Living With the Devil: a meditation on good and evil
"Living with the Devil" is a seminal work on humankind's greatest struggle - to become good. Batchelor traces the trajectory - from the words of Buddha and Christ, through the writings of Shantideva, Milton and Pascal, to the poetry of Baudelaire and the fiction of Kafka - of those obstacles that keep us from doing what's in our own and others' best interest. He shows us the myriad forms those obstacles take: a wandering farmer, a caring friend, a devout religious believer, a powerful king, even a frustrated old man who doodles in the sand when he cannot snare Buddha.
The devil need not appear with horns and a forked tail: he stands for everything that paralyses one's innate wisdom, freedom and empathy, thereby blocking one's path in life. In a world of black and white, Batchelor paints in shades of gray, showing what it means to live in an ambiguous and precarious environment that constantly tempts us away from what we hold to be good.
Drawing on classic religious texts from East and West as well as the findings of modern physics and evolutionary biology, Batchelor asks us to examine who we really are, and to rest in the uncertainty that we may never know. For the alternative to this creative unknowing is to freeze ourselves inside rigid definitions of self - the very work of Mara, the demonic figure that appeared to Buddha - and blindly follow the feeling that we are "self-begot" (Milton), independent and permanent. To be free from such diabolic constriction entails creating a path that imbues one's life with purpose, freedom and compassion.
This is a hopeful book about living with life's contradictions. Batchelor argues that freedom from the demonic is not achieved by suppressing it or projecting it onto others, but by calmly and clearly recognizing and understanding those inhibiting and destructive powers as they well up from within us and assail us from without. Such an approach not only releases the grip in which the devil holds us, it opens up the world as an astonishing play of endless flux and contingency. This leads to a perspective of vigilant care from which we can respond to the cries of the world rather than reacting to them out of habitual self-interest and fear.