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“Wrong” and “Right”: What is the Truth?

happy and mad“Here and beyond he suffers. The wrong-doer suffers both ways. He suffers and is tormented to see his own depraved behavior. Here and beyond he is glad. The doer of good is glad both ways. He is glad and rejoices to see his own good deeds” (Dhammapada 15, 16).

“Wrong” and “right”

Suffering is the lot of the wrong-doers and happiness is the lot of the right-doers. But what is “wrong” and what is “right”?

Here, too, a lot of moral slackers take up Buddhism and Hinduism with the idea that they will escape “Judeo-Christian morality.” And they do–being neither Buddhist nor Hindu in any viable sense. On the other hand, those who investigate either religion to any significant degree will encounter a moral code that extends far beyond the simplistic “good doggie, bad doggie” code of externalized Judaism or Christianity.

First of all, the concepts, of “sin,” “wrong,” “good,” “right,” and “virtue” are completely different from their seeming equivalents in Western religion. In Western religion a thing is good because God commands it, and bad because God forbids it. The inherent nature of the thing is irrelevant. Do what God wants and you will be good and rewarded accordingly; do what God “hates” and you will be evil and punished accordingly. It is all a matter of “law.”

The flaw in this should be obvious: everyone under the constraints of law seeks to get around it and yet be considered law-abiding. All kinds of stretches and concessions are sought–and obtained. (Just consider the Jesuitical contortions of Roman Catholic moral theology.) If one church will not make concessions, just go find one that will, or start your own.

A personal experience

I knew a man who did just that. He belonged to a fundamentalist church that said those who divorced and remarried would go to hell–and so would those they married. He preached it fervently, and once when rebuking a man for having married a divorced woman, was astounded when the man countered that the preacher’s own sister had married a divorcee! He investigated and found that to be so. So “God” led him to start his own church that held to all his original principles, except for the allowance of divorce and remarriage.

The real criterion

In the East the criterion is very different. If a thing spiritually harms the individual then it is wrong; if something spiritually benefits the individual then it is right. What else need be said? Naturally addicts and ignoramuses loudly insist that harmful things are not harmful and protest that beneficial things are burdensome and hurtful. But that does not matter to Eastern religion, because unlike Western religion there is no compulsion to coerce people into doing the good and avoiding the bad. If someone wants to harm himself, calling it good, that is his business. For such a person religion is irrelevant anyway–and he is irrelevant to religion.

Here again we see a profound difference between East and West. In the Western religions God as an almighty monarch is the center of attention, the adherents have no value or relevance except in relation to His ideas about them. In Eastern religions, the spiritual liberation of the individual is the center of concern, and the truth about his spiritual status is all-important (whether he or others accept or deny it).

Since liberation is the result of union with God, Eastern religions make Him truly the center of things, the center of life itself, in contrast to the basically political centrism of Western religions that insistently maintains an infinite gulf between God and us. In the West the question is: “Are you obeying and pleasing God?” and in the East it is: “Are you moving toward union with God?” As I say, it is politics versus states of being. One reduces us to nothing, the other makes spirit–both finite and Infinite–everything.

Here and beyond

Wherever we may be, we experience the effect of our deeds, whether we are physically incarnate in the material plane of existence or out of the body in an astral or causal world. Our presence in those worlds as well as our situation in them is determined solely by our own deeds. As a well-known Buddhist sutra affirms, we have nothing but our own actions and we never shall have anything but our own actions in the form of their results. As Saint Paul wrote to Saint Timothy: “Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after” (I Timothy 5:24). They may be either actualized or potential, but they are there. They are there.

“He suffers.…He is glad”

It is the results that reveal the character of our actions, not the excuse-making or rationalization of ourselves or others. Consequently:

“The wrong-doer suffers both ways. He suffers and is tormented to see his own depraved behavior.…The doer of good is glad both ways. He is glad and rejoices to see his own good deeds.”

Anyone who wants can try to weasel out of it by claiming that God favors and purifies us by making us suffer to make us more “pleasing” to Him and curses those He detests by damning them through prosperity and ease, and therefore misery is proof of virtue. Such a view makes God a fool and a monster, but reveals that the view-holder is the fool, the monster–and is suffering accordingly.

Why does Buddha not explain to us about those bad, even horribly evil people, who live in high style and seem to have all they want, and those good people who have hardship and misfortune? The answer is twofold, external and internal.

Externally, the good fortune of the bad is the result of good deeds done in the past, and the misfortune of the good is the result of bad deeds done in the past. There is nothing more to it.

Internally, the truth is that no matter what advantages a person may have, how easy their outer life may be, the evil suffer constantly in their hearts and minds–that is why they are so addicted to alcohol, drugs, and frantic pleasure, especially sex.

Conversely, however unfortunate the external situation of the good may be, they experience peace and contentment and even rejoice in heart and mind. So there is no need to comment on them; Buddha is speaking of internal suffering and rejoicing–not prosperity, poverty, or other external conditions.

Further Reading:

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