The problem of evil has two distinct flavors. The first flavor says: There is famine, war, pestilence, and disease in this world and since God created an evil world, therefore, He must be evil. The second flavor says: So much suffering is caused by evil people, and since God created people, therefore, He must be evil. These two flavors of the problem of evil ascribe evil to the world and to the soul, respectively. Since God created both, therefore, He is said to be evil, although due to the two different reasons above.
The first problem of evil can be resolved by the doctrine of karma—we suffer due to our misdeeds. However, when we respond to the issue of suffering using the theory of karma, then people might counter: God created us too. Since we have committed evil deeds, therefore, God created us as evil beings. If God had created us as good beings, then we would not have committed evil deeds, and we would not be suffering. Therefore, as our creator, God has made us inherently evil. This argument requires a deeper discussion about the origin of the soul from God, which I will do in this post.
Table of Contents
- 1 Did God Create Evil People?
- 2 Contrasts to Christianity
- 3 Vedic vs. Non-Vedic Indian Doctrines
- 4 Personalist Whole-Part Doctrine
- 5 The Immanent Unmanifest Reference
- 6 Presence and Absence
- 7 The Process of Individuation
- 8 Active vs. Inactive Memories
- 9 The Abuse of Free Will
- 10 Good vs. Bad vs. Evil
- 11 Political Undertones of God vs. Satan
- 12 Made in the Image of God
- 13 Vedic Personalism of Soul and God
Did God Create Evil People?
The possibilities for good and evil exist simultaneously in everything: The possibilities that allow good uses of a knife are the same possibilities that enable its bad uses. For example, the good uses of a knife require a knife to have a sharp edge and the bad uses of the knife depend on the same. If we remove the sharp edge, then the knife cannot be used for good purposes, just as it cannot be used for bad purposes. Therefore, in trying to eliminate the bad possibilities, we will also eliminate the good possibilities. When applied to people, this entails that if we tried to remove abilities used for bad actions, then we will also remove the abilities for good actions. For example, a man without hands can do less harm than a man with hands. Does that mean that we should cut off the hands of people?
The advocate of evil can now say: We are not talking about the hands and legs; we are talking about the attitudes of people. God has created people with bad attitudes, and therefore, His creation is evil. The Vedic answer is that the soul’s true nature is good, and the evil nature is false. The true nature is eternal and the false nature is temporary. The true nature is happy and the false nature is unhappy. The true nature is free, and the false nature is bound. Therefore, truth is also eternity, freedom, and happiness. Similarly, falsity is also temporariness, bondage, and unhappiness. Evil is the choice of false, which then entails temporariness, bondage, and unhappiness.
This leads to the next question: Why do we choose a false nature? And the answer is that we want to experiment with different natures. We want to try things, even if they are against our best interests. For example, people know that smoking is bad for their health even before they start smoking. But they say: What’s the harm in trying? Once the person gets addicted to smoking, they cannot quit easily.
The proponent of evil can say: Why do we experiment? Did God give us that propensity? And the answer is: Yes, God has a propensity for experiments, and we have it too. God also knows what is best, and we do too. For example, God creates infinite experimental worlds—which are called material creation—but He calls the spiritual world His home. The desire for experiments exists in God along with an innate preference for the best. The same desire and knowledge exist in us. God did not condition us with evil. Rather, we inherited His desire for experiments along with the innate idea of the best world.
Now, proponents of evil can say: If God has the same propensity for experiments, then why doesn’t God suffer like us? And the answer is: Even when God experiments, He doesn’t forget His true nature, preferences, or priorities. Thereby, He doesn’t get deeply involved in the experiments. He just oversees them. In contrast, God is deeply involved in the spiritual world, or that which He considers His home. Hence, if we wanted to avoid suffering in this world, we could be like God—overseers doing our duty detached from it.
Now, the proponent of evil can say: Why doesn’t God forget His real nature, but we do? And the answer is that we don’t know how bad the experiment will turn out to be. We are not omniscient. Thereby, we make mistakes, and then we refuse to accept them out of pride.
If the proponent of evil says: Why do we have pride? Did God give us pride? And the answer is: Yes, God has pride too, but pride in God is justified: He never makes mistakes because He is omniscient. The same pride in us is unjustified. Therefore, often pride is considered detrimental to spiritual progress, although pride exists in the spiritual world too. Hence, a distinction between false ego and true ego is drawn. The true ego is justified pride, and the false ego is unjustified pride. Due to pride, we refuse to accept our mistakes, try to rationalize them, and find ways around the mistakes. However, since that pride is unjustified, this prolongs the problem and delays the cure.
