Yoga, Animism and the Nature of Evil

During yoga last night, halfway through the class and moving to another pose, a loud “wham!” sounded in the room. In the middle of the class, a woman had squashed some spider or insect with her shoe on the wooden floor. “Did you get him?” the yoga teacher asked.

“Yep,” the lady replied, pleased with herself.

My heart fell. I was saddened, not only by the loss of life, but more by the wanton destruction of said life, as if it had no right to existence. For one such as myself, intentional killing of another animal is tantamount to murder, when it is completely unnecessary. The class carried on as if nothing happened.

I’m still thinking about it. I know that I personally could not squash a spider or bug, snail or slug, no matter how yucky they might appear to my preconceived human perception of what is beautiful and what is not. Driven since a very young age, we are told that wasps are evil, spiders are scary and snails are gross and destructive in our gardens. They all deserve to die because of these things. It is utterly absurd.

I have sat down to a meal at a pub, outside in their beer garden, where customers could request a can of insecticide to kill the wasps that came looking for food, tantalised by the sweet smell of beer. Horrified, not only by the wanton killing but by the thought of such chemicals near food, I have not been back since. The way the human mind works both disgusts and challenges me sometimes.

I’m not overly fond of worms or slugs, slimy things or creatures that live in the ocean that I cannot see beneath me when I am swimming. Big spiders are slightly frightening, only because I know that they can bite (I’ve yet to be bitten). That doesn’t mean that I seek to eradicate spiders, or all slimy things from my garden, or cull sharks when I want to swim in their waters. We really have to get over our ideas of what is good, what is beautiful and what has a right to existence, and what doesn’t. Who the hell are we to say?

I’ve been an Animist all my life. I have known on a very deep level that all things have a right to existence. This was not instilled in me by my parents, per se – it just seems an inherent part of my personal nature. I know that all things are connected on both a spiritual level and also on a scientific level. We live in ecosystems, where one part relies on another part to function. We often forget that we are part of such complex systems, or we believe we are above them. I recently wrote to my local newsletter in response to a letter to the editor asking for the eradication of ragweed near his home. He saw the dangers of the toxic plant, however he also failed to recognise the many lives are dependent on this one species of plant. For himself, he saw no benefit in this plant. He saw himself as above and more valuable to the ecosystem in which this plant existed. This is the nature of evil, in my opinion – belief that we are separate and therefore we can do as we please.

Philip Carr-Gomm has recently shared his queries and thoughts on the nature of evil in a recent social media status update. He states:

“Humans can be so unspeakably destructive – either to their fellow humans or the Earth, perhaps the ‘unthinkable’ needs to be thought – that human nature is not naturally beneficent, and evil acts therefore the result of aberration, but that it is in its essence a mixture of beneficent and maleficent, and that only some sort of training, discipline, spiritual practice, psychotherapy or education that can help us ensure our beneficence rules our head, heart and actions, rather than the reverse.

What do you think? Have you sometimes thought ‘perhaps they got it right when they came up with the idea of Original Sin’?”

The idea of Original Sin to me is abhorrent as killing things without thought. It is used to guilt people into behaving in the way that those in power think they should, to keep those in power in the status quo. This is not a criticism of Christianity as a whole, but of those who use it to further their own purposes. There is much within Christianity that is beautiful and inspiring. This abuse of power is not limited to Christianity, but can found in religions and communities all over the world.

I personally do not think that people are born evil. When I look at human beings, I see monkeys with car keys. Sadly, these monkeys have forgotten their roots, forgotten that they are just monkeys, forgotten that they are a part of the world and a part of an intricate web of existence. This is where the nature of evil occurs, the sin that divides and separates. This is where the destruction occurs, because we believe we are separate, that we are in control, that we have power over other beings.

I would argue that nothing in nature is beneficent – everything simply is what it is, neither good nor bad. The sun is not being beneficent in providing us with light and life – it is just being what it is. The clouds are not being beneficent by providing us with rain – they are just being clouds. Beneficent seems to imply a focused and intentional act of giving. While nature has its own consciousness, how intentional is it? This leads us to the ultimate question – what is the meaning of life?

For me, life has no inherent meaning – it just is. Things are alive because the appropriate conditions were available for life to be. This includes humans and all other beings. There is no master plan. It is a wonderful, beautiful, freestyle weaving of a web of life.

We are not born evil, or with evil intent. We are not born good, or with good intent. We are simply born, and the lives that we live, the circumstances of those lives and the environment that we live in all provide us with a path that we take. We have a choice to cut ourselves off from our inherent nature, of living in harmony with the rest of the world. We choose to do this for the most part out of desire for personal gain, whatever the cost to other lives and the planet as a whole. When we believe in the lie that we are separate, we can commit the worst atrocities.

We don’t even need a religion or spirituality, psychotherapy or other means to find some sort of return to harmony. We just need to wake up and shake off the lie, the belief that we are separate. We need to see things how they are, not how we think they should be. We need to see our place in the warp and weft of the tapestry of life. We need to sing in tune with all the other songs of existence. We need to remember what it is to be truly alive.

When we awaken, we also find the proverbial return to the garden. We understand life in all its forms. By living with eyes open, we walk the earth with compassion for all things.

When we return to our place in the web, the end result is deep and lasting peace.