The idea of karma—the moral effect of your actions, good or bad, following you across births—suggests that even a newborn has some inherent guilt. In this Eastern model of life (and pre-life and after-life), the memory and personality are control-alt-deleted; obviously no one prosecutes a baby in a court of law; it is, rather, the sense of a history. There is, in every life, an implicit potential darkness (and an implicit potential light as well). This pushes against the old Upanishadic formulae about the nature of the individual, embodied life: Tat tvam asi, You are That, meaning You are divine, and the more directly stated Aham brahmasmi, I am Brahman. The overall outlook is actually the combination of these two ideas, which simultaneously exalts the human being as divine and denigrates the human being as fallen into a cycle of births and deaths. The soul is aflame with napalm karma.
In an interesting parallel, the concept of original sin in Biblical religion—every human being born guilty—is undercut by the (also Biblical) idea of human beings having been created “in God’s image,” not to mention its clear articulation of humankind’s innate potential divinity, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” One mustn’t be too literal here; the ancient guilt of Adam and Eve being “passed down” to every human being, like karmic guilt “clinging” to the soul, is metaphorical guilt—guilt carried over, to invoke the Greek etymology of the word “metaphor.” In one set of religious ideas as in the other, Eastern or Near Eastern, the two senses of a newborn—that this new life, however blank at its incipient hour, has good and evil inherent in it—coexist.
And this word—“inherent”—has begun to ramify unexpectedly in our own time. Any monochromatically rosy picture of the human newborn is being seriously complicated by Human Genetics. Already, Freudian psychology, evolutionary biology, and anthropology have raised the point that we all have something of the ape, the Neanderthal in us. Now the relatively newborn field of Human Genetics has renewed the idea of (literally) inherent tendencies toward behaviors or impulses that we would consider bad or evil. Is there a combination of genes that makes some people more likely to rape or murder than other people? Do some human beings have an inborn knack for violence the same way others have a knack for calculus? We may not like what we find out.
Most likely, we are coming full circle to the notion that innate evil and innate good coexist in the same person, ab ovo—and that measures must be taken, from one’s earliest life, to suppress one and encourage the other, to keep genotype from becoming phenotype. Scientists would call this “nurture” overcoming “nature,” but that’s just terminology; the process involved is an old-fashioned moral education, starting with the threat of consequences (bad rebirth, eternal hell, life in prison: the Eastern religious, Near Eastern religious, and secular Western threats, respectively)–and moving on from there to the higher moral motivation, the idea that the self is really no different from the other. You see this, too, in all three worldviews: the Upanishadic idea of the Oneness of all embodied life, Christ’s “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” ecological interconnectedness and the Brotherhood of Man. When resisting evil, we must, first of all, understand our enemy: And, as scripture and data (for once!) agree, our enemy is us.