Hello everyone,

I hope you have all been doing well. If you are well, then there isn't really much more you need.

Behind the mask of evil

There is no such thing as good, there is no such thing as evil. At least not in the way many of us believe.

We sentient beings want nothing more than to live happily in the world. All of our actions are simply a means to this.

We just want everything to be alright. We act in the way we believe will get there. When we behave in a way that perpetuates the suffering of ourselves and others, we are simply making a mistake.

In the Hindu Epic the Ramayana, the ten-headed demon Ravana is the embodiment of cruelty in this world. At the climax of the story, it is revealed that at the bottom of it all he is a good person who simply doesn't know any better.

I have never read the Ramayana. I have only heard this part mentioned by Sam Harris in his four part debate with Jordan Peterson.

Jordan argues for the centrality of the struggle between good and evil in our circumstance and justifies this by talking about all religions make this division.

Sam responds simply: They don't all do this.

While the western traditions tend to make this divide, the eastern view is that the real split is between wisdom and ignorance. What we call evil is simply not knowing any better or as Sam puts it:

"Evil is the ignorance of all the well-being you and others would experience if you behaved another way."

In my view, we all simply want to be happy in this world. We all just want everything to be okay. Everything we do is simply a way of getting there.

Behind every seemingly evil individual is the child that grew into them, underneath the mask of cruelty is a person — like you — that just wants to be happy.

To hate a person, to believe that badness is an innate quality to them, that they deserve to suffer is absurd.

We are the way we are entirely due to events in our past beyond our control. It is luck that divides us. I have written about this already:

On Radical Compassion
Hatred. Anger. Jealousy. These are all forms of suffering. These are all mentaldefilements. It is in your own interest to banish these demons from your mind.Even from a purely selfish point of view, it can be said that there are someemotions we would truly be better off without. It’s simply not f…

A haze of concepts

This week I read the hagiography Enlightened Vagabond by the wonderful Matthieu Ricard. It details the life story of the legendary nineteenth-century Tibetan yogin Patrul Rinpoche.

The entire book is presented in the form of a sequence of anecdotes depicting various encounters and events through his life.

Patrul Rinpoche was quite the character, to put it mildly. He rejected all worldly pleasures and lived simply as a wandering mendicant in the forests and mountains. He often concealed his identity wherever he went, finding his fame and status as a legendary master to be a burden. When he was offered gifts of gold, silver and jewellery he would reject them outright. When not given the choice, he would reluctantly accept them only to leave them there on the ground.

Allow me to share some choice excerpts:

Patrul often pointed out the uselessness of worldly concerns and the inherently unsatisfactory nature of samsara. In particular, he emphasized the never-ending problems that came with owning possessions, saying;

"Don't you get it? If you've got money, you've got money problems. If you have a house, you have house problems. If you have yaks, you have yak problems. If you have goats, you have goat problems!"

A learned Geshe (a high ranking scholar) was in town and wanted to debate the renowned Mipham Rinpoche. He made his way in the direction of Dzachukha where Mipham was staying, and it occurred to him to find some lesser scholars from his school to practice debating on.

He asked the local people if they knew anyone well-versed enough in philosophy for him to debate. They pointed to a hut on the outskirts of town where Patrul was staying.

Patrul's attendant found out about this and warned him. Expecting a fuss, Patrul prepared for his visitor...

The Geshe knocks on the door of Patrul... and nothing happens!

He continues to knock, again and again, getting louder... to no avail!

The then takes the initiative to open the door for himself. He sees Patrul lying on the bed the wrong way, with his sheepskin coat laying over him inside out.

"Why are you lying that way? Can't you tell the head of a bed from the foot?"

"Dear lama, you're not very good at logic. The head of my bed is where my head is. The foot of the bed is where I place my feet."

"Odd of you to wear your sheepskin coat inside out, with the fur on the outside and not on the inside."

"I'm wearing the fur on the outside and the skin on the inside — just the very same way the sheep do!"

Patrul then defeated the Geshe in debate with ease.

There is no way you are supposed to lie on the bed. There is no way you are supposed to don a fur jacket. These are simply conventions. We created them for our own benefit but when we take them to be real they become a cause for suffering. The rules we pin onto ourselves and others are the same. As are the labels of good and evil.

The concepts of right and wrong, virtue and vice or good and evil as we know them are potent causes for unnecessary suffering in the world. Rather than viewing life as a struggle against the bad, we should view it as a problem-solving process. We should be learning about how to live happily in the world and helping each other do so.

We all want to be happy. Rather than compete against one another for a resource that is already in our minds, we could work together to learn about how we can all experience more of it.

Thank you for reaching the end of another letter, I hope you enjoyed it.

Please feel free to send me a reply and let me know what you thought. I would love to hear from you.

Until next time,