Deliverance from Evil
contain and eradicate evil has always been and will remain
the greatest of human problems. The majority down the ages
- from saints and philosophers to common men and women - has
silently worked to show man the path of peace and goodness
by eschewing evil. The effects of all these efforts seem to
get dissipated like mist before the scorching heat of evil.
Evil is like a powerful and dangerous Minotaur feeding on
man in the darkened labyrinths of the world. While the animal
is angry and hungry, man runs about trapped, terrorized, and
traumatized. This has been man’s nemesis and will continue
to be so until humans acquire some weapon to kill the beast
called evil. The only weapon that is useful, and which all
humans are heir to, is knowledge. It is only through knowledge
that evil is conquered. To conquer evil is to conquer ‘self’
and also the world. This is real conquest, and yoga is the
means to this conquest.
and viciousness, impurity and immorality, carnality and corruption,
and a host of such other things that we see all around, are
only various aspects of evil. If humans are trying to eradicate
evil, then they must either be joking or fighting a losing
battle. On the face of it, it seems to be humans who are getting
contained and eradicated by evil. The combined massive murderous
tendencies of nations have made wars into scientific and blessed
necessities. The irrational, deliberate, and grim hate of
various groups of people have led to terrorism, genocide and
ethnic cleansing. Modern society is awash with crime and abettors
of crime. To top it off, the ubiquitous big - and small -
time robbers, cheats, bribe-seekers and liars are everywhere.
This small list is sure to provoke you to add something you
personally know. That is because we have all experienced many
a time the revolting face of evil. Those who believe in religion
have had it bad because the vigorous and sharp-clawed paws
of evil are constantly tearing into their religious beliefs.
In the face of such onslaught how long can one’s beliefs remain
intact? Swami Vivekananda says:
greater portion of our life must of necessity be filled
with evils, however we may resist, and … this mass of evil
is practically almost infinite for us. … To the question
how to cure the evils of life, the answer apparently is,
give up life. It reminds one of the old story: A mosquito
settled on the head of a man, and a friend, wishing to kill
the mosquito, gave it such a blow that he killed both man
and mosquito. The remedy of evil seems to suggest a similar
course of action. (1)
Bifurcate Nature of the World
is a fact of our ordinary consciousness. All our experiences
- physical, intellectual, emotional, moral and, in most cases,
spiritual also - are coloured by the duality of good and bad.
The world is rooted in duality. Even as you read this article
you will be judging it as either good or bad. Wellmeaning
people have been seeking a solution to the problem of evil
within this natural state of existence and experience, not
knowing that duality must have evil as its integral component.
Our Own Shadow
is not static. It constantly revolves and transforms. We try
to pin down something as good and pure and after a while find
that it has turned bad. If it is still good to us, it might
be bad to someone else. We want to do evil and our good side
arrests the action, and likewise, when we want to do good,
evil arrests us. This is true at both the individual and collective
levels. Thus we are actually straining hopelessly against
our own selves. Some dualistic religions have taken the easy
way out by blaming the existence of evil on the handiwork
of some entity other than God. Everything was good until the
Devil came and spoilt it. This has been the simplistic explanation
of things as they obtain - we blame the Devil for evil and
praise God for the good. Next, we are told to give up all
concerns with Mammon and expect a place beyond this world
of duality, a heaven in which evil is absent and only good
remains. Evil is all dismissed into a convenient place named
hell, where there is no cauldron but only fire. It is actually
human duality here that has created an afterlife, but unlike
here, in heaven duality has been solved by making the divide
so huge that one side does not affect the other!
who are not eschatologically inclined sink into existentialism,
which says humans are free and responsible for their actions
in a world without meaning and without God. Others urge us
to accept evil as a fact in the universe and learn to live
with it because there is no other way. There are some who
deny the existence of evil by closing their eyes to it and
calling it good. But the problem of evil has evaded all efforts
at a solution and cut us up into sorry figures.
Appears Worse from a Narrow Viewpoint
speak of the evils of disease, decay and death as the natural
course of things. Devastations like earthquakes, tornadoes,
tsunamis, and the like are also seen as the workings of natural
laws on a massive scale. We class accidents as unfortunate
and avoidable. In our individual life it is the inevitable
small evils, which bleed our conscience and morality, that
are worrisome and unanswerable. Alcoholism, murder, infidelity,
corruption, revenge, covetousness, and the like take our life
away. We shout and scream: ‘Why! Why, O God, does this have
to happen to me?’ Yet, we feel no anguish when someone unknown
is murdered. Thus self-interest enhances the perception of
evil. Hence a one-sided and narrow view makes evil more hideous,
frightening and insoluble. However, no one can say that evil
is a chimera and does not exist. It is experienced. Evil is
real and painful. And physically, mentally and morally we
constantly struggle to rid ourselves of this pain.
