The world consists of the illusory duality of knowledge and ignorance. It contains of knowledge and devotion, and also attachment to ‘lust and greed’; righteousness and unrighteousness; good and evil. But Brahman is unattached to these. Good and evil apply to the jiva, the individual soul, as do righteousness and unrighteousness; but Brahman is not at all affected by them.One man may read the Bhagavata by the light of the lamp, and another may commit a forgery by that very light; but that lamp is unaffected. The sun sheds its light on the wicked as well as on the virtuous.You may then ask, ‘How, then can one explain misery, and sin and unhappiness?’ The answer is that these apply 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.
Another analogy is that of a forest that contains both trees yielding sweet fruits and trees yielding bitter fruits. The presence of both types of trees has no effect on the forest. A human must, however, avoid the trees yielding bitter fruits.
As stated in the comment, the implication of Brahman being unaffected by good and evil is that the Atman is also unaffected. This raises the question as to why the Jiva is affected by good and evil. The answer is that Jiva is a sum of body-mind-ego complex and the Atman. It is the body-mind-ego complex that is affected by good and evil. There is a beautiful Upanishadic parable of two birds that explains this situation.
Two birds sat on one tree. The bird at the top was calm, majestic, beautiful, perfect. The lower bird was always hopping from twig to twig, now eating sweet fruits and being happy, now eating bitter fruits and being miserable. One day, when he had eaten a fruit more bitter than usual, he glanced up at the calm majestic upper bird and thought, “How I would like to be like him!” and he hopped up a little way towards him. Soon he forgot all about his desire to be like the upper bird, and went on as before, eating sweet and bitter fruits and being happy and miserable. Again he looked up, again he went up a little nearer to the calm and majestic upper bird. Many times was this repeated until at last he drew very near the upper bird; the brilliancy of his plumage dazzled him, seemed to absorb him, and finally, to his wonder and surprise, he found there was only one bird — he was the upper bird all the time and had but just found it out. Man is like that lower bird, but if he perseveres in his efforts to rise to the highest ideal he can conceive of, he too will find that he was the Self all the time and the other was but a dream. To separate ourselves utterly from matter and all belief in its reality is true Jnana. The Jnani must keep ever in his mind the “Om Tat Sat”, that is, Om the only real existence. Abstract unity is the foundation of Jnana-Yoga. This is called Advaitism (“without dualism or dvaitism”). This is the corner-stone of the Vedanta philosophy, the Alpha and the Omega. “Brahman alone is true, all else is false and I am Brahman.” Only by telling ourselves this until we make it a part of our very being, can we rise beyond all duality, beyond both good and evil, pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, and know ourselves as the One, eternal, unchanging, infinite — the “One without a second”.
The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 8, Lectures and Discourses, Discourse on Jnana-Yoga – I
The bird at the top is the Atman and is unaffected by good and evil. The lower bird is the body-mind-ego complex and is forced to eat the sweet and bitter fruits of life.
More posts by this author:
- The problem of evil in the presence of a loving God
- Free Will – does it exist? What does Vedanta say?
- An outline of Hindu dharma
- Speculations regarding Jyotish
- What happens after death?
I did my school, college and parts of my University education in Kolkata. I got my M.Sc degree from Kolkata University. I went to USA in 1979 and got my M.S and Ph.D in Physics from University of Pittsburgh in 1984. I did my Post Doctorate in University of Southern California, Los Angeles and then worked as a Research Scientist in the Department of Physics, Astronomy and Space Sciences Center of University of Southern California. My scientific work includes heavy ion-atom scattering, multiphoton ionization and heliosphere data analysis of Pioneer 10/111 and Voyager 1/2 deep space spacecaft and analysis of solar extreme ultraviolet data obtained from SOHO spacecraft. I have been a National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration (NASA) Principal Investigator from 2002 – 2007. I have been a member of a NASA awards committee to decide allocation of money to different scientists. I have also refereed scientific articles submitted to Journal of Geophysical Research and Astrophysical Journal.