Ultimately, evil boils down to ignorance of the complete truth. Free will, experiments, and pride are not the issue. We even have an innate understanding of our nature. However, our truth is not the complete truth. When a partial truth is combined with free will, experiments, and pride, then the result is recurring mistakes. Due to pride, the mistake is not accepted, and hence not corrected. That in essence is evil.
Contrasts to Christianity
All these are stark contrasts to Christianity, where evil is described as malevolence in the soul. Since God created a malevolent soul, therefore, He must be sadistic to make us suffer for His deeds. Consequently, if He benevolently frees us from this is suffering, then it is only the rational thing to do because it was His misdeeds that led us to a bad situation in the first place. His benevolence is an acknowledgment of His mistakes, pardoning the malevolent souls after noticing that He made a grave error in creating them.
The problem is: We are suffering despite being pardoned. In fact, new souls are born every day to endure pain. What could be the grand plan in this? It all seems contrived and irrational when the simple solution would be to end the world. In so far as the world continues, God is not benevolent. God’s benevolence now becomes synonymous with the death wish to accelerate the apocalypse.
The problem of evil is Christianity is deeply rooted in its theology where the soul is separate from God. The separation of the soul makes the soul not God and hence not good (when God is defined as good, then otherness is evil). This is hence a logically unsolvable problem in Christianity. In fact, the otherness of the soul entails that even if the soul went to heaven, it will remain malevolent.
In contrast, in Vedic philosophy, the soul is a part of God and inherently as good as God. However, the soul is not omniscient. So, it inherits God’s desires for experiments along with the innate idea for what is best. But due to the lack of full information about the material world, it ignores the innate idea of what is best to experiment. This experiment fails, and if the failure is accepted, then perfect life is attained.
The main difference is that Christianity calls the soul evil, and Vedic philosophy calls it ignorant. Ignorance is not the complete absence of truth; it is the absence of complete truth. In simple words: The absence of complete truth is not the complete absence of truth. To correct the mistakes, one learns about the complete truth, which fixes the mistakes. Mistakes can be corrected, but evil is permanent. Thereby, evil in Christianity is permanent, and in Vedic philosophy temporary. Evil in Christianity is a bad attitude, and it is ignorance in Vedic philosophy. Anything assisting the correction of the mistake—e.g., suffering which makes us humble—is also not evil; it is benevolence.
One of the key problems of evil in Christianity is the guilt arising from it. That guilt is rationalized (e.g., by attributing it to Adam and Eve), forgiven (through confession and remorse), absolved (by the suffering of Jesus), and exonerated (by God pardoning us by His infinite love). The focus is never on curing it permanently. By accepting evil to varying extents in religious people, the problem worsens instead of getting better. Since the soul doesn’t have to correct the mistakes, there is no karma and reincarnation. Even as a person remains evil, he is not required to fix his issues, because it will be forgiven by a confession or absolved by someone’s suffering or pardoned by God.
There are two key roots of evil in Christianity: (a) the soul is separate from God so it is not good, and (b) there is only one life. In Vedic philosophy, the soul is inherently good but makes mistakes because it is not omniscient. However, there is an eternal opportunity to fix that mistake so we can start whenever we want. There is no coercion if you don’t want to be educated since there is an eternity to get educated. There are many ways to correct that mistake, hence there are many paths toward perfection. However, those who are rationalizing the mistake, or postponing the fix, are ignorant but not evil. They don’t know what misery lies in the future. If they knew, they would stop.
Vedic vs. Non-Vedic Indian Doctrines
With these brief remarks about the different approaches to the problem of evil, I will now turn to the details about how Vedic philosophy describes the origin of the soul as an eternal part of God. This eternal parthood is essential to grasp that the soul has the same nature as God but in smaller quantities. Thus, the soul is not omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. However, that doesn’t mean it is incapable of knowledge, power, or love. The soul is a part; the part is not full, and it is not empty. This, of course, is not the only answer in Indian philosophy. It is, however, the only answer in Vedic philosophy.
