A Cloud of Evil, an Eye for an Eye

by JAKE NORTON

October 2023
All week I've been thinking, trying to parse recent events, horrors, tragedies, inexplicable darkness casting a pall upon the global landscape. I've not been successful. I've not come to conclusions. I've found myself able to do little more than vacillate, an eternal back and forth, a putrid smoothie of emotion: rage, horror, crippling morosity, deep […]

All week I've been thinking, trying to parse recent events, horrors, tragedies, inexplicable darkness casting a pall upon the global landscape.

An elderly Tibetan Buddhist nun prays with her malla outside Bodhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal.
An elderly Tibetan Buddhist nun prays with her malla outside Bodhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal.

I've not been successful.

I've not come to conclusions.

I've found myself able to do little more than vacillate, an eternal back and forth, a putrid smoothie of emotion: rage, horror, crippling morosity, deep despondence, tears for those lost, killed, murdered, in Israel, in Gaza, lives uprooted, blood spilt, vengeance piqued, evil unleashed.

I've tried to write, but cannot summon the words, arrange the thoughts. I will keep trying, but for now my mind comes back, time and again, to a few quotes.

Sacred butter lamps burn on the shores of the Ganges River at Triveni Ghat, Rishikesh, India.
Sacred butter lamps burn on the shores of the Ganges River at Triveni Ghat, Rishikesh, India.

The first from Spalding Gray's 1987 Swimming to Cambodia, a reflection on his experience's in Southeast Asia while filming The Killing Fields. In it, Gray is attempting to explain, to understand, the miserable tragedies of Cambodia and US action there, the rise of Pol Pot, and the culmination of it all in a horrific genocide. He muses that, perhaps, there is "...an invisible cloud of evil that circles the Earth and lands at random in places like Iran, Beirut, Germany, Cambodia, America..."

...an invisible cloud of evil that circles the Earth and lands at random in places like Iran, Beirut, Germany, Cambodia, America...

- Spalding Gray, Swimming to Cambodia

Perhaps there is. Perhaps that explains it, an uncontrollable cloud of inky darkness that drifts aimlessly, occasionally raining down pestilence and infecting those below.

Sadly, I believe the cloud is not out there, but in here, in all of us, buried deep in the core of humanity and human nature. It's a cloud which is hidden in some, obvious in others, and ready to spill forth with fury when provoked in the "right" ways. We would never imagine it to be there, so dark is it, so vile, yet there it is, hidden in plain sight.

Sacred butter lamps burn at Bodhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Sacred butter lamps burn at Bodhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Which brings me to another haunting quote which I've written about before:

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere, insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

- Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

The dark cloud, in the heart of us all.

And, finally, the words attributed to Mahatma Gandhi are there, echoing in my head. I say "attributed" as there is some debate as to whether Gandhi ever uttered these words, or simply tried to live them out. Some say the passage has roots in the play of Fiddler on the Roof (quoted below), but the essence is the same:

An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

- Mahatma Gandhi

FIRST MAN: We should defend ourselves. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
TEVYE: Very good. And that way, the whole world will be blind and toothless.

- Fiddler on the Roof play, 1970 (see here)

I don't know what to think, what to do, how to parse it all and make sense of it all. Perhaps it cannot be done. I don't know, but I will keep trying.

Butter lamps at Bodhanath Stupa, Kathmandu.
Butter lamps at Bodhanath Stupa, Kathmandu.

2 comments on “A Cloud of Evil, an Eye for an Eye”

  1. Jake many bleed with you and wonder where it will end. I do believe with Thich Naht Han that peace begins in each of us. That seems to be in short supply many places in the world. May the peace and light within you burn brightly.

    1. Dear Carol,

      Thank you for your thoughts, reflections, and for all you do to bring goodness into our world. You make a difference every day, and perhaps that is all any of us can hope to do. So, again, ero kamano my friend!

      Please give my best to all in Sigomere!

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