Re-examining Good and Evil: Transcending Dualistic Thinking

We need to understand the need to rise above Dualistic Thinking and embrace life and those that are in our lives. Dualistic Thinking can be harmful to ourselves as well as the world around us. This type of thinking keeps us closed-minded, prejudiced, and defensive. Get the most out of yourself, people in your life, and the world around you and rise above negative thinking. Changing the way we look at life can make all the difference in the world with how we live life, look at life, and the way we look at dependency and addiction.


“Consistency is the ‘hobgoblin’ of little minds.”

Dual diagnosis is when there is an underlying mental health disorder in combination with a substance abuse program. Dualism is how we view our world and cosmos. It is brought about by our experience of time and space. As long as we have time and space we face the comparing of this and that. If it is day then it is not night, if I am in San Francisco then I am not in L.A., if one is good then they are not bad, if I am right then you are wrong. Dualistic thinking in some aspects is a necessary concept for our rational and categorizing minds. In other areas, such as mystical experience and spiritual growth it blocks the individual from forms of truth that are the essence of transformation and enlightenment.

counselor_sideThe idea of Yin and Yang illustrates the importance of seeing all things as inter-related and not separate from one another. Yin and Yang literally mean “dark side” and “sunny side” of a hill. In this example, the dark side and the light side make up the one, which is the hill. They are mentioned for the first time in the Hsi tz’u in the 4th century BC and form the basic philosophy of Chinese Taoism. Yin and Yang are two complimentary, interdependent, interrelated phases alternating in space and time. They are a symbolic representation of the harmonious interplay of all pairs of opposites in the cosmos. One does not exist without the other and to speak of one without the other is meaningless. In fact within Yin there is a tiny portion of Yang, and within Yang there is a tiny portion of Yin. It is constant chaos with perfect balance. Everything in the cosmos is necessary and forms an integrated part of the whole.

Beginning students of Buddhism often fall into the dualistic trap. They imagine the goal of Buddhism is to transcend the cycle of birth and death and pairs of opposites known in Buddhism as Samsara. This is only partly correct. The highly enlightened monk having transcended dualism realizes that Samsara and Nirvana are one and the same. It is much like the enlightened Christian saying, the kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth and man does not see. This perspective forces us to live this life with passion and life affirming values without seeking future rewards for good behavior in some geographical domain in the sky.

Transcending dualism is not about escaping from this world but rather experiencing the richness of living in it.

A life is illuminated when it is realized that the way is within you and within the other. When the poverty of dualism is transcended you recognize the jewel of light that is here, now, waiting for you to see.

24 hour addiction helplineFar too often, when we are on a spiritual path we decide to eradicate what we consider bad or evil in our world and in our selves. As addicts and alcoholics we are especially prone to being obsessive and compulsive about this. We always have a hard time with balance. If all things are inter-related, why would we attempt to do this knowing that one cannot exist without the other? It is like looking at a pencil and drawing a line in the middle of it saying this half is good and that half is bad. If we cut the pencil in half, supposedly getting rid of the bad part, what do we have? For one thing the pencil is shorter and for another thing it doesn’t have an eraser.

We might say that since we got rid of the bad we don’t need an eraser. But what about Yin and Yang? There cannot be one without the other. They are inter-related and make up what we call a pencil. With the bad we’ve cut off, we have made the good smaller. Since they cannot exist separately we still have a good end of the pencil and a bad end; the pencil is just shorter.

Chaos not beauty created the cosmos. Without darkness the flame of a candle lacks its significance. Without demons, gods would not be glorified.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a highly enlightened Buddhist monk, tells a story that illustrates how everything is inter-related and thus non-dual. He tells us to look at this sheet of paper, that it contains everything, the entire cosmos. You can see clouds, trees, and sunshine that made the paper, the logger and the food he ate to allow him to do his job, the loggers’ father and mother, the paper mill, the trucks that hauled the trees, the people who built the trucks, the construction workers who built the factory that builds the trucks, the bankers who lent money for the factory to be built, the grocers who sold the food so that the workers could eat, the farmers who grew the food and on and on. You can see that if you take this far enough we are all in this sheet of paper. You can not point to one thing that does not have a relationship to this sheet of paper.

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“What is new, however, is always evil, being that which wants to conquer and overthrow the old boundary markers and the old pieties; and only what is old is good. The good men are in all ages those who dig the old thoughts, digging deep and getting them to bear fruit – the farmers of the spirit. But eventually all land is depleted and the ploughshare of evil must come again and again.”

I would like to conclude this discussion of dualistic thinking by pointing out its most harmful effects. It tends to breed closed-mindedness and black and white thinking. It makes us tight, prejudiced and defensive. How many people have died under the banner, God is on our side? How many have been persecuted in the name of God? Closed-mindedness made people oppose scientific investigation in the Middle Ages; closed-minded fears made people in Europe ignore the murder of millions of innocent people under the Nazi regime. We must be open to new ideas and beliefs. We don’t have to accept every new idea that comes our way. But we can better understand ourselves and others by examining new ideas and being tolerant of others views. We may strongly disagree with some views, we may dislike them, but that doesn’t mean we have to dislike the person who holds that view. After all, we are all living on this beautiful planet and we are all brothers and sisters sharing a common space and time.

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All life is a teacher and all the people in our lives are also our teachers. Each of us is only capable of our own unique perspective and limited view. It is sad that so often we close ourselves off from the richness of others experience and ideas. We all have so much to learn from each other and so little time to do it. We are all teachers of our own unique journey and we all hold a piece of the puzzle. I call my piece me and I call your piece you and all the pieces are necessary to complete the picture. Why is that so hard for us to accept?

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Here are some life affirming perspectives for your journey


  • I embrace values that are life affirming, not life denying.
  • I grow through pain and tragedy and accept them as my teachers.
  • I am creative in responding to unpredictable events in my life.
  • I light a candle in darkness rather than cursing it.
  • I am unique and see uniqueness in others.
  • I accept the call to adventure life has given me.
  • I know that having a passion for all life experience is the meaning of life itself.
  • I am a seeker looking for my own path and design for life.
  • I am a unique part of the whole and this makes me holy.
  • I strive for completeness rather than perfection.
  • I ask for help beyond myself when my burden is too great.
  • I am able to change and drop out-of-mode beliefs in order to grow as a person.
  • I realize that truth comes from many perspectives and thus I am open-minded to the ideas and belief of others.
  • I do not regret the past for it has brought me to this moment where I can once again affirm my life with passion.
  • I find peace in having a passion for life.