Carved on the walls of a temple I visited recently is a beautiful and terrible promise…
Whenever and wherever there is a humiliation of righteousness
and a predominance of unrighteousness prevails,
In those times and in those places, I will manifest in the world.
To protect goodness,
To annihilate evildoers,
To restore the balance of righteousness,
In every age, I will take form.
The “I” in these verses is Lord Krishna, a divine incarnation, speaking to his devotee, Arjuna, a great prince, on the eve of a historic battle.
Let me be clear! Despite my origins, I am not a devotee of any incarnation of Divinity, but I was moved by these verses in a way I cannot quite explain. The possibility that Conscious Compassionate Awareness is not wholly indifferent to how things play out on the cosmic stage was absurdly comforting. That Life is ever-changing, that it’s a vast mystery beyond our human comprehension; that Uncertainty is its signature, in the face of which we have no agency or control, is and has always been true. But what a mixed blessing it is when we are required to confront that truth. How wonderful that, in that moment of absolute terror (that’s what I felt at any rate), in that experience of the annihilation of “me” and the shattering of all my illusions, what I encounter is Comforting.
We could dismiss the notion of “Goodness taking form to root out evil” as a mind game of the weakly credulous, just another way to anesthetize ourselves from facing the terrible randomness of the world. But as I let myself be embraced in feeling comforted, I wondered whether Faith has to be blind. Can Faith not come from being so in tune with the Truth of Existence that we “know” things that a mere ego consciousness is not in touch with? What would we experience if we allowed ourselves to let go the conditioning that clings to “rationality” and refuses to even entertain the magnitude of the Unknown?
I used to be of the naïve persuasion that sought refuge in the belief that “good will triumph over evil” and “justice will prevail” and the story will eventually have a happy ending. (Perhaps I’m still of that persuasion and that’s why those verses spoke to me!) But Practice has allowed me to mature sufficiently to at least grapple with the spiritual truth of Holy Indifference. That suffering exists is the undeniable Noble Truth. That this plane of existence is where we struggle to choose between ego and conscious awareness is verifiable. That there is no guarantee that goodness will prevail is a spiritual frontier to be transcended. Perhaps the frontier evaporates when the subject/object orientation that creates the sense of Good versus Evil—that one is better than the other, that there is something wrong with the world as it is—is finally surrendered so we get it that “we are all of it.” And when we do, when we internalize that we are the context of consciousness within which everything is, perhaps we find a capacity to be in the world as the world is; perhaps Unconditional Acceptance gives us the strength to contain the heartbreak of witnessing a 200-year-old tree being chopped down to create a housing development while not feeling hatred towards the entity chopping it down and being able to plan a campaign to preserve forests worldwide….
Perhaps what those verses of the Gita are pointing us to is the powerful possibility that what will arise to redress the balance of good and evil is not without but within. Perhaps the illusion is continuing to believe that abstract Goodness somewhere out there will take form and help the world, rather than experiencing each of us as form, absolutely engaged, involved and participating in maintaining the balance of consciousness in the world. From that perspective, isn’t Holy Indifference simply an ego orientation? I am indifferent to Life when I am identified. Here, present, Life is “me” incarnate, engaged in existence.
The Hindu pantheon has a wonderful set of stories in which Divinity takes different forms in different ages to root out “evil.” These forms have included a fish, a turtle, a boar, a lion and a succession of human forms such as Krishna, the teacher of the Bhagavad Gita, and the Buddha, the most recent incarnation. It is said that we are awaiting the form that will manifest in this age and this time to save the world again. But does it follow that when IT takes form, humans will be saved? I’ve always loved these stories because I’ve identified myself with the good that is worthy of being saved. But are we confident at this juncture that humans are not what needs to be eliminated for the good of the world? What if this is an opportunity to confront the hubris that we are the species worthy of being preserved by a Divine Incarnation?
The precept is “not to lead a harmful life.” Identified with ego, we cause untold harm. At what point will we have to face the consequences of the choice for ego? After all, if we look at how things are currently going—only human beings are falling sick and dying—is the virus saving the world because we, in our unconsciousness, are not choosing to save it or ourselves? In that context, what is our opportunity?
Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken! Take heed, do not squander your life. --Dogen
Isn’t the opportunity, still, as the Buddha taught, to save the only life we have to save? We have to acknowledge, once again that the battle is within. It might take something like Life in the form of the virus to make us realize the seriousness of the stakes, but it’s always the choice we’re practicing. In that choosing, we may or may not change the course of a world crisis, but is there any other choice, any other way to realize that the “world” is us?