Because I am free from the thinking that distorts experience,
The evolution of good and evil ends completely.
describes how good and evil actions (thoughts, words and deeds) evolve
into experienced results. Part of the Indian cultural influence on
Buddhism was that you stopped creating karma when you were free from the
cycle (samsara) of endless birth and rebirth. From this point of view,
it was reasonable to consider that enlightened beings are free of karma
or, at least have a different relationship with it. This notion has been
an important theological question and source of confusion and debate
for Buddhists for thousands of years. Hyakujo and a Fox or The Fox Koan confronts this confusion head on. The fact that it is the second koan in The Gateless Gate indicates that this was an important topic.
modern times, this notion, like most bad ideas, has generated more than
a little suffering -- from harm and abuse that has arisen in
teacher-student relationships, for example. On the one hand, some
teachers claim that their actions should not be judged by ordinary
standards because they are beyond karma. On the other hand, some
students hold their teachers in such high esteem that a student sees the
teacher's behavior as beyond karma and acts accordingly. The
combination has created situations in which teacher or student or both
are unable to acknowledge or accept that biological, psychological or
social conditioning simply took over.
To claim that one is free
of karma is equivalent to the claim that one is free of gravity. In
outer space, perhaps, but on this planet, if you step off a building,
you hit the ground hard. As long as you are alive in this world, your
thoughts, words and deeds shape how you experience yourself, the world
and life, no matter who you are or what you may have experienced.
is not some magical force. It is the way earlier cultures described the
process of growth and evolution of patterns of behavior. It is not
cause and effect, at least not in the ordinary Western sense of these
terms. My own teacher always used the metaphor of a tree. A seed doesn't
cause a tree. A seed grows and matures into a tree, which then bears
fruit. In Wake Up to Your Life, I describe how this metaphor
applies to reactive patterns, using contemporary lines of thinking from
the theory of evolution and complex adaptive systems. See WUTYL pg.
173ff and 176ff and these podcast-transcripts.
What then, are we to make of Jigmé Lingpa's statement "The evolution of good and evil ends completely"?
Here are two thoughts on this.
First, if you look at The Fox Koan, one of the turning points is when the Hyakujō says, "Be one with karma." Other translations simply give "Do not ignore karma".
I don't know Japanese or Chinese, I find the first rendering more
useful. To me, it means to live precisely in balance with the forces and
processes that shape the world we live in, becoming aware of imbalance
as it arises and moving in the direction of balance. To be one with
karma is to know and respond to the different pulls and pushes we
experience in our lives, moment to moment. It is an intimate dance and
we evolve, but we cease to evolve as a separate entity. We certainly do
not ignore the evolution of action and result that is the essence of
The second thought is similar, but in different words. We
consistently want things to be different from what they are and we
attempt to control, manipulate or ignore what is problematic for us.
This oppositional stance constantly reinforces the sense of being a
separate entity. From there, it’s a short step to the development of the
concepts of good and evil. When we are free of the thinking that
distorts experience, attraction, aversion and indifference lose their
influence. We simply experience what arises and let go of wanting it to
be different. We do what is possible and accept what is not. Good and
evil as concepts don’t arise, and we are able to experience life as it
unfolds in all it’s wondrous complexity.