Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Understanding Understanding Evil


What is it? Where does it come from? It seems to be one of those irreducible concepts that we cannot do without, despite the mockery of sophisticated leftists who would like to eliminate it from our vocabulary as an outmoded barbarism (except as it applies to rubes such as President Bush who believe it exists). Here again, through a sleight of language, the left thinks it can make an unpleasant reality go away. In fact, the greatest evils in the history of mankind were committed by thoroughly secularized communists and nazis who would have scoffed at the idea that evil exists except in purely expedient sense.

But human beings cannot help thinking in terms of good and evil, any more than they can help themselves from thinking in terms of true and false, even if they are not unsophisticated enough to believe that Truth exists. The problem, of course, is that human beings believe many things to be true that cannot possibly be true. Likewise, they have little difficulty reconciling themselves to evil and calling it good.

One of the things that turned me toward religion is that it presents such a vastly more sophisticated ontology than any secular philosophy. I will be the first to admit that this came as a total surprise to me. In initially pursuing the spiritual life, I was not looking for “knowledge.” Nor, for that matter, was I looking for anything along the lines of “eternal life.”

Rather, I was looking for an “experience” to which countless sages, saints and mystics had testified down through the centuries. This well-documented experience goes by various names--moksha, samadhi, nirvana, enlightenment, etc.--and is simply one of the modes available to humans, like falling in love.

But the windbag bloweth where it listeth, and I was gradually drawn down a slightly different path, I suppose based upon my own inner inclinations and potentials. This is in keeping with the spirit of yoga, which identifies at least five distinctly different forms, each suited to a different temperament: hatha yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga, and raja yoga. In my case, I began with raja yoga--the yoga of meditation--but I am apparently more of a jnani, which is the yoga of wisdom, metaphysical knowledge and discernment.

I probably shouldn’t even say that, because it is for others to determine for themselves whether there is any wisdom or knowledge in what I write about. However, I can describe what it feels like to me, because it is both very distinctive, and, as I said, very unexpected.

I can’t remember exactly when it was, but it was about a decade ago. After years of what I would call mere intellectual study, it was as if I had suddenly crossed some kind of threshold, and I understood in a different way. What is interesting to me is that this didn’t involve any kind of advance in learning or knowledge, but an apparent advance--or at least alteration--in understanding. In other words, not a change in content, but a change in form, very much analogous to the way Piaget describes the cognitive changes a child goes through as they move from developmental stage to stage. You can pour all the knowledge in the world into a concrete operations child, but they will understand it in an entirely different way once they move into formal operations.

For me, the spiritual life has been exactly like that. Esotericism represents a kind of “pure” understanding that is anterior to what is understood. Since you “understand,” you might well ask the question, “what is the nature of that which is understood?” In other words, is it possible to deeply understand something that doesn’t really exist? Think about that for a moment. To make it easier, shift over to the material realm.

Take the example of Einstein. In 1903 (or thereabouts) he had a deep insight into the nature of physical reality. He “saw” something no one else had seen, but this wasn’t a case of mere “seeing.” Rather, he deeply understood. Having understood, he knew that what he understood could not possibly be wrong, even though he understood something quite counterintuitive--even impossible, based on then current models of reality--and it took another two decades or so for his understanding to be empirically confirmed and to become knowledge that was widely available to others, so that they too might understand in a more conventional way.

Thus, the leading edge of Einstein’s discoveries was a sort of pure understanding.

I think the process is more or less identical with spiritual understanding, although the entire enterprise is fraught with many more hazards because of the more exact nature of mathematical language as opposed to spiritual language. The horizontal realm deals with quantities, whereas the vertical realm deals with qualities, or degrees of being. Plus, the vertical axis has an above and a below, and more often than not, the above becomes contaminated by, or thoroughly conflated with, the below. The history of religion proves this time and again. Many religious thinkers, panties be upon them, are almost pure below.

Spiritual knowing is a kind of vision, but obviously not of the sensual kind. One doesn’t “see” a different world, any more than Einstein literally saw subatomic particles in his day-to-day life. However, with any kind of real knowledge--even scientific or psychological knowledge--one sees the multiplicity and relativity of the world, but at the same time sees through and beyond the world in its metaphysical transparency. Something shines through, in the same way that the unconscious leaks out for one trained to observe it, or the noetic light shines through a great painting or piece of music.

