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The Devil / Demons — Spiritual Message of the Day

April 19, 2013

Demons (Devil) -- Tarot of the MajorsThe Devil card is, by virtue of its name, often seen as an indication that something evil is happening. But “evil” is a much trickier concept than we generally assume. For one thing, pretty much everyone who has ever done something that we regard as evil believes (mistakenly, perhaps) that they were somehow justified in their actions and that they had good reasons for them. And so we might ask, “Are there evil people, or are there just bad, unenlightened actions?”

Before addressing that question, I want to discuss a somewhat puzzling statement about evil that ironically sheds light on our spiritual journey. What I’m referring to is this short quote from the New Testament: “Resist not evil.” This seems like a rather bizarre thing for Jesus to have said, but there is a great deal of wisdom to be found in a thoughtful examination of it.

First of all, based on its context, it is apparent that this quote is referring to the actions of other people who we label as “evil” and not to temptations that we may face. A more complete quote makes this clear:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

This, of course, is reminiscent of the philosophies and strategies of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Besides being an effective tactic, however, this proverbial turning of the other cheek is an important spiritual lesson for a variety of reasons. For one thing, by responding to evil in kind (i.e., with violence, anger, etc.) we create more evil in the world. Also, when we resist evil, we focus our attention on it and bring it into our own hearts and lives. We thereby risk becoming as bad as that which we seek to defeat. This is what Nietzsche was warning us about when he said: “He who fights with monsters must take care lest he thereby become a monster.” On the other hand, when we show compassion and forgiveness to another person, we disarm them of their perceived evil. This was the brilliance of Gandhi and King.

There is a caveat that is important to make here. There is merit in being able to properly evaluate an action and then rectify it if it is harmful, for relieving suffering in the world is essential too. But it is important to remember not to judge or hate the other person, and it is important to respond to injustice in a way that comes from the heart and not from anger and fear. As Lao Tzu said several hundred years in the Tao Te Ching, “Repay injury with kindness.”

Now let’s return to that original question: “Are there evil people, or are there just bad, unenlightened actions?” First of all, what seems to be evil may be just the product of our imperfect perception of something that a person has said or done. Perhaps they actually have a good reason for their actions, but we are unaware of it, or maybe they are acting out of their own pain or injury-impaired view of a situation. And sometimes we project our own shadow issues onto the actions of other people. In any case, when we set aside our sanctimonious desire to “resist evil,” we become more objective about the situation and compassionately creative about how to resolve it.

A more important point, however, is this: We are typically seeing the Devil in a person who we feel has done something evil to us instead of compassionately seeing their wounded soul, which is invariably a more accurate assessment. (Remember the adage: “Hurt people hurt people.”) And when we label that person “evil,” we stop trying to understand why they act as they do, we justify putting them out of our hearts, and we allow ourselves to treat them as less than human. So what does that make us? Evil arises from blindness to our divine connection, and we have lost sight of our innate divinity when we treat someone that way. Remember also that everyone (ourselves included) has their own secret demons. We can always find evidence of those demons in others if we look hard enough, but is that what we really want to be looking for? After all, we create more of whatever we focus our attention on.

If you enjoy these words of spiritual advice from the cards, you will love my new Tarot book called The Soul’s Journey: Finding Spiritual Messages in the Tarot.

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