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Why Does Evil Exist?
Simon: Namaste, Sundari. I have a question on a completely different topic: When you hear about the horrific actions of the Islamic State, what thoughts do you have about it? You are obviously someone who has internalized the highest teachings of Vedanta so I’m curious how your mind processes such extreme events like these. Hope this isn’t a strange question…
~ Regards, Simon
Sundari: It is not a strange question and we get asked this quite regularly. Firstly, my mind does not process these extreme events, as “my” intellect is in the service of self-knowledge, so I see everything from the point of view of awareness – my mind is simply an instrument that reflects me. From the non-dual point of view of awareness, nothing is happening; there is no birth or death, no injustice, no horror, no right or wrong. This is because the apparent reality it just that – apparent. It is not real.
When maya appears, Isvara in the form of the Creator appears and the creation apparently manifests. The creation is made up of and originates from the gunas: rajas, tamas and sattva. They are impersonal forces that shape the way duality (samsara) plays out. There is no duality in my mind, so I do not see events as personal.
From the perspective of the jiva who is identified with being a jiva, this playing out is seen as personal and has all kinds of thoughts, emotions and actions associated with it. From one’s personal to global view, how we see the world and what happens to us – and it – will be interpreted by how the mind is conditioned by the gunas, i.e. the vasanas, which are also generated and coloured by the gunas.
Even though I know I am the self and not the person, the apparent person lives in the apparent reality. Of course, from this perspective, I see these horrific actions the same way you do: as injustice, heartbreaking and mindless. But the difference is I know that there is nothing to be done about it. “Evil” will always be present in the apparent reality, there is nothing to be done about it. It is rajas and tamas at their worst, if they could be personified, which they cannot.
It is difficult to accept this and it is soul-destroying if you get drawn into crusading against the dark side of life. However, Isvara’s creation is playing out as it has to. Karma is impossible to understand from the jiva’s perspective because the jiva can only look at what takes place in the apparent reality from within the framework of the apparent reality. This perspective will always be limited. The apparent reality will always be limited. The only solution is to see it from the point of view of awareness.
Evil, adharmic acts and all their many manifestations are abominations, and one cannot but denounce them if dharma and peace of mind are what you value. But to get involved in value judgements and become emotional about this topic is to forget the most important fact: it is not awareness that causes such horrible things. Awareness is not a big person with desires and fears. Awareness is limitless consciousness. Because it is limitless it has every conceivable power, including the power for so-called good and evil – ignorance. If ignorance is excluded from awareness, awareness becomes limited, which, when we investigate, we know is not possible. The evil that one sees is a result of ignorance. We know this because individuals who understand their nature as awareness do no evil. And even those who don’t but understand the nature of Isvara/maya don’t do evil either, because they know that Isvara/maya creates good and evil.
This is why Christ said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Maya (apparently) makes awareness think it is an individual who does not know that it is actually whole and complete awareness. When awareness is under the spell of maya it does actions that cause suffering to it and to others.
At the same time, there is as much good in the world as there is evil. Maya also makes awareness realize its nature as awareness, follow dharma, and do many wonderful things. There are more people who are called to healing and helping than there are perpetrators of evil deeds.
So is awareness responsible for the good and the evil? Awareness is the witness of (apparent) good and evil. So it cannot be either good or evil, because both good and evil are objects known to you, awareness. You are never what you know.
Maya, or Isvara, is responsible for good and evil, not awareness. Maya is not real. We know this because it disappears with self-knowledge. If maya is not real, then the effects of maya – good and evil in the apparent reality created by maya – are not real either. Suffering is taking something that is not real to be real.
When we say the world is perfect as it is, we mean that it cannot be anything other than what it is. If the world could be different, assuming maya “thought” that it was not serving awareness, it would make the world a different place. But it never does. So it must be that there is a good reason for suffering. And indeed there is. Although it makes awareness appear as jivas seemingly dull and evil, it also makes them sensitive and awake, which provides them with indirect knowledge of their nature as awareness, thus motivating their quest for direct knowledge.
Some people respond to this knowledge by saying, “If one cannot change anything because it is not real and perfect the way it is, why bother trying to help anyone?” But Vedanta says, “Why not help if everything is perfect? Your helping is also perfect. If it is your nature to help, you will help. If not, not. If it is your nature to sometimes help and sometimes not, then that is the way maya/Isvara created you.”
Even if these arguments are not convincing to you, what use is suffering because of the suffering you see? It not only does not change the suffering, it adds a bit of suffering to the total. There are some things that we jivas have no control over. And those things need to be surrendered to Isvara. If you want to help, help. But it is a thankless task.
For every bit of good you do, someone else does some evil. You cannot beat the system. So you have to do what you need to do and leave the results to Isvara. It is the only way to peace. We all want the world to be a better place, but it is what it is.
So, how I as the apparent person process this is the way I process everything in samsara: by dissolving it in self-knowledge.
I hope this helps.
~ Namaste, Sundari