There are at least three Indian but non-Vedic doctrines that differ from the above. They have appeared recently (I mean the last few thousand years) and have been mixed with the Vedic doctrines by speculators. The doctrine of Advaita impersonalism says that the soul is full. The doctrine of Buddhism says that the soul is empty. The doctrine of materialism says that the self is a part of matter; neither eternal nor part of God; furthermore, the nature of matter cannot be known because we only observe particulars that cannot be generalized into universals.
The Vedic doctrine is Personalism, but due to the presence of Impersonalism, Voidism, and Materialism in India, these doctrines have been mixed in the last few thousand years, producing semi-theistic variations, leading to endless confusion. Understanding Indian philosophy is therefore different from understanding Vedic philosophy. This post will focus exclusively on the Vedic answer to evil.
Personalist Whole-Part Doctrine
The Personalist doctrine of creation is surprisingly simple: God creates the world like a person speaks his mind; the world is God’s speech. Prior to being spoken, the world existed as meaning in God. After being spoken, it has been externalized. However, God hasn’t become ignorant after speaking. Since the speech is separate from the speaker, therefore, the world is separate from God. Since the world was previously in God, therefore, the world is a part of God. And since the speaker can be identified from the speech, hence, the speaker is immanent in the speech. Hence, God is transcendent as the speaker, the speech is a part and yet separate from the speaker, and the speaker is immanent in the speech.
It is best to illustrate this through an example. Suppose, someone says: “I am tall”. The sentence is separate from the speaker, but the meaning is not; the meaning is in the speaker. By saying “I am tall”, the speaker doesn’t lose the tallness or the idea of tallness in his mind. Similarly, the “I” is present in “I am tall”, and it refers to the speaker. But, “I” in “I am tall” doesn’t refer to the sentence itself; the sentence is not tall. By knowing the reference of “I”, the speaker is known from the speech.
I will cite two verses from Bhagavad-Gita (BG) to illustrate these points, after which I will discuss them. BG 15.7 states: The living entities and the worlds in which they exist are My eternal parts. BG 9.4 states: By Me in my unmanifest form the universe is pervaded; everything is in Me, but I am not in them.
Both the soul and the world are eternal parts of God, like thoughts in the mind. When they are expressed, there is the unmanifest form of God immanent in them, but God is truly not in those things. Both these claims can be understood from the sentence “I am tall”: The “I” in the sentence is not the speaker, but it refers to the speaker. That reference to the speaker is the speaker’s unmanifest form. I will return to why a reference is an unmanifest form, after finishing the whole-part doctrine.
The whole-part doctrine requires a semantic view in which the speaker is a mind, the thought in the speaker is a meaning in the mind, the speech is a part-copy-separate from meaning in the mind, once it is separated, the speaker does not become ignorant of what was previously in the mind, and expressed by it. In this view, energy is not conserved because the world is created without a reduction in the source. I will return to this issue and discuss how meaning is instantiated by copying and separation.
The Immanent Unmanifest Reference
Whole-part doctrines have traditionally suffered from physical conceptions of reality under which the parts are real and the whole is not, because the whole can be reduced to the parts. This is called reductionism. The problem of reduction can be noted through the allegory of the elephant and the five blind men: Each blind man sees parts but describes them as if the whole doesn’t exist. For example, the elephant’s stomach and legs are described as a sphere and cylinder, respectively, by the blind men; conversely, those who can see the whole will describe the same things as stomach and legs.
We can illustrate this problem through another example of a wooden chair. The parts of the chair can be described either as “planks of wood” or as the seat, armrest, backrest, legs, and so forth, depending on whether we ignore the whole or consider it. These are objectively different descriptions of the parts.
The question is: Assuming we are blind, and we don’t see the whole, is there a way to know if something is a part of a whole? This question is identical to that of identifying the speaker from the speech.
And the answer is: Yes, there is something additional in each part when they are parts of a whole, which is absent when they are not. This additional component that exists in the parts is the immanent form of the whole in each part. We call this immanence the speaker’s personality in the sentence utterances, a chair-ness in the parts of the chair, or an elephant-ness in the body parts of the elephant.
Immanence requires us to view reality semantically—i.e., as concepts. For example, if color is the whole, and yellow is a part of color, then color is immanent in yellow. That is, we don’t have to aggregate all the color shades to form the set called “color”, then check the members of this set, before we know that yellow is a color. We know that yellow is a color just from observing yellow. The fact is that if we cannot identify that yellow is a color, then we can never form the set of colors because the question will be: How do we know that yellow is a color before we put it into the set of things called “color”?