Science is the religion of the ultimate object. Religion is the science of the ultimate Subject. Science studies the world in order to understand it. Esotericism understands the world in order to study it. Science begins at the center--the mysterious and unexplainable human subject--and extends its search to the periphery of the cosmos, to all the of the minute ramifications of multiplicity. Each edge or strand of multiplicity represents a department or discipline of science. I suppose this is why my mind is so undisciplined. To be a disciple of the One, it must be.

Spirituality begins at the periphery and moves back toward the center, toward a more general synthesis, which is another word for understanding. For to understand means to reduce a multiplicity to a unity. It is Truth as opposed to truth, the latter of which pertains only to the periphery. Truth is the unity of truths. It is what “sets you free” when you realize it, because it liberates you in the vertical, giving you a new perspective on the horizontal.

Again, to my everlasting surprise, the languages of various authentic religious traditions turned out to be vehicles of intellection for higher Truth. By imaginatively dwelling in their systems of thought, they reveal themselves to be windows to heaven, or transmitters of interior vision.

This itself introduces a profound mystery, that is, how is it possible for so-called ancient scriptures written by ignorant men to have this capacity--not the outward knowledge they contain, which is often an irrelevant distraction to the uninitiated--but the inner guidance and pneumatic trajectory they provide? Understood literally and exoterically, religion often doesn’t make a lot of sense to the modern mind. But what if we’re missing the point? What if religion is trying to facilitate not knowledge, but pure understanding?

This is one of the adverse consequences of the Enlightenment mentality that has been bequeathed to us--that is, a bleaching of the distinction between intellection and intellectualism, wisdom and knowledge, thought and understanding. It is with these distinctions in mind that we can move on to an analysis of the ontological status of evil.

Which I suppose will have to wait until tomorrow, because this little overture has turned into an overchore that has probably already taxed the reader. But in the next few days, I would like to look at the issue of evil from the Jewish, Christian, and Vedantic standpoints, and see if they do indeed provide any kind of useful understanding in the sense discussed above.


Will said...

Morning, Bob -

Brace for a coming compliment, please. Just a moment of pain, then it will be over:

If there ever was an enlightened guy, it was J Krishnamurti. After some mythic struggles with his own ego and with the people who were attempting to shape him into World Buddha Two, he spent most of his life crisscrossing the world, giving talks on what enlightenment means. His epic spirituality was not in doubt but many of those (of the few) in the gnosis believed that he ultimately failed because - well, K was what, in esoteric terminology, is called a 4th degree Initiate who spoke in such a way to 1st degree Initiates (if that) that it would take at least a 2nd degree Initiate to comprehend.

In other words, the vast majority of those who heard K speak couldn't understand him; moreover, they couldn't understand in what way they couldn't understand him. It may have been that K's necessarily delicate physical/mental condition took a pounding when he engaged with the world as it is, so he chose to remain basically dis-engaged. You know, one of those bodhivistas who basically choose *not* to be reborn so as to help bring enlightenment to the world.

You, on the other hand, take the time to limn the issue so that at very least a reader gets a pretty good idea of what he or she is missing re spiritual understanding. This is very good, in the I-cannot-over-emphasize-the-importance-of sense.

There, that wasn't so bad, was it?

Gagdad Bob said...

There was definitely a disconnect there. I believe it is well understood that Krishnamurti did not "transmit" a single student. Apparently, one cannot skip planes. It is enough to work on establishing a little beachhead in the next higher one.

Benedict S. said...

I feel the ancients were trying to explain something to themselves. It's not their explanations that seem meaningful, but the urge that drove them to want to know. That "unrestricted desire to know" has never changed.

jwm said...

On what Will said:
Much of the material here on the blog and in Bob's book (which I did finish)is just a few degrees off the horizon of my comprehension. It's a continual reach, and I often feel like I'm running three steps behind and a little out of breath trying to keep up.
Usually when I find myself in this position I just drop the material. I figure if a guy can't say what he has to say in such a way that I can understand it, than the fault lies with the writer and not me. Maybe that's lazy or arrogant, or a little of both. But I have to have the feeling somewhere that my investment of effort will be paid off with interest.

And here the continual reaching doesn't discourage my interest; it piques it. I keep coming back for more.

