What is Goodness?
Revenge is an immediate response to inhumane, unprecedented actions! When an innocent person, a Japanese journalist, is taken hostage by a Muslim fundamentalist group and beheaded because demands are not met by the Japanese government, then a pathology sets in. Someone is cruelly exterminated, and so to balance this out, it is asserted that the exterminator should be exterminated in the same degree. ‘Revenge’ – this primitive urge to have balance in a negative dimension, does not come from goodness, but where does it come from? Why of course, the tricky intellectual mind, the quick sand of discontent and ignorance, from the caving in of the flimsy fabrics of ego and self-interest.
I am in a discussion meeting with Buddhists to try to define goodness. The Buddha advocated the Middle Way, which is so admirable about him as a supreme model, and, mostly, his loyal followers in this modern age as the Dharma, the eternal law of the universe, enters into its last phase of deterioration. But there is something missing, and suddenly I hear, see, feel, smell, taste desert wisdom, indigenous wisdom. I look out into the group of attendees, their concerned faces, their optimistic smiles, as an urban tribeswoman trapped in a disposable concrete office building in central Osaka, Japan! Suddenly, in tandem with the Buddhist teachings I have taken as my own for so long, there is something equally balanced and equanimous. I realise that my desert guides are present, and their wisdom is needed.
I have learned that when we are mindful, we notice, and if we notice, then the blinding, deafening din of the ego, has been silenced, the loop broken, the circle stretched into a straight line. In fact, ‘Noticing’ is our natural state – in a world without thought or status, without negative emotions or karma, drenched in goodness and light, then we are not torn out of the universe of love. 25 years ago, I had the absolute joy and privilege of living for a while with a group of Australian native peoples, at which time their leader, traditional landowner Ninija, became my spiritual guide. She is with me still, and at this point in the discussion in white-fella’s city, she suddenly was with me.
‘Noticing’ – watching, waiting, then acting with no ulterior motive, no agenda, no ego. Native peoples spend their whole lifespan, which is often quite short because of the harsh climatic conditions, acting for the general good, for balance in the environment, expecting nothing in return. Even their own survival is not their conscious concern as they are fully integrated into the universe. They live without personal fear because they are not attached to a flimsy ego created by their intellects. Instead, they live in pure awe of the Great Mother Nature, respecting her ingenuity, and their key role in carrying out her extraordinary plan for the universe. Revenge and such other negative emotions are rare in the desert, though there are many situations in which it could arise, especially in respect of ‘white-fella,’ white people of European descent, who in the past have been hell bent on civilising the desert people according to their own rules, and have virtually destroyed native culture.
Acting on impulses, on feelings, like outrage and indignation, may lead to revenge, to destruction and taking of life. Alternatively, we may choose not to act on them – this is a fundamental Buddhist ideal. But such choices imply a separation, discrimination, an ego, which demands options, alternatives, and therefore some kind of power. We could see this as a kind of violence. Native people do not have such choices because they are not separate from the universe, from their environment. This is the Dreaming. It is a listening state of complete oneness with the universe, of utter integration, of supreme awareness, which is also the aspiration of Buddhists.
It is well-known that Buddhists treasure sentient life above all else. The Buddha embodied these ‘ideals,’ avoiding even killing the tiniest of insects, staying inside during the lengthy rainy season in India in case creatures or plants were destroyed while walking in floodwater. Today, in 21st century, resident monks and nuns in Buddhist monasteries, clear the pathways painstakingly so that people can walk without taking life. They use soft materials to safely remove insects, seeds and plants to natural havens where humans do not go. I believe from my own side that preserving all life is our sacred human mission. Meanwhile, in the vast tracts of desert Lands, Australian natives manage their totem assigned to them at birth, humanely killing the ageing populations and watching over the births of the new, so that all life can be sustained, ‘all life’ including themselves. Their humility at being entrusted with these sacred missions is deeply moving.
‘Buddha moments’ or true moments of reality, of our true nature, infused with our native goodness, with unconditional love, with compassion, with heightened awareness, often occur when we are awoken by a shock – a dreadful accident or meaningless murder, a show of anger or frustration, a sudden sense that the way most humans live is pointless, illogical, heart-rending. The cruel and divisive destruction of a human life is deeply disturbing, but the perpetrator of such an act, perhaps deserves even greater compassion. This notion seems almost impossible for the indignant and the revengeful to accept. Such awakening moments are timeless, outside the limits of concepts of ‘time’ or ‘space.’ Indignation, outrage, revenge itself, die the moment they come to light. They are not in the moment because they engender thought and planning about how to right a wrong, action being implied.
But Desert wisdom gives me the confidence to look at the greater picture and work even harder to create balance in my every moment, with each breath. I am not roused to either act or to not act. I have no choices because I am one with both the exterminated and the exterminator.