Yesterday a wonderful woman student asked me this question. It was part of a longer conversation, but she was sincerely wondering about this question upon seeing her own sometimes unhealthy choices and actions that were against her own happiness and peace of mind, specifically the ways things that she did and the ways she justified not going to yoga class when she knew that’s what she really needed. The question arose in her mind even though she admitted that she does not believe in Satan.
(It feels a little weird to be writing about this, but when she said that, I knew that’s what I wanted to write about this week. It just felt right, kind of the way I teach classes. I hope it’s relevant and meaningful to SOMEONE besides me! 🙂 When I told Nikki (Harmony) I was writing about Satan, she said, like Dana Carvey playing Church Lady, “Isn’t that special?” Or this one. HA!)
Looking at the outside world, it’s easy to see how a person could believe in Satan, in pure evil incarnate. Heck, look at how many people in the world DO believe in that. Looking at theinside world, too, it’s easy to see that a person could come to that conclusion.
Some dictionary definitions of the word “evil” are “profoundly immoral and malevolent, harmful or tending to harm, something that is harmful or undesirable,” and the word “Satan” comes from the Hebrew word meaning literally “adversary.” I’m assuming if you are reading this that you have looked in at least enough to have seen yourself acting, including THINKING, sometimes in ways that are undesirable at best but possibly even harmful or even occasionally profoundly immoral or malevolent. Certainly in looking inward and seeing these thoughts, or “forces”, and their resulting actions, it can feel that we, our Higher Self, or the Self that we WANT to be, is confronting an “adversary.” Is that adversary some natural part of ourself? Or is it something victimizing us from the “outside?”
Amma has said that a long time ago, the demons and the gods had their own worlds which were separate, though they were still at war with each other. When Lord Rama incarnated (some say 1.2 million years ago), the demons lived in the next country. By the time Lord Krishna incarnated (3228 BCE), the demons and gods lived in the same family. In the current age, the demons and the gods live inside of us. (OK, yes, it appears that there are demons in the outside world, but that is not my point to discuss here; and probably many of those that we might consider “demonic” would consider US in the same way! Hence the need to look inward and not stay on the surface! That’s the easy way out that the world encourages.)
In some ways it would be so much more convenient to see evil (immorality, malevolence, harmfulness) as being outside of ourself, but the sad by-product of that choice would be that we would have to see ourselves as victims, sometimes as helpless victims, of that force. Yes, when under the sway of harmful beliefs, viewpoints or actions, we ARE victims of them, but if we be honest and OWN them, not just acknowledge them but also NOT do what they tell, or try to force us, to do, we have the possibility of INTEGRATING that energy and harnessing it to use toward our own good and the good of others. If it’s just something that we fight, then we lose our own energy in the fighting of it, though certainly we do get stronger in the effort. IF we are actually able to “vanquish” it, we have lost that potential energy that I believe we NEED.
Besides, most of the time, if we FIGHT our negativities, we not only strengthen “ourselves” but also the negativities. Haven’t you seen that? If we acknowledge the negativities, meet them in a non-reactive way (using the word that is the theme of my classes this week), even embrace them lovingly, though, again, lovingly refraining from being guided/“coerced”/forced by them to some action, they can transform on their own toward what good will be.
For myself, some of the negativities I’ve seen in myself are RELENTLESS, like the inner critic never seems to sleep and is intensely vigilant! Are these not qualities that I need on my Path? I say “yes!” and I have for some years been in the process of getting the inner critic (and its accompanying doubt, which seem to be my main “adversaries”) to do its work in a more helpful and life-enhancing way. There has been progress, but as many things, it’s 3 steps forward and 1 (or more) steps back.
So is there Satan? First we have to define what we’re talking about. If we say it is a force outside working against us, then I say no. I don’t see that viewpoint as being helpful or even accurate since there is good in everyone/everything though we may not be able to see it with our limited vision. Are there negative forces within us and outside us that seem to be in an adversarial relationship with the life-enhancing parts of ourself/world? Yes, clearly! If we choose the former idea, then given what we are told about Satan, we lose the opportunity for transformation (Satan being non-transformable). If we choose the latter viewpoint, we can possibly harness that energy and transform it for good and service, something that is certainly helpful!
To end, taking the core teaching of Peace Pilgrim, my first spiritual inspiration, “This is the way of peace: overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth and hatred with love.” Also “Everything evil contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction.” We will neverovercome war, whether outside or inside, with war; we will never overcome evil with more evil. It can’t work. However, if we repeatedly make effort to choose love, to choose what is good for ourselves and others, then the unhealthy parts of ourselves, and ultimately the outer world, will naturally (and as easily as possible) be transformed.
Let’s keep going (on the Path)!