The Art of Total Thinking
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 4: The Problem of Evil in Religious Life

A crucial issue that arises in religious life is the problem of evil. There is always an Ahriman before an Ahura Mazda, a Satan before a God, and a totally irreconcilable material evil before the religious seeker or the spiritual aspirant. We are troubled very much with this existence of evil, and we do not know what to do with it. We have been told and are also prone to get convinced that what we call evil is against religion, against what is good, so we go with the conviction that religion is against evil and evil is against religion. We have already tabulated in our own minds the characteristics of evil. We have a confirmed opinion as to what evil is; and whatever we are convinced is undesirable becomes an object of hatred, a thing to be abandoned wholly, so a religious noviciate begins to struggle with his own mind at his attempt at rejecting evil right from the beginning. The very idea of taking to religion or spirituality is associated simultaneously with the idea of rejecting something. He starts rejecting all things which he regards as evil and worth condemning, which cannot stand before the light of God’s spirituality.

But the struggle tells upon one’s own mental health because it is not merely a warfare of justice or a battle in the name of righteousness, but a conflict which arises in one’s mind in confronting what is called the evil in the world. The conflict arises due to a peculiar double character of what we conceive as evil. If evil exists, it cannot be destroyed, because that which really is cannot be overcome by any effort. The destruction of a really existent something is unthinkable; and if it does not exist, it is futile to try to overcome it. A thing that is not there cannot frighten us to the extent it does in our daily life. So we do not fully believe what we are thinking in our minds. Therefore, it is not really a struggle against evil, it is a struggle within our own selves against two aspects of conviction which are at war with each other. It appears that evil is an incapacity of one aspect of our mind to reconcile itself with another aspect of its own self. Though it looks that we are trying to struggle with an evil outside in the world and in creation, finally it looks that it is not the case. We are trying to wage a war within our own selves, between two conflicting parties in the field of our own psyche, because our mind cannot fully accept that what it is forced to reject as an evil is really an evil. We are not fully convinced about the evil nature of the very same thing we are compelled to accept as evil under the ordinances of scriptures and religious mandates.

We start as sick people the moment we take to religion. Perhaps when we become religious we become more sick than we were earlier, which makes us moody and crestfallen, and causes worrying right from the beginning to the end. The worry starts the moment we take to the field of religion and spirituality, because the conflict begins. A simple man in the world has no conflicts in his mind. He walks on the beaten track which is very clear before his eyes. But the struggle begins when we start thinking in a different way, almost opposing our own original convictions, an opposition about which we ourselves cannot be fully convinced.

Yesterday I told you there is a lot of irreconcilability between our own inward feelings and the outward structure of our environment. This is a perpetual source of trouble to us as long as we are living in this world, and it may persist wherever we go, even in other realms of being. The irreconcilability is not between ourselves and this particular world called Earth; it is rather an irreconcilability between our individual structure and the vast environment of creation in any plane of its manifestation, even if it be in heaven itself. Actually, the world is confronting us with daggers drawn against us. This is the problem of evil, or rather, the beginning of it. The great evil before us is the perception of the world in front of us. Every conception of evil starts from that. The segmentation of a world outside our consciousness is the beginning of evil, a warrior element standing against God’s omnipotence. A Lucifer getting converted into a Satan is the standard metaphysical evil before us, and everything that is undesirable follows from this original fall or the commission of the first sin, as we are always told.

The beginning of our problem is our confrontation with the world itself. I pointed out to you in a few words yesterday that in our religious aspirations and spiritual pursuits we are really after the universal omnipresent mystery, the great Self of things, and every effort of ours is a movement towards the achievement of this goal. It is an impulsion from within ourselves towards the attainment of a wholeness which is the characteristic of the universal Self. But this wholeness is cut off and partitioned into a subjective percipient and an outside world. This is the point where we are standing now. Creation is only this much: a presentation of a world before a Creator who seems to be standing outside it. The Lucifer that is spoken of in biblical language is the world in front of us. He has become Satan because of warring with God, asserting an independence by his own self. He was an angel in the beginning; he became Satan afterwards because of his assertion of independence over and above the supremacy of God, the omnipotent Being.

