Due to the horrific events playing out on the world stage, I find myself unable to avoid the subject of “evil.” Some of my readers have objected to my use of the term “evil,” because it “triggers” something in them which makes them feel uncomfortable, and sometimes even makes them stop reading. Their reaction has made me wonder whether I should use a different word so as not to trigger them, or is activating people the whole point of my writing? When I contemplate this question, however, I am left with the feeling that there is no other word that more accurately describes what I am pointing at than “evil.” I find myself wondering, is there something being revealed to us when, for example, people are triggered by the mere mention of the word “evil?” When I mention the word evil, I am not talking metaphysically. I am not theologically qualified to do so. When I talk about evil, I am talking about psychological evil, whose effects are all around us. Splitting-off from and projecting out our own darkness is an inner psychological process that explicates itself in the outer world by feeding the seemingly endless destruction in the collective body politic. In using the term psychological evil, I am being pragmatic in that I am referring to the senseless and unnecessary violence being enacted all around us whose source is to be found nowhere but within the human psyche. Psychological evil has a dis-integrative effect on the whole (both inwardly and outwardly), and is hence, anti-life.
Talking about the real-world manifestations of evil, Jung said, “The Christian world is now truly confronted by the principle of evil, by naked injustice, tyranny, lies, slavery, and coercion of conscience…. Evil has become a determinant reality. It can no longer be dismissed from the world by a circumlocution [an indirect, roundabout mode of expression]. We must learn how to handle it, since it is here to stay.” We are clearly being asked – make that demanded – by the universe to come to terms with evil.
Evil animates itself, psychologically speaking, through humanity’s unconsciousness. Evil’s power is only operative in the absence of consciousness. Evil, through our psychological blind spots, plays with our perceptions so as to hide itself. In order to not be destroyed by evil we have to understand the nature of the beast we are dealing with. Like that great maxim of medicine says, “Do not attempt to cure what you do not understand.” We have to bring evil to the level of conscious awareness. To quote Jung, “…how can evil be integrated? There is only one possibility: to assimilate it, that is to say, raise it to the level of consciousness.”
Evil cannot stand to be seen, for when it is truly seen, it is not unconscious anymore, and its seeming power over us gets taken away. Just like a vampire can’t stand the light of consciousness, once we see evil, we take away its autonomy - it can no longer act itself out through us unconsciously. The energy locked up in evil then becomes available to serve what is best for the whole, which is to say it becomes transformed so as to feed and nourish life, instead of creating death.
Jung said, “Today as never before it is important that human beings should not overlook the danger of the evil lurking within them. It is unfortunately only too real, which is why psychology must insist on the reality of evil and must reject any definition that regards it as insignificant or actually non-existent. Psychology is an empirical science and deals with realities.” In this statement Jung is not making a theological statement having to do with the metaphysical reality of evil. He is simply pointing at the psychological reality of evil, whose outward effects are evident all around us.
How much longer can we deny the reality of evil within our own psyche? Our denial is itself the manifestation of the very evil we are denying, while at the same time, our denial engenders the very evil of which our denial is an expression. The fact that evil is so rampant in our world is undeniably a reflection of something within ourselves. This is why Jung said, “We need more psychology. We need more understanding of human nature, because the only real danger that exists is man himself…. His psyche should be studied, because we are the origin of all coming evil.”
It is quite interesting that evil is such a major player in the world and so few people are actually acknowledging its leading role, let alone contemplating its dynamics. To again quote Jung, “One must be positively blind not to see the colossal role that evil plays in the world.” What we are calling evil has been playing itself out throughout history, but now it has come out of hiding in the shadows and is staring us in the face for all who open their eyes and look. Jung pulled no punches when he said, “Evil today has become a visible Great Power.” We can no longer avoid confronting evil, as our very survival as a species depends upon it.
Jung continued, “The view that we can simply turn our back on evil and in this way eschew [avoid, shun] it belongs to the long list of antiquated naiveties. This is sheer ostrich policy and does not affect the reality of evil in the slightest.” This “ostrich policy,” in addition to having no affect on diminishing evil’s very real effects, is unwittingly strengthening evil’s seeming power and sovereignty.
It is a big mistake, a true sin – a missing of the mark – for us to run from and avoid relationship with the evil we find within us. Jung said, “As long as Evil is [considered] a non-entity, nobody will take his own shadow seriously.... The future of mankind very much depends upon the recognition of the shadow. Evil is – psychologically speaking – terribly real. It is a fatal mistake to diminish its power and reality…. Evil verily does not decrease by being hushed up as a non-reality.”
