Editor’s note: This essay titled ‘The Principle of Evil‘ was published in the Karmayogin on 26 February 1910. The editors have made a few minor formatting changes such as including a few headings, shortening the paragraphs and highlighting a few key points for easier online reading. The original text has not been altered in any way.
The Principle of Evil
The problem of evil is one that has taxed human thought and evolved various and conflicting solutions.
To the rationalist who does not believe in anything not material, the problem does not exist. Everything is in nature as the result of evolution.
Nature is blind and unintelligent and has therefore no conception of good or evil; the conception belongs to the human mind and is the result of the social sense and the ideas of pleasure and pain developed in human beings by a perfectly intelligible natural process.
It is to men who believe in Intelligence as governing and developing the world that the problem exists. Why did evil come into existence and what is its purpose?
The unwillingness of the devout soul to admit that evil can have its existence in God, has led to variations of the Manichean theory which sees a double control in the world, God as the Principle of good and Satan as the Principle of evil. Those who regard the belief in the existence of an intelligent evil power as superstition, find the origin of evil in man who abuses his freedom and by his revolt and self-will gives birth to sin.
This solution solves nothing, for it does not explain why there should have been a possibility of evil at all.
Unless we limit our conception of God as the source and creator of all, that from which all proceeds, we must admit that evil as part of the economy of the world must have proceeded from Him no less than good.
Even if we violently posit another creative force in the world limiting His universality, we shall have to assume that He, having the power to prevent evil, permits it; for He is omnipotent, and none can do anything except by the permission of His all-wise and overruling Providence.
And if we limit the omnipotence of God, we reduce Him to a mere Demiurgus, a great Artificer of things struggling amongst forces over which He has not entire control. Such a conception is unphilosophical and contrary to the universal spiritual experience of mankind.
The problem remains why, if He is God, All-Love, sarvamaṅgalam, He creates evil or, if He does not create it, permits it.
If God Exists, He is All
To our mind there is no escaping from the belief that, if God exists, He is All. All proceeds from Him; from what other source can it proceed? All exists in Him; in what other being or continent can it exist? Therefore evil must proceed from Him, evil must exist in Him.
Since He is All-Wise, for all knowledge is His, it must exist for some wise and perfect purpose. Since He is All-Love, it must exist for good and not for anything which contradicts the good. Only, His is an infinite wisdom, ours a finite, His perfect, ours undeveloped. His is an infinite and all-wise love, ours a finite and unwise love, a love imperfectly informed by knowledge, full of māyā, attachment to passing happiness and pleasure. God’s love looks beyond, ours fixes its eyes on the moment.
Experience must always be the basis of true knowledge, but it must be experience illuminated by true perception, not experience dominated by surface impressions.
The experience of the mind which has compassed calm and is able to preserve its tranquillity under the most strenuous assaults of pain, misfortune and evil, is alone worth having. The mind which is not dhīra, which feels grief and thinks under the influence of affection and passion, even if it be noble affection and passion, cannot arrive at the samyag jñānam, the complete and perfect truth. Emotion is for the heart, it should not besiege the intellect; for the proper business of the intellect is to observe and understand, not to be obscured by the slightest prejudice, the least trace of feeling.
Of God, Universe, Good and Evil
One who is dhīra will look narrowly at every incident and, if he cannot see at once, wait for enlightenment as to its ultimate purpose and issue; so waiting, so calmly considering, the meaning of life dawns on the mind, an infinite purpose reveals itself in things small and great, in occurrences good and bad: omniscient Providence reveals itself in the fall of the sparrow and the death of the ant as well as in the earthquake that destroys great cities and the floods that make thousands destitute and homeless. Rudra and Shiva reveal themselves as one.
The Yogin Sees God in All Things, All Beings, All Events
The Yogin sees God in all things, not only in all beings but in all events. He is the flood, He is the earthquake, He is Death that leads to a higher life, He is Pain that prepares us for a higher bliss. This is a thing that cannot be argued; it has to be seen. Paripaśyanti dhīrāḥ. And sight is only possible to the calm heart and the unperturbed understanding.
The materialist is not wrong when he holds good and evil to be merely operations of Nature which she uses impartially and without making a distinction, and that the distinction is an evolution in the human mind. Evil is good disintegrating to prepare for a higher good. That which is now tyranny, was once necessary to consolidate human society. What was once an ideal state of society, would now be barbarous and evil.
Morality progresses, religion widens with the growing manifestation of that which is divine in the human race. As with the individual, so with the race and the world, evil tends to good, it comes into existence in order that men may reject the lesser good and rise to the higher.
The Problem of Pain
The problem of pain remains. Was it necessary that the process should be accompanied with pain to the individual?
At one time the capacity for pain, physical and mental, was infinitely less than it is now, so little that it might be pronounced to be nil. It is a remarkable fact that disease, pain and grief have grown keener with the growing fineness of the human organisation. Obviously this can only be a temporary development necessary to prepare a higher race which shall rise above pain to a higher capacity for pleasure and happiness.
The lower organisation resisted the saṁskāra of pain and grief by the coarseness of its composition, it rejected pain in the sense of not knowing it. The higher organisation of the future will not be below it, but rise above it.
It was the knowledge of good and evil that brought grief and sin into the world; when that knowledge is surmounted, man will rise above grief and sin. Before he ate the forbidden fruit, he had the innocence of the animal; when he shall cease to eat it, he will have the innocence of the God.
Is it not so that in nature pain is a possibility which has to be exhausted and man has been selected as the instrument to bring it into existence, in a limited space, for a limited time, and work it out of the cosmos? In the light of this idea the Christian doctrine of the Son of Man on the cross acquires a new significance and man himself becomes the Christ of the universe.
Is Pain Real or a Shadow?
Another question occurs. Is pain real or a shadow?
The Vedantist believes that the soul is a part of God or one with God Himself, and cannot feel pain or grief, but only ānanda, bliss. The jīva or soul takes the rasa, the delight of the dualities, and it changes to bliss in his nature; but this is veiled by the ignorance and separates the jīva in his svarūpa from the mind and the heart.
Pain is a negative vikāra or corruption of true experience in the mind, pleasure a positive vikāra. The truth is ānanda. But this is a knowledge for which mankind is not ready.
Only the Yogin realises it and becomes sama, like-minded to pain and pleasure, good or evil, happiness or misfortune. He takes the rasa of both and they give him strength and bliss; for the veil between his mind and his soul is removed and the apparent man in him has become one with the svarūpa or real man.
If mankind as a whole came too early by that knowledge, the evolution of the perfect good would be delayed. The utter sweetness of dayā and prema, pity and love, might never be extracted from the līlā.