Problem of evil in Hinduism

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Hindu answers to the problem of evil are different from most answers offered in Western philosophy, partly because the problem of evil within Hindu thought is differently structured than Western traditions, mainly Abrahamic traditions.

Problem of injustice[edit]

In the Hindu tradition the problem of evil is phrased as the Problem of Injustice. This problem can be considered in the following manner:

God is omnipotent, omniscient, and just. Yet injustice is observed to persist in the world. How is this possible?

In the Advaita school of Vedanta, this problem is dealt with in detail by Sankara in his commentary on the Brahma Sutras, 2.1.34–36:

Brahma Sutra 2.1.34: "No partiality and cruelty (can be charged against God) because of (His) taking other factors into consideration."
Sankara's commentary explains that God cannot be charged with partiality or cruelty (i.e. injustice) on account of his taking the factors of virtuous and vicious actions (karma) performed by an individual in previous lives. If an individual experiences pleasure or pain in this life, it is due to virtuous or vicious action (karma) done by that individual in a past life.
Brahma Sutra 2.1.35: "If it be argued that it is not possible (to take Karma into consideration in the beginning), since the fruits of work remain still undifferentiated, then we say, no, since the transmigratory state has no beginning."
The opponent now argues that there could have been no "previous birth" at the very beginning of creation, before which karma could not have existed. Sankara replies that it is not so, for the number of creation cycles is beginningless; see the next verse:
Brahma Sutra 2.1.36: "Moreover, this is logical, and (so) it is met with (in the scriptures)."
Sankara provides references from the Vedas concerning the beginninglessness of Creation: "The Ordainer created the sun and moon like those of previous cycles" (Rig Veda 10.190.3). This shows the existence of earlier cycles of creation, and hence the number of creation cycles is beginningless.

Thus Sankara's resolution to the Problem of Injustice is that the existence of injustice in the world is only apparent, for one merely reaps the results of one's moral actions sown in a past life, which is compatible with the Justness of an Omniscient and Omnipotent God.

On the higher level of existence, however, there is no evil or good, since these are dependent mainly on temporal circumstances. Hence a jnani, one who has realized his true nature, is beyond such dualistic notions.

Sankara used this as an argument for the existence of God. He argued that the original karmic actions themselves cannot bring about the proper results at some future time; neither can super sensuous, non-intelligent qualities like adrsta—an unseen force being the metaphysical link between work and its result—by themselves mediate the appropriate, justly deserved pleasure and pain. The fruits, according to him, then, must be administered through the action of a conscious agent, namely, a supreme being (Ishvara).[1]

Another view is that the problem of evil is present but does not exist per se as souls are eternal and not directly created by God. In Dvaita (dual) philosophy, jivas (souls) are eternally existent and hence not a creation of God ex nihilo (out of nothing). The souls are bound by beginningless avidya (ignorance) that causes a misidentification with products of nature (body, wealth, power) and hence suffering. In effect, Hinduism identifies avidya (ignorance) as the cause of evil, and this ignorance itself is uncaused. Suffering from natural causes is explained as a natural karmic result of previous births. See also Karma in Hinduism.[citation needed]

Moreover, even within the realm of avidya, good and evil are an individual's deeds, and God dispenses the results of an individual's actions but has the power to mitigate suffering.[citation needed] Advaita (non-dual) mysticism maintains that every seemingly separate person is in fact a thought, dream, or experience of God; God creates and becomes / experiences each creation, deliberately limiting it to a specific identity in space and time to undergo a particular life experience. In Advaita, it is God who experiences every pain, suffers every indignity, dies every death, and experiences the illusion of being each separate individual.[citation needed]

A human's karmic acts result in merits and demerits. Since unconscious things generally do not move except when caused by an agent (for example, the ax moves only when swung by an agent), and since the law of karma is an unintelligent and unconscious law, Sankara argues there must be a conscious supreme Being who knows the merits and demerits which persons have earned by their actions, and who functions as an instrumental cause in helping individuals reap their appropriate fruits.[2] Thus, God affects the person's environment, even to its atoms, and for those souls who reincarnate, produces the appropriate rebirth body, all in order that the person might have the karmically appropriate experiences.[3] Thus, there must be a theistic administrator or supervisor for karma, i.e., God.

The Nyaya school, one of six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, states that one of the proofs of the existence of God is karma;[4] It is seen that some people in this world are happy, some are in misery. Some are rich and some poor. The Naiyanikas explain this by the concept of karma and reincarnation. The fruit of an individual's actions does not always lie within the reach of the individual who is the agent; there ought to be, therefore, a dispenser of the fruits of actions, and this supreme dispenser is God.[4] This belief of Nyaya, accordingly, is the same as that of Vedanta.[4]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Reichenbach, Bruce R. (April 1989). "Karma, causation, and divine intervention". Philosophy East and West (Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press) 39 (2): 135–149 [145]. doi:10.2307/1399374. Retrieved 2009-12-29. 
  2. ^ see "Theistic Explanations of Karma", pg. 146 of Causation and Divine Intervention by BR Reichenbach at citing Sankara's commentary on Brahma Sutras,III, 2, 38, and 41.
  3. ^ See, Theistic Explanations of Karma, Causation and Divine Intervention by BR Reichenbach at citing Sankara's commentary on Brahma Sutras,III, 2, 38, and 41.
  4. ^ a b c See Theistic Explanations of Karma, pg. 146 of Causation and Divine Intervention by BR Reichenbach, citing Uddyotakara, Nyaayavaarttika, IV, 1, 21, at

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