Swami Abhedananda on the Concept of Good and Evil in Hinduism

In the voluminous writings of Hindu sages, there is no word that means creation out of nothing. The word, they use, literally means ‘projection’ and not creation, answering to the modern idea of evolution. They said that good and evil are relative terms, one of which cannot exist without the other. What we call good depends upon the existence of what we call evil, and evil exists only in relation to good. Being interdependent terms they cannot be separated. In trying to separate them and to make each stand by itself as independent of the other, we not only destroy their relative and interdependent nature, but also destroy the terms themselves.

‘Good and evil of this world of duality are unreal,are spoken of by words, and exist only in the mind.’ (Bhagavatam, XI, Chapter XXII.)

Evil cannot exist alone. If we try to make evil stand by itself as entirely separate from good, we can no longer recognize it as evil. Consequently, according to the Vedanta philosophers, the difference between good and evil is not one of kind, but of degree, like the difference between light and darkness.

Again the same thing can appear as good and evil under different circumstances. That which appears as good in one case, may appear as evil if the conditions change and the results be different.

The same fire may be called a giver of life and comfort and a bestower of happiness and a producer of good, when it saves the life of a half-frozen man, or when it gives us warmth in the coldest days of winter, or when it cooks our food and guides our feet. But it will be called the producer of evil and a curse of God when it destroys life, or inflicts injury on man or on his property. Still the nature of fire is to burn, and this nature does not change.

Good and evil exists in our minds. That which fulfils our interests is called good, and that which brings to us misery or anything which we do not want, is called evil.

Swami Abhedananda
Swami Abhedananda of the Ramakrishna Order was one of the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.