The question of the existence of evil is an ancient one. Traditional religions have been occupied with the justification of the existence of evil in the light of a belief in a benevolent GOD. An entire field of study call theodicy is devoted to this. If God is omnipotent and omnipresent, then evil necessarily emanates from him, otherwise it would necessitate the existence of an independent source of evil separate from God, which creates two co-equal Gods. This is equally unacceptable to the major religions. This dilemma is found in the Christian Bible, where evil is attributed to Satan, and at the same time, it speaks of the Lord as the origin of evil, as in Isaiah (45:7): “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” Similarly in Amos 3:6: “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?”
This article will discuss the subject from the theosophical standpoint, specifically from the writings of Helena P. BLAVATSKY and The MAHATMA LETTERS TO A. P. SINNETT.
The term “evil” is used in at least two contexts, and it is important to distinguish them. The first is natural or cosmic evil, or intrinsic evil. Does evil exist prior to the human race? The second is human evil — evil arising out of the will, intent, and actions of human beings.
Theosophical literature denies the existence of evil in the first sense, and affirms the presence of evil in the second sense. On the cosmic level, there is duality of matter and spirit, light and darkness, etc. These are necessary aspects of the manifested universe, and neither matter nor darkness should be called evil. When galaxies and star systems emerge and disintegrate, they are part of the natural cycle of the universe, like cells that come and go in the human body. One does not impute the quality of evil to such emergence and disintegration.
When self-consciousness and the ego-sense appear in human beings, then the question of evil appears. The faculty of conscious choice has entered. It is symbolized by the allegory of having eaten “the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil” in Genesis.
The following are summaries of statements on the question of evil from the Mahatma Letters and The Secret Doctrine.
THE MAHATMA LETTERS. The Mahatma KOOT HOOMI declares (ML, pp. 273-4) that evil has no existence per se. It is the absence of good, and it is perceived as evil only by its victims. Nature in itself is neither good nor evil. She follows only immutable laws, the blind laws of necessity, and hence is not evil. “Real evil proceeds from human intelligence and its origin rests entirely with reasoning man who dissociates himself from Nature. Humanity, then, alone is the true source of evil.”
Evil is the exaggeration of good, and the result of human selfishness and greed. “The origin of every evil whether small or great is in human action, in man whose intelligence makes him the one free agent in Nature.” Even diseases, according to the Mahatma are created by man. They are brought about by excesses in food, sexual relations, or drink. Nature intends human beings to die a natural death by old age, as seen among wild animals or savages, barring accidents. Ambition or goal seeking are natural, but when pursued with selfishness, they create misery. “Therefore it is neither nature nor an imaginary Deity that has to be blamed, but human nature made vile by selfishness” (op. cit.).
The Mahatma says that this accounts for one-third of the evil that we see. But the chief cause of nearly two-thirds of the evils that plague humanity is religion and the illusions and superstitions created by it, creating selfish bigots and fanatics that hate mankind. The false beliefs make people slaves of a handful of deceivers. “The Irish, Italian and Slavonian peasant will starve himself and see his family starving and naked to feed and clothe his padre and pope. For two thousand years India groaned under the weight of caste, Brahmins alone feeding on the fat of the land, and to-day the followers of Christ and those of Mahomet are cutting each other’s throats in the names of and for the greater glory of their respective myths. Remember the sum of human misery will never be diminished unto that day when the better portion of humanity destroys in the name of Truth, morality, and universal charity, the altars of their false gods” (ML, pp. 274-75 )
THE SECRET DOCTRINE. H. P. Blavatsky stresses that evil is a necessary twin of goodness. One cannot exist without the other. “There is no malum in se: only the shadow of light, without which light could have no existence, even in our perceptions. If evil disappeared, good would disappear along with it from Earth” (SD I:413). “Good and Evil are twins, the progeny of Space and Time, under the sway of Maya. Separate them, by cutting off one from the other, and they will both die. Neither exists per se, since each has to be generated and created out of the other, in order to come into being; both must be known and appreciated before becoming objects of perception, hence, in mortal mind, they must be divided” (SD II:96).
Humanity became aware of this duality the moment its mind-principle became awakened. Prior to this awakening, there is no evil because these creatures, whether plant, animal or early human beings, act on the basis of natural law and instinct. The awakening of the mind principle happened when the MANASAPUTRAS incarnated into humanity. This is symbolized by the eating of the “fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” by Adam and Eve in Genesis, as well as the bringing of fire to humanity by Prometheus. This gift of intelligence became a curse because it was premature. Hence in the myths, Zeus punished Prometheus, and the serpent in the Garden of Eden was similarly cursed. “Spiritual evolution being incapable of keeping pace with the physical, once its homogeneity was broken by the admixture, the gift thus became the chief cause, if not the sole origin of Evil” (SD II:421). The legend of the “Fallen Angels” then is the key to the origin of evil. “There is no Devil, no Evil, outside mankind to produce a Devil” (SD II:389).
HPB underscores the importance of the doctrine of karma and rebirth to explain “the mysterious problem of Good and Evil, and reconcile man to the terrible and apparent injustice of life” (SD II:303).
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