The world was not originally an object of perception. It was an angel inseparable from the bosom of the Almighty. The universe so-called, the creation that we see before our eyes, was not this form which is before us at present. It was one with God’s almighty all-comprehensiveness. Similarly, Satan was an angel once upon a time. He was indistinguishable from God’s being. But something happened. Nobody knows how it happened and what actually happened. The angel began to feel a sense of intolerance; and to affirm an importance in the eyes of God or in the presence of the Almighty would be to defy the Almighty nature of God. Therefore, the world stood against God’s omnipresence when it asserted its objectivity and independence in that manner. Thus, the Satan of the Bible is the world that we see in front of us. He is not in hell, in the inferno, in fire and brimstone as literature will tell us. The very thing in front of our eyes is the Satan. And there is no use merely calling names and getting dissatisfied with the circumstances of life. “You idiot! Get away!” is not a solution to the idiocy of a person. You may say, “You wretched world, I kick you out in the name of God,” but it is not a spiritual solution. You may go on calling names, but the world is not going to listen to your abuses. It shall be what it is.

The great problem of spirituality is a reconciliation of ourselves with the evil which is standing before us and which has taken various forms of the so-called evils of the world. Originally it is a philosophical evil, a metaphysical evil in the form of the whole of creation outside consciousness. Then it becomes a cosmological evil, an epistemological evil, a psychological evil, a social evil, a political evil, a business evil, a moral evil, an ethical evil, every blessed evil. These are all the multitudinous children born to the original evil, the mother of all problems; and we are not going to be saved until we strike a balance between ourselves and this great foe in front of us. The foe happens to be reality, unfortunately for us. We do not struggle against an unreal foe.

The problem of religion, spirituality, philosophy, is the problem of this indescribable relationship between ourselves and the ugly world before us, the evil Ahriman, the immoral principle. The immoral is a dreaded principle before us. People are frightened by the words ‘immoral’, ‘unethical’, ‘wretched’, ‘downfallen’, but there is no use crying like this. The moral, so-called, has to reconcile itself with the immoral, so-called. The Deva and the Asura sampat mentioned in the sixteenth chapter of the Bhagavadgita are the moral and the immoral. But there is no use simply saying, “It is immoral. I shall not have anything to do with it.” We shall have something to do with it, if not today; we shall have to confront it and make it our own, and cannot brook it standing outside us as our enemy forever. It is not for nothing that the great Christ told us that we cannot make friendship with God unless we first make friendship with man. We must first make peace with our brother before we make peace with our Father in heaven. But we are always trying to make peace with the Father in heaven by condemning our brother, who is an evil before us. “Our neighbour is an evil, and therefore I condemn him in the name of the great Almighty who is my friend.” This will not work, and it cannot cut ice.

Our religion, as it appears today, has to be shed. I have often been under the impression and am becoming convinced that it is high time that we abolished all the religions of the world and be without any religion. This idea arose in my mind because of the sorrow that I felt at the deceptive attitudes of religions and the camouflage which they put on in the name of morality and divinity, which is to their own ruin and the harm of society itself. We are grinning at God and mocking our own selves, and suffering a sorrow which has arisen because of our idea of morality, ethics, religion, spirituality, God-consciousness. This is the fate of religion today. And the great yoga, the union that we speak of, is a union with everything that is confronting us as other than ourselves. The so-called ‘other than ourselves’ is our fear – dvitīyād vai bhayaṁ bhavati (Brihad. Up. 1.4.2). Whenever there is another near us, we are afraid of that ‘another’. We cannot tolerate that ‘another’ sitting there. “Oh, that wretched thing is there. I want to abolish it.” We would like to be dictators of the whole world if it would be possible. The dictators are the peculiar distorted affirmations of this unitary being which cannot accept the presence of another outside.

Such peculiar affirmations of a unitary existence manifests itself as the problem of the evil which is a problem in the scriptures of every religion. The moment we become religious, we close our eyes to the realities of life, condemning them as ungodly, irreligious, immoral, and unworthy of any consideration at all. Here begins our sorrow. That is why I said our sorrow begins the moment we start becoming religious. A wholly social, materialistic person is also happy in his own way. He doesn’t bother about anything. Everything is reconcilable to him. He is able to reconcile himself with everything, even with the worst of things in the world, and so he is happy in a way. But we are very virtuous persons, and our virtue is our sorrow. This is again something very unfortunate.