I used to hold the idea that good and evil were somehow analagous to heat and cold in physiscs. That is- there is heat (warmth) or the absence of heat(cold).
I figured good and evil were the same- that evil was merely an absence of goodness.
After 9/11 I had to rethink that. You know how the Weekly World News always has those corny pictures: "Satan's face seen in smokey cloud". With 9/11 something like that actually happened. That horror opened a window into another dimension, and at that moment I saw not evil, as human wickedness, But Evil, as an active agency, a supernatural presence openly opposed to to the Will of God.
Not everyone saw it, but I'll go out on a limb here, and bet that everyone who visits this blog did. And I think we have all had the experience of talking to people who simply did not get it. Or if they did get it, they started looking at the implications and just changed the channel so to speak. Because the implications are as unsettling as the Evil is frightening.


Will said...

JWM - yeah, saw the pix. I think if one of them in particular - the one in the billowing flame, not the smoke - was genuine, it makes pretty good sense. I think the root of Evil lies in the primal, forever unsublimated, fire. Material fire, I think, is an earthly manifestation of the primal fire, and as such, it's a medium through which the primal fire can, on occasion, reveal itself.

Don't mean to sound arcane - Bob will probably explore the deeper meanings of Evil on the morrow.

Must run to Pilates.

Lisa said...

Good afternoon all,

I think it is very interesting how teachers can impart wisdom or explain things that the student already knows somewhere deep down inside to be a universal truth. Sometimes, the student is not capable of understanding exactly what is being taught but will get just enough to be helpful. Just hearing, seeing, or experiencing this knowledge is good for the spirit even if it doesn't quite "gel" at the moment being received. The repeat of this same innate, basic, yet deep and complex knowledge sometimes produces an "aha moment" when heard or seen at the right time. It is similar to muscle knowledge. The muscles in your body need multiple (millions, i have heard) repetitions of a movement to master it. I like to think the spirit is much the same. To throw another compliment Bob's way, thanks for imparting your knowledge and experiences with us. It helps my spirit remember what it already knows but sometimes needs a little nudge.

I did not get to comment earlier because I was out battling the EVIL of unwanted body hair. Laser hair removal! It is very cool and doesn't hurt that much, sometimes a little zap! It seems that most of the commenters are men here, and I cannot recommend this procedure enough for the removal of ear and nose evils! I had my bikini line done by a woman who looked like Portia De Rossi! It may seem really superficial, but most of us are still here on earth and shouldn't neglect our outside maintenence! Balance, right!?

Will said...

Bob -

I'm not sure if K had any students, per se, just audiences. I think the world would have been better off if he had had just a handful of students instead of spending his life addressing mass audiences.

It could have been he was so soured with his own childhood experiences with his collections of "educators" and instructors, he just opted for the path of least resistance.

Will said...

Lisa -

Next, unwanted body hair predator drones.

Lisa said...

Oooh, you have a point will! I consider myself to be an environmentalist, as well! Recycling is good...

How was your class?

jwm said...

Thanks Lisa.
You post gave much to dwell on of an entirely unspiritual nature.

"These thoughs are obstacles on your path to enlightenment, grasshopper."

"But Sensei, Portia de Rossi!"





Lisa said...

JWM - ;0)lol, she had a Russian accent too! I signed up for 3 more before I even knew what happened (and I'm a married, straight, woman)!

Don't they say a little temptation strengthens the will? Ask will...he knows more than I do! Bob surely has some kind of saying applicable here!

Petey said...

Temptations are steps on the ladder of perfection.

Will said...

Lisa - Class good. Instructor good with metaphors,figure of speech directions, such as "Imagine now that you are a cat and that your tail is sticking straight up in the air."

Will said...

re temptations: expect them.

the more the spiritual progression, the more primal they get.

worth considering that Jesus had to meet up with the dark one himself.

Lisa said...

Funny, you should note the cat imagery. I believe Joseph Pilates was fascinated by how a cat wakes up from a deep sleep by doing 2 or 3 stretches through the spine before leaping into action. He was intrigued by the flexibility and gracefulness of the cats and thought man should move in a similar way.

gumshoe1 said...

"In my case, I began with raja yoga--the yoga of meditation--but I am apparently more of a jnani, which is the yoga of wisdom, metaphysical knowledge and discernment."

bob -

your comment brought this bodhisattva's description to mind...i'll let you and
(your readers) decide if it fits ya or describes your "feeling tone",or an aspect of "your path":

Manjushri, is the bodhisattva of keen awareness in Buddhism. A disciple of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, he represents wisdom, intelligence and realisation, and is one of the most popular Bodhisattvas following Avalokitesvara (Ch: Guan Yin)....

