In Western culture I find most people assume, as I had been taught in Catholic school, that the only alternative to theist is atheist, or polytheist. Later in life I discovered Eastern philosophy, which was a better intuitive fit for my Aztec background, and it was not theist or atheist or polytheist, rather, the Hindu Upanishads, and the Upadesas of Dzogchen (the “Great Perfection” or the “Great Completion”), and the LingBao Daoist scriptures, all share a common vision that is “monistic” – “an undifferentiated unity of all beyond space and time”; they find God not outside of themselves but revealed within their own heart as the core of what they really are, they see God shining out from within their own consciousness as their central light, and they come to see them”Self” as everything everywhere, instead of as an individual finite body stuck in a coliseum of selves. The point of the Vedanta, (or the “End of Knowledge”) is exactly this, the fact that we are everywhere, always, and therefore immortal. It’s like the Christian teaching that we “have” an immortal soul, though I thought, who am I, a living being, to “have” such a thing, rather, the immortal soul that we all are clearly “has” each of us, as well as not only the people of the past and the future, and not only the dogs and the horses, but even the sticks and the stones, even the salt and the pepper on the table.
And it is from this perspective, the perspective of immortality, that I choose to answer the perennial philosophical question of “what is evil” with my own theodicy. And my answer is, it is love.
I read the New York Times one day a few years ago and later that day was supervising some 8 year old kids in a New York city park where hundreds of kids play every day. The kids were particularly sullen that day, and as I sat on the mat of the playground quietly observing them, I wondered “why do they kick each other and kick the fence?” in the same philosophical vein as “what is evil”, and I realized that the question stretched much further, as that day’s paper had reported a drone strike by the US in Afghanistan where a senior leader of the Talban had been killed, and the Taliban had released a statement calling it a “hate-filled terror strike”. I had already been taught by the Eastern Philosophy to see myself in all things, to look away from the altar of reality, not “real” at all, and look only at the one thing, Brahman, the “heart” of God”, the light behind the Mara of the apparent world, a world that is a delusion, an illusion created for us by a God who loves us for our enjoyment, but no more real than an amusement park or a dream. But the discord through my New York city world still had me asking the question in your paper, ‘what is evil?’.
And as I looked into the impulse of all the kids in that park, and the players in the soap opera that is the New York Times, I saw for the first time only one thing, the impulse of “I love the universe”, albeit often played out by actors who are misinformed about where the “universe” is; the kids I was watching, taught by the popular culture, were thinking of themselves as limited and finite individuals, separate from all else, and so their “universe” was limited to their physical body and their own fleeting feelings, and the ball and the fence and the other kids were something outside of it, and so the kicks were just “I love the universe”, and the US was making drone strikes because for US policy, the “universe” was the country, and its citizens, and its money, and the Taliban in Afghanistan was something separate, and so their drone strike was “I love the universe”, and for the Taliban the universe was the people practicing their version of the religious social code, and so they too were only saying “I love the universe”.
A favorite term for the lack of education on where the universe is that I found in a Dzogchen scripture was “diminished presence”. In diminshed presence, they think they are only in one place and time, and not in others, and so their thought and speech and actions end up in discord with those around them, whom they consider to be outside the universe that they know they are.
In Christianity, and therefore in the West in general, the idea is that Jesus gets to see and understand and live and speak and act from the perspective of the eternal soul, but all others are not going to see that perspective until they die.
In the Hindu Upanishads there are two kinds of “mukta”, or people – the vidhemukta, which are those that will not see until death, and the jivanmukta, who reach the immortal perspective before death, and, like Jesus, go forward from that perspective for the rest of their lives. In Daoism an “immortal” or “fairy” (仙) is someone who has, similarly, become “enlightened into immortality”. I posted a paper called “The Immortal Perspective” to try to explain in more detail what the experience of being a Daoist Immortal, a Buddha, a jivanmukta, is like, in 21st century America.
And even after I realized that “evil” is just love coming from someone with “diminished presence”, and that the discord of the “saha” world, which is the world of modern times, something to be endured, in Buddhism, or the “kali yuga”, the current epoch in Hinduism, can be used to polish our immortality.
The entire universe and its calendar, ephemeris of the past and the future, is a xesturgy, an opportunity to be grateful for, the furnace where immortality is brewed, the advantageous instruction that breaks the darkness, using the calendar of sun and moon for the purpose of receiving and welcoming the pneuma that is delivered, and forging ahead, saluting the venerable energy, and working with them to recover the smooth, ancient shape of the vast and extensive appearances, the lofty and towering virtue of the great pattern within difficulty, the stirring sounds in the temple of time, and crafting the medicine. The mundane world of our human minds is considered a netherworld, far below the more perfect flow of Heaven that is always going by above us, and our salvation is our evolution and transformation out of this netherworld into that sky, (“in all things look up”), the world and its calendar our opportunity to flow into that “transformation flow of salvation”, across the “three borders” (Past, Present, and Future), and into immortality, out of the “deep ocean of the relative and into salvation”; the elegant pattern and its flag-like embroideries are the sacrifice that covers the life of the body like a quilt, the practice of the body’s calendar flooded by the wind and rain of grace that saves the people from misfortune and disaster.
As a jivanmukta, I like to say “I don’t believe in reality”. I see it, I think it’s beautiful, and I cultivate it, but I don’t think that it has anything to do with who or what or where “we” are.
The Christians would say “your soul is eternal”; Hindus call it Brahman, Vishnu in Vaikuntha, alive an beautiful, yet outside of time; I call it “anti-time heaven” in that spirit, and I call the place where my human body is, my “time-garden”, ’cause it’s something I cultivate, like a garden, a place where I plant seeds and cultivate them; and if they do well, the fruit is prayers, for all beings in the garden; if something happens to the garden, then I can start over, but it doesn’t affect “who I am”, and that’s the big difference in perspective, that’s the end of “suffering”, it’s the awareness of the home at the center, the place of “happiness beyond birth and death”.
In Dzogchen, (which is Tibetan Buddhism), the “one light” beneath the illusion of Maya is the “utterly insubstantial evanescence arising as uncrystalizing ubiquitous effulgence”; in LingBao Daoism it’s the “mysterious essential undivided origin”. And this “saha” world”, the xesturgy ephemeris, in Dzogchen, is the “wide open door for all the inherent qualities”. And in LingBao Daoism, it’s the “torrent of boundless universal salvation”. And an immortal practices Fa Pu Shou Tian En – 法普受天恩 – exersizing the magic of ‘receive-accept-endure’ the hard-to-bear universal education that is pleasing to the ear, through nature-weather-paradise, Heaven’s blessing.
And when I go to take classes with the other modern day Americans on these topics, I watch them struggle with it, and I’ve seen the objection you bring up near the end of your review of modern theodicy, the “greatest evil of post modernity… that recognizes no evil”, and it’s a big source of confusion about this immortal perspective. So I like to answer with particular line from a LingBao Daoist scripture:
“Life dwells totally in the midst of trouble and suffering; in contrast, the Dao is empty, void, with no distinction between clean and unclean, pure and impure; but for a family home grasping for the real, true, and genuine correct and upright, clean and unclean, pure and impure, are very different and never equal; therefore, right and wrong appear internally as life and death, and appear externally as the reason one who is clear and quiet, clean and pure, is a disciple of life, and one who is muddy, turbid, impure and unclean, is a disciple of death. Therefore, urgently cultivate and preserve the place of life.”
cha li wu