The problem of evil in Hindu thought

Hinduism does not invoke a Satan to account for evil. Both good and bad are properties of a dualistic world. They are anthropomorphic ideas and do not apply to the Divine.
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.
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna
It is simply the property of evil that anyone who does evil is eventually punished while it is the property of good deeds that people who do good deeds are eventually rewarded. The idea is that if you eat chilli then you will feel the heat.

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.

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One Reply to “The problem of evil in Hindu thought”

  1. Dear Pradip da,

    Yet another excellent, concise and powerful blog. The question I hear the most is "If Brahman is unaffected by Good or Bad, and since Atman and Brahman are not different from each other, then why should the Atman not remain unaffected by Good or Bad as well?"

    In that case, what is the purpose of espousing Good over "bad" behaviors? Also, Is there anything like "absolute Good or absolute Bad"?

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