At Bijaya, 2012
Given the long and varied history of worship and devotion in India, we commonly hear the significance of the Bengali religious festival, Durga Puja, in simple, perhaps layman's terms, as the "victory of good over evil". Somehow, throughout the world, this idea finds great resonance, and in every culture we find this wish to be triumphant over some imagined (or occasionally real) "evil" that is out there, waiting to disrupt or otherwise damage the presumed "orderliness" of conscious life.
For the longest time, I have myself accepted this notion of "good over evil" at face value, and have even spoken of it in what now seems to me to be simplistic terms. In more recent times, however, upon witnessing the state of events in the human world over several years, and reflecting upon this good and evil paradigm, I have now come to the conclusion that it is incumbent, in fact absolutely essential for all human beings (not just Bengalis or Indians) to move away from this paradigm. In other words, I am asking for a fundamental paradigm shift in this regard. Some might see this as rather radical, and likely invoke ideas from established and venerable sources that clearly sustain or reinforce the paradigm. Are the established authorities, then, in error? I shall come back to this issue a little later.
Let me discuss first why I believe the good and evil paradigm has serious problems in its application or interpretation. To examine the paradigm, we must first establish whether evil exists in this world, and if it does, how it affects humans and other living beings. The obvious straight answer to the question of evil is of course, yes, evil does exist- it has existed from the very first time Being manifested itself. When that primal Sattva (the conscious Being) first appeared, as Tagore tells us, it was full of questions, and had few answers:
(MRC translation from Rabindranath Tagore's Prashna)
The Sun of the first Dawn
Witnessing the fresh manifestation of Sattva
Queried, Who art Thou?
The response was silence and enigma.
Eons passed. Then, the last Sun of the very last sunset,
Pronounced its very last question
In the stillness of dusk upon the western seashore,
Who art Thou? And there was no answer. (Trans. MRC 10 2012)
The passage of the eons, however, has brought with it unimaginable varieties and complexities of life-forms, as far as we know, essentially upon our Mother earth. As Tagore profoundly described in his poem Prithibi, the human entity from time immemorial has been struggling to advance its divine nature, and also to suppress or (perhaps wishfully) destroy its demonic nature. The appearance of art, culture, music- in fact, language itself, tempered the best within the human being over vast expanses of time. Namra Holo Shikale Bandha Danob (the Demon, in chains, became soft and mollified), Tagore says. However, elsewhere, Tagore maintains, Tobu Sheyi Adim Barbar Aankre Roilo Tomar Itihash (yet, the old barbarian continued to afflict your history). How utterly and starkly true, I feel, to this day.
Evil, in its simplest manifestation, is that which causes suffering. Suffering in its various forms (except for voluntary suffering to end the suffering of others- this is on a nobler plane) is the most fundamental aspect of evil. Thus, physical harm inflicted upon other beings is evil. Starvation is evil. Disease and epidemics are evil. Bombing, shooting, poisoning and maiming living beings (by use of nuclear weapons, toxic chemicals, agent orange, depleted uranium, cluster bombs, bunker busters or remote-controlled drones- the list really goes on and on, and in this age of instant knowledge, we should all know who the greatest users of these are)- these are all evil, and the degree of evilness varies with whether these occur in small or large numbers. Deprivation is evil, as is privation. Colonizing people or their territories, in material or in spirit, is unimaginably evil. Annexing peoples' homes or their homelands, invading sovereign territories, creating homelessness and refugees by uprooting entire populations- these evils have been with us from the earliest times, and are with us even as I write.
At a more fundamental human level, greed, avarice, fraud and depriving or looting from others- these are the roots of much that constitutes evil. I would hardly be the first to state this- the great teachers of mankind from just about every corner of the earth have repeatedly issued warnings in this regard. The greatest irony in all of this is that some of the most depraved, cruel, intrinsically selfish and hateful individuals invoke the names and words of these human exemplars, and then in virtually all their actions and what they propagate, run exactly opposite to what the teachers have taught. This is true, by and large, of all fundamentalist and right-wing proponents in the world, regardless of religious affiliations. And even as fundamentalists are busy spewing hatred, exercising the worst forms of hypocrisy and fraudulence, and also when the opportunity presents itself, butchering one another- at some deep, psychological level, I often find narrow, vicious, fundamentalist thoughts and their proponents actually resonating with, and reinforcing one another. Thus it is that I find that those marinated in absolutist, fundamentalist thinking, actually supporting one another, using false piety and putting on the cloak of religion, even as they periodically exercise vicious violence upon one another, and even more against those that stand apart from them. The reason I dwell upon this idea of the nexus between right-wing, fundamentalist religious affinity and right-wing politics is as follows. It is perfectly clear to me that every great soul in history (many of them founders of religious philosophies) have taught lessons that may be briefly summarized as follows: (1) love all your neighbors, be they white, black, yellow, red; malformed or pleasant to behold; whatever their racial or religious origin; whatever their language or culture; (2) love all the fellow creatures of this earth, and especially love those that need to be protected or sheltered; (3) live by example, not by words alone; (4) above all else, live a humble and simple life, dedicated to uplifting your fellow beings, and selflessly serving the poorest of the poor, and those that have very little.