Yao Zhihua, Chinese University of Hong Kong

A Buddhist Approach to the Problem of Evil

The classical Confucian view on the fundamental moral issue of good and evil is best summarized by the late Ming scholar Wang Yangming (1472-1529) in his famous “four sentence teaching”:

Devoid of good and evil is the substance of mind
Involved with good and evil is the movement of intention
Knowing good and evil is the [function] of intrinsic knowledge
To do good and to remove evil is the act of rectifying affairs.

But viewing from a Buddhist perspective, one will find that this statement, especially the first two sentences, bears a mark of strong Buddhist influence. The substance of mind that is devoid of good and evil corresponds to the aspect of mind as thusness, while the movement of intention involved with good and evil is equivalent to the aspect of mind as life-and-death in the Awakening of Faith.

Here the key is how the substance of mind devoid of good and evil develops into the movement of intention with good and evil. This is the so-called problem of evil, or more precisely, the problem of good and evil. The present paper will explore a Buddhist approach to the problem by examining the key concepts of karmic appearance (karmalakṣaṇa) and karmic consciousness (karmavijñāna). It will proceed in four parts: 1) the origin of store-consciousness; 2) karmic appearance and karmic consciousness; 3) karmic appearance and self-awareness; 4) karmic appearance and a Huayan cosmogony.

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