Is a Part of Us
evil by any other name like sin, iniquity or badness, one
fact remains unchanged - evil is the dark aspect present in
everything. It is our own dark face, hidden yet actually acting
like a counterbalance. It is the necessary complement in all
phenomena from the highest to the lowest. It is like a leash
laid upon everything.
doctrine of maya is one of the best frameworks for understanding
our subjective and objective experiences. Better sense can
be made of evil when looked at within the framework of maya.
The saint and the sinner, the beautiful and the hideous, war
and peace, crime and punishment, vice and virtue - all operate
within this unified framework. In Hinduism, both good and
evil have emanated from one source, and many Hindu gods and
goddesses are depicted accordingly. Within maya, this duality
is not contradictory but complementary. There cannot be the
one without the other.
cannot be a perfectly good or a perfectly evil act: ‘Sarvarambha
hi doshena dhumenagnirivavritah; All undertakings are
enveloped by evil, as fire by smoke.’ (2) Knowing that both
are inextricably linked makes us see things in a correct perspective.
As we mature we shall get to see evil in a different light.
We shall find that it is our ignorance that makes us see evil.
And we shall learn that ‘both the forces of good and evil
will keep the universe alive for us.’ (3)
Interrelatedness of Phenomena
Swami Vivekananda: ‘That which is bad today may be good tomorrow.
What is good for me may be bad for you. … There is something
which in its evolution, we call, in one degree, good, and
in another, evil. The storm that kills my friend I call evil,
but that may have saved the lives of hundreds of thousands
of people by killing the bacilli in the air. … So both good
and evil belong to the relative world’ (1.376-7). So it is
clear that there is nothing that is independent in the universe.
No phenomenon is simple. Every particle, every thought, is
in a continuous state of flow, interlinked with other particles
and thoughts. Today it is not philosophy alone but hard science
that is corroborating this self-evident truth. The physicist
David Bohm says:
have reversed the usual classical notion that the independent
‘elementary parts’ of the world are the fundamental reality,
and that the various systems are merely particular contingent
forms and arrangements of these parts. Rather, we say that
inseparable quantum interconnectedness of the whole universe
is the fundamental reality, and that relatively independent
behaving parts are merely particular and contingent forms
within this whole. (4)
universe is a complex intermix of forces working out not just
at one level but on multiple levels of reality.
of Sri Ramakrishna’s remarkable visions throws its revealing
light on the problem of good and evil:
saw a female figure of extraordinary beauty rise from the
waters of the Ganga and come with a dignified gait to the
Panchavati. Presently, he saw that the said figure was in
an advanced stage of pregnancy. A few minutes later she
gave birth to a beautiful baby in his very presence and
suckled the baby very affectionately; the next moment he
saw that the same figure assumed a very cruel and frightful
appearance, and taking the baby into her mouth, masticated
it and swallowed it! She then entered the waters of the
river whence she had appeared. (5)
Sri Ramakrishna saw was the working of Mahamaya, the Great
Power of the Mother of the universe.
Truth about Restraint
Vivekananda points out:
is one impulse in our minds which says, do. Behind it rises
another voice, which says, do not. There is one set of ideas
in our mind which is always struggling to get outside through
the channels of the senses, and behind that, although it
may be thin and weak, there is an infinitely small voice
which says, do not go outside. The two beautiful Sanskrit
words for these phenomena are Pravritti and Nivritti, ‘circling
forward’ and ‘circling inward’. (6)
there is an inbuilt restraining factor in the very nature
of things. We have also seen that good may be transmuted into
evil and evil into good. If this is true, there must be an
identity somewhere which is not apparent on the surface. Swamiji
says, ‘What makes this world what it is? Lost balance. In
the primal state, which is called chaos, there is perfect
balance. How do all the formative forces of the universe come
then? By struggling, competition, conflict. Suppose that all
the particles of matter were held in equilibrium, would there
be then any process of creation?’ (1.113-4).
preservation and destruction are inherent in all phenomena.
In reality, there is no destruction but only transformations.
These transformations we call birth and death and everything
in between. After death comes rebirth. Transformations do
not begin at point A and end at point Z but the waves of transformation
flow in a circle. When on the ascent, they are called ‘good’,
and when on the descent, ‘evil’.
human personality is the result of the dynamic interplay of
conscious and subconscious forces. And when one personality
interacts with another it is like two waves clashing. We surge
around and bump into others all the time - this is the permanent
waltz of nature. ‘Here we are with strong impulses and stronger
cravings for sense enjoyments, but cannot satisfy them. There
rises a wave, which impels us forward in spite of our own
will, and as soon as we move one step, comes a blow’ (2.110-1).
This is nature’s auto-control.
Power of Conscious Restraint
we described above are the inbuilt restraining factors. When
it comes to conscious restraint the effects are equally apparent.
When we restrain ourselves voluntarily we feel uplifted and
energetic. There are times in everyone’s life when the disastrous
effects of licence, craving, weakness and pettiness are felt
and we bitterly berate ourselves on our folly. On retrospection
we invariably tell ourselves that it would have been better
if we had exercised restraint. Deep down we know of the evil
consequences of unrestrained thought and action. On the advantages
of restraint Swamiji says:
is a manifestation of greater power than all outgoing action.