Jung is talking about the profound urgency for each of us to come to terms with our own shadow, which always has both a personal and archetypal dimension. The archetypal dimension of the shadow has a greater breath and depth than the merely personal. Archetypal evil non-locally pervades the entire field of consciousness in which we all partake. If we are not in conscious relationship with our own shadow, we are unwittingly feeding and supporting the collective archetypal shadow spreading throughout the collective field.
Insisting that we shouldn’t talk about or put our attention on evil is one of the ways that evil keeps itself in business. Evil convinces us that to put our attention on evil only feeds it. This deception is so convincing because in one sense it is true. Evil only has power because we invest it with our attention. And yet, our looking away from evil is the very thing that allows it to generate itself and act itself out through our unconscious. A seeming conundrum: looking at evil appears to strengthen it, but looking away gives it power over us. Being unaware of evil due to unconscious denial is very different than consciously choosing not to give it our attention, however. Evil becomes bankrupt and unemployed when we see how it incarnates itself through our unconscious so as to disguise and cloak itself.
One way that evil hides itself is by instilling in us the spiritual belief that evil isn’t real, it doesn’t really exist, that all that is real is “God.” This deception is so seductive because on the ultimate level of reality, the fact that evil doesn’t exist and that all that is real is “God” is true. On the absolute, ultimate level of reality, categories such as good and evil lose all meaning as opposites to each other. From the ultimate point of view, there IS no such thing as evil. Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, one of the world’s foremost scholars on Islam, makes this same point when he says, “…evil is real as much as we, who are relative beings, are real, but it is not real as far as “The Real’ is concerned. That is, in God there is no evil.”
What we call evil is simply the result of our own clinging and grasping. Our own inner darkness is not evil, but simply part of our totality. It is our contracting against any part of ourselves, whether it be dark or light, which generates the seeming problem. Evil’s origin is our self-contraction against our own inner boundless radiance. Our self-contraction is itself an expression of the Divine working through us. Our self-contraction, while appearing to obscure our true nature, is actually a “disguised” expression of it. From the absolute point of view, everything IS spirit. Russian philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev expresses this paradox when he said, “It is equally true that a dark source of evil exists in the world and that in the final sense of the word there is no evil.”
On the relative level of reality, however, evil is as real as real can be. A big mistake some metaphysically-oriented people make is to solely identify with the absolute, and marginalize the relative. Recognizing that there is ultimately no such thing as evil, they refuse to acknowledge and deal with it as it manifests in the relative world of flesh and blood. They try to magically “wish” the very real effects of evil out of existence by denying that it exists, which is a form of denial that strengthens the reality of what is being denied. In their denial they have created an artificial split between the opposites. All spiritual wisdom traditions point out that the absolute and relative levels of reality are not separate from each other; they interpenetrate each other so fully that they are truly one.
THE LION’S GAZE
There is an intrinsic problem with illuminating evil, however, as articulating the nature of evil can actually invoke it in the field. This is to say that even mentioning the word evil can constellate that very quality in the reader, as well as in myself. It then becomes a question of how do we “relate” to the very darkness within us which has been evoked? Do we react in fear, in which case the seeming evil has power over us? Or do we turn the light of consciousness onto the part of ourselves that is the source of the darkness, reflecting upon the very darkness which has been called forth within us?
One of the most beautiful teachings in Buddhism is called “The Lion’s Gaze.” The following example is given as an illustration: when we throw a stick around a dog, the dog runs after the stick, but when we throw a stick around a lion, the lion runs after us. The throwing of the stick in this example represents when something inside of us gets triggered. When we are triggered, it is as if a button inside of us has been pushed which activates an unconscious, compulsive knee-jerk reflex. Running after the stick like the dog, which is to “act out” being triggered, is to put our attention outside of ourselves. “Oh, I don’t want to read about evil, it triggers me. I’m going to stop reading about it.” This is to relate to what is triggering us in the outside world as “the problem.” Having the gaze of the lion, however, if we become triggered by the word evil, for example, we turn within ourselves and self-reflect, looking at whatever it is within us that has gotten activated. The lion is not afraid to go right to the source of the trigger, which is never outside, but always within ourselves. Assuming the fearless gaze of the lion, we relate to the situation that has triggered us as a gift, as it has helped us access a part of ourselves that up until now has been unconscious, and hence hidden.
