Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Our two aspects of good and evil.
All of us are, unintentionally, duplicitous. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn allegedly responded to the suggestion of drawing a line, on one side of which were placed all the good people and on the other all of the evil, by saying, in that case the line would go down the center of us all. His specific quote was, “The battle-line between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.” This wisdom is without question true. There is both good and evil in everyone.

The Lankavatara Sutra (a Mahayana favorite of Bodhidharma) addressed the issue of one vs. another with this: “In this world whose nature is like a dream, there is place for praise and blame, but in the ultimate Reality of Dharmakāya (our true primordial mind of wisdom) which is far beyond the senses and the discriminating mind, what is there to praise?” The Dharmakāya goes by various names, all of which are meager attempts at defining our ineffable nature. An alternate handle (perhaps more familiar) is indiscriminate, unconditional non-applied consciousness: the realm of ultimate reality. That is the core of us all that “…is far beyond the senses and the discriminating mind.” Here there is neither good nor evil since that realm is unconditional.

However, we live as well in a conditional wold where there is plenty of judgmental of good vs. evil. The root may be hidden but the branches are not and praise and blame flourish. It is only when we awaken to this truth that we understand the difference between the two. The notion of dependent origination/relativity is the natural manifestation of emptiness (Śūnyatā: emptiness, another name for the Dharmakāya), which states that nothing contains intrinsic substance. Instead reality exists in two, inseparable aspects at once. Nagarjuna labeled these aspects “conventional” and the “ultimate.” His understanding was laid out in his “Two Truth Doctrine,” where he taught the difference between the two. He said that we must, by necessity, use the conditional/conventional truth to fathom ultimate truth. Conventional means are words and other communication methods and the ultimate can’t be framed because it is beyond form of any kind. Nevertheless without words (which are admittedly abstract reflections), there is no way of communicating about ultimate truths beyond words. That is what takes place every time I make a post: I speak about matters beyond words and form

The second, and most important part of his teaching is that while we must discern these two truths conventionally, unless we experience the ultimate, we will never be free. Instead we will remain lost in the sea of conventional abstraction yet firmly persuaded that there is nothing beyond “the senses and the discriminating mind.”

Having defined these two aspects there is a danger of dogmatism, which the Buddha warned against with his teaching on expedient means—upaya-kausalya: actions measured and dictated by unfolding and unanticipated circumstances. Here Voltaire and Nagarjuna are in agreement: 

“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”—Voltaire
“Buddhas say emptiness is relinquishing opinions. Believers in emptiness are incurable.”—Nagarjuna

The key to a meaningful life is to hold these two aspects of reality in balance and most importantly to act “as if” your neighbor is your Self, with kindness and empathy, most particularly when it seems difficult.

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