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Understanding Evil Through Hindu Religion Teachings

The presence of evil in the world presents a problem to every theistic account of the universe. Hindu thinkers were also faced with the problem. The Upanishads do not claim that evil is a mere illusion. At the same time, they do not say that it is permanent. Evil is unreal because it can be transmuted into good, but it requires effort to transform its nature. To that extent it is real. The Upanishads clearly state that only good ultimately exists. ‘The true prevails, not the untrue.’ Evil is something negative and self-contradictory. Struggle is the law of existence and suffering is a condition for progress. All progress has a destructive side.

According to Advaita Vedanta, at the paramarthika level there is only one reality, that is Brahman. This ultimate Reality is untouched by evil. Evil has place only at the vyavaharika level. Everything belonging to this level is the result of maya. So evil is illusory only in this sense of its lacking in ultimate reality.

Sri Ramakrishna points out that ‘one may read the Bhagavata by the light of a lamp, and another may commit a forgery by that very light; but the lamp is unaffected. The sun sheds its light on the wicked as well as on the virtuous.’ In the same way Brahman is unattached to righteousness and unrighteousness, good and evil. He adds, ‘You may ask, “How, then, can one explain misery and sin and unhappiness?”  The answer is that these apply only to the jiva. Brahman is unaffected by them. There is poison in a snake; but though others may die if bitten by it, the snake itself is not affected by the poison.’ In the same way, God is not responsible for good or evil. Our intelligence is covered with ignorance, and so we have only imperfect understanding. Because of this we believe that God creates good and evil.

Swami Vivekananda said that our life is a mixture of good and evil. Man’s life is followed by the shadow of death. The mixture of life and death, good and evil, knowledge and ignorance, is the result of maya. ‘Wherever there is good, there must also be evil, and wherever there is evil, there must be some good.’ According to him, to have good and no evil is childish nonsense. But, ‘behind good and evil stands something which is yours, the real you, beyond every evil, and beyond every good too, and it is that which is manifesting itself as good and bad.’ So, according to Swamiji, by knowing one’s infinite nature one can transcend evil.