Good and Evil

Alphonse Bihr

The miracle of consciousness and the ever-ascending progress of evolution are the surest indication of a benevolent Cosmic Purpose. The accomplishments of the human mind in the realm of the spirit are an extension of the all-embracing Cosmic Mind. The works of the leading thinkers rise like towering peaks above the great mass of humanity. In all his spiritual aspirations man has striven toward a goal of moral perfection. What can be the impulse behind this deep-seated urge? Men have sacrificed their lives and suffered unspeakable torture in the exercise of their moral convictions. Such strength of faith can stem only from the deep roots of a divine purpose.

From man's point of view, and from his limited scale of observation, it appears as if he were the originator of this impulse for goodness. In a sense this is true, but actually man is the abode and the physical instrument of the all-embracing Cosmic Power which manifests itself by means of the physical universe. Among all living beings we know of, he is endowed with the greatest potential for good and, by the same token, for evil. Because man has reached this high level of evolution, life's purpose becomes more apparent in his career; still we know very little about his remote past. Physically, man has progressed from the simple to the complex, from imperfection toward perfection, from chaos to order, all of which gives rise to the conviction that behind and beyond the wonderful adaptation to surroundings there must be an indomitable Will to express itself. If this were not so, then life would never have come into existence and the cosmos would be an inert chaotic conglomeration of material substance. In fact, it would be safe to assert that the world would not be in existence at all!

Man's capacity for higher thought indicates that somewhere along the line he must have reached the stage of enlightenment when he was able to distinguish good from evil, and become aware self-consciously of his spiritual nature. This emancipation from the state of innocence of the so-called Garden of Eden has created an impassable gulf between him and the lower animals. Frequently we deplore the fact that his spiritual evolution has not kept pace with his swift conquest of the material side of life. Perhaps this was inevitable. After all, material substance can be weighed, measured and analyzed, whereas things of the spirit are intangible. Even though spirit manifests itself only through matter, it cannot be placed in a test-tube and separated from matter. Intuition combined with reason must be our working tools, and our free will must lift us to a far higher level than that of a child who is being tested for his honesty and integrity.

We are beginning to realize our divine origin and our ultimate destiny. We must have the courage to liberate our minds and souls from the medieval shackles of superstition and fear, and break out of the trackless forests of beliefs no longer consistent with the scientific progress of our age.

The allegory of the Tree of Knowledge still does not give a sure yardstick for evaluating good and evil: twin qualities which have been the most prolific sources of man's social problems since Adam and Eve were compelled to leave the Garden of Eden. The early Christians thought they were serving the cause of goodness when they opposed with the sword those who disagreed with their beliefs. Not many generations ago witches were burned alive at the stake and men were hanged because they were believed to be possessed by evil spirits. It is certain that the Prince of Peace would never have approved these acts of violence of his followers. Even today our hearts are not entirely freed from the hatreds engendered by religious beliefs.

Always man has been looking outside of himself for the sources of good and evil. Personalized gods and demons appear in practically all religions, in both Occident and Orient, from the earliest civilizations to the present day. There is an astounding inconsistency in the belief in a God, the giver of all good gifts and graces, who, as the creator of all things, has also brought into being the numerous evil spirits to tempt and torment man, his supreme creation.

In the minds of enlightened people all these beliefs have lost their reality. They have assumed a symbolic character. God and the Devil as persons, separate from the universe, have no real existence. Both are creations of the human mind. They vary in name and personal character with each civilization. They come and go with the cultural progress of mankind. An increasing number of us must reject these traditional beliefs and find the truth hidden behind these symbols which illuminates and is consistent with contemporary progress.

First, we must redefine our concept of the invisible Power which mystifies us so much. This Power, which we may call God or Deity, is not a man-like being, perfect in every way. It is spirit, present in every particle of matter throughout the entire universe. We may call it Cosmic Intelligence. It has no personal consciousness in the sense of individual human or animal consciousness. On the other hand, our experience indicates that this Cosmic Intelligence transcends and embraces individual consciousness. It exercises no judgment over our every human act, but in the deep recesses of our consciousness we respond to its commands, and it points out the direction of our own judgment. In one very real sense, it forms what we call our conscience. A man commits a murder. He places the body in a trunk which he leaves in a vacant lot in the city. He later sets fire to the trunk so as to destroy any possible finger prints, after which he settles down in another part of the country. For twelve years he keeps his dread secret. But no longer: his conscience finally compels him to give himself up to the police and confess his crime.

The Power, or Intelligence, which we call God, wills neither good nor evil. An earthquake splits wide open the earth. Entire cities and villages are laid waste. In the terrible upheaval, the lives of hundreds of people are snuffed out, while thousands are maimed for life, and hundreds of thousands more made homeless. But we cannot call earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other such natural explosions, evil, however detrimental they may be to our well-being. They are the result of the play and interplay of cosmic forces, whose impact upon our earth we occasionally feel.

The plagues and epidemics, however, which ravaged mankind before the advances of medical science could definitely be traced to human ignorance. We have since discovered the cause and cure of most of them. Automobile and industrial accidents kill and maim thousands every year; yet even so we cannot consider either accidents or disease the result of evil intent. Evil, then, is that which is willed, and which is detrimental to another. Usually the motive is selfishness. The front pages of our newspapers are daily evidence. Evil is man-made. There are no evil spirits or demons which take possession of men's souls to entice them into their kingdom. Evil is a result of man's imperfect nature, a necessary phase of life as long as man inhabits the earth. It will diminish in degree as man progresses toward perfection. The duality in all things calls for an opposite to good. Good is the positive force which opposes the resisting negative force which we call evil. It is only thus good can be recognized.

This is as it should be. Within our hearts and minds the leaven of the all-embracing Cosmic Power stirs us into resistance against the static influence of evil. This is how the decalogue and all other rules for moral conduct came into being. The allegory of the Tree of Knowledge signalizes the awakening of mankind to the realization of the divine essence within the human soul. We are not the helpless victims of demons and powers for evil. On the contrary, the entire history of creation bears witness to the fact that man is a dauntless knight, armored with the knowledge of his mission for good, carrying forward the banner of knowledge against the gloom of ignorance with certainty of ultimate victory.

(From Sunrise magazine, March 1954; copyright © 1954 Theosophical University Press)

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