This problem is not new; it arose in Bertrand Russell’s attempt to form sets or classes. To form a set of horses, one must know that each thing that would be added to the set is a horse a priori. To put something into a set of horses, (a) we must have the concept of the horse, and (b) the concept must be immanent in the thing. The collection or set we call “horse” depends on the person who is forming the set knowing what horse means and the thing that is added to the set having the idea immanent. It will detract us from the main issue but set-theoretic paradoxes result from the problem that there are three meanings of horse—(a) the idea in our mind, (b) the immanent idea in the thing, and (c) the set. Immanence is an essential precondition to form a class—i.e., a set of things of the same type.
The central problem of a physical conception of reality is that we cannot conceive an immanent existence. Anything that is “inside” something else, is also a physical part. This problem entails that we cannot designate things as chairs or elephants, and we cannot form classes. The semantic view of reality makes this conceivable—color is in yellow; we don’t need all the shades to know that yellow is color.
Presence and Absence
We still need to understand how. This problem is discussed in Nyāya philosophy, which postulates two categories called presence and absence. I will adapt its ideas for our present discussion. Chair-ness exists in the parts of the chair as an absence of the whole, due to which we say that the seat, backrest, hand rest, and legs are not the chair. Or, the leg is not the elephant. Or, the speech is not the speaker. This not is not the logical negation employed in binary logic. Clearly, the leg is not an ocean; speech is not a tree; the stomach is not a computer. Such things constitute conventional logical negations.
Absence, however, is not a logical negation, but a special category that is present as absence. When a fly sits on a chair, it doesn’t get chair-ness, and hence the fly is not part of the chair. When a bird sits on an elephant, it doesn’t get elephant-ness, and hence it is not part of the elephant. Something is a part of a whole, only if it has something additional present within it. But that presence is an absence.
We can simplify this by saying that a part gets a hole when it is a part of a whole. Those things that are not part of the whole, don’t have that hole. Hence, adding something to a whole makes a difference to the part. However, we cannot grasp that change because it is a hole, not a thing. The holes in the different parts of the chair, create a reference to the whole, due to which it is possible to say that the chair is separate from the parts, the parts are within the chair, and chair-ness is in the parts. Similarly, the chair is missing from the chair’s legs, but not missing from the fly, although the fly is not the chair. Since two distinct meanings of not are involved here, this requires a non-binary logic, which I will not get into right now (although it is important to note the logical issues for the sake of completeness).
By using such semantic conceptions of reality (which also require non-binary logics), we get seemingly paradoxical results such as (a) the speech resides in the author, and (b) the author resides in the speech. These paradoxical results are all around us: Indians are in India, Indianness is in Indians; people live in a culture, culture lives in people; we are immersed in a language, language is immersed in us. The author as a person doesn’t reside in the speech; rather, the author’s personality exists in their speech.
The Process of Individuation
One of the issues in this discussion is the confusion about what we mean by a person as opposed to a personality. Let’s begin with a person. What is a person? In Western culture (as it is reflected in its legal doctrines), a person is defined as a thing that has rights. For example, a human and a corporation are persons because they have rights; on the other hand, a stone has no rights, so it is not a person.
In Vedic philosophy, a person is defined as three traits: (a) self-awareness, (b) the capacity to ask questions about the self, and (c) the capacity to answer the questions about the self. Every person hence goes through the following process: “I exist” → “What am I?” → “I am this” → “I know I am this”.
This process of personhood is tied to Nyāya logic, under which “I exist” is a premise, “What am I?” is a question, “I am this” is an answer, and “I know I am this” is the new premise. The logic of personhood thus proceeds as premise → question → answer → premise. It is different than impersonal logic which goes as premise → conclusion. The impersonal logic has no choice in it because conclusions follow premises deterministically. In contrast, a choice is necessary for personalistic logic as the capacity to ask different questions based on the same premise and answer the same question in different ways.
Since each person can ask different questions based on the same premise, and answer the same questions in different ways, hence they have a personality, which is objectified through the succession of questions, answers, and premises. By such objectification, we know the person. However, by knowing the person, we don’t become that person; the person is different from the personality. Since a sequence is produced by choices, hence, the objectified sequence is a reflection of how a person uses their will. Since the person may not will, but is capable of will, hence, the person is distinct from the will. This person knows itself as “I exist”. Then the person is agitated by the question “Who am I?” This agitation, or what we might call “force”, is not external. It is self-created, due to which a person has self-action.