The evil that we speak of is a seed of irreconcilability that is present in our own minds. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, in the famous section on creation, we are told that there was no ‘other’ to the supreme God. Brahma vā idam agra āsīt (Brihad. Up. 1.4.10): In the beginning, the One alone was, and that was the state of utter blissfulness. The One appeared as another to its own self. This is the story of every religion. The cosmological hymns of religions are of a common nature everywhere. If we read any scripture of any religion, it will tell the same thing about the way in which God created the world. The ‘I’ became a ‘you’. The ‘you’ is the evil, the ‘I’ is the principle of the affirmation of the righteousness of God. Fortunately or for any reason, God was the supreme ‘I-ness’, and there cannot be a ‘you’ before God. But we have been told that there was a ‘you’ in the original state of things and, curiously, the scripture tells us that God Himself felt a kind of uneasiness within Himself, as it were, the moment the ‘you’ of creation appeared before the ‘I’ of Himself. A very fantastic description is in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. A mystery is creation, and a mystery cannot be explained by any language.

These hymns of cosmology tell us that sorrow began the moment God began to see the world, and the ‘I’ of God descended into the ‘I’ of individuals as the ‘you’ of original creation is set into the little particulars that we see in this world, up to the least of things – a crawling ant or a little sand particle on the beach of the ocean. There is a series of irreconcilabilities and confrontations, right from the beginning Original Will which was creating down to the lowest irreconcilability of a shopkeeper and a customer. All these irreconcilabilities and skirmishes have arisen because of the original conflict between the ‘I’ and the ‘you’ cosmically, and now it has become a conflict in little things, in everything that we see with our eyes and in the lowest features of human life and any life conceivable.

To be religious is to search for God, and to be spiritual is to affirm God’s originality of being. And in this affirmation of religion and spirituality, therefore, we are not going to condemn anything as an evil but absorb the so-called evil of the externality of the world into the ‘I-ness’ which is the reflection of God’s originality. Thus, to be religious and spiritually aspiring is not to reject the world but to absorb it into our own selves. The evil unfriendly Satan has to be befriended, and he has to be enthroned in the original pristine form of his being, which was his angelic existence in the Kingdom of God in the beginning. Unless Satan is enthroned in the Kingdom of God in the very same status he had originally before creation, the problem of evil cannot be solved. The problem of evil is the problem of the existence of such a thing as Satan. He was not there in the beginning. He became that later on. And the struggle of the world and the urge of evolution is nothing but the struggle of Satan to return to God’s being, a status he has lost, a status which he has to gain once again.

To the extent we are ‘I’s, we have the divine element within us, and to the extent we are ‘you’s, we have the satanic element in us. So we are struggling within ourselves, partly as the divine spark and partly as the divine confronting darkness. Light and darkness come together in the field of our own hearts. As the Pandavas and the Kauravas are supposed to have descended from a single ancestor, light and darkness have come both from God only. They become irreconcilable and it is difficult to ignore their existence because both have come from the same source. The Pandavas are the Kurus, and the Kauravas are also the Kurus. The confronting darkness as the Satan of the world outside is as much a child of God as we ourselves who are trying to struggle with this Satan. Virtue is as much a child of God as vice, and vice versa. Therefore, religion is not a process of the abandonment of evil as an undesirable principle, but rather the process of the absorption of the evilness of the so-called evil thing into the righteousness of the Kingdom of God wherein evil cannot be, as darkness cannot be when the sun rises.

Hence, religion is a process of a friendliness of attitude – an establishment of conformity with things and not an abandonment of evil things – because they cannot be, ultimately. Evil does not exist. Because it does not exist, it has become a problem. If it had really existed, it would not have been a confronting principle. Also, if it had been really existing, we would not be trying to overcome it.

But what is evil, again? Place this question before your own mind. It is a part of you struggling with another part of your own self. One part of you is the so-called present ‘I’ or ‘you’. The other part is what you are unable to reconcile yourself to. When you are attracted to anything in this world, you are pulled by a part of your own self that you see externally in the world of space and time. Otherwise, who can attract you in this world? How can a totally contrary being pull you in its own direction unless there is something akin to you in its character? Unless a feature belonging to yourself is present in the world outside, it cannot pull you, attract you and demand your attention. A part of you is present outside there. So you are seeing yourself in the things outside, and calling it an evil. You are trying to run away from a part of your own self. The evil of the world is a part of your own self, and therefore you cannot run away from evil. Just as you cannot say that you do not exist, you cannot say that evil does not exist. But at the same time, you cannot say that you are other than your own self. You cannot be something more than, or less than, or different from what you are. In the same way, the so-called principle of evil cannot be regarded as a feature totally alien to your own self.

