What is the Buddhist concept of good and evil?

I am trying to understand zen (I confess I have not been blocked by the patriarch or mu) but cannot reconcile your statement with teachings of other zen masters. Please enlighten.

The questioner is referring to a comment I wrote here in 2003, where I write, “The author of the Zen Buddhist Texts site strongly opposes the aggressive and violent action against Iraq by armed forces of the United States and Great Britain.”

Taisen Deshimaru Roshi, in answer to the question of good and evil, says this:

In the last analysis it is impossible to differentiate between good and evil. The distinction is relevant only from the viewpoint of morality. A robot could perform good or evil, depending on its program. Humans often act the same way. Some think neither good nor evil…. Dogs do not perceive colors. Fish are happy in the sea but humans aren’t Each thing has its own world, each individual is different. Each has its own god. Your world and the cat’s world are not the same. What is good for some is bad for others. In the end, it is impossible to choose. There is the world of young people, the world of old people. For some people making love is good, for others it’s bad. But if our minds have no limits they can resolve all contradictions. If you stand on a level that is high enough and look down, nothing is so very, very good or so very, very bad; you are no longer aware of the contradiction. During zazen you can see and understand everything objectively. If you look subjectively then everything becomes complicated, and you’re sad or full of cares. But if your zazen is deep, you enter your coffin and there is no more good or bad. What is so important, when death is in front of you? Nothing is so very important. During zazen you experience your coffin subjectively, and then everything grows calm.

My answer is as follows:

It is tempting to say that Deshimaru Roshi is simply mistaken, but that would not satisfy anything.

It is true, as Roshi says, that in the absolute sense there is no difference between good and evil. But we live in the relative world of human action and suffering. We take the Ten Grave Precepts as guide, and the first precept says, “I take up the way of not killing”. In our meditation practice, we vow to abandon greed, hatred and ignorance. A fundamental principle of Buddhism is that everything depends on everything else. The destruction and death in Iraq are not “out there”, the consequences affect each of us. The greed, hatred and ignorance that lead to war are not just in our leaders, but are part of our society and thus ourselves. Our vow to abandon them, then, is not just for us as individuals, but for the community of sentient beings as a whole.

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