It has been my pleasure to co-lead the Sunday meditations at East West with Shaefeather several times over the past couple months, and I figured I would share to the broader audience a few of the thoughts I gathered as a result. (Before starting, I should note that these musings are entirely my own, and do not reflect the thoughts or teachings of East West, Ananda, Yogananda, or anyone else.)
As part of the meditations, we read from Swami Kriyananda’s “Rays of the One Light” and give a brief talk on the subject of the week. The subject of this week’s chapter is: “Is God there even where there is ignorance?” In this chapter, Kriyananda quotes a section of the Autobiography of a Yogi in which Yogananda writes, “Closing my eyes, I saw flashes of lightning; the vast space within me was a chamber of molten light. I opened my eyes and observed the same dazzling radiance. The room became a part of the infinite vault which I beheld with interior vision.”
The point Swami is illustrating with this passage is that the light-presence of God is everywhere, even where we normally perceive only darkness. When we look out into the void of space, the Hubble and other telescopes have shown us that even in the darkest regions of sky there are galaxies with trillions of stars. If you were to teleport out into the space between Andromeda and the Milky Way, you would still be able to see stars. Meaning – even in that ‘perfect vacuum’ there is a countless number of photons, an infinite quantity of light from all of the stars and galaxies shining in all directions, from all directions. And even in a fragment of rock deep within the Earth where no star can reach, there is light; every atom has energy and electrons that, when fractured… well, we know what happens through atomic science.
Pretty easy, then, to understand the notion of light being present everywhere – science tells us this is true. But the title of the chapter asks us not if there is light in the darkness, but if there is light in ignorance. I think of ignorance being not just the passive absence of light, but the active counter to what we believe is good and wise. That is to say – evil. Is there light and God behind evil?
When we think evil thoughts, the way they form, at least from a scientific perspective, is essentially the same as our positive thoughts - their physical form is the electro-chemical reactions that form all thoughts. In this way, we can see from a very mundane point of view that evil thoughts have the same physical existence as good thoughts. And if you could see them under a microscope or some other instrument, I imagine they would look like little flashes of light. But this doesn’t quite get at the question behind the question.
Yogananda said that light shines just as brightly on the blackest coals as on the most radiant diamonds. Well, this is also true but once again doesn’t seem to answer the question behind the question.
Imagine a world where only two things exist – God and not God – or rather, God and the one thing God created – that other thing must be, by comparison, evil, or in other words, that which is not perfect. For example, if the only things that existed were God and Jesus, Jesus would be, by comparison – would at least imperfect. Perfection, when it really comes down to it, requires totality. This is why no person can be perfect – because even as good as Jesus and all other saints and prophets are, they are not able to truly alleviate all suffering in this world. We all scrape our knees now and then. Even in a utopia, people will die or fall or get sick, or some problem will happen. And certainly for the story of Jesus to be the story of Jesus the people who crucified him had to have their evil thoughts. And yet, did Jesus perceive his enemies as enemies? In fact, he didn’t call them evil or enemies, he said simply, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” So from the perspective of Jesus, his ‘enemies’ were not evil, just ignorant.
So evil comes from us. Not from our evil actions or thoughts - it comes from our belief that evil exists. It is because we have the word ‘evil’ in our vocabulary – as a concept – that evil exists. If we lived in a dimension where all of our senses were just the God-sense, if we could perceive no light, no darkness, no movement, no action or inaction or any thought or any sensation – not even the passage of time – if all we could feel was one-ness with God, then no matter what happened, we would see God only. And if anything did move us from that one-pointed concentration, would we call it evil? A better word we could give it is distraction. When we meditate and we are looking for bliss, we would never call our cats, dogs or children evil just because they distracted us. So, asking if God is behind evil, or if there is God in ignorance, is the wrong question. The question is why do ignorance and evil exist? One answer is, simply, because we perceive that they exist.
Many religions have told us, “For every ailment, God provides a remedy.” But this need not be seen as a reactive process – an evil happens and God repairs it. No – for everything the human identifies as evil or ignorant – God has a different word for it.
Easy, perhaps, to dismiss such teachings as impractical, the teachings of scripture but not of life. I want to offer one last quote which touched me greatly. The quote comes from a letter written by Troy A. Davis, a man who was convicted of killing a police officer, and who was most likely innocent. A day or so before being executed, he wrote,
“Remember that in life we don’t always get what we want but even when faced with the worst of times, God will open a window of hope and a door to prosperity.
God Bless You!
Troy A. Davis”
Therefore, the idea of meditation is not to find emptiness but to find what is present when we empty our minds of our minds – that is to say, imagine your brain is like a cup, and instead of water this cup is full of thoughts. Empty your brain of thoughts and even in that dark emptiness, something will be present. What is there? Only you can tell.
To read more about Troy's story and the boy who wrote letters to him, click here.
Ethan Barker is the editor the East West Journal, and will be hosting an open discussion about Ram Dass's Be Here Now on Monday, January 28th, at 7:30pm.