Good and Evil
by Harold Stewart
The problem of good and evil is created by regarding the two terms in which it is propounded as absolutes, when they are in truth relative to viewpoint and context and vary according to natural circumstances, social conventions, and personal conscience in different periods and cultures. The world of experience cannot be regarded as either good or evil, but only both at once, inextricably mixed in a paradoxical dilemma, which we must live through and transcend. Only then, as with a Zen koan, can we discover the answer, which resides on a higher plane than either of the insoluble alternatives that the problem presents. The Buddha alone is above good and evil, yet can work to rescue and enlighten mankind directly through what our human morality regards as good and indirectly through what we consider bad. To give an example from contemporary history of the ironical folly of evil that would abolish the Dharma: the Chinese Communists, having stamped out Buddhism in Tibet with genocidal atrocities and cultural vandalism, have merely succeeded in spreading the Vajrayana wherever refugees from their persecution have settled throughout the world!
But while the Buddha transcends the moral opposites, which from his ultimate viewpoint are illusory, we ignorant human beings are light-years away from his Enlightenment and cannot dispense with shila, his ethical precepts, for our spiritual training, and even more for our social life, in which good and evil still battle for supremacy. But here prudence is required, for to champion good and combat evil is often to strengthen the enemy and prolong the conflict. It will be recalled that the Buddha conquered Mara, the personification of evil, by his masterly non-action. He became the Buddha by steadfastly refusing either to act or not to act in response to the torments of Mara's distracting demons or to the temptations of his seductive daughters. For action only arouses reaction, revolution and protest provoke resistance and retaliation, according to the law of karma. But 'by non-action', as Lao-tzu realized, 'there is nothing that cannot be accomplished'.
Thus the Traditional Far Eastern wisdom is to withhold critical condemnation and to accept tentatively and for the time being whatever existence has to offer, just as it is; then to wait in patient detachment to see how it is going to develop; and finally to act in harmony with nature, just as the supple bamboo bends gently in the wind and recovers when it has passed. Such non-action transcends both action and inaction. It acts always without partisan bias and wishful regard to the fruits.