— The Buddha, from the Dhammapada
Although I’m not a Buddhist by any means, I’ve always liked this passage. To me, it illustrates a very wise principle. Virtue doesn’t always lead immediately to a good outcome in the short-term, but (all other things being equal) it does lead to great things in the long-term. Virtue is not built in gigantic heroic actions, but in little daily actions repeated.
I struggle with this notion sometimes. I see my heroes do great work and achieve great things, and I struggle daily with motivation and effort and bad habits. I see areas of my life where I am hypocritical, that my actions speak to the opposite of what I truly believe, yet I am unsure how to resolve the contradiction. I am impatient with the process of change while always knowing its vital necessity for me.
I have thought too lightly of both the good and the evil at my own peril, and by that I mean within the context of my daily actions. By ‘good’ I mean those actions I can take that add value and meaning to my life, and by ‘evil’ I mean all that which destroys the good. It’s easy to think of evil as a menacing demon, or corrupt politician, or masked thug, but it’s difficult to identify the subtle ways of various evils of our daily life.
The biggest evil I have to fight is not the elements of culture, nor the corrupt politics of the day, nor those who preach ideologies of hate and unreason. The biggest evils I have to fight are my own tendencies to procrastinate based on fear and comfort, please people at the expense of drowning my own voice, and destructive over-indulgence. The reason these are the biggest evils for me to face is that they are the evils that are right in front of me. Trying to kill the commander of the opposing army is worse than futile when he’s several miles away and you’ve been taken prisoner by your own traitorous squadron.
If you want to fight evil, fight the evil in yourself first. Create an opening for the good to start to drip in. Little by little, the water pot is filled. This is my reminder to myself.