Good and Bad, Right and Wrong

Lately I have been thinking that I should be talking more about what right and wrong is within the context of Buddhism. Most of the time, many people will look for specifics of what is right, what is wrong, what is good, and what is bad. I have especially been motivated to do so with the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia fighting between white supremists and others causing death and injury. An atmosphere of hate erupted into fights and hurtful words.

For many the above symbols might use to symbolize good and bad, right and wrong. The symbol on the left is the swastika used by Hitler that became the symbol of hate and evil. The symbol on the right is the manji from India and represents the dharma, universal harmony and the balance of opposites. It is the symbol often found in Buddhist temples throughout Japan. Symbols can bring about feelings of hate or love, but they are only the fuel of a fire that burns within. It is the internal fuel of prejudice and ignorance that erupts into the flames of hate and anger. It was the statue of a confederate soldier being taken down that erupted into riots. The statue was seen as a symbol of racism and bigotry.

However, I want to share a quote with you by Yuenbo in the Tannisho. First of all, though it is important that we understand that as human beings that interact with other humans and with the world around us that there are rules, laws, customs and courtesies which we must all follow and observe. For example, we shouldn’t litter, we should say thank you and you are welcome. We are taught from childhood to know right from wrong and to refrain from lying, stealing, cheating etc. Without these rules and courtesies, the world could not or would not operate smoothly. However, on another level of understanding is a different view of good and bad.

“In reality, all of us, including myself, talk only about what is good and evil without thinking of the Tathágata’s compassion. Our master once said, “I do not know what the two, good and evil, really mean. I could say that I know what good is, if I knew good as thoroughly and completely as the Tathágata. And I could say I know what evil is, if I knew evil as thoroughly and completely as the Tathágata. But in this impermanent world, like a burning house, all things are empty and vain, therefore, untrue. Only the Nembutsu is true, real, and sincere. Shinran himself was well aware of good and bad right and wrong and he wasn’t saying that he did not understand the difference.”

Shinran understood this balance of opposites that exists in this world. Love and hate are two sides of the same coin. Our predicament is that we do not see this balance and only see what in our minds is right and wrong. And we cannot free ourselves from attachments in this world that is so uncertain. That makes it difficult for us to transcend the world of love and hate. Our view is unbalanced and when confronted with views opposing ours we become increasingly agitated insisting “I’m right, your wrong”. Our perception of the self creates the world in which we live.
The Buddha understood this plight of human beings and reaches out to us with Universal love and compassion that is boundless. Those of us troubled by love and hate are the recipients of Amida’s compassionate vow. True freedom and equality exist in the Tathagata’s vast and limitless wisdom and compassion that embraces we who struggle to understand life’s events unfolding around us.

Rev. Shinseki