Perfection and Evil

Here’s a daunting subject: My Dzogchen school of Buddhism teaches that we are all perfect and need only to wake up to that knowledge. So, the next question becomes, “What about Hitler? Was he perfect? Ted Bundy? Timothy McVeigh? Why then is there evil in the world?”

I’ve long avoided saying much about evil because I had trouble understanding it, but my new study of Dzogchen has given me a better context in which to place evil, and exchanges with two of my favorite fellow bloggers, Karen Allendoerfer and Amie Zor, gave me the courage to face it here. (Amie is my honorary granddaughter, and today I’ve made Karen my honorary niece.)

I’m not fond of either word — “perfection” or “evil.” In the case of “perfection,” it’s an absolute that is almost never used correctly. Semantically, there should be no such thing as a “more perfect union,” but the framers of our U.S. Constitution famously thought there was. And my third-grade teacher, the notorious Mrs. Thistlebottom, taught me that they must have known what they were doing.

devil head mascotAs for “evil,” I can’t wrap my head around it. Is it a force, like anti-matter or black witchcraft? Since I don’t believe in a creator god who controls our destinies, how can I believe in a force that wants to make people do bad stuff to each other?

But let’s give perfection the benefit of the doubt for a minute. What if we’re all perfect (absolutely perfect) just the way we are, and we each fit into the world perfectly, making the world perfect just the way it is? It’s a hard pill to swallow given global climate change, wars, concentration camps in Myanmar, a refugee crisis in Europe and the Mideast, almost 800 million people around the world who don’t have enough food, and so on.

Buddhism teaches that everything has its own causes and effects. That’s karma. I don’t believe that a baby Rohingya girl is starving in Myanmar because of something she did wrong in a past life, but I do believe in a karmic balance to the world. There is no this without that. Without mud, there is no lotus. Without sorrow, there is no joy. Without suffering, there is no happiness. Without sickness, there is no health. Without death, there is no life. Without tails, there is no heads.

I don’t have to like the karmic balance the way it is, so, for example, I donate monthly to GiveDirectly, a charity with very low overhead that takes the radical approach of simply giving money to very poor people in Kenya. That’s what my karma — my own causes and effects — leads me to do. I hope that you do things, too, to make the world better, but whatever you do or don’t do, you are perfect exactly as you are. You are the product of your own karma.

So I see a karmic balance in which evil exists in order to make good possible. If more of us work to reduce the evil, I’m certain that we can. I’m not sure, though, that we can ever make evil disappear. I’m not wise enough to answer that question, and in any event we’re farther from that goal than we are from solving global climate change.

Dzogchen teaches that we all have a pure inner core, like a perfect mirror. It gets smudged by the genes we inherit and the environments we encounter (our karma), but even so we’re perfect, smudges and all, because we are exactly what the world needs us to be at this time and place.

So how about Hitler? Did the world need him? Maybe it did. Again, I’m not wise enough to know the answer. But consider this, a little thought experiment:

Imagine yourself as an 18-year-old Hitler. A wise teacher shows you that you are perfect just the way you are, and you see that the teacher is right. You have nothing to prove, and the world is perfect just the way it is.

Would the holocaust have happened? Buddhism gives us a perfect answer to that question:

I don’t know.

— Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)

Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Hmm. I can get on board with a definition of perfect that means something like “in balance” or “complete,” like the laws of physics. Every action begets an equal and opposite reaction. I can see it as descriptive rather than proscriptive. This is how it is, not how it should be, but how it is, and it can’t be any other way, so the best path forward for me is acceptance.

    And I love your ending paragraph; makes you think at least twice.

    Still, though, perhaps I lack imagination, but I can’t envision anything good enough to balance out the Holocaust. I can’t envision something good enough to make it worth the suffering of abused, innocent children, or chattel slavery. Nothing seems good enough to provide the appropriate karmic balance for those things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. melhpine says:

      Yes, if you remove the ontological underpinnings, the message is simple: If we all accepted ourselves, loved ourselves, had compassion for ourselves, on a moment-to-moment basis, most (all?) of the world’s behavioral problems would go away.

      Liked by 1 person

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