A carriage with four horses may rush down a hill unrestrained,
or the coachman may curb the horses. Which is the greater
manifestation of power, to let them go or to hold them?
A cannon-ball flying through the air goes a long distance
and falls. Another is cut short in its flight by striking
against a wall, and the impact generates intense heat. All
outgoing energy following a selfish motive is frittered
away; it will not cause power to return to you; but if restrained,
it will result in development of power. This self-control
will tend to produce a mighty will, a character which makes
a Christ or a Buddha. Foolish men do not know this secret
is precisely this idea of conscious restraint of the mind
sustained by will power that yoga advances. This restraint
leads humans to higher endeavours and opens up new vistas
in their personality. The pravritti and nivritti
spoken of earlier are in the context of a vritti, or
thought wave. Every wave has a trough as counterpoint and
also other vrittis that thwart it. This is the auto-control
spoken of earlier. Thus each activity, each mental impulse
has a check, a counter. In the Yoga Sutras the technical
words are vyutthana vritti, the manifest thought wave,
and nirodha vritti, the restraining thought wave. We
know how the mind wanders. The mind has now to be put on a
second, shorter, leash. ‘Resist all evils, mental and physical;
and when you have succeeded in resisting, then will calmness
is not concerned with the question of evil and its solution
in an absolute sense. The goal is mukti, or freedom, freedom
from both good and evil. As Sri Ramakrishna says: ‘One takes
the thorn of knowledge to remove the thorn of ignorance, then
throws both away.’ For our purpose the illustration of a pendulum-clock
is apt. When the pendulum swings to one side that very swing
builds up the potential energy required to swing it to the
other side. Both swings are equal and this swinging makes
the clock work. If the pendulum does not work, the clock stops.
Thus ‘both forces of good and evil will keep the universe
alive for us’. If evil is to be transcended, the good will
have to be abandoned too. For, as Swamiji has pointed out:
‘Fetters, though of gold, are not less strong to bind.’
Leading to Knowledge
the initial stages of yoga the moral disciplines of yama
and niyama, coupled with a strong spirit of renunciation
and unswerving practice, hold back the natural tendency of
the mind to gush out through the senses. As we arrest the
swinging pendulum by degrees, by curbing the wild transformations
in the mind, it moves steadily towards the highest realm of
human experience that is the result of the highest conscious
control. Three such transformations (parinama) are spoken
of in yoga philosophy: nirodha parinama, samadhi parinama
and ekagrata parinama (1.272).
yogi first puts a leash on thought waves related to the body
like hunger, thirst, heat, cold, and sleep. Next, with the
same leash (and method) the powerful internal instinctive
energies like lust, greed, anger, hatred, jealousy and pride
are brought under control. The negative side having come under
the leash, it implies that the positive side also has come
tremendous power is slowly building up every time the yogi
obstructs and controls thought on the surface of the mind.
The samskaras, or impressions, of the disturbing thought as
well as that of the obstructing vritti naturally sink
below consciousness. If the disturbing thought is activated
through memory, it rises, but with the inevitable impression
of obstruction tagged along. Thus the fight that is initiated
by the conscious mind also goes on in the subconscious though
we are not aware of the latter. The mind is always transforming
itself and the restraint also is continuous. As the process
reaches a critical threshold, the yogi feels the will power
in him throbbing and growing. Imagine a tug of war between
two sets of equally strong people. The rope along with the
tugging competitors appears stationary, but tremendous power
is being expended. In this state the mind is stilled due to
the opposing forces of vyutthana and nirodha.
This is the first stage called nirodha parinama.
the next stage the yogi attempts to hold on to a solitary
idea or object in his mind, excluding all other distracting
thoughts (whether good or bad). This is samadhi parinama.
repeated experiences of nirodha and samadhi
transformations, the mind becomes mature and the subconscious
samskaras are attenuated. The mind now undergoes the ekagrata
parinama and is able to sustain a solitary thought to
the exclusion of all distractions. By now, both good and evil
have lost their hold on the yogi. That is why the yogi who
has mastered the transformation of samadhi gets beyond
both good and evil. He is now established in the perfect state
of yoga. To his inner vision the secret of the universe stands
revealed. This is the highest state of yoga, beyond the bonds
and wantonness of nature. These three parinamas give
rise to supreme knowledge and this completely frees the yogi.
author has followed Swami Vivekananda in his use of the term
nirodha parinama. Vyasa, the traditional commentator
on the Yoga Sutras, uses it to refer to a stage beyond
ekagrata parinama wherein the mind is freed of all thought.
The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta:
Advaita Ashrama, 1-8 1989; 9 1997), 2.144.
Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics (London: Flamingo,
Swami Saradanandna, Sri Ramakrishna the Great Master,
trans. Swami Jagadananda, 2 vols. (Chennai: Ramakrishna Math,