Are People Good Or Evil?


“Look at this bible I bought, 15 bucks! And talk about a preachy book! Everyone’s a sinner, except for this guy.”

One of the age-old questions that people have sought to answer is whether people are inherently good, or inherently evil. The Simpsons quote above reminded me of this question, and that in turn reminded of the book Living Yogacara, by Reverend Shun’ei and translated by the awesome Professor Charles Muller.

The book is an exposition of the Yogacara school of Buddhism which is called hossōshū (法相宗) in Japanese or yugahaeng-pa (유가행파, 瑜伽行派) in Korean. But the teachings in this book also apply to Buddhism in general, I think. For example on page 36:

It is also note the case that the variety of our daily activities and behaviors clearly tend in one direction or the other. This is made clear by merely looking at the fifty-one mental factors [of Yogacara school] introduced in chapter 3. Even while we lust after something, we may at the same time reflect strongly on our lust. While diligently devoting ourselves to the Buddha-path, we may inadvertently give rise to anger. Our basic nature is not disposed toward either goodness of evil, but is of indeterminate moral karmic quality.

Everyone has some good qualities and some negative ones too. In our daily lives we do a combination of wholesome deeds and selfish ones.

For this reason Shakyamuni advised in the Dhammapada:

183. To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one’s mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.

On Page 42, Rev Shun’ei suggests the same thing:

The past cannot be altered, or brushed off by excuses. We are nothing but a vast, unerring receptacle of our past. And regardless of our past experiences, it is our past in its totality that is the basis of our being. Yet we can, taking this totality as our basis, from this moment forward align ourselves with the Buddha’s teachings with a view toward tomorrow. This is the beginning of a life based on the wisdom of Yogācāra.

Good advice to live by, I think.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

3 thoughts on “Are People Good Or Evil?”

    1. Yeah, Yogacara isn’t really so much as a particular school of Buddhism you can follow, but it’s thought and influence can be felt across a wide swath of Buddhism, but sometimes it’s really nice to hear from the source like this. This is one of my top 3-5 books I got back and refer to form time to time.

      Liked by 1 person

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