Thus, the fight with evil is a fight with one’s own self. It is one part of one’s self fighting with another part of one’s self – the inward, individualised segment struggling to overcome the barrier that is there between itself and another part of its own self in the form of things outside. The whole world is a part of yourself, and with that you are struggling, calling it evil, condemning it, etc. Therefore, you can never overcome it unless you have become one with it. The overcoming of evil is a becoming one with it so that afterwards it ceases to be evil.

The world confronts us as long as it is looked upon as an object with which we can partly reconcile ourselves and partly we cannot. In one aspect of it, it is impossible to ignore its existence. In another aspect of it, it is difficult to bring it as a part of our own selves. As an other to our own selves, it cannot be reconciled with ourselves. But as a principle which has somehow or other isolated itself from our own selves, we have to reconcile ourselves with it. As we have a double personality within us, there is a double feature in everything in the world.

When we take to religious practice or to the practice of yoga, we are in a terrible difficulty indeed. Very few can succeed in yoga or even religion or spirituality or anything worthwhile because the moral evil stares at us as an insoluble problem before us, and the ideas of the undesirable which have been implanted in our minds right from the various incarnations we have passed through obstruct our newly reoriented form of thinking, so even when we think religiously or in a so-called divine way, we are thinking in an old stereotyped fashion only.

The concept of God and religion that we have today is a prejudiced conception which has been engendered by the samskaras or impressions of the past which are in our own selves even now; and whatever the seed is, that shall also be the nature of the fruit yielded by the plant or the tree arising from the seed. We cannot have a new qualitative concept different from the idea we are already capable of from the point of view of the impressions in our own psychic personality. We are big conglomerations in our own psyches. We are a muddle and a chaos. This chaotic muddle is the quagmire from which arises the plant of the so-called religious aspiration, and naturally it is affected in the same way as any other thought can be affected. Hence, we find ourselves in a situation which is literally called the pull between the devil and the deep sea, or the horns of a dilemma.

The reason why we have been told again and again that a Guru is necessary is this: we have to be deconditioned in our brains, or rather, I would say, we have to be dehypnotised. We are in a hypnotic condition today by the conditions imposed upon us due to the existence of racial factors embedded in our psyches and the impressions formed by experiences of our past through the various incarnations of our own individualities. We have not started life just now, a few years back when we came from our mother’s womb. Our life began, we do not know when. We have been living for centuries, for aeons. We have passed through many forms, entering new forms in our struggle to overcome this evil of an ‘other’ than God’s being. As a soldier may declare a temporary truce to regain his strength and take rest in his camp only to resume the battle the next morning, we are shedding this form of the present personality as soldiers in the battle of life and entering into a camp of unconsciousness for the time being, in order to resume the battle of the very same existence, the confrontation with evil, in another form which we have to assume whether we want it or not.

Thus, the impressions formed in our psyche, which pursue us wherever we go through the various incarnations, stand as obstacles for a totally reoriented form of thinking. The reason why we require a Guru or a teacher or a superior in this task is because we cannot enlighten ourselves qualitatively in a new manner as long as we are capable of thinking only in the old fashion, conditioned by the psyche which has been impressed with the various forms of experience through which it has passed in the earlier incarnations of life. Hence is the need for a Guru, to reiterate.

The reason why we do not seem to be achieving anything worthwhile even in a noble pursuit called religion or yoga is that we are the same old bandicoots, whatever be our feeling of advancement in yoga, spirituality, etc. We have not changed a whit, and we cannot change so easily, whatever be our imagination about our own selves. We always put on appearances of religion, very unfortunately. We are religionists and yogis only for other people. In our own selves we are nothing, and we cannot be anything other than what we are. We have been forced to somehow appear as religious men, as otherwise we will be cowed down upon and spat at by the society outside. So we would like to be comfortable religionists and yogis, and who can face this devil of the world even if it be affirming a totally contrary attitude to that which is expected of us as a truly religious attitude?

A sword is necessary for us. When Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa came under the influence of a great master, Totapuri, he was asked to contemplate, concentrate, meditate. “Yes, close your eyes and meditate,” said the great master. “What do you see?”

“I see my mother.”

“Which mother are you seeing?”

“I am seeing my divine mother.”

“Cut off her head.”

“Oh my dear mother! How can I cut off her head?”

“Sever her head with the sword of discrimination.”

“No, I cannot. She is my dear mother. How can I sever her head?”