A male Bodhisattva, he is depicted wielding flaming sword in his right hand representing his realisation of wisdom which cuts through ignorance and wrong views. The scripture held in his right hand is the Prajnaparamita, representing his attainment of ultimate realisation and Enlightenment. Variations upon his traditional form as Manjusri include Guhya-Manjusri, Guhya-Manjuvajra, and Manjuswari, most of which are Tantric forms associated with Tibetan Buddhism. The two former appearances are generally accompanied by a shakti deity embracing the main figure, symbolising union of form and spirit, matter and energy, and so forth.

the vehemence you show (on occasion)
with regard to political attitudes
(and thinking)of some of your readers,would perhaps be attributable to the
issues of discerment,although,
it being politics,they'd be likely to go on arguing with your viewpoints.

regardless,despite your occasional vehemence,i don't sense a lot of rancor in your views.

the recent thread regarding Spike Lee's comments and movie plans
strikes me as a good example:

the *surface* of your comments was anti-PC(moonbat fuel,even)...
"how DARE you make such racist comments!!"

but the CORE of your comments were addressed to the issue of bending facts to fit a pre-concieved and local version of "truth".

and one which did *not* serve the interests of transcending racism.

Bro. Bartleby said...

The Big E-V-I-L

I'm more inclined to believe that evil is when one turns away from God, or even in ignorance, acts in opposite to the Light of God. Much of what in the past was considered evil incarnate, I would say was ignorance of mental illness. Of all the countless electrochemical processes that take place in the human brain, a symphony of precision and exactitude, it is mindboggling how we can be so 'normal' and then add the burden of the modern environment (or the ancient environment), and add all that takes place in the formation of the brain from conception until whatever current state you find yourself, amazing that 'it' works at all. So I view aberrations in human behavior as understandable, understandable in the sense that any man-made complex machine that could function year in and year out without 'crashing' is really unthinkable. Yet we consider it normal for the brain to do just that. But it does 'crash' in many nonfatal ways, in the ancient world we could only make sense of someone so 'disabled' as being possessed by evil spirits, today we seek to either repair the brain chemistry, or 'help' the mind to self repair. Some speak of great evil beings, such as Hitler and the Nazi 'elite', yet some of the decent beings that were eye witness to the Nazis more often than not came to report their own astonishment at the banality of these evil beings. In which I return to what I believe is the greatest evil, the 'reverse born again' or the turning away from God. I have never experience a credible personification of evil, one medical doctor that I know who once examined prisoners said he once experienced a prisoner that he was sure was possessed by a real evil that transcended 'mental illness'. For me, the first step in discernment is to use common sense and logic, and when it comes to evil humans, I find it too easy to logically uncover their behavior. If humans behaved as most animals behave, then we would call all humans evil, yet animals are not evil. Without self awareness, animals act only to survive, their actions are appropriate for survival, even when the actions bring horror to us humans. We do not consider animals possessed because they slaughter other animals, for them it is normal. So we need not evil or Satan or devils to explain the actions of snakes and tigers and sharks, so too with those humans that turn away from God. Evil is when one's self awareness is perverted. With this perversion, empathy is lost, then, with the masks of humans, humans act as animals.

Bro. Bartleby

Bro. Bartleby said...


Sorry, I need to clarify the final point in my previous comment:

"We do not consider animals possessed because they slaughter other animals, for them it is normal. So as we need not a personified evil such as Satan or devils to explain the actions of snakes and tigers and sharks, so too with those humans that turn away from God, for them evil is when one's self awareness is perverted to the point where empathy is lost, and then, with the masks of humans, these humans become animals."

gumshoe1 said...

i just finished reading a book about
the Chechens and the Russians thru the decade of 1990's and the near impossibility of bringing that country emergency aid.

"The Man Who tried to Save the World:The Dangerous Life and Mysterious Disappearance of an American Hero" by Scott Anderson

your description summed up the
view the book left with me of the human scene in Chechnya and the surrounding Republics:
perversion of self-awareness.

"Evil is when one's self awareness is perverted. With this perversion, empathy is lost,then,with the masks of humans, humans act as animals."

Lisa said...