Shedding the light of our own awareness on what has become activated within us by, for example, our contemplation of evil, is the very act which transforms and liberates the evil within us back into our wholeness. Being in touch with our intrinsic wholeness is to recognize that we include both light and dark. Because evil exists in the non-local field of consciousness itself, we are all susceptible to its snares. Paradoxically, our awareness of our susceptibility to evil cultivates the humility which immunizes us from evil’s harmful effects. The way to deal with evil is to be in touch with our inherent wholeness, what Jung calls the self, which acts as a sacred amulet or talisman, so to speak, shielding and protecting us from evil’s pernicious effects.
Evil is an archetypal content of the collective unconscious, and like the mythic Medusa, can be too much to look at directly (whether it be in the outside world, or within ourselves), as it can be too traumatizing and hence, experienced as overwhelming. Just like seeing Medusa’s reflections in the mirror, we can dis-spell the power of evil in the world by putting our attention on the reflex-ions it activates within ourselves.
It is impossible to see the outer manifestation of evil and stay a detached, passive member of the audience. Being an archetype, evil has an infectious quality; once we see it, we are no longer the same. Once we see evil in the outside world, a resonant frequency within us becomes ignited and set aflame. We can then approach evil’s reflex-ion by looking with the lion’s gaze at what has gotten triggered within us. It is by recognizing evil as it gets reflexively activated within us by the outside world that we assimilate it into the wholeness of our being.
Once we recognize, embrace and thereby metabolize the evil that has been triggered within ourselves, we non-locally lighten the darkness pervading the entire field of consciousness, as the evil within and without are inseparably interconnected as aspects of one unified process. In addition, by becoming consciously aware of our own darkness, we become self-empowered to effectively deal with the evil in the outer world in new and more creative ways that were previously unimaginable. Awakening to the darkness within us, we can connect with each other in lucid awareness and actively mobilize our collective genius so as to genuinely transform our world.
As we become more deeply acquainted with the evil within us, it is discovered to be a potential catalyst for the growth and expansion of consciousness, which is to say that evil ultimately serves the good. Jung recognized that whenever evil appeared in an individual person’s process, some deeper good always came out of the experience that would not have emerged without the manifestation of evil. Could the same thing be true on a collective scale? To quote Jung, “…we assiduously avoid investigating whether in this very power of evil God might not have placed some special purpose which it is most important for us to know.” We would not have had an expansion of consciousness if it weren’t for the emergence of evil and our struggles with it. In Goethe’s masterpiece “Faust,” Faust asks Mephistopheles (who represents the Devil) who he is, and Mephistopheles replies that he is “…part of that force which would do evil, yet forever works the good.” In coming to terms with evil, evil is recognized to play a key role in the divine mystery of the Incarnation (of God) through humanity.
It is imperative for us to find the name for what is happening in our world. To find the name of the demon is to exorcise it. This is the power of the logos, of the word. Like it says in the Bible, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1). Finding the name is a creative act which has the power to change the universe. Jung said, “For mankind it was always like a deliverance from a nightmare when the new name was found.” We need to realize that the hour is upon us, and that we are being asked by the universe to deal with the evil in the outside world by finding its name within ourselves. Seeing the evil within ourselves allows us to get a “handle” on it.
Could it be that our unconscious re-action against even the mere mention of the word “evil” is touching a deeper, hidden part of ourselves so as to reveal it to us? Is our being triggered the very portal through which we can potentially learn how to effectively deal with evil? Is evil reflecting itself back to us through our reactions to it so as to transform itself, and us, in the process? Is the emergence of evil in our world the revelation of the very part of ourselves which we need to know in order to awaken? The answer to these questions is to be found by turning the lion’s gaze of awareness towards the darkness which is being triggered within us.
Once we genuinely see the evil inside of us, we don’t have to feed it by fixating our attention on it, as this would only be draining. Realizing that we can choose where we put our awareness empowers us. Once we see our own darkness, we can consciously choose not to focus on it for too long. We can then invest our energy in-visioning the world we want to co-create with each other, dreaming it up into actual materialization, a truly evolutionary act.
Jung said, “…for in the self good and evil are indeed closer than identical twins!” In the wholeness of the self, good and evil are indivisibly united, endlessly turning into one another so as to be ultimately indistinguishable. Jung commented, “In the empirical self, light and shadow form a paradoxical unity.” The perspective which realizes that good and evil are not opposites but inseparably united is the aforementioned ultimate, or absolute state of consciousness. Could it be that this is the deeper meaning and teleology (purpose or goal) of evil in our world: to wake us up to our identity with divinity? Once enough of us realize this, we are able to creatively connect with each other and collectively transmute the destructive effects of evil into the liberating light of love itself. How miraculous!