“No, you must,” Totapuri said. They argued like this, and with a tremendous irreconcilable painful agonising feeling of sorrow which he alone could experience, he cut off the head of his mother with the sword of knowledge, and there was no mother. Who could do this? And there was a flood into which he entered, about which we are told in the life of Sri Ramakrishna.

The dear mother is our world, who has fed us and taken care of us and has raised us as her own child on her lap. This was the struggle of Arjuna. “Oh my dear grandsire, my dear Guru, my dear cousins, my dear everything!” And Sri Krishna’s argument was the same as the argument of Totapuri to Ramakrishna: Sever the head of mother, father, everybody. “O God, how is it possible? You are telling me dreadful things.”

The world has been a dear object. It has been dear, but it has been an object. That is the pitiable part of it. It is very good that it has been dear; everything has to be dear, but it is an object. How can an object be dear? Only the Self can be dear, says the Upanishad. Na vā are sarvasya kāmāya sarvam priyam bhavati, ātmanas tu kāmāya sarvam priyam bhavati (Brihad. Up. 2.4.5): Only the Self can be dear, and nothing else can be dear. How can an object be dear? While it is true that to love a thing is a virtue and a noble trait, to love an object is unthinkable. How could one love an object when an object is something different from us? How can we love a thing which is not us? How could we love something which is totally alien to us, which is other than us, which is opposing us, which is an object to the subject – which means to say, totally different from what we are? How can I love that which is totally different from me? How can I be a friend of another person who cannot think at all in a way in which I am able to think? How can I be friendly with any individual who is moving in an opposite direction altogether?

The objectivity of the objects is a contrary movement of consciousness to the way it is accustomed. The non-Self is the object; the Self is the reflection of God’s omnipresence. God is a Self – “I am I”. The “I am I” in universal form is God-consciousness affirming, and a ‘you’ or a ‘that’ or an externality or an object or something different is unthinkable for God. In the Fourth Section of the First Chapter of the Brihandarayaka Upanishad there is a grand, terrifying dictum: Whoever meditates in this manner shall destroy evil, and nobody can stand before him. You will have no enemy in front of you. He will burn like ashes. Before whom? Before that which meditates on this supreme “I am what I am”, before which no object can exist. When it is said in the Upanishad that the meditator on this supreme “I am I” destroys everything that is outside and no foe can stand before that person, what it means is that anything that contends it cannot stand before it.

Unfortunately, the world is contending before us as an independent existence, and we have never felt that it is a part of us or we are a part of it, though in our loves for things we have unconsciously accepted a participation of ourselves in it and its participation in us, though we have spoken to the world with tongue in cheek or a little bit of salt in our mouths, not accepting it fully. We have not fully accepted that the world is a part of us, nor have we completely rejected it. We cannot reject it because we love it, but we cannot make it a part of ourselves because it asserts its independence. Even one’s wife, one’s son are independent individuals. They would not like to merge in us. The wife asserts her independence, the husband asserts his independence, the son and the daughter assert their independence. Though we may say they are ours, they are ours in some way only, under some conditions. Wholly they are not us. When even the dearest of objects has an independence of its own and it would not like to get absorbed in us totally and lose its individuality, the world would also not like it. So much love it cannot evince in regard to us. The world does not want from us so much love as to lose its independence totally and get absorbed into us. That is not possible. “No. I am what I am.”

Here is the explanation for what religions call evil. It has become so difficult to understand because it is a mystery which is pulling us in two ways: wanting to get absorbed into us by way of love, and yet wanting to stand independent of us. This is an irreconcilable, unthinkable and indefensible attitude of things. This is why they say the world is maya. It is an inscrutable mystery and a jugglery. How can we explain this peculiar situation except by the term ‘jugglery’? A jugglery is a peculiar phenomenon which is neither there nor not there. It is not there because we cannot see it always there. It has vanished, but sometimes we can see it also. It is there because we see it sometimes.

Thus, this peculiar relationship of ours with the world, with our friends, with our family members, with society, etc., has to be reconciled and cut through before we really become Godmen. We cannot simply shirk our responsibilities in this arduous task, which was the task before Arjuna’s irreconcilable attitude and a problem before every spiritual seeker. The whole of spiritual life is a series of confrontations and reconciliations with the problems arising out of the notion of evil, externality and the undesirable, the immoral, the unethical, the dark principle, the Satan, the Ahriman, whatever we call it.

I am here to tell you something very strange this day which will act like a medicine, bitter to the core and impossible to swallow, but which will cure your illness because it is so deep-rooted. It has to be swallowed, if not today, at least tomorrow.