The Genesis of the Principle of Evil

As published in The Harmonist (Sree Sajjanatoshani)
Edited by Paramahamsa Paribrajakacharyya Sri Srimad Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Maharaj


IT is not possible for man to ignore the real existence of evil in the life that he has to lead in this world. The principle of evil has, indeed, its existence in the human mind. It is not altogether an inexplicable, spontaneous instinct, but embodies a very real element of rational judgement. To be addicted to the pleasures of the senses in any undue measure, that destroys all self-control, is universally regarded as a morally condemnable state of the mind. It is a fact that everyone is really liable to fall into such evil condition. Therefore, the existence of evil is not something that is merely imaginary unaccountable. All persons admit by their conduct the possibility of the prevention and amelioration of this evil. It is, therefore, quite reasonable to undertake a serious enquiry into the causes that bring about the appearance of the principle of evil.

In order to prevent any real misunderstanding regarding the nature of the issue, it is necessary to proceed by defining the people of evil. There is, in the first place, the naturalistic conception, which identifies the principle of evil with the absence of knowledge of the laws of physical Nature. That mode of activity is defined as evil, by this school of thinkers, which transgresses against the laws of Nature. According to this rule, the study of the physical Sciences can relieve a person from the necessity of following the evil course. It is claimed to be self-evident that, with the advance and diffusion of the knowledge of physical Nature, the principle of evil has been rapidly disappearing from the life of man. In opposition to this optimistic view the idealists maintain that no conduct can be considered as really good that does not take into account certain principles which are not derivable from the inanimate operation of material forces. The principle of love may prefer to act in opposition even to the laws of physical Nature, in order to be loyal to its own higher ideal. The idealists accordingly seek to find the real explanation of moral conduct in the laws that regulate and originate the conscious activity of the human mind. The human mind is perfectly free to choose its own course. It always acts with a conscious purpose. That purpose aims at the realisation of a certain state of itself that appears to it to be worthy of attainment.

The naturalistic school assumes that it is the purpose of every person to seek to avoid inconveniences that result from ignorance of the laws of physical Nature. But this cannot be the purpose itself. The knowledge of the laws of Nature can only enable a person to make use of the forces of nature for gaining his own end. It is certainly useful as a means to the end but the end itself is settled by the absolutely free choice of the individual. If one likes to undertake a journey from Calcutta to London in a short time, he may be helped by the means of quick transport rendered available by the progress of scientific knowledge. But the progress of scientific knowledge has nothing to do with his intension of undertaking such a journey. According to the idealists a person is desirous of going to London from Calcutta for the reason that his being in London appears to him as a better condition for himself on the whole than his being in Calcutta. In other words no person is satisfied with his present condition and everyone is desirous of a change for the better in accordance with his individual judgement. The idealists, therefore, define the principle of evil as a state of the mind that appears to it to be undesirable or unworthy by reference to the ideal state. The knowledge of the laws of physical Nature may help in realising the ideal, but is not itself the ideal.

All schools agree that the purpose of all human activities is to realise the truly happy condition. But as the ideal of the truly happy state happens to be different in the case of different individuals and is also different for the same individual at every different moment; these differences produce a conflict of interests and ideals rendering their complete realisation impossible. What a person decides at this moment, may be upset by his own decision at the very next moment. The activity of one person is condemned by another as immoral from the latter's point of view even when the former may suppose himself to be in the right. In these circumstances the principle of evil can have only a tentative and shifting existence. But although such a state of things cannot fully satisfy the conditions of a clear definition of entity, it is nevertheless possible to indicate its nature in the above manner.

This principle of evil then has a reference to the particular nature and requirements of every individual at any particular moment. He prefers a certain ideal and condemns all activities that are not in accordance with the same. The contemplation of such activity by another person also makes him unhappy. The pessimistic school in India and in other countries has proposed the stoppage of the mental function itself as the only method of getting rid of the problem of evil. But the pessimists do not propose any substitute for filling the void. Moreover, it is impossible to retain one's existence by stopping the mental function. The proposal amounts to an advice of self destruction. Had this been feasible it would destroy both good and evil. The pessimists do not propose to abolish also happiness. If the whole of life were really unmixed misery then also there would still remain the necessity for finding the means of unmixed happiness.

The principle of evil is thus traceable partly to the nature of the mental function and partly to the environment. Both of these are antagonistic to our unalloyed permanent happiness. Is it possible to avoid both of them without committing suicide and find lasting happiness beyond the reach of these disturbing entities? We get the information from the Scriptures which is available to our souls. The information itself supplies the environment for the exercise of the function of the soul which it evokes. The initiative in the process is taken by the other side. The process resembles that of awaking a sleeper by another person who is already awake. The waking person takes the initiative. In the case of the mental function the initiative is with Nature. The sleeping person has experience of dreams which appear to him without his having to seek for them. In the same way he can be awaked only by outside initiative. But when he is once awake, he is also in a position to act by himself. In his dream he imagines that he is able to act as he likes. But as a matter of fact this is not true. The limbs of a sleeping man cannot be moved by him even although he may be dreaming that he is actually moving them. The difference between the mental function and the spiritual is analogous to that between the dreaming and the waking person. It would be truer to say that the mental function is like a very bad dream on the whole and, therefore, it compels the dreamer to try constantly to get rid of the misery that it entails. The dreamer also never suspects that he is dreaming or that he could get rid of his dream by becoming awake.

The various speculations regarding methods by which the philosophers propose to get rid of the admitted miseries of life are no more effective than the devices that may be imagined by the dreamer. All such speculations are discovered to be futile as soon as the dreaming person awakes from his dream. The Scriptures propose the abandonment of all mental function directed to the mundane environment. This is unintelligible to the dreamer because he does not know and cannot know any other function or environment. But there is a very important difference between a dream and the conditioned state of the soul. The dreamer cannot hear the voice of any waking person during sleep. But the conditioned soul can hear the voice of the soul who is not subject to the mental function or to the mundane environment. The unfettered soul speaks to the conditioned soul in the language that he can understand, but which refers to the unknown function and the unknown world. If the conditioned soul really gives his attention to what he hears from the unfettered soul, he can regain by his own effort his waking condition. But he is free not to choose to do so.

The principle of evil accompanies the principle of good in our worldly life. If there is no evil there cannot be also any earthly good. They are the complementary aspects of an indivisible function. Those, therefore, who propose to eliminate earthly evil in order to secure unmixed earthly good, engage themselves in a wild goose chase. The earthly evil as well as the earthly good flow from the same cause namely the fettered condition of the soul. In the unconditioned state there is neither earthly good nor earthly evil. This cannot be understood unless the dreamer chooses to awake from the state of sleep by being attentive to the message of the Scriptures conveyed to him by unfettered souls.

The conditioned soul can become free from the bondage of this world if he chooses to attend to the teaching of the Scriptures. He cannot get rid of the conditioned state unless he follows the Scriptural method. In this world no person can gain his object unless he obeys the laws of Nature. On the plane of the free soul one has also to submit to the laws of that world in order to gain the objects of desire. The difference between the two worlds lies in this; that whereas it is never possible to obtain what we desire in this world, it is always inevitable in the spiritual world to obtain the complete fulfilment of all our desires. But just as one is free in his choice of the right course in this world he is similarly and no less free to choose between the right and the wrong method on the threshold of the spiritual realm. It is in this 'no man's land', lying between the mundane and spiritual realms, that the principle of evil makes its appearance in association with the principle of mundane good as the result of the free choice of the wrong course by the soul in his own unbalanced position in the whole scheme of existence.