It seems that there is evil in the world, but why? What bad men have done is to let their evil grow like a noxious weed too large and their good too little, whereas good men have cultivated a high proportion of goodness. There is no absolute evil. It is truer to talk of absolute good for that is there first. Why? Because God is there first. Men came later and broke the divine laws little by little. They created their own evil consequences. Or for different reasons they harm others and have later to suffer for˙it.
When the good is absent the evil is present. The cynic who denies the existence of the good, the dreamer who denies the existence of the evil--each ignores the other half of life as evidenced in history and in the world around him.
A cultivated man of taste and feeling can find much that is beautiful in nature and art; and if he is also a moral idealist, he will find much that is good and virtuous in human life and experience. But it would be incomplete to stop there and ignore the fact that there is also around us much that is base, dark, and even evil. The two sides put together form a complete observation. But it is only the mystics and the philosophers who can see--because it requires a deeper penetration than the intellect and the senses can give--that the dark side deals with the world of appearances, a world which is fleeting and ephemeral, whereas the good side and the beautiful side is merely a hint of that other world closer to Reality.
Evil is a very real problem in this world of time and space. Evil forces exist and must be fought with all our strength. Nevertheless the Power out of which all things and all entities come is a beneficent one. Love is its radiation. There is no evil and no pain in it. They begin only on the lower levels of separation and differentiation.
Philosophy does not agree with the doctrine that man can sink into oblivion permanently. If man's fundamental nature, however hidden it be, is essentially immaterial and of the same stuff as divinity, where can he sink back to except to that self-same divinity? The mystery of evil is perhaps the profoundest of all but it cannot be understood through surface views. Evil is closely connected with suffering and the latter in its turn with karma, which again is itself an expression of the fundamental self. It is all an educative process from which nobody can escape--not even Satan himself were there such a personal devil, which philosophy does not admit, although there are evil spirits, evil beings, and evil men. All will be saved because when seen from the timeless viewpoint they are already saved. The great mass of humanity are moving in the right direction, despite appearances to the contrary, and they shall enter the kingdom of heaven one day. Do not doubt that; the guarantee is that they are in their hidden selves already divine.
No man is beyond redemption for no man is utterly evil.
The problem of evil must be considered in the light of various factors. One of these is standpoint; one man's evil is another man's good. Another is karma; the individual has enough latitude to go to the dogs but has to suffer from the consequences of his acts. Then there is the question of rebirth. It seems impossible for human beings to be reborn as animals but Nature has made some provision for it. Then the ethical value of suffering must be considered. But most important of all are the questions of the nature of God, His relation to the universe and to humanity, and the purpose, if any, which is being worked out.
When a man commits an act of violence and destruction against other men, he is denounced and punished as a criminal. But when Nature commits such an act and maims or kills a mass of people, God is not denounced. Instead, poet and priest search for some excuse, find some hidden good intention, for God's reputation for goodness must be saved.
If the forces of evolution or laws of nature, as the expression of the World-Mind, have evoked the World-Idea and with it the possibilities of evil, we must unflinchingly accept the logical conclusion. This is that the World-Mind certainly permits the presence of Evil, allows and does not hinder its actuality. Nevertheless, we should always couple with this admission the equal and attendant truth that there is a higher outcome from the working of evil, a nobler purpose in its actuality. Through the operations of the law of recompense and the pressures of divine evolution it is transmuted into good. Evil has nowhere else to turn in the end except to turn itself into good!
To accept God as the source of this universe but to reject God as the source of those things contained in the universe which we dislike, is to deny God. Because we humans dislike evil and suffering, we separate them from God. But when we do that we separate ourselves from God.
The good and the bad are all part of the world-picture, although their proportions vary as the time-wheel turns around.
It is the function of such opposing forces, environments, or persons to compel him to negotiate them properly, or suffer the consequences.
It would be a totally unobservant or totally theoretic person who denied the presence of evil, but it would be an ill-informed one who did not perceive that its life and power are circumscribed.
I hope I shall not be misunderstood for saying that I saw clearly how the physical expression of evil is a necessary prerequisite to the spiritual redemption from evil. For what the sinner does is after all only an outcome of what he thinks. If the doing of wrong actions will, by the higher law of recompense, bring him ultimately the physical punitive consequences of those actions, they will also bring him--and again ultimately--the thought that the two are inseparably connected together. This is a step--admittedly only a first step--toward that repentance and that purification which make redemption possible.
