The Silver Tread: Who is the Devil?


Satan makes his first appearance in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word satan means the “adversary”. In several instances in the Bible, God sends a Satan to interfere with a character who is involved in activities in which God disapproves. Satan is an earthly extension of God.

In the Book of Job a distinct figure of Satan emerges. Satan tells God that Job’s loyalty is based on the fact that God has been generous to Job, granting him wealth and progeny, and that, without such a lifestyle, Job would turn against God. God accepts the “bet” and destroys Job, and the book becomes a dialogue on belief and mortal man’s relationship with an omniscient and omnipotent God. In Job, however, Satan is like a cabinet member, offering advice, but having no power except that which God grants.

Satan as an independent force of evil matures in the New Testament, and through the Christian church. Elaine Pagels points out the early Christian church identified the Serpent in the Book of Genesis as a manifestation of Satan, and this led to a view of sex as a sin, and the needs for celibacy as a path to spiritual wholeness.

The image of Satan as a tempter toward sin and evil gains its most mature expression in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the New Testament’s biography of Christ. All these synoptic Gospels describe the meeting of Christ and Satan, and Satan’s attempt to seduce Jesus with both lust and greed. Jesus’ resistance is his hallmark as a person of virtue. Our spiritual evolution is contingent upon fighting and defeating the temptations of evil.

A similar scenario occurs in the life of the Buddha. The Buddha tries several paths to enlightenment, which are unfulfilling. Finally, he sits beneath a Bodhi tree and begins to meditate. While doing so Mara, the goddess of evil, sends her armies against him. The “armies” have the familiar faces of greed, lust, and power. However, the Buddha’s mind stays focused and pure. It is the purity of his thought which manifests in equanimity that wards off the demons. He neither succumbs to the temptations, nor responds with counter aggression, but “wins” by no responsiveness to evil.

The Buddha’s response sets the stage for Buddhist psychology. The aim of Buddhist psychology is to establish an equanimous state of mind, to handle the onslaught of our primitive core-greed, anger, and ignorance, through letting these desires pass through us without internal disruption.

The psychoanalyst Carl Jung developed the concept of the “shadow”. The shadow is the concealed and negative area of our personality which hides behind the good self. One of our life tasks is to discover the shadow, and integrate it into our personality and actions, and tame it.

It is universal. Satan is the constant force of evil within us, and our psychological growth stems from our ability to open our heart to evil and integrate it through equanimity, insight, and enlightenment. Satan takes many forms conceptualized and shaped by different cultures and personalities but is the constant force in our lives which demands attention and transcendence.


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