Nyāya philosophy establishes how the subjective and the objective are neither identical nor separable. This is one of the many patterns of “neither identical nor separable” which are collectively called Bhedābheda in the Vedanta tradition. The Six Systems of Philosophy apply this basic principle in multiple contexts—soul and God, God and the world, mind and body, soul and matter, speaker and speech. They are all talking about the same principle of Bhedābheda although in many different contexts.
The process of individuation is that once the answer “I am this” is produced, it is separated from the “I” as memory which is called “I know I am this”. Since the answer “I am this” was self-created, therefore, the answer previously existed in “I”, and was a part of “I”. However, once the “I” excavated the answer from itself, brought it into its awareness, and then moved on to other questions, the answer “I am this” transforms into the memory “I know I am this”. The memory is separate from “I”. It was previously in “I”, but by the excavation of “I” via self-examination and self-seeking, it has been separated from “I”. The process of creation is “I” excavating itself, creating a memory of all that it is, separate from “I”.
Active vs. Inactive Memories
These memories of “I”, which have been separated from “I”, can be active or inactive. The inactive memory just stays as is. The active memory, however, expands into its elaborations, by the same process of premise → question → answer → premise. Śrīmad Bhagavatam 1.1.1 begins by: “The source from Whom everything is born directly or indirectly”. The term directly refers to the speaker’s answers “I am this”, which are separated from “I”. But they continue expanding to create more questions, answers, and premises; that expansion of the new premise into ever newer premises is indirect creation.
Imagine yourself having a dream. You don’t just see things other than yourself; you also see yourself in the dream, and you think “I am this” person. For example, you could dream of being a soldier in a war, a mother taking care of the child, a person talking to their boss, etc. The person in the dream is a creation of the dreaming person, the dreamt persona is separate from the dreamer, and yet, the dreamer identifies with the dreamt persona to say that “I am this” personality while dreaming.
The world is thus called God’s dream because it is a useful analogy to describe the nature of creation. The specific advantage is that you can immediately rid yourself of physical materialistic ideas because you are thinking of the mind, a persona of the self in the mind, which is separate from the dreamer, and yet, identified as itself by the dreamer. Similarly, the world was in God previously, the world has separated from God like the dreamt persona is different from the dreamer, although the dreamer believes “I am this” person during the dreaming.
God is omniscient in the same way that the dreamer experiences what their dreamt personas within the dream feel, even though the dreamer is distinct from the dreamt persona. We are dreaming personas of God. Although we are separate from God, He knows our innermost feelings like a dreamer feels what the dreamt persona feels. Through the succession of indirect creations, which are layered one inside the other to form an inverted-tree like structure, God can know everything in every possible world. In simple words, He knows His dream directly, then He knows what the dreaming persona dreams as their dreaming personas, and so forth. God is omnipotent in the sense that everything seen in a dream is the dreamer’s self-excavation, and what we call the world was produced out of God by His self-reflection.
However, just like we wake up from a dream if it goes sideways or becomes scary, similarly, God withdraws from the dreaming persona if that personality becomes contrary to the dreamer’s original persona. Thereby, God doesn’t suffer when the soul suffers in this world, because He withdraws from that suffering. However, God enjoys when the soul enjoys in the spiritual world because He associates with that pleasure. Thereby, everyone’s pleasure is also God’s pleasure. But everyone’s suffering is not His suffering. God’s omniscience, therefore, takes different forms in material and spiritual worlds.
This is important for the problem of evil because the evil proponent says: God is watching us suffering, and He has no empathy or sympathy to rescue us from that misery, and hence He must not be benevolent. The answer to this challenge is: God is not observing your suffering. He has withdrawn from your suffering because He can, quite like one withdraws from a painful dream. However, if you remember God again, and cry for Him lovingly, then He feels your love and devotion again. God’s omniscience is hence not contrary to His free will. He is not forced to see people suffering. Omniscience refers to His ability or capacity to know everything, not that He watches people writhe in pain.
