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Understanding Evil

Understanding Evil

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Published by Sachin Nandha

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Published by: Sachin Nandha on Jul 02, 2012
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Understanding Evil –
the Eastern Way
 Sachin NandhaInstitute for Global Change© 2006,
1
Understanding Evil
the Eastern Way
 
In this paper, I will be exploring the concept of evil
1
and how the Eastern philosophieshave attempted to understand it. Due to the nature of the subject other questions willnaturally be raised – that of God. If one assumes that God exists and that it isomnipotent, omniscient and benevolent as in the biblical traditions then this naturallyraises questions of ‘cosmic justice’
2
. Why is there evil in the world? If there is abenevolent, omniscient and omnipotent Creator God, why does it allow evil? If Godis benevolent, it would want the good; if omniscient, it would know everything; and if omnipotent, it is powerful enough to make things anyway it wants – so why is thereevil?In primitive religions, the problems of evil tended to be avoided because the Gods of those religions were usually neither benevolent, omnipotent, nor omniscient. In laterbiblical traditions, cosmic justice was relatively easily explained. Judaism preachedthat God can reward good people and punish bad people but this still doesn’t help usunderstand evil, in fact it confuses the matter. If God is benevolent and thereforegood why does it allow evil since it is omnipotent it has the power to end all evil?The biblical traditions allow for some room to manoeuvre and thereby preserve somefreedom of action for God. Only Islam seems to go all the way and out rightly saysthat ‘God does what he wishes’
3
. Judaism and Christianity want to preserve someelement of good and rational purpose in Gods actions in creating evil, but neither goesall the way as to say that God
only
does that for which there is sufficient good andrational purpose. Both views seem to take us away from understanding our actions asright and wrong in relation to the actions of God – so to what standard are our actionsdeemed to be judged against if not Gods standard?A classical Christian understanding of evil is based around the notion of free will.God is benevolent and free will is good, hence God has given mankind free will, butthen we misuse it, hence resulting in the creation of evil in the universe. The problemwith this view is that it brings Gods omniscient qualities in question because if God
1
Definition of evil is taken to mean immoral, unpleasant, wrong and lack of justice
2
By the term ‘cosmic justice’ I mean the universal notion of good deeds are rewarded by good consequences andvice versa
3
 
 Allahu yafalu ma yashau
– Koran, Surah 3:40 (or 3:35)
 
 
Understanding Evil –
the Eastern Way
 Sachin NandhaInstitute for Global Change© 2006,
2creates people whom it knows will do evil and whom it will have to put in hell due totheir actions where is his benevolence? Why would a good God create people that areevil and then punish them by eternal damnation? God could just avoid all this‘nastiness’ in the world by creating only good people. The Koran on the other handforwards the notion that God creates all things including evil but we are too limited tounderstand Gods reasoning.In Eastern philosophy, cosmic justice and the problem of evil are handled with atheory that stands entirely separate from divine beings, whatever they maybe like.Before I continue any further, I must clarify that by
 Eastern
, I actually mean
 Indian
.And by Indian I do not mean any particular association with the modern state of India,instead I am actually referring to the ancient cultural India – that which did not reallypossess any strictly defined political boundaries. Indian philosophy and thought hasinfluenced every major religion, culture, civilization and language over the last threemillennia. It is this vast cultural spread that I am referring to in this paper as
the Eastern Way
.Now that we are a little clearer on the term ‘Eastern’ I can return back to the issue athand. I had just said that Eastern philosophy attempts to understand evil byeffectively separating divine beings from it. It is difficult to be sure of the origins of this theory, but it initially seems to appear in the Mimamsa School
4
, beginning withaphorisms by Jaimini
5
and progressing to a more discursive treatment by thinkerssuch as Shabara and then Prabhakara
6
. The Mimamsa School was primarilyconcerned with the interpretation of the first two parts of the Vedas, which meant thattheir basic concern was with rituals and the notion of Dharma and thereby implyingKarma.One must know that the terms ‘Karma’ and ‘Dharma’ are central to the question of understanding evil within the Eastern way. Karma means action in its most popularinterpretation but it can also be taken to mean work, deed, or function. Karma is anethical concept, in that it explores and distinguishes right action from wrong action.
4
Radhakrishnan, S., Indian Philosophy, Vol. 1, 1928, Oxford University Press, Ch. 6
5
Dated around 800BC – 400BC according to Gupta, B., CIT Consciousness, 2000, Oxford University Press
6
Dated around 400 AD according to Gupta, B., CIT Consciousness, 2000, Oxford University Press
 
Understanding Evil –
the Eastern Way
 Sachin NandhaInstitute for Global Change© 2006,
3So how would one distinguish between right and wrong? In the East the answer canbe consolidated to one word – Dharma. Any action that is in accordance with Dharmais right action and any action contrary to Dharma is wrong action. So what isDharma? If we can begin to understand Dharma, we may be able to test the notion oKarma in the context of understanding evil. The word Dharma has been translatedthroughout history in alternate ways – some were just philosophically wrong; likeMcCauley’s definition of Dharma as simply religion. Other interpretations havereferred to Dharma as ‘justice’ or ‘duty’ – I would not like to say these are wrong butthey are indeed narrow – the word Dharma has a vastness of its own. Dharma comesfrom the Sanskrit verbal root ‘dhri’ meaning ‘manner of being’
7
and in itsmetaphysical meaning, it can be taken to mean ‘the essential nature of a being,comprising the sum of its particular qualities or characteristics, and determining, byvirtue of the tendencies or dispositions it implies, the manner in which this being willconduct itself, either in a general way or in relation to each particular circumstance.The same idea may be applied, not only to a single being, but also to an organizedcollective, to a species, to all the beings included in a cosmic cycle or state of existence, or even to the whole order of the Universe’
8
.Now that we have equipped ourselves adequately with an understanding of the termsKarma and Dharma we can begin to explore the
 Eastern
Way to understanding evil.The theory that developed was that right and wrong actions result in a kind of ‘deposit’, ‘charge’, or potential in the agent. Good deeds create a good potential andbad deeds create a bad potential. The state of this potential was called the apurva,meaning ‘without prior’ but now the term karma is used to mean not only action butalso apurva. Academics have often been confused due to this duality in the meaningof karma. Karma in its original meaning that of right or wrong action thus causesgood or bad karma as in the sense apurva – the potential created as a result of anyaction. At this point I must mention that by the term action or karma, Indianphilosophy not only refers to physical acts but also movements of the mind in termsof thoughts and intelligence. Therefore, even thoughts create good or bad potentials.I will come to explore this aspect of thoughts later on in the essay, for now it willsuffice to know that actions imply mental as well as the physical. Another aspect that
7
Radhakrishnan, S., Indian Philosophy, Vol. 1, 1928, Oxford University Press
8
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dharma
 

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