One day soon after 9/11, in the midst of my heartache, and in response to my fervently asking why, I was given a vision- an image that popped into my head spontaneously during my meditation. I saw a battle field with many terrifying faces busy destroying one another. But in the middle was a fence running right across the field and on that fence were many angels, all sitting peacefully upon it, blissfully looking away.
Much later I came across Edmund Burke’s famous words that summarized what I had interpreted from that image: All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
In times such as the present when we are surrounded by deeply polarizing views, that image of the angel sitting on the fence has often come to mind. They say, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” While rushing in is certainly not wise, what good is it to have angels on the planet who are too fearful to take a stand?
Yet, there is much confusion about what is the right stand in such times. Is neutrality the right choice? Do “spiritual” people stay out of controversy and say nothing even when they see right from wrong?
I believe that neutrality is a quality that evolves from the lowest to the highest, and is something to be intentionally cultivated and nurtured from one stage to the next.
At the lowest level it is the neutrality of many well intentioned, “good” people who sit on the fence and look away, even in the face of blatant wrong-doing, believing themselves to be practicing positivity. Their fence sitting is a denial born out of a fear of conflict and its unknown consequences. At other times, such neutrality is a product of enculturation from a belief that man’s suffering is by Divine will and must hence not be interfered with. Whether they call it sins or karmic baggage, the idea is similar: you are reaping what you sowed, so both man and God will remain neutral to your suffering. This form of neutrality promotes indifference and apathy, not growth.
As time moves us along, we are pushed out of this stage. Often, faced with problems ourselves, we can no longer afford the luxury of looking away. In the words of the great writer Anais Nin: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” The pain of staying asleep is bigger than the perils of waking up.
No longer in denial, one studies the situation to arrive at a balanced view of things.
When I think of this stage, the image of Justia, the Roman Goddess of Justice comes to mind. With a blindfold over her eyes, she does not see the person, only the action. Making an objective assessment of facts, she lays down the law impartially. Here neutrality honors the external reality, but the indwelling spirit is ignored. Man’s choice is his identity. Good choices are rewarded, bad choices are punished.
Right and wrong, left and right are pitted against one another in a climate of self-righteous aggression as each side identifies with their choice and fights for existence. This stage creates great discord but gradually leads to a higher consciousness where neutrality takes a whole new meaning.
The third and highest stage of neutrality is arrived at after much pain and growth. It is the dawn of a wisdom that sees the human identity to be greater than the sum of its choices. Something bigger, intangible, yet indestructible, is acknowledged and bridges the divided opinions.
“Somewhere beyond right and wrong, there is a garden. I will meet you there,” says Rumi, referring to a place in our heart where we see the other beyond the choices that polarize us. Ramana Maharishi, India’s great sage and teacher, always directed questions about “this versus that” back to the questioner. It is only by knowing ourselves as the essentially neutral observer, that we will get off the seesaw of the opposites.
This form of neutrality is neither silent in denial nor aggressive in judgment. Actions coming from this place are choices made from a knowing of one’s identity and not to establish it. Hence winning and losing are not so charged with fear or passion. One acts to set things right, embracing one’s role in the big picture that calls us to show up and act in accordance with our innermost nature to co-create a reality that we only know parts of.
The Buddhist teachings talk of the spiritual warrior, known as the Bodhisattva. The Bodhisattva returns to the battlefield lifetime after lifetime, to stay and participate in the emancipation of the planet, fighting wars on behalf of the good and noble, yet does so from a place of complete neutrality. The Gita talks about the perfect yogi who sees with an equal eye a king, a beggar, a lump of gold and a piece of clay, yet shows up to stand in favor of his truth, thus doing his duty or dharma. The Bible talks about Jesus being crucified for his views, yet forgiving those that did it.
This brand of neutrality that is both wise and courageous, lived and taught by a Krishna, a Buddha or a Jesus, is a tall order but a goal for which we need to aim, both for the survival and the upliftment of mankind.