The Abuse of Free Will
Just like chair-ness is in all parts of the chair, and yet, it is present as the absence of the chair, similarly, “I am God” is present as absence in all His creations. We can also say that the sentence “I am tall” has an individuality, which is different from the “I” of the speaker who uttered that sentence. Due to this distinction, the sentence “I am tall” describes the speaker, and not the sentence itself. The speaker is tall, but the sentence is not tall, because “I” refers to the speaker and not to the sentence.
The problem of abuse of free will arises when these two distinct I’s are conflated. Then, the immanent idea “I am God” is imputed to the self, although it is only present in the self as an absence. This conflation between two identities, the second of which is an absence, is called the desire to be God. What is a desire? That which is still unfulfilled. Can it ever be fulfilled? No, because it exists permanently as a hole in the self. This hole in the self is the incompleteness, which makes the self a part of God, quite like the absent form of chair-ness in each part of the chair ties the parts into the whole called chair. Basically, the hole in the self can never be filled, because the self is defined by that hole. That hole is the absence of God, but instead of desiring God, the self tries to fill that hole by trying to become God.
If the chair-ness is removed from a part of the chair, then that part would become a plank of wood, independent and separate from the chair. It would be like a fly sitting on a chair, or a bird sitting on an elephant. Instead of being internal to the chair, the part would be external to it. Thereby, the spiritual world is described as the internal world and the material world is called the external world. The internal world is like a dream in which the dreamer identifies with the dreamed persona, while the external world is like a dream in which the dreamer has dissociated itself from the dreamed persona. The abuse of free will is hence also called the desire for separation from God, by desiring to become God.
However, since this desire is based on confusion in which “I am tall” pertains to the sentence and not to the speaker, therefore, the abuse of free will is called the ignorance of the true nature of the self. This ignorance is not considered malevolence as in Christianity, although its effects can be malevolent. This can be summarized as follows: Do not ascribe to malevolence what you can ascribe to ignorance.
This somewhat tolerant attitude towards evil was demonstrated when Jesus said: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Here Jesus ascribed evil to ignorance. However, Christianity subsequently transformed evil into malevolence, possibly due to the political compulsions of Roman emperors, who needed the power to punish the disobedient rather than educate them. If that weren’t enough, malevolence was further condemned as resulting in the destiny of eternal hell. These doctrines transformed Christianity into an oppressive, exclusivist, and supremacist ideology.
In contrast, the attitudes toward evil have remained tolerant in Vedic philosophy: Evil is treated as ignorance, which has to be cured prominently by education, and secondarily by punishment. Education is attempted first, but if that doesn’t work, then the least amount of punishment—that will cure the ignorance—is imparted. This punishment due to a person refusing to be intelligent is considered an act of grace and compassion, because it is minimized, and never goes beyond the need to correct.
Good vs. Bad vs. Evil
At this juncture, I will try to define some words more clearly, in order to distinguish the idea of evil in Vedic texts from those in Abrahamic religions. The first contrast is between good vs. bad; good simply means happiness and bad simply means suffering. The natural understanding of good and bad is that intelligence leads to happiness and stupidity lead to suffering. The second contrast is between good vs. evil, which, as we have noted, is a contrast between knowledge vs. ignorance. Knowledge and ignorance are cognitive categories, while happiness and suffering are emotive categories. Knowledge and happiness are good, while ignorance and suffering are bad. Thereby, there is no such thing called evil.
Once we remove the idea of evil, then there is no need for a malevolent Satan deluding the others. At most, it is one fool leading other fools down a foolish path until they suffer and realize their foolishness. Therefore, you can educate the fools, or separate yourself from the consequences of their foolishness. Punishment is required only if both alternatives are not working. It becomes a corner case in a sincere, seeking, and intelligent population. In such cases, punishments almost completely cease to exist.
Thereby, one doesn’t even have to say that the world is evil or miserable because, for the most part, it is not. You also don’t have to say that people are evil, because they are sincere, seeking, and intelligent. There is simply no foundation for saying that the world is evil or people are evil. Conversely, when these things are said, the implication is that those who say it are living in a malicious society dominated by ignorant people. But that malice and ignorance cannot be universalized as the default state of the universe. One can rather look at other societies and understand why they are not malicious or ignorant. Humility will naturally lead a person to grasp why others are better; arrogance will universalize the problem.
