"Man is higher than all animals, than all angels; none is greater than man." - Swami Vivekananda














PRABUDDHA BHARATADeliverance from Evil | Swami Satyamayananda  





Deliverance from Evil



Swami Satyamayananda




     To 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 mans 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.




     Wrestling with Evil



     Vice 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 ones beliefs remain intact? Swami Vivekananda says:


     The 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)




     The Bifurcate Nature of the World



     Duality 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.




     Escaping Our Own Shadow



     Duality 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!


     Those 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.




     Evil Appears Worse from a Narrow Viewpoint



     We 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.




     Evil Is a Part of Us



     Call 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.


     The 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.


     There 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)




     The Interrelatedness of Phenomena



     Says 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:



     We 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)


     The universe is a complex intermix of forces working out not just at one level but on multiple levels of reality.


     One of Sri Ramakrishnas remarkable visions throws its revealing light on the problem of good and evil:



     He 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)


     What Sri Ramakrishna saw was the working of Mahamaya, the Great Power of the Mother of the universe.




     The Truth about Restraint



     Swami Vivekananda points out:



     There 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)


     Evidently, 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).


     Creation, 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.


     The 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 natures auto-control.




     The Power of Conscious Restraint



     What 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 everyones 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:


     Self-restraint 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 (1.33).




     Pravritti and Nivritti




     It 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 come (1.40).


     Yoga 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.




     Transformations Leading to Knowledge



     In 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).


     The 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 under control.


     A 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.


     In 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.


     With 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.



     [The 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. - Editor.]







     1. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8 1989; 9 1997), 2.144.

     2. Bhagavadgita, 18.48.

     3. CW, 2.99.

     4. Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics (London: Flamingo, 1982), 150.

     5. Swami Saradanandna, Sri Ramakrishna the Great Master, trans. Swami Jagadananda, 2 vols. (Chennai: Ramakrishna Math, 2004) 1.232.

     6. CW, 2.108.





International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015








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