June 2nd, 2011

Out Beyond Ideas of Good and Evil

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense. -- Rumi

The young cult leader who engineered the deaths of five people was, by all accounts, an exceptional person, bright, devout, charismatic, and eager to make the world a better place.  His philosophy, taken piece by piece, was not exceptional: a dash of Mormonism, a splash of New Age, a willingness and ability to work hard and take risks, a notion that "the end justifies the means."  As those who tried to explain him kept talking, one of the slogans from a "self awareness training program" came up again and again.  "There is no right nor wrong,'

When i became seriously interested in contemplative spirituality, a few years ago, one of the first things i did was google the term.  I was surprised to find that most of the sites in the first few pages were negative evaluations of the practice by evangelical (fundamentalist) Christians who perceived it to be dangerous.  An idle mind is the devil's workshop, The Bible already tells you all you need to know.
If people believe there is no difference between right and wrong, most of them will do wrong.

My adult notions of right and wrong were formed in a context of the study of society and its norms.  Legal, moral, and social rules dictate what is right or wrong.  The content of the rules varies greatly from one context to another, with many different rules and systems of rules serving equally well as standards of behavior.  "What's right north of the Pyrenees  is wrong south of the Pyrenees" was an aphorism i
learned early and well.  This granted me a tolerance for human behavior that i have always been grateful for.

But among the preferences which i have, perhaps, become unduly attached to  are preferences for peacableness over violence, cooperation over competition, truth telling over lying, love over fear, trust over distrust,  consoling over blaming, etc.  I would not necessarily call the former of each pair "good" or the latter "bad." but that is certainly my emotional state when i think of these concepts and the behaviors which seem to make them manifest.  How do i justify the idea that i (and others) should engage in certain behaviors and avoid others while maintaining that in the real world notions of good and bad are inappropriate.

The Tao te Ching has provided an important clue for me, for here we are constantly told to both be good and avoid being good.  The truly good person is not aware of being good and therefore he is truly good.  His "goodness" does not come from a moral code, but from following the lessons of the Tao, best revealed in nature, and then in the behavior of the wise.  Give up goodness, we are told, to be truly good,  There is a Chinese children's game that is very reminiscent of Rumi's poem.  Arguing children are handed a square pillow and grabbing each corner they say, in turn: "here is where i am right and you are wrong: here is where you are right and i am wrong; here is where we are both right; here is where we are both wrong."  Then as both children place their hands together in the center of the pillow, they say: "here is the center where there is no right nor wrong,"  Here is Rumi's "field" where we can converse, or play, or laugh, or just enjoy each other's company.

Love and peace to all my good friends.