Political Undertones of God vs. Satan
These doctrines of evil are the result of the politicization of religion to be used as tools in the hands of autocrats and theocrats to control a population. Basically, a ruler designates what he wants from his population as the word of God, and relegates everything else as the work of Satan. Religion thus becomes an instrument of coercion and oppression in the hands of the rulers. You cannot debate the rationale underlying their actions, because the rulers are following the word of God, while the seeker is Satanic because he is questioning the ruler. The doctrine of Satan, his opposition to God, followed by a struggle of supremacy between them, claims that the ruler is on God’s side, and those who oppose the ruler are simply Satanic. These are distinctly political instruments presented as religious doctrines.
The inability to discuss such autocratic and theocratic doctrines makes religion irrational because the mere act of questioning is called Satanic. Religion now has to be accepted based on faith. That however undermines the religion’s credibility.
Everything that followed as Reformation and Enlightenment was a reaction to the incredulity of religious doctrines. However, these developments did not fundamentally alter the profound ignorance about the self, God, or the world which prevailed earlier. People just covered up their deep ignorance with an oversupply of speculative theories, creating the illusion of knowing by dividing knowledge into so many departments and mutually contradictory claims that people have stopped trying to figure out the nature of the truth.
Made in the Image of God
Real enlightenment is giving up the ignorance about the self that rests on the confusion in which “I am tall” is a property of the sentence rather than the speaker. Real reformation lies in understanding that God exists as absence in each soul, which can never be overcome.
Our desire to become God leads to suffering because stupidity has to be cured by punishment—unless it is cured by education. This education is rejecting the strict separation between God, soul, and matter. Soul and matter are parts of God, that were excavated by God from Himself, separated from Him as things He wanted to see, with the capacity to expand like God to understand their nature, and finally abandoned by God like we turn away from an unpleasant dream. That sense of abandonment is real; but it is caused by our ignorance.
The possibility of ignorance is eternal, just as the possibility for knowledge is eternal. God created that possibility, but God did not cause its realization. God however prefers knowledge over ignorance. That preference is omnibenevolence but it cannot be coerced because God wants to see others in His own image: Just as He has the freedom to know and define Himself, He permits others the same freedom.
Men were created in the image of God implies that they were created with the power of free will, along with the capacities for knowing, loving, and doing. However, if the image wants to become the source, or considers itself independent of the source whose image it is, then that is the image’s fault. It is foolishness for the image in the mirror to think that it is independent of the person outside the mirror. However, since that type of delusion is possible, therefore, there is a possibility of evil too. Our free will is not absolute independence because there is a hole in the soul, due to which it cannot be independent, complete, or self-satisfied. It can be satisfied only when it remains a part of the whole.
Vedic Personalism of Soul and God
This hole in the soul is called viraha or the feeling of separation from God in Vedic Personalist religious doctrines. It is also called the feeling of emptiness arising from the perceived absence of God. That perception is a deeper understanding of the self. Unlike the atheist who says: I cannot see God, and therefore, God doesn’t exist, the theist says: I am feeling empty due to the absence of God. By the feeling of that absence, God is naturally seen. However, if that absence is viewed as the factual non-existence of God, then God is not seen, although the self also remains empty. The theistic position in Vedic Personalism is thus dangerously close to the atheistic position. The difference is simply in the interpretation of the absence—we either say God doesn’t exist or we feel empty without God.
The abandonment, loneliness, and incompleteness we feel within us are real; they can never be destroyed. However, there are two ways to interpret it. One under which we try to fill this emptiness by material objects, and two under which this emptiness transforms into a powerful force of the loving separation from God. The effects of this powerful inner experience were demonstrated in Sri Chaitanya’s dancing, singing, laughing, and crying, alongside the profound philosophical teachings on the nature of the divine love of God.
If we can understand the nature of this hole in the soul, then we can know that it exists because we are part of God. By accepting this hole, and recognizing its nature, we will not be lonely, abandoned, or incomplete. We will rather be united with God, just as a plank of wood is united with a chair if it has a chair-ness within it. That chair-ness is not a thing; it is the absence of the chair in the thing.
The soul is like the sentence “I am tall”. Its expansions are like that of a verse into its purport. However, if we bear in mind, that the “I” pertains to the speaker, rather than to the sentence, then the soul’s expansions become God’s glorification, rather than self-glorifications of the soul. That simple fix, which can be explained clearly and rationally, is the real reformation and enlightenment of the soul.