The Role of the “Devil” in Personal Transformation
I received an inquiry the other day via the website that I found to be interesting and helpful. The question (in my language) was this:
The normal use of the word “conditioning” points to the process of behavioral learning that happens in response to events that occur, the environment the events are happening within, and so on. The human is “conditioned” by experience to respond in certain way to certain stimuli, with the result that s/he adapts to life circumstances and can survive effectively, can respond to events appropriately, may perform well in challenging situations, and so on. It is a positive, helpful process of growth. The way I used the word “conditioning” or the phrase ‘conditioned mind’ implies something negative. Is it always negative in the way I see it? Another word for the ‘devil,’ perhaps?
For me “conditioned mind” contains aspects of the behavioral learning that you described. It’s a set of survival assumptions with resulting behaviors that have come out of our evolution and adaptation to the world we live in over time. On this level I wouldn’t say that conditioning is negative. It’s just doing the job it does to keep us alive. It is unconscious, however, in the same way a habit is. It’s a program that is operating moment by moment without our conscious participation.
The trouble with the unconscious nature of the programming is that this creates an opening for us to be controlled through our thoughts. If there were nothing within our minds that desired to control us then that wouldn’t be a problem, but the fact is that we each live with an entity (or you could look at it as a mechanism) that has as it’s purpose/function to manipulate our attention such that it siphons off our life-energy. It desires for us to suffer rather than survive because it lives off suffering. This entity exists only in potential within our imagination, you could say; it does not exist if we do not believe in it, but nearly everyone does believe in it, with the result that we generally feel confused, stressed, and dissatisfied, or are in denial and pretending to be free.
My projection is that the word “devil” was invented to name that entity. As such it is indeed always “negative” in the sense that it cares not at all for human happiness and well-being, and is looking out only for itself. We are programmed to believe that the devil helps us to survive in the same way as our ability to learn through experience does, but this is not the case. It is merely a parasite.
Most people, I would suggest, are living with threats to their survival that are not real. Most of the time there is nothing dangerous happening, but within their minds the devil (i.e., conditioned mind) is weaving stories about everything that they need to fear and what they need to do to avoid these fictional threats. We are all doing fine; we are all good people who are adequate to our lives; we all have everything we need until conditioned mind gets involved and takes it all away, to replace it with stories about what we have lost, what we are deprived of, and everything that could go wrong. In this way it keeps us living in survival so that it can maintain its relationship with us (since in our imagination we depend upon it to survive) and suck out our life force through suffering.
I know this can sound strange, even bizarre, but that is the way it is in my experience. I don’t know why it’s set up this way (and I don’t think anyone else knows either), but I have a theory. If all we had was the sort of conditioning that was merely learned responses to events then we would be no different from non-human animals and would not be motivated to reach deeply into Life to see what is there, even though we have the equipment to do it. To have the devil to contend with, however, is a whole different thing. That aspect of conditioning asks us, if we are to be happy in this life, to go beyond suffering through unconditional love and self-acceptance. It requires us to be the best and deepest person we can be, in other words, if we accept the challenge, and to grow into what we have the potential to become. I see it as an instrument in the evolution of human consciousness. On a personal level I have learned to feel grateful for it, despite the pain it has inflicted upon me throughout my life. The devil (in conjunction with my willingness) has caused me to become a much better person and to have a much more profound life than I would have without it.