The notion that the God-Power is engaged in a desperate struggle with an evil power, that God calls on man to give his help and that the outcome of this warfare depends to any extent on such help--this notion is a ridiculous one.
My experience of life and observation of others have taught me that there is no situation in which you will find good alone present without some concomitant evil. To look for undiluted good is utopian, unrealistic, and self-deceptive.
The awful fact of innate evil, the hideous mystery of innate sin, must be recognized and faced. We cannot make bad men into good men; but Nature, Life, with millions of years at her disposal, can.
Evil arises where the good is still undeveloped from its latency, but sometimes it is the distortion of the good.
We will understand this problem better when we understand that the presence of good and evil in the universe does not signify a division of power but a division of thought.
Thought is the cause; thought is the cure.
Satan can pretend to be an Angel of Light. There are adepts in evil who hide their real aim behind an outward show of altruistic purpose.
These secret purposes disguise themselves in a convenient form, and if no other is convenient they will even use some open purpose which stands in total opposition to them. They emerge in the most unlikely and unlooked-for places.
The evil in human relations springs from the ignorance in human beings. As each one brings the principle of truth into his own consciousness, he brings it into his relation with others as a result. The love which accompanies it denies birth to cruelty, anger, and lust or dissolves any which already exist.
Although it is perfectly true that divine goodness is at the heart of things, it is no less true that demonic evil is on the surface of things. The followers of simple cults which stubbornly try to see only the goodness and not the evil, which deny things as they are and indulge wishful thinking, have themselves and their leaders to blame when disaster awakens them to the errors in the map they are following. They would do better to arouse themselves, while there is yet time, to keep a soundly balanced attitude, neither falling over to one side or the other overmuch, yet always remembering that superphysical experience between the incarnations is disproportionately good and free from evil, by contrast with physical plane experience.
Let us not insult human reason by denying human evil.
In any universal arrangement or personal situation, there is either gross disorder, with its consequent turmoil trouble and suffering, or there is real order, with its harmonious co-operation with the divine will working outward from the divine centre--be it man's heart or the sun's rays.
The great ills (miscalled evils) of bodily life, such as disease and poverty, are often forced upon him by an implacable fate. But it would be a delusion to class them always with the great evils of mental life, such as hate and cruelty. For their control is frequently beyond his power, and their course may have to be endured, whereas sinful thoughts and their resultant deeds are not independent of his control and may be avoided.
When right principles, theories, or concepts are taken up by the wrong persons, they become wrong themselves--because misused, falsified, perverted.
Suffering is not always an evil. It is often educative. All evil is then seen to spring from separativeness, which is a stage inevitable to all creatures as they follow the line of unfoldment. Evil therefore is the adverse element in Nature. Man can conquer it in his mind by conquering separativeness and realizing the All as himself. At the same time he discovers that the whole creation is really a mental one, hence like but not the same as a dream; and if he keeps awake to the Static Reality whilst in the midst of the earthly dream, the whole world becomes merely a school for educating consciousness. Then suffering, evil, and the like are transient aspects leaving permanent results.
The wedding of heaven and earth can never be brought about, since the Perfect and the Imperfect are incompatibles. But they can be brought into some sort of equilibrium, into better balance, so that life in the world would not be as bad as it is.
Those who ignorantly believe that God needs their help to ensure his triumph over evil in this world, have yet to learn that this triumph has been eternally accomplished already. The human being who can affect this situation either by helping or hindering does not exist.
It is a disturbing concept which holds that man's goodness seldom becomes actualized without the presence of, and struggle against, man's evil.
If men engaged themselves more in asking not "What is good and what is evil?" but rather "What is the Highest Good?" the first question would get itself answered automatically and peace would then follow anyway.
When the evil in man is washed out, he will find in all its goodness the original stuff of which he is made--beneficent to all, a joy to himself.
But because we affirm that the powers of evil will destroy themselves in the end, this must not be mistaken to mean that we may all sit down in smug complacency. We ought not to make this an excuse for inaction. On the contrary, it should inspire us to stronger efforts to preserve the noblest things in life from their attack.
Burke may have over-weighted his judgement by applying it to all cases, but there is still plenty of substance in it when he declared: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
The night's darkness shelters the evil forces, the sun's brightness tells us where the divine ones are centralized.
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