“Everything in the universe is measured by the work accomplished,” I quoted to Yuri one of the most precious teachings passed on to me by the Elder, as we affectionately called the oldest monk in the monastery. “Everything else is just intentions and tools. Turning intentions into will and tools into art is the work of a lifetime,” I added. Yuri agreed. We were in a restaurant near the Arcos da Lapa; we had had lunch, but the conversation continued animatedly, as usually happens when we meet up again with long standing friends. Yuri was known for his disconcerting way of thinking. Although we disagreed a lot, his way of reasoning was captivating. We had reached a common denominator: love without commitment is surface love. Feeling is not enough; deep involvement is indispensable as an instrument of knowledge and fulfilment. I was satisfied with the conclusion of our conversation, when once again he surprised me: “Without the help of evil it is very difficult to build anything.” I even felt a bitter taste at that statement. I immediately disagreed: “Don’t give me the shabby rhetoric that the ends justify the means. This statement is from Machiavelli, a philosopher of the Middle Ages who defended unmentionable ideas. Not for nothing his name became an adjective to nefarious practices and ideas”. I paused for a moment to maintain my serenity and added: “I understand evil as the seed of good and also as a lever for learning and transformation. However, any work without the pillars of light tends to collapse because of the suffering it causes.”
There was a slight smile on Yuri’s face. At that moment I could not identify if it meant sarcasm for the provocation or if it was compassion for my ignorance. “It’s true,” he agreed with me. Stunned, I continued without understanding whether there was irony or sincerity in his words. He looked at me deeply for a few seconds and mumbled, “Do you understand?”
We were interrupted by a woman who, from the pavement in front of the restaurant, asked us for a little help with her food. I suggested we pay for her lunch. Yuri thought that if we gave her the money we would spend at the restaurant, it would be possible for her to shop for food for several days. It made sense. The woman, hearing that conversation, said my friend was right. So we did it. Then we went back to the conversation. I said: “Understand what? What did you mean by that question?”. He began his explanation: “About the importance of evil”.
I mocked him: “Mrs. Jandira was right when she said you were crazy. Since I was just a boy, I believed you were just funny. Now I see that she was right.” Yuri smiled again, offered me the same look and wanted to know: “Do you understand?
I shook my head, opened my arms and asked: “Understand what?” He continued his theory: “The value of knowing evil in the construction and maintenance of good”. I asked him to explain further, in case it was just a joke. Yuri seemed willing to teach me something: “I am serious. Notice that by not being able to identify if there was sarcasm or sincerity in my words, you became disoriented, without knowing what my intentions were. Thus, you would have been far away from a safe choice, should you have to make one.”
We were interrupted once again. It was a man asking for help to feed himself. Without blinking, I took from my wallet the same amount given to the woman a few minutes ago and gave it to the man. As Yuri did not say anything about his part, the man, already satisfied, thanked me and left. My friend smiled again, looked at me and asked: “Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I replied. Then I continued: “I understand that you are incoherent. First you were generous with the woman, now stingy with the man, choosing who will or will not have dinner tonight. Are you playing God?”, I teased him. Without losing his serenity, with a reaction typical of one who is in control of himself, he explained: “Because you did not know about evil, you could not make the best choice, you could not be just.” I replied, arguing that I had acted with generosity. That was enough for me. Yuri went on: “Generosity is very important, a valuable subtype of love. Without it, the planet would implode and be abandoned to darkness. So much so that I was kind to that woman, whom I did not even know. As for the man, I know him and so do you.” I told him he was wrong, for I had never seen him. Yuri sharpened my memories: “You may not remember. He lived on the street next to ours in Estácio. Since he was a boy he was very mischievous and liked to fool the others. When he grew up he didn’t change at all. He never wanted to work, although he is physically healthy.” As I couldn’t remember about the man, Yuri went into detail: “Do you remember that we met when I saved you from the cowardice of being beaten by an older boy?” Yes, of course I remembered: “He was known as Zinho. For recurring reasons, he was never well-liked in the neighbourhood,” I recalled. Yuri shrugged and said, “Because I knew him, I was able to make the better choice.”
“I think revenge is a deplorable gesture,” I made my point clearly. Yuri kept his cool, “Me too.” He added: “To stop feeding evil is an act of justice because of the educational character it can provide. However, to identify evil, I have to know it. If I have ever been intimate with that evil, it’s easier to notice its actions and tricks. Thus, I balance it with the good that I have in me and I can get closer to a fairer decision”. He then questioned me, “Is being good by ignoring evil an act of kindness or will it continue to aggravate evil?”
Yuri was right in his reasoning. I was beginning to understand what he was trying to say. I replied, “Both. It is an act of kindness for me to act honestly and lovingly at the limit of my conscience. However, on the other hand, I will be far from a fair decision, for giving something undeserved to someone else.” I thought for a moment and then said: “Just like generosity, justice is also a virtue. Therefore, a gesture full of love. However, it is much more complex and difficult to understand. Because it requires other virtues, such as sincerity, honesty, firmness and balance.” Yuri agreed, but as was his nature, he went further in his reasoning: “You forgot an important virtue in the list of those necessary for the realization of justice. You forgot purity”. I showed some surprise: “Purity?” He explained: “Intimacy is not to be confused with promiscuity. Intimacy is the deep knowledge of something or someone, promiscuity is the misuse of it. Yes, purity is indispensable in order to know evil and to stop it, without allowing the inappropriate advantages it can provide. But only to clearly identify it. In this way we prevent darkness from spreading, because we will keep evil away from our choices. Even without any intention, naivety fosters evil.”
