Fortnightly E-zine
International Forum for Neovedantins

Greetings and Welcome

[Previous Articles: What is Vedanta? |  Goddess Saraswati]

The Problem of Evil and Misery

Religious institutes come to surface as an answer to the question: Why this evil and misery in the kingdom of benevolent, merciful, and just God? And equally true is the fact that the same religion is scoffed at and rejected in response to our inability to find a reasonable answer to the same question! Two major schools of philosophy originate in this scuffle: 1) Agnostic, and 2) Atheist. The former says: God cannot be known; his or her or its ways are beyond comprehension, inscrutable. But God is Truth, it exists; this they do not deny.

On the other hand, the atheist rejects the very existence of God, at least for them there is no place or need of God to explain and act upon the problems of human suffering, evil, and like. For them the only relevant tool for eradicating societal and individual suffering is struggle for justice, protest against inequality, and war against tyrants. In a positive way, they have great faith in 'reason, rationality, and logic' of science. Science, for them, in a way, takes the place of religion. There are individuals and groups for whom personal effort to attain perfection in their chosen field of endeavour becomes religion. They do not want to depend on external or internal God for any help. Scientists and artists fall under this category. In fact, unwittingly though, they represent the essence of Karma Yoga. They are true Karma Yogis. However, though their effort is sincere, it is misdirected. Instead of trying to achieve the highest realization, instead of longing for the whole Truth, they try to attain perfection or mastery over one aspect of the Truth.

The third category of people accepts compromise formula; unconscious it may be, in response to the question of 'evil and misery'. They hide themselves behind the curtain of faith or belief in the innate justice, benevolence, and 'goodness' of the Supreme Being. They follow one or the other institutionalized religion of the day. However, all such religions are based on a concept of duality. For most of these religions, God and the individual self are two distinct and separate realities, and hence the problem of evil can never be solved or resolved satisfactorily. The dichotomy between the Supreme Self and individual self leads to erroneous explanation and suggestion that God may be partial! The reason and objectivity of science, therefore, finds it very easy to attack and demolish the religious citadel built on inequality of self and Self.

"If you come to my religious fold, then there will be no problem or misery for you," says one religion. The other exhorts the perplexed and confused person to come to their side, the merry-go-round continues! Thus, we can explain the attempts of religious sects and institutes to spread their religious dogma by sword or by pen, by missionary acts or by coercion. While religion has acted as balm for millions of painful souls, it has also caused immense bloodshed in the history of mankind. In such a confusing scenario it is indeed difficult to eulogize religion as the ultimate solace for the humanity.

Advaita Point of View

Advaita is not pessimistic, nor optimistic, but is realistic. The first consideration when we talk of Advaita Vedanta must be to accept that it is not based on any book or any person; it accepts no personal God, but a Principle of Pure Consciousness as the ultimate Truth. It is not a religion in an ordinary sense of the word, nor is it an abstract philosophy; it is simultaneously both philosophy and religion. In essence Advaita Vedanta is the basis of all the philosophies and religions. It firmly maintains that there is only one Truth, name it Brahman, or Atman, Self, or God, it does not make any difference. This Truth or Reality or Existence is of the nature of Pure Consciousness, and is the substratum of all beings, both sentient and insentient. Therefore, we are all Brahman, although at the present level of consciousness we cannot understand this potential Divinity hidden in our hearts. "You are not Mr. or Mrs. so and so; you are That Ultimate," that is the dictum.

Inexplicable Ignorance has caused this apparent or false duality in this universe. The One Absolute Truth appears as many - as the phenomenal world. Nevertheless, as long as we are not awakened to the realization of the one Absolute, all physical and emotional aspects have their place in life and society. Till we realize our true nature as one with the Absolute Being, we take our individuality - the body, the mind, and the ego - as sacred truth. However, then we also come under the spell of joy and sorrow.

The seat of these multifarious and illusive existences is the scattered mind. Along with the senses, it gets entangled with Pure Consciousness and experiences pain and pleasure. Experience of joy or misery is the function of mind, and never of Brahman or Atman. Purer the mind, greater is its capacity to fathom this secret. And a day comes when mind becomes so pure that it transcends itself; gets detached from the senses, and the individual comes to know what it really is: The Brahman. Then only the problem of evil and misery is solved, not before. Transcendental realization of our true nature is, therefore, the only answer to solve the mystery of pain and sorrow in this world.

Even conceptual understanding or grasp of this truth makes us understand the origin of evil and suffering at the material empirical level, and gives hope of overcoming the same by way of proper spiritual disciplines. As Lord Sri Krishna says in the Gita: "In this, there is no waste of unfinished attempt, nor is there production of contrary results. Even a little of this dharma protects one form great fear." Gita, 2: 40
c s shah
Hosted by