Sunday, April 21, 2002

Shakyamuni and the Pilgrim

On a blustery day in April, someone, looking quite pale and dressed as a pilgrim, approached Shakyamuni who was meditating in a cave halfway up the Himalayas.

Pilgrim: It's been a while, Shakyamuni? How've you been?
Shakyamuni: (Looking up with his eyes half open) And, you are...??
Pilgrim: It's me. Remember? I came here before about ten years ago, although I may have had horns back then. Those fell off when you taught me that "There is no evil""
Shakyamuni: Ohhhh, right--It's you. The one who kept insisting that he was The Devil? You don't look well at all.
Pilgrim: I know. I've got a problem and it's really getting to me. That's why I came here to ask for your help.
Shakyamuni: What's wrong now?
Pilgrim: Thanks to what you told me before, I realize that there is no first and foremost reason for evil--there is no "Devil", so I'm free of the preconception that "I am the Devil." I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate that. That's why I decided to become a monk and learn more about your teachings, but, no matter how much I study, I can't attain enlightenment.
Shakyamuni: What to you is "attaining enlightenment"?
Pilgrim: Well, that's being free of all worries and problems.
Shakyamuni: And your problem would be?..?
Pilgrim: That evil exists.
Shakyamuni: Can't evil exist?
Pilgrim: Of course not. The Buddhist monks have taught me that we must be compassionate to all living things. That's why it pains me when I see innocent people and other living creatures being randomly killed. It's depressing. And then I blame myself for not being able to do anything.
Shakyamuni: Why do you think there is a need to prevent evil?
Pilgrim: Because I feel the regret and chagrin of those people and things who have died or are suffering--their passion to "want to live some more", to "want to be put at ease", to "want to express myself more." I think they're all reasonable and legitimate feelings, but they are cruelly and tragically denied by death, illness or disasters. I can't stand to just sit idly by and look at all of this happening.
Shakyamuni: So, the "evil" to which you are referring is people or other living things not being able to realize their hopes?
Pilgrim: It's not just their hopes. They're being cruelly deprived of their "lawful rights."
Shakyamuni: How do you know that these rights are "lawful"?
Pilgrim: Newborns die, innocent young girls are raped, trains with newlyweds crash, an artist loses a hand, a mathematician becomes an invalid from a brain tumor--Aren't these evil things things that shouldn't happen?
Shakyamuni: Why shouldn't they happen?
Pilgrim: Because they're innocent victims, they shouldn't have to go through all that.
Shakyamuni: There are those who have accumulated this karma from a past life, and choose unhappiness on their own.
Pilgrim: But the person doesn't know anything about his or her past life.
Shakyamuni: In the majority of cases, it's best not to know?
Pilgrim: No, I disagree. If one knows that his suffering has to do with something that happened in a past life, he can better comprehend the situation.
Shakyamuni: Are you saying that there's value in living a life of resignation?
Pilgrim: Not a life of resignation, but one of acceptance.
Shakyamuni: But would understanding or comprehending enable the person to improve and overcome the situation?
Pilgrim: ?..
Shakyamuni: Would it really help for people to know that their unhappiness or the unhappiness of others comes from karma accumulated from a past life?
Pilgrim: I don't know. But, if nothing else, there would be no more anger and cursing to a Creator who is "unreasonable" and "irrational."
Shakyamuni: A social psychologist in the 20th century called the perceiving of things as being "unreasonable" or "irrational", "Cognitive Dissonance." He thought that the ability to perceive things as being such gave rise to individual change and social reform.
Pilgrim: What you're saying, then, is that evil exists for the sake of good?
Shakyamuni: I'm not saying that "evil exists""
Pilgrim: Well, are death, rape, injury and obstacles all "good" and not "evil"?
Shakyamuni: As long as there is a Law of Cause and Effect, good actions produce good results and negative actions produce negative results. If you're looking only at the bad or evil result, things do, indeed, appear bad, but the fact that negative actions produce negative results means that the Law of Cause and Effect is working, so, in a way that is "good." It's much worse for a Law not to work than it is to have these negative results. The reason for this is that it would follow, then, that there would be no guarantee that a person could get good results no matter how hard he tried. And, also, it would mean that bad actions could result in good, so people would stop their acts of goodness. Knowing for certain that negative actions produce only negative results, people will eventually elect good.
Pilgrim: But, if people have no recollection about their past life, how would they know that the bad in their lives now stems from something in the past?
Shakyamuni: People don't need to know the cause of everything in their lives now.
Pilgrim: Why not?
Shakyamuni: Because it would be too much for them. The fact that memories and recollections fade with time is a blessing. Would you be able to bear the tremendous strain and pressure of remembering every single thing that has happened to you since birth?
Pilgrim: ?..
Shakyamuni: Being born through your mother's birth canal, seeing for the first time, bruising yourself as you fall down time and time again, eating something that is actually inedible, being hurt, feeling hopelessly lost when you got separated from your mother in a crowd, all kinds of fears of the unknown--Man's mind is made so that it can overcome unbearable pain and fear by "forgetting."
Pilgrim: Then does that make negative results, oblivion and ignorance all good?
Shakyamuni: When you change your point of view, that negativity or evil disappears. That's originally what evil is.
Pilgrim: But, if the cause for all our suffering now goes back to a past life, this is something I'd like to know.
Shakyamuni: For what reason?
Pilgrim: If I knew, then I would be more proactive in doing good things.
Shakyamuni: Yes, but those would not be good deeds in the true sense of the word. Doing good deeds in order to get good results is, in a sense, a type of utilitarianism. You're trying to use these good deeds to get something for yourself. Doing good just for the sake of doing good, that's what a true good deed is. Sometimes strange theories and reasons get in the way of doing so.
Pilgrim: Shakyamuni, now I know what's wrong with me. I wanted to do something really big--something that I could show off to people, like getting rid of all the "evil" in the world. I realize now that it's really a form of egoism.
Shakyamuni: A Jewish saint once said, "Verily I say unto you, whatever you have done unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me." Let your conscience be your guide.
Pilgrim: I understand now, Shakyamuni. Thank you very much.

- MT

No comments: