Jiryu (click left to listen) gave a talk a few weeks ago that blew a lot of minds. I highly recommend giving it a listen, even if you know nothing about Buddhism, especially if you know nothing about Buddhism. But he knocked some socks of when talking about a little known sect of Buddhism that, among other things, talks about taking refuge not just in the good but the "evil." People had a really hard time with that. It made me think of a common zen phrase is mentioned often around here, "turning away and touching are both wrong."
For example, the ecosattvas (environmentalist bodhisattvas) have been working on a project of figuring out how to change the way San Francisco Zen Center and Green Gulch invests its money. (If you thought Buddhists don't trifle with such things as the stock market you are incorrect) Zen Center is an institution that in many ways is no different than all of the other institutions and corporations we blame for the impending demise of the earth and its inhabitants. Kogen (my husband) and I seem to respond in ways that to me look a little like turning away and touching. He is touching the conflict and the pain and feeling it so deeply it sometimes looks like despair and anger. Whereas I seem to be turning away. I feel like there is no stopping this train of destruction we're on and maybe also that I know that everyone of us is complicit and we cannot escape participating in some way. I don't want to see what I can't change. Both missing the point? Yes I think so.
There is also a saying that "one must be steeped in relative truth before being able to see the ultimate truth." In other words, we have to slug through all the touching and turning away that humans do, it's called practice. We will go around and around the wheel of karma (or samsara) of actions and consequences and their consequences and their consequences until...we can truly act from a place with no gain in mind? I know it sounds crazy! We debated it for most of one evening's Genjo Koan class. How we just "sit" here when there is so much suffering in the world? Are we actually engaging in the world when we sit in the zendo? When we go out into the world to "fight" the injustice, what exactly do we think is going to happen? What happens if our goal is not achieved? How can we work towards something with no gain in mind?
So I think what Jiryu called evil is actually just all those things in the world that are painful, that we don't like. But they are things caused by humans just like us. And we wouldn't recognize them as "bad" if it didn't touch a place inside that has felt it before. So taking refuge to me means not running away from the problems and to let people know you see them and their pain...in exactly the same way we want to be seen.