External evil

We tend to think of evil as something “out there” that one might encounter in a dark forest. It looks nasty and makes noises. It is often depicted as immutably and totally evil. The Pali tradition teaches that evil (or what we could call evil in this tradition) is just an embodiment of unwholesome mental factors. A person who hurts someone is not permanently and simply an evil being, but rather is acting on causes and conditions that created evil mental phenomena that led to their behavior. Knowing this, evil can be dealt with according to its roots, as the Buddha does.

But I wonder if this tradition is still holding on to the idea of an evil “out there” in some sense. I’m not sure what the Canon teaches about spirits, and if some of those spirits could be called “evil”. I know that some biographies of monks I’ve read describe procedures they went through to rid villages of threatening spirits, for instance. I suppose that could just be a cultural artifact.

Separately, I wonder how you all as Buddhists would process the experience of watching a horror movie. I try to avoid them, but I often wonder if in some way they could be used to enhance dhamma practice.

All mental processors should be considered as internal, external and internal&external.
In ultimate sense they should not be taken as I, me and myself.
If you take them with self-vew, yes there is internal and external evil.

@SarathW1 That is true. I’m thinking about supposed forms of evil that are truly outside of us… often represented as scary beings in scary movies or folklore. That sort of thing.

Yes. They truly exist ourside when you have the self view.

@SarathW1 I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying. Buddhism doesn’t deny that my consciousness and being is disconnected from the cat outside, for instance. I have no control or responsibility for the cat’s consciousness and kamma. It’s separate. I’m inquiring about a supposed evil with the same level of separation…

Yes. I am talking about the same level of separation. It is a result of self view. It is like you think there is USA and UK. For Buddha there is no UK or USA in ultimate sense. Yet it is there in conventional sense.

So let’s just say for the sake of argument I go off into a cave and encounter some malevolent non-corporeal spirit. (Don’t know if they exist or not, but just for the sake of argument.) It tries to scare me. You’re saying that… my consciousness and theirs are somehow continuous? So dealing with my mind takes care of them somehow? How so?

If you are an Arahant, you will not have the fear. I am just saying this with the theoritcal knoweldge not with my own experience. I am not Arahant.
For me, yes, there will be the spirit.
For instance say you encounter and angry person. But you extend loving kindness for this person and say he becomes pacify.
So in ultimate sense there is no angry person.

Maybe there is a tendency to project evil “out there”?
The concept of egregore might be relevant here.

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The Sakka Saṃyutta has some practical pointers for dealing with fear.

Also MN4

In the EBT Mara is the described as “the evil one”.

OK… Well, Buddhism says that the best protection is good ethics and mental training. I’m just wondering how the mechanics of that would work, considering that evil spirits and demons and the like are said to possess some kind of supernatural harming powers, as seen in spooky movies. One thing about these spooky movies is that, from a Buddhist perspective, they overemphasize the power of evil, and undercut our ability to subdue it. But it still makes you wonder if something like “possession” is possible.

Well it sure seems like it is out there! And why this obsession with horror movies? I never really understood why people would want to be scared. But now I see them as potentially a source of dhamma insight…

Yes, the fascination with scary horror movies is interesting, it’s like a need to experience fear, but in a “safe” environment. I wonder if its similar to “adrenalin junkies” doing extreme sports?


There may be malevolent spirits like the types of ‘suciloma’ who was an anger eating demon, in the EBTs and then there were spirits who attacked Ven Sariputta.

Interesting… So these would be… pure consciousness… or non-material being or what?

I assume that spirits would inhabit the formless realm?

They would be in the realms lower than that of human - like hungry ghosts, but malevolent in this case. The immaterial realm beings have a much more higher birth than humans, than spirit like ghosts who are actually in the sensual realm.