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Is Satan or evil spirit true or just myth? If true does it reside within or without?
While the idea of an evil presence or evil force looms large in our Western culture, Buddhism takes a quite a different view. Without denying that beings have the capacity to do horrific things, Buddhists believe that no being—ordinary or supernatural — is all bad or inherently evil. We separate the person from the action. Actions can be harmful enough to be labeled evil, but the person is not. A person him or herself is never evil because they have the potential to become fully awakened, to become a Buddha.
Buddhists assert that all destructive and constructive actions of body and speech arise from the minds and hearts of human beings, not from any evil entity. There is no eternal force or evil spirit tempting people to do evil.
From a Buddhist viewpoint, the root of negativity or evil in the world is our own ignorance. This ignorance is two-fold. The ignorance we are talking here is the ignorance that doesn’t understand cause and effect properly, making us think that greed and self-centeredness are helpful motivations that inspire us to act in ways that bring us what we like and want without any adverse consequences. Mental states supported by greed and craving lead us to steal, engage in unwise or unkind sexual conduct, lie, gossip, and so forth—actions that clearly bring problems to ourselves and others.
Similarly, we mistakenly believe that our anger and belligerence will protect us from harm by making us act in aggressive and threatening ways toward others. This easily leads us to kill and maim others as well as to speak divisively and harshly. Again, the suffering results from these actions affect us as well. We don’t realize that harming others also harms ourselves.
In the scriptures we find the personage of Mara, who is not an actual living being but a representation of our ignorance, greed, and hatred. This symbolizes that to stop evil in the world, we must uproot our negative attitude and emotions and transform our minds into positive emotions and attitudes such as love, compassion, wisdom, generosity, ethical conduct, fortitude, and so forth. We do this by learning and practicing the Buddha’s teachings.
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