The Problem of Right & Wrong
Tintin, Snowy and Captain Haddock have gone to Tibet to find an aircraft that is missing. Although Sherpas have failed to find the aircraft, Tintin is convinced that it is somewhere in the mountains. Finding some Sherpas to guide them, they commence their climb into a distant place where an aeroplane is reported to have crashed.
As Snowy climbs up a narrow track behind Tintin and Captain Haddock, he becomes thirsty. A pool of liquid appears miraculously before him and, thinking he is drinking water, he takes a sip, when he hears a voice.
"Wretched animal! What did you drink?" It is then that Snowy sees himself as an angelic dog complete with wings, robe and pious expression. "You unhappy creature! It was whisky - alcohol, dragging an animal down to the level of a man."
The angelic vision is quickly pushed aside by a devil version of Snowy complete with forked tail and an evil expression. "So what?" he says. "Feels good, doesn`t it? Warms the cockles of your heart, eh?"
A broken bottle of whisky dripping out of his rucksack, Snowy continues to follow Captain Haddock, and his tongue licks at the dripping spirit to ensure that not a drop is wasted. Predictably, he later on falls off the path and is rescued by Tintin.
These vivid images of good and bad angels reflect my experiences as a five year old boy being taught by nuns in the kindergarten section of the Northampton Convent for Girls, where some very kind nuns imbued me with a very clear concept of the difference between right and wrong.
These images of good and evil pervade our society. The Judaio-Christian-Islamic ethic has a clear notion of right and wrong. God is infinitely good; Lucifer infinitely evil. From the stories of the Bible through Dante and Milton to the horror films of the present day there exists a black and white world in which good and bad angels struggle for the souls of humankind, and it is difficult for many Westerners to rid themselves of this black and white landscape.
I soon discovered that I was not a good angel. The good angels at school were those who worked hard and never seemed to get into trouble. In all of this there was an element of too good to be true.
At that early age I found it just as difficult to see myself as a bad angel. What was the point of behaving very badly and getting a black soul so as I would go to hell? At that age the temptations of addictive behaviour were totally foreign to me and badness usually arose because I had broken some rule or other, often a rule of which I was previously unaware.
Given this choice of either good or evil there is a natural tendency to want to find a middle way between the advice of the two angels as experienced by Snowy. All too often for myself this has taken the form of vacillating between the conflicting advice given on either side. I know both what indulgence involves and what is involved in a wise course of action. My interpretation of the middle way has often been a feeling that I have been offered this angel`s advice long enough so now it is time to follow the advice of the other one. The process in the mind that causes these wild changes of direction is familiar to us all. At the one extreme there is a feeling that I am a really good person and totally in control, which means there is no real harm in sometimes indulging in a wrongful deed. At the other extreme there is a feeling that my body is entitled to some înaughty╣ indulgence because it has worked very hard and is entitled to a reward for being so good for so long.
And so the pendulum swings from self-loving to self-loathing. Both extremes seem to be self-correcting in that the realisation that I am good can cause me to act badly and vice versa. Moods of despair lead to contrition, apology and the intention to improve.
Does the answer lie in the picture of Snowy and his two angels? White and good or red and fierce, both of them are Snowy. If the good angel wins Snowy thinks he is a good dog; if the bad angel wins, he thinks he is a bad dog. So it is with me: when I do a good deed, I think I am good; whereas waking up from a hangover convinces me I am worthless.
If only I could accept myself as a complete entity embracing all the opposites, as the lump of form, sensation, thought, activity and consciousness that is me, then the middle way could be something more than an arbitrary consensus between good and evil and a genuine expression of what I truly am.
from Now And Zen - January 2000