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An eternal Halloween - A Buddhist view on evil

In a child’s world, the worst acts of man go largely unseen. But, all adults know that evil is a sad fact of life. We also know that it exists in all times and in all places.

By Jason Jellison

Sunday 28 October 2018, 11:00AM

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil

"If we turn our backs on it, we are ordinary people. If we harmonise with it, we are sages.” – Pei Xiu

Damnable, depraved and downright disgraceful behaviour can be found gracing the pages of any newspaper, not just The Phuket News. In fact, the very notion of evil is something of an irony in and of itself.

Evil has often been defined as a ‘lack of human behaviour’. Yet, evil is part and parcel of our human condition. If not for the heinous consequences, the entire affair would seem somewhat of an oxymoron.

In fact, we often forget just how villainous we really are. Despite thousands of centuries of evolution, the average murder rate for human beings still tends to hover at about six per 100,000… and many of us know someone who has died at the hands of another.

Human beings are very creative about how we kill each other. Sometimes we do it for reasons beyond our mere survival. We often kill for pleasure or for ‘justice’ – a notion that is often little more than pleasure cloaked in the garb and ornamentation of arbitrary laws or whims.

All of this, of course, raises an interesting question. It’s the old and familiar question that comes the way of every preacher of every faith: Why do people do evil things? (And, is there a way to fix it?).

This is a question that has perplexed modern scientists a lot in recent years and even though today’s amazing technologies have enabled a lot of progress, the medical proof of evil still tends to elude modern practitioners of psychology.

Dissecting the brain of a serial killer does not just make for an interesting 19th century morgue scene in a Sherlock Holmes thriller, it is actually something that modern scientists are currently doing in many ways and what they’ve found is not entirely convincing:


Time and time again, medical science has tried to locate evil behaviour or control it – and time and time again, it always fails.

Of course, ancient Buddhism was confronted by all of the evils that still haunt modern man. After reading through many ancient scrolls, novice Buddhist scholars and monks are often surprised to find that ancient Buddhism probably understood more about evil than modern science does.

Nearly 1,000 years ago, there was a famous Korean monk named Bojo Chinul. While he was not Thai, many of his beliefs are consistent with Thai Buddhism and he spent most of his entire life seeking out the nature of evil.

It is important to note that there was a Confucianist uprising after Chinul’s death, so some of his scrolls were hidden away and subsequently lost. But, fortunately, we’re still finding some of them. The most recent one was discovered in 1941; tucked away in a museum in Yokohama, Japan.

One of his early works was called The Condensation of the Exposition of the Avatamsaka Sutra. You don’t need to remember that title and, yes, his work is often as complicated as it sounds… but we’ll keep it fairly simple.

Bojo Chinul succeeded in identifying the origin of evil and even prescribed a remedy to wipe it out. So, for this Halloween, All About Buddhism is going to republish the core points of his work into modern terms that are easy to understand.

He realised, as many of us already know, that men become more evil as life goes on. Genghis Khan, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin and others like them became what they were over many years… but, could they have been born that way?

Bojo Chinul flatly says no. Much like Thai Buddhism, he did believe that the Karma of our previous life determined what body and general life we were born into today, but he also believed that our minds were entirely pure when we were born – a period of mental activity that roughly translates to ‘no-thought’.

He also recognised that both evil delusion and Buddhist Enlightenment arise from entirely the same place – the human mind. Thus, evil behaviour is a result of years of unhealthy intake or, to put it more simply, a contaminated mind.
But here, his archaic writings make an intriguing point. In modern times, we tend to think of education as bettering yourself, but Chinul argued exactly the opposite. He argued that the process of life (education), contaminates EVERYONE’S mind – just in different ways.

In modern times, our lack of ability to find any consistent physical stimuli for evil very much seems to substantiate his thesis. The cure, he argued, was to return to a state of ‘no-thought’, just as you were on the day that you first arrived in this world – a time when nothing was good or evil, it just was.

He explained that the path to get back to ‘no-thought’ was a long one. Thai Buddhists do this through years of complicated, peaceful meditation. Our ultimate goal is to get to a completely free state of thought, or ‘no-thought’.
But, this is not fast nor easy. It starts with a ‘Sudden Awakening’ followed by years of ‘gradual cultivation’. In Thailand, this ‘cultivation’ or practice is what separates a Novice Monk from an Enlightened Monk.

Non-Buddhists can make use of this knowledge by understanding that all Buddhist teachings tend to illustrate that all behaviour, including evil and anger, is the product of what translates as ‘Activated Consciousness’.

So, if you find yourself living in more than just a ‘bad day’ – living instead in an unhappy, eternal Halloween; you don’t need to call the Ghostbusters. You just need to work at deactivating your normal sense of awareness. That’s probably the hardest step to take.

There are a lot of easy steps, though, like eschewing the pursuit of profit and replacing it with pursuit of genuine faith. In addition, we have to be aware that our mind, if uncontrolled, is deeply dualistic: It accepts pleasure and rejects pain.

Sinister evil thrives on taking perverse pleasure out of perverse pain.

Buddhists shut down their dualistic thought process by empathising with anything that is suffering and non-Buddhists could take a page from that by extensively helping the less fortunate.

Finally, our world is one of ‘perceptual assumptions’ and 24-hour cable news. In an eternal Halloween, the trick is that we fall into perceptual assumptions like ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘man only does wicked things.’

The treat, however, is in remembering that, at all times, man is only one step away from Divinity. While Divinity might be one giant leap for mankind, it is but one small step for a man.

…So, ding-dong… trick or treat?

All About Buddhism is a monthly column in The Phuket News where I take readers on my exotic journey into Thai Buddhism and debunk a number of myths about Buddhism. If you have any specific queries, or ideas for articles, please let us know. Email editor1@classactmedia.co.th, and I will do my best to accommodate your interests.

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