“Naiveness is a kind of ignorance and should not be confused with purity. Living without ulterior motives, whether conscious or unconscious, far from desires disguised as rights, being able to look without the dust of socio-cultural conditioning and the haze of prejudice, analysing the situation without the influences of one’s own shadows, such as fear, pride, jealousy, greed, vanity, among others, characterize purity”.
“Contrary to the popular saying, ignorance does not protect, it deceives. So it deceives us about the light and feeds evil. Full awareness is fundamental for us to have the best choices. Without this, we will always be a pawn in the hands of the shadows.”
Yuri added, “You mentioned balance also as a virtue inherent to justice, right?” I nodded and my friend continued, “The purity of benefitting yourself of the knowledge of evil without getting mixed with it will lead you to the perfect balance and prevent you to slip into naivety that, in practice, can become a banquet for evil.” He frowned and concluded: “Being fair is more difficult than being good. It’s a few steps above.”
His authentic, out-of-the-box reasoning allowed for free thinking. In his simple wisdom, he told me, in other words, a little about the Gates of the Way. His always disconcerting gaze led me beyond my limits. Because I disliked evil, I wanted to stay away from it. I closed my eyes when they should have been vigilant. I had to agree and said: “To have evil at one’s disposal, to know its tricks, to listen to its invitations and not let ourselves be contaminated, is not easy. In the eagerness to eliminate evil from our lives, the most common thing is to ignore it, deny it or turn our backs on it. In this way we allow it to run wild and it end up dominating us. Before we know it, the fall has already happened. The greatest mistake is to believe that it doesn’t exist in us or that we have already definitively overcome it. Keeping evil out of our sight does not mean removing it from our choices. We have to maintain intimacy without any promiscuity. To do so, we need to illuminate it so that it can be identified in every situation we live. Only in this way will generosity be a true good, because we will be fair in our relationships, whether with others or with ourselves”.
Yuri concluded my words: “To give up the knowledge of evil is to grant freedom for its action. We will never be whole without it. It would be like amputating a limb and becoming an easy prey to darkness. To know evil and use this knowledge with purity and balance is fundamental to the light.”
“When we speak of evil, we usually refer to heinous crimes, forgetting that small lies are species of frauds that, sown and not staunched, will grow. Worse, most of the times, in an almost imperceptible way, when we want to justify our own error or the unspeakable desires, we create tortuous trails in the mind in an attempt to absolve ourselves without facing the responsibilities that await, as we feel ashamed about it.”
“We also forget the little irritations and naughtiness, typical of the lack of patience and compassion. These are reactions that create voids in relationships, distancing hearts and dreams. This is a feast for evil. The culture of being hard-faced is still appreciated under the cloak of a pretended seriousness and false intellectual superiority. In truth, they are disguises used to hide a fragility in personality that people are afraid to reveal. Seriousness is the commitment to one’s own evolution, manifested in serene attitudes when the individual already has a minimum of knowledge about himself and the due coherence in relation to his choices. This includes awareness of the evil that inhabits us. Evolution does not go together with pride or bad temper. Contrary to what one might think, evolution is combined with humbleness, because we recognize how small we are, and it is well tempered with daily doses of joy”.
“Ignorance and denial about evil are the factors that most hinder the construction of good. Take care of the evil within you to recognize it in the world. Investigate the one you have never seen. Not knowing about evil does not mean that it does not exist, but only that you are not yet able to notice it. And therefore, do not be surprised to discover that you have been used as a toy in its hands. Do not eliminate it, for it is a useless effort. Do not forget it, nor forget that you will need it. Remember, evil is important because it provides self-knowledge. It is part of your being. Only when you are fully aware of its actions will it be possible to avoid all its influence. Enlighten the evil to become master of this relationship. Only then will good flourish freely.”
“For the rest, never be shy in the face of evil. Act with firmness and love. Understand its importance, but do not forget its place. Let the direction of your steps always be clear. They define the doors that open, determining where you will go.”
The waiters began to put the chairs on the tables to sweep the restaurant. The traditional sign that it was time to close the doors. The lively conversation had progressed through the afternoon and evening was approaching. We paid the bill and walked to Cinelândia to catch the subway. I said that it had been a memorable meeting and we should repeat it soon. Yuri smiled and agreed. I took the opportunity to ask about something that still intrigued me: “I learned a lot about evil today with you. Looking back on our lives, I think that since childhood we have learned to face evil together. However, I don’t understand why you used violence, setting fire to an empty bus, as an instrument of protest”. It was the opportunity for Yuri to conclude the lesson: “I was not going to take part in the protest. I was passing by the place heading somewhere else when I saw it. I stopped to watch and listen. For an instant of carelessness, I was charmed by the speech and followed the crowd”. He paused briefly as if reflecting before speaking and muttered, “I was there, but it wasn’t me.”
“What do you mean?”, I wondered. Yuri explained, “I am not absolving myself of any responsibility, I am too old to run away from myself”. He paused again before finishing, “Evil is a powerful magician who, at the slightest distraction, makes us succumb to his spells. All the attention is not enough. He has lived for so long in a place so close that we can confuse him with us.”
From the glass window of the subway car, Yuri waved goodbye. At the station, while allocating a whirlwind of ideas, I awaited the arrival of the train that would take me home. It was me, but I was no longer the same.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.