I think one of the most annoying things about the democratic party today and so called "liberals" is their refusal to identify true evil. They have no problem calling our President evil or Hitler, which could not be farther from the truth in reality. At the same time, they think Islam is a religion of peace and the evil thugs murdering innocent people all over the world are just freedom fighters or misunderstood poor people. They are hesitant to make a judgment on another culture even if it is backwards and lacking of basic human freedoms, but will criticize our country and capitalistic culture at the drop of a dime with no regard or hypocricy noted that they participate and prosper due to the freedoms afforded in our country. The press and academia are also a huge problem because they refuse to correctly identify evil because it does not fit with their outdated perceptions of reality. The AP and many news organizations will not even call a terrorist a terrorist. They are misusing words to cover up the facts. It is dangerous to our language and culture when words are used that do not properly describe the logos and obscures the truth.

It is simply mind-boggling!

Rorschach said...

Hell is being shut forever out of sight of God and knowing what you have lost... imagine all those souls alone in the darkness who thought, in last Earthly moments, they had made it to paradise. Almost pity them. But lived their lives rejecting Truth, so they too were rejected at end.

And remind you that every belief, even acknowledgement of evil, requires leap of faith.

I see Bob and Petey as guiding us, as all great teachers do, towards edge of that leap, without assisting us in making actual jump. "I can only show you the door; you have to open it," as one on-screen philosopher once said. Or as another said: "It is like a finger pointing toward the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory."

LiquidLifeHacker said...

Dancing with the devil is a way that evil keeps you occupied so that you basically rob yourself of spiritual light and the more your spirit gives into this evil seduction it becomoe a pleaser of men and of the world instead of a pleaser of God. Evil will snare you at every turn, but IMHO, it's most manipulating when one is already in a vulnerable state. One can look in retrospect at some of the harmful choices one has made in their own life, and it's interesting to see how clever evil works at opening negative doors or at laying traps to destroy us and it seems amazing how we were drawn into the deep because we were at the time just weak zombies of numbness yet isn't it interesting how we were still capable of having the last word on the control of our free will? Paralyzed from "the wrist" up as we signed the dotted line! How did that happen?

When we open the door to evil, it sometimes barges inside and other times, usually when it "RE" visits, it's quite sneaky like an old lover demanding and teasing that you "beg" for it's company. Once you start particpating in it's art of seduction, it becomes in relationship, just like Bob explained, as a drug addict and it's pusher, because your intitial "opening and free will authorization" is all evil needs to sell you a deceptive high! First the offered high and then you are going to get "pimped out" for evil's needs and agenda because once you are hooked...just like any other addiction, there will be such a terrible struggle and craving because the power that you gave to the dark side over your life becomes pertinent spiritual warfare used against you. Evil knows from it's "dance with you" which gave insight into how you move and knows that from being allowed up that close and personal with you, that it gained access to the combination of your heartbeat! In the future it will use every opportunity of this information to take you down deeper.

I can remember this one person that I went to high school with, which alot of kids teased because he wouldn't do alot of teenage activity, and how he was considered weak for not participating and yet actually he was quite strong, because he always guarded 'his door' and never drank or smoked and he had no problem of admitting that he didn't do these experimental things out of his conviction and faith. How powerful that was for him to be so young and yet have the spiritual muscle to hold that door closed! What a gift to avoid the taste of a constant lust that always leaves you with less! Because if your spirit or body hasn't giving evil an inch then you don't know what you are missing eh? It's hard for evil to manipulate you if it can't get close to you! It will then turn to those close around you, but 'direct one on one tango' is off limits if you say NO at the beginning! (reminds me of that saying; Lets Sit This One Out!) How many times have you heard someone say, "I am so thankful that I never started smoking" or "I am thankful I never became a drinker because I hated the taste of it" How many people look at those words with envy, because they can go back to the "first time" that they opened "their door" for such seduction and can now see where those seductions lead. How many people can look back at whatever seduction they chose from the master of lies, and ask themselves "WHAT IF?" What if I hadn't started this or that?

Evil knows the answer. Evil laughs at all of our individual "What Ifs" and is rubbing his hands in working on his next project of how to lead you astray! Evil is always plotting and always counting on you failing. On the other hand, the good news is that there is a power that is much stronger that is always cheering us on to be stronger. When we choose to get tuned into that encouragement and that light then we can learn how to say no when evil knocks. We learn how to become powerful guards of our own door!