So we also see in the secular side of societies. U.S. and state criminal codes fill a bookcase; the same for our tax codes. Our religions say “Thou shall not kill,” echoed in the secular laws of our society. Yet those laws go on to subdivide and rank killing by the degree of badness and scale of punishments. Murder in the first, second, and third degrees; voluntary versus involuntary manslaughter; suicide and assisted suicide/mercy-killing; accidental death; killing in self-defense; state-prescribed execution; killing as a patriotic duty in wartime – unless you are on the losing side and charged with committing “war crimes.” So what do we really believe about killing? Thou shall not kill? Or Thou shall not kill EXCEPT …”?
In our minds, we can tie ourselves into knots as we run in circles trying to decide whether the violent act of killing is good or bad. In the end, to answer the question case by case in each individual occurrence and set of circumstances, we usually turn to twelve everyday peers of the accused rather than the greatest religious and civil minds of our society.
The same discussion can hold true for most all of the great spiritual truths and moral laws. Are our moral truths absolute, or are they relative to people, place and circumstance? And if they are in fact relative, then how are we to conclude what is right versus what is wrong, what is good versus what is bad?
We will never properly answer that question solely in our minds, by our rational thoughts. We are all too capable of rationalizing any desired irrationalization to our predisposed conclusion. Rather, our true moral compass is in our body, our heart, our feelings. “Good” is that place, that action, those words that create true Joy – in ourselves and in others. This is not the same as the short-term joy we may experience in the moment; our destructive impulses are all too capable of instant gratification driven by our mind: the sweetness of revenge, the satisfaction from speaking back to power, the thrill of defending the defenseless, the pleasure of a sharply worded retort. These kinds of joy evaporate soon enough, and later our supposed joy inevitably turns to regret at our impulsiveness, the hurts we generated, the pettiness and thoughtlessness of our action.
In our mind, we will dwell on such false joys, continually replaying the scene, trying to rewrite the script to a better end, while looking for reaffirming confirmation from others. But in the joy of truly doing good, we are able to take our satisfaction and then easily move on. There is no need to dwell, to replay, to create alternative endings, to seek affirmation from others. There is a sustaining calm in our moments of reflection, nothing more to do or say. Our minds work in the present and look toward the future rather than obsessing and second-judging about the past. “Bad” things trap us in the past. “Good” is known throughout our body, settled comfortably in the heart. That is where we find it. And there it frees us.
In the end, we are forced to ponder the vexing question: are “good” and “bad” two opposites locked into perpetual conflict for dominance? Or are they two partners embraced in a dance of perpetual unity, two unique parts of one greater whole? For undeniably, where one travels, the other is often an ever-present companion, one giving birth to the other.
© 2014 Randy Bell