I read a lot of religious texts, and then later pick and choose which ones to use in my creative work. You'd be amazed at how many are out there. It's kind of amazing, actually. God, or Consciousness, or whatever is responsible for existence, seems to have revealed Itself innumerable times, in countless ways. I don't trouble myself with determining which writings are from God and which are counterfeits; I take the lazy path and assume that if someone goes to all the trouble of writing an exhaustive tome and publishing the dang thing, and if it has even an inkling of authority, then far's I'm concerned it's sacred.* But I'm also of the opinion that everything is sacred, which is a convenient segue to the subject of this blog post.
The text that I'm currently reading is called 'The Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects'. It's a dog-eared, yellowed copy that I found in a bookstore in the East Village, and has been sitting patiently on my shelf for over a year. Pretty dense stuff. It's not what one would call action packed, and I seriously doubt that anyone is in a bidding war for the film rights. But if you're like me and like to self-flagellate from time to time, I highly recommend it.
It contains a metaphor that resonated with me in a big way. With your permission, and even without, I'm going to paraphrase. It goes something like this:
You are chained around the neck to a post. Your chain is made of gold, and you see everything as "good". There is a person next to you who is chained to the same post, but her chain is made of iron, and she sees everything as "bad". You're both aware that your respective chains have bound you all your life, but are helpless to break them. You know that if she would just stop seeing everything as "bad", and start seeing it as "good", she'd be released from her chain. And she knows that if you would stop seeing everything as "good", and start seeing it through her more realistic eyes, you would likewise be released. The only freedom, then, is when we rise above the chains of "good" and "bad", and understand that they only serve to restrict us. True freedom comes when we realize that everything is sacred.
Including the chain.
[brief pause to accommodate your astonishment and let it all sink in]
I'm looking forward to using this passage in one of my text pieces. I haven't yet figured out what other religious text I'll be slicing up to create it. There needs to be some parallel, either by similarity or distinction, and this perspective on good and evil is quite unusual. Most religions are not keen on sanctifying "evil". That's the devil's domain, and thus is not to be confused with God's will. Hey, I get it. It's confusing stuff. A pastor's congregation would empty fast if she started preaching that all events are ordained by God. It doesn't take a genius to see how much pain this would cause to a family who's grieving.
We uphold the distinction of "good" and "evil" by social necessity, to comfort those in distress as well as to punish those who caused it. If there were no consequences for selfish behavior, we'd really be in a fix. There must be separate categories for "good" and "bad" in order for us to function as a society with reasonable efficiency. And then we go and drive the point home by creating categories within categories; we can't just have "good", we also have to have "better", and then "best". And thus we invent award ceremonies and lifetime achievement awards, for those who need to see "good" improved upon. It's all relative, and indeed sometimes "bad" is better than "good".
But individually, as reasonable adults, we have to consent that the notions of "good" and "not-so-good" are arbitrary. What makes you feel really good may in fact be causing wretched pain to someone else. If you knew that your current distress was going to be the catalyst for major change and ultimately place you in a position to experience unbridled bliss, would you still label it "bad"? Heck no! You'd be all over it, telling everyone how "good" life is.
So as a society, sure, we have to go with the paradigm of good and evil. Societies aren't too keen on ambiguity, thus we create such institutions as the Republican party and the Evangelical Fundamentalists, who embrace and foster the simplistic notions of black and white. O, but how simple life would be if the "bad" guys wore black! We'd no longer have to think, we'd just pull the trigger! And President Palin would be our fearless leader, and we'd be forever rid of all those nasty gray areas in life. Hallelujah, pie-ple!
But individually, we know that it's all a crock. God, or Consciousness, is beyond any childish notions of permanence. Anyone who claims to know the will of Consciousness is still in chains. In this unimaginably complex universe in which we find ourselves, the mystery prevails, untouched by the presumptions of the learned. Verily I say unto you, there is no good, there is no evil, and folks, there ain't no chain.
* But just because it's sacred doesn't mean it's true. Truth is relative, and sometimes "truth" is just plain false. I don't assume that a person's purported revelation came from God, but I don't assume that it didn't, either. I only assume that it's sacred. And so on.