The Oneness of Good & Evil

Developing the Courage To Accept Our Innate Good and Evil

The evil of destruction is like a shadow cast by the good of creation. Nature gives and takes life. Even on the cellular level of the human body, the evil of decay and death exists side by side with the good of growth and health.

For example, while the precise mechanism of cancer remains unknown, research has demonstrated that the malignant transformation of a cell is linked to cancer-causing genes called oncogenes. In normal cells, oncogenes are called proto-oncogenes, which promote cellular growth and are regulated by cellular genes called tumor-suppressor genes. Tumor-suppressor-genes, in other words, control growth-promoting genes, which could potentially turn malignant. ("Cancer: Causation." "The Cause of Disease: Abnormal Growth of Cells." Encyclopedia Britannica, CD 1999). Thus, the potential for cancer not only exists in every cell of the body, but also supports cell's growth and health.

Concerning the nature of good and evil, Nichiren Daishonin states: "Good and evil have been inherent in life since time without beginning...The heart of the Lotus school is the doctrine of three thousand realms in a single moment of life, which reveals that both good and evil are inherent even in those at the highest stage of perfect enlightenment. The fundamental nature of enlightenment manifests itself as Brahma and Shakra, whereas the fundamental darkness manifests itself as the devil king of the sixth heaven" (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 1113). The Daishonin explains that all people are endowed with supreme good and evil, as well as all the possible life states in between. We can be either as godly as "Brahma and Shakra" or as devilish as the "devil king."

Good and evil, in other words, are innate, inseparable aspects of life. This Buddhist concept is called the "oneness of good and evil." This teaching however, does not mean that evil is good, nor does it imply that the distinction between good and evil is irrelevant. Instead, it teaches us to perceive and triumph over evil inside—thereby conquering evil on the outside—through faith in the universal goodness of life.

In the context of the Daishonin's teaching, good means the "fundamental nature of enlightenment," or absolute freedom and happiness resulting from profound self-knowledge. Evil indicates the "fundamental darkness," or life's innate delusion negating the potential of enlightenment and causing suffering for oneself and others. This inner darkness echoes with the despair that our lives are ugly and meaningless; it drives a wedge of fear that splits the hearts of people into "us" and "them." The Daishonin's concept of good and evil, in this sense, may be better understood as the dynamic, innate workings of life that become manifest or dormant, rather than the external moral codes determined by cultural and social conditions.

A Buddha is someone who has the courage to acknowledge those two fundamental aspects of life. As the Daishonin states, "One who is thoroughly awakened to the nature of good and evil from their roots to their branches and leaves is called a Buddha" (WND, 1121). Buddhas accept their innate goodness without arrogance because they know all people share the same Buddha nature. Buddhas also recognize their innate evil without despair because they know they have the strength to overcome and control their negativity. Buddhas understand the hearts of people in myriad conditions and circumstances. Buddhas are capable of guiding others to their own awakening. This is because Buddhas share the same conditions as others, yet have the strength and wisdom to control their own evil.

Much of our difficulty in discerning the workings of good and evil is due to our unwillingness to acknowledge the potential of both supreme good and evil within our own lives. We don't want to see ourselves as either very good or very bad, hiding instead behind a collective moral mediocrity that requires neither the responsibility of goodness nor the guilt of evil. To flee from the responsibility to realize the full potential of our innate goodness, we say, "I can't be as good as..." (Fill in the blanks with the names of those whom you think supremely good and bad respectively, or "Buddha" in the former blank and "devil" in the latter.)

For some of us, our moral ambiguity of the self, however, seems to demand quick judgment of others—those who serve our interest as "good people" and those whom we dislike as "bad people"—as if to counterbalance our inner confusion with our forced clarity outside. Others seem unable to denounce the clearly manifest evil of humanity for fear of being judged in return. Such people fear the judgment of others because they themselves lack the courage to see their own potential for good and evil. As a result, our view of the world becomes narrow, if not distorted.

Paul Tillich, a noted philosopher and theologian of the last century, said, "The courage to affirm oneself must include the courage to affirm one's own demonic depth" (The Courage to Be, p.122).

In the same regard, Carl Jung said, "Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is" (Psychology and Religion, p.93). Jung also made the following observation of a person who develops the courage to face the potential of evil within: "Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow the he has done something real for the world" (ibid pp. 101–02).

The Daishonin had the courage to see his own "demonic depth," as he candidly wrote: "Although I, Nichiren, am not a man of wisdom, the devil king of the sixth heaven has attempted to take possession of my body. But I have for some time been taking such great care that he now no longer comes near me" (WND, 310). The Daishonin had the courage to see his own fundamental darkness. In spite of this sober reality, he summoned forth faith in his innate Buddhahood and thus overcame life's tendency to deny its own highest reality. As he said, "A sharp sword to cut through the fundamental darkness is to be bound in faith alone" (Gosho Zenshu, p. 751).

The faith that enables us to experience the freedom and happiness of Buddhahood is synonymous with the courage to see our potential for both good and evil. The process of accepting and challenging our fundamental darkness is necessarily the process of revealing our innate enlightenment. Likewise, our efforts to help others become aware of their own self-negating delusion must be accompanied by our efforts to help them become aware of their own self-affirming power of enlightenment. Without one, another is impossible.

To see our innate good and evil is to experience the joy of accepting our whole being. As Tillich said, "Joy is the emotional expression of the courageous Yes to one's own true being" (The Courage to Be, p.14). Such honest and courageous acceptance of the self also marks the beginning of the essential transformation of our lives and the world around us.

Living Buddhism, February 2002, p. 6