What is Good and What is Bad?

From Teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Volume II

As I was born a Hindu, I have heard a lot about good and bad. And I am of the opinion that religions have failed to lead man to goodness. Anyone who has studied history will know that religion has been responsible for the greatest massacres ever committed. Even today you can see it for yourself. Religions have become nothing more than socio-political creeds. But the actual word 'religion' has an entirely different meaning. 'Re' means again and 'ligion' means connect. The individual soul is separated from the universal soul, and when you connect them, that is called religion. But which religion is doing this? Most of them are only trying to increase their numbers. Therefore, religion cannot teach us what is good and what is bad.

Another important point is that there is no ultimate definition of good and bad. All the greatest philosophers of India and the West have tried to define what is good and what is evil, but it is relative. What was good fifty years ago is evil today. One minute something may appear to be good and five minutes later it is absolutely bad. Here is a story which will illustrate the point.

Once there was a farmer who lost his most valuable horse. His neighbour came to him and gave his commiserations, but the farmer said, 'Who knows what is good or bad?' His attitude was borne out the next day when the horse returned with a herd of wild horses it had befriended. This time the neighbour came over to congratulate the farmer, but he received the same reply, 'Who knows what is good or bad?'. This too was justified because the next day the farmer's son fell off one of the wild horses and broke his leg. Back came the neighbour with his commiserations. Again came the farmer's answer, 'Who knows what is good or bad?' The farmer proved to be correct again because the next day the army came to the town conscripting young men to fight in the war, and because the farmer's son had a broken leg they did not take him.

Even though good and bad cannot be defined, there are certain eternal values which are not social but spiritual. And what are they? We have to think about them. The important point is that in order to practise good, you need a different mind. In order to avoid evil, you need a strong mind. If I am suffering from jaundice, everything will appear to be yellow. Even if something is distinctly blue, I will only see it as yellow because my eyes are jaundiced.

With this weak mind, how can you practise virtue? I don't believe it is possible unless you improve the quality of your mind first. If you are going to climb a steep hill, you will need strong legs. If you are carrying thirty or forty kilos of weight to the third floor, you must have strong muscles. You can't expect your two-year-old son to carry that. In the same way, if you want to practise virtue and if you want to resist the evil in your mind, you will have to improve the quality of your mind.

How can you improve the quality of your mind? Just by reading books? No, you have to put your mind through a process of transformation. In tantra nothing is good and nothing is bad. There is a tantric maxim which says, 'One must rise through that by which one falls. In other words, what you consider evil or bad can be used as a springboard to make the leap to goodness.

What is evil? It is ignorance of mind. What is good? It is the reality which you can realize within yourself in deep meditation. However, in society, good and bad will always exist; you cannot efface them. Religion will continue to define good and bad, but according to tantra, we can commence our onward march from any point.