Words of Wisdom

If it’s true that Brahman is more real than things we experience, writings about the world, God, and our apparent selves cannot be as profound as writings about Self-realization.

It often seems that way to me.

But nonetheless, some writings about those topics are more profound than others, and it’s good to read and think about the most profound ones. Here, I think, is an example.

This paragraph is difficult to read because the language is extremely compressed — it contains at least four important ideas, each of which could fill a book — and therefore it deserves to be read slowly:

It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.

From Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

One thought to “Words of Wisdom”

  1. In this brief passage, which is deservedly famous, I think the author says not just one extraordinarily profound thing but several:

    • He believed he was good when in fact he was bad.
    • Prison made him more good not more bad.
    • Everyone is partly good and partly bad.
    • It isn’t true that classes and nationalities and ideological opinions are surrogates for goodness and badness. If he had lived in the country where I happen to live, the US, instead of the Soviet Union in the last century, I’m sure he would have included race and sex on that list.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *