The fundamental idea of Buddhism is to pass beyond the world of opposites, a world built up by intellectual distinctions and emotional defilements. – D.T. Suzuki…
A new reflection on a meditation concept is long past due I think. Yesterday evening I went up to St. Mary’s Colgan to lend a hand at their forensics work night. I met a nice young lady there that I got to talk to her for a few minutes regarding what it means to be Buddhist, and how its philosophy is not mutually exclusive from other religions. In having that conversation, it just reminded me how important education is. And more so, communication. We can do more good just talking and listening to other people than almost anything else. In that way, I need to talk more I think.
Anyway, none of that is actually my point. My point is up in the first couple lines. By the way, I pull these handy quotes from an RSS feed through amidabuddha.org. As much as I wish I was smart enough to pull pieces of wisdom like that out of my head on demand, I cannot. Give me a few days, I’ll see if I can do better.
It seems like today, as in the present, we are becoming ever more attached to binary concepts. By that I mean if something is right, something else must be wrong. If one person is lucky, another is unlucky. You are liberal, or conservative. Morlock or Eloi. As analytical beings, we like the idea that concepts are absolute. It can be hard to reconcile gray areas when we are weighing pros and cons (another binary idea!). But the truth is that everything is gray. What is unlucky for you one day could turn in to great luck the next. Life is all about balance. Kharma keeps events in constant flux so that things essentially always stay neutrally balanced. Bad events aren’t happening to you to screw you over, they are just events, happening in the natural flow of life the way they must to remain in equilibrium.
The idea of the Yin and Yang is a Chinese philosophy rooted in the concept of the unity of opposites. On the hand that everything has what amounts to a positive and negative component, I would have to disagree. There is no binary. Again, the goal is to see beyond that kind of polarity, and to understand that things are exactly how they need to be, regardless of labels of perception. However, the fruit of the philosophy is sound. That idea that the whole is comprised of the parts, that to be positive, something must have a negative component, and in that way the subject is balanced, is a good way to view a world of opposites. It gives it context and allows us a way to better grasp the concept that we might call something good or bad, in reality it is neither. In a way, by understanding the words and concepts of the opposites, you can destroy your precepts that they actually exist. Once you see the wall, you can proceed to scale and pass it. Once you are past it, the wall is no longer a factor that must be included in the equation.
Will Smith recently came under fire for a comment he made about Hitler. To paraphrase, he said basically that as bad as Hitler was, he didn’t wake up each morning thinking “What’s the most evil thing that I can do today?” The point being that under his philosophy of thinking, he was not the bad guy. Perception is the problem. How can good and evil exist when the very gauges by which such things are measured are in constant flux and open to interpretation. By buying into those kinds of labels and philosophies, the truth is completely lost, because real truth lies beyond those labels, and cannot be reached through them.
The only absolute, the only thing that matters is suffering. How do you know the Holocaust was not the correct course of action for Hitler to undertake? Ask that to someone on the street. Ask them why they are so sure that wasn’t a just action. The answer would come back in some form of “Well duh, he killed millions of people, and that’s wrong.” To say it’s wrong, means that in some context, it could also be right though. Example: The Holocaust cost some 5.9 million Jewish lives. We say that was wrong. In comparison, the Axis suffered 7.4 million military deaths (this ignores civilian costs). But that was right. Because of perception. In a world of opposites, killing 6 million Jewish people is somehow worse than killing 7 million soldiers.
A human life is a human life, regardless of where and when it was taken. One is not more valuable than another. Right and wrong in this case is merely an intellectualization that allows us to excuse our actions. Killing people causes suffering. Therefore you do not do it. Period. It isn’t about right and wrong, it’s about dharma. Life is not black and white, life is suffering, and the only thing that we should concern ourselves over is getting rid of that, not adding to it. Add it all started with opposites. Jewish people were bad, Germans were good. An emotional defilement. The Allies were righteous, the Axis was evil.
These opposites are painfully and intrinsically linked to the entire founding principle about how not getting past these ideas leads to suffering. Those are large scale examples of course, but again, scale is only a matter of interpretation. The principle is the same at any level. Don’t be guided by right and wrong, be only guided by the principles that removing suffering. That isn’t the right choice, it is the only choice you can make that is without fault.