UNIVERSAL DHARMA

This Too, Will Pass ~ JUST IDEAS?

SOME TIME AGO, I WAS SPEAKING with someone about the violence in society, and he maintained that there was nothing he could do to change it, as that is just the way society is. I reminded him that society is not something apart from ourselves, but that it is made up of individuals, of units like he and I, to which he replied: "Well, I do my share; I don't kill, steal, or cheat," considering his not-doing as doing, which of course, it is. "Anyway," he went on, "there's no such thing as 'good' or 'bad'; they are just ideas."

Well, certainly, many of our ideas about good and bad are somewhat flexible and subject to change, and what is 'good' in a particular time and place might not be good in another. Many Muslims, for example, practice polygamy, and it's quite alright and 'good' for a Muslim man to have a number of wives, but in the West, where the culture is Christian-based in its concepts of morality— it is illegal, and therefore 'bad.'

Some religions and cults have practiced human-sacrifice, and perhaps it still goes on in parts today, though not openly; animal-sacrifice, however, is still practiced in various countries. And in India, according to a rather-obscure Hindu doctrine, immolation by widows on their husbands' funeral-pyres (but never the other way around, as with many things in patriarchal religion), was considered an act of incalculable merit. During their 'period of tenure' in India, however, the British did not see it as such, and outlawed the custom. But, in 1987, with fundamentalism on the rise among Hindus, too, there was a well-publicized case of widow-burning, with prominent Hindu priests speaking out publicly in praise of it.

Like a number of our laws, some of our ideas and beliefs are antiquated and questionable. In our conceit, we bipeds, considering ourselves 'the highest of God's creations,' have divorced ourselves from the rest of Nature and deem ourselves special and different— which, of course, we are, but not in the way we think— with the right to exploit Nature as we see fit. Furthermore, not being content to consider humans the highest creatures, we have divided ourselves into smaller and ever-smaller groups, inventing or imagining divisions where none exist, so that even religions which sprang up as divisions, have split up into numerous sects and sub-sects— each claiming to be the only 'right' one, and therefore looking on all others as 'wrong' and sometimes 'evil'; Christianity undoubtedly holds the record for this, with hundreds and hundreds— nay, thousands — of often-conflicting sects. It is to the 'credit' of humans— and, moreover, humans who professed to be religious— that such concepts and organizations as 'the Chosen and the Damned,' Apartheid, 'Holy War,' the Ku Klux Klan, etc., have come into existence, things that are not to be found in the rest of Nature.

In the Animal World, to be sure, the 'Law of the Jungle' prevails, and 'big fish eats little fish' in a matter of 'kill or be killed.' We humans pride ourselves on being different, higher, and better than animals, but are we, really? Certainly, we are different in that we possess the ability to speak and communicate with each other about almost any matter, which animals cannot do; we walk upright on two legs, our hands can make, hold and use tools, we have mastered fire, and we cook our food. But perhaps the greatest difference between animals and humans is that we are not bound by instinct, as they are, and have the power of choice. Does this make us better or morally-superior to the animals, though? Not necessarily. In itself, it is neither good nor bad, but with it, we have the capacity for good or bad, such as no other animal, and today, we have it in greater measure than ever before. And what do we do with it? Sadly, we often misuse our god-like ability to choose, and cause disaster; sometimes, it seems that we would be better off without it, and function by instinct, like the 'lower' animals. Tigers or sharks have no choice about being carnivores; their systems need flesh, and they must kill in order to survive. But are they bad or evil because of that? Not at all; they are just following their natures, and if we understand that, we keep out of their reach. Bees make honey and chickens lay eggs, which we like, and therefore we say they are 'good'; but are they good just because we utilize and exploit them? Of course not; bees and chickens, too, are only following their natures, and have no thought about being 'good.'

Now, while some things that we call 'good' and 'bad' are subjective and change with time and place, other things do not, and are recognized by any and all societies as such. Murder, robbery, blackmail, extortion, rape, mugging, etc., are regarded by all societies as bad and wrong, and surely, not even people like dictators or leaders of totalitarian regimes, if asked about them, would say such activities are good, even though they might practice them themselves. "But," said my friend, "criminals would not agree with that; they think that what they are doing is good, otherwise they wouldn't do it." "Do they?" I said. "do they really? If they do, it means that their minds must be very, very small, so small that they are unable to think of anyone except themselves. But even criminals love their families and wish to be happy, do they not? And we can hardly imagine them being happy if someone savagely beat them up or robbed them, or kidnapped and murdered their children, which means that even they recognize the difference between good and bad, right and wrong, but as yet have not the strength of character to avoid doing what is wrong and bad."

As we all probably know, it is easier to fall down a tree or mountain than to climb one, and it's easier to do bad than do good. We all have the capacity to do evil, and most of us entertain evil thoughts at times; nevertheless, we must try to prevent evil thoughts becoming evil deeds, and strive to do good instead, for our own sakes as well as for the sake of the community we live in. And if we can share this with others and help them understand, we will have done inestimable good. And it is my aim, by my writings, to share something with others.

Some people might say it is mere intellection, but I would deny that, because the world is made up of ideas— ideas of nationalism, religion, politics, economy, etc., etc.— and some of these ideas are silly, wrong, divisive and dangerous. If we would examine our ideas and replace wrong ideas with right, the world would be better off, because as we think, so we act; our actions are preceded by thoughts. Therefore, I make no apology for writing in what might appear to be an intellectual or theoretical manner, for if we are to have a direction in life, we must first think about it clearly, otherwise we shall just be carried along by the current.

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