What is the Philosophical Explanation For Evil Provided by Hinduism?

@Balajied_Nongrum, hope all is well at Shillong! Thank you for taking our questions this week. One of the comments I hear a lot from hindus is that reincarnation and Maya explain evil and inequality at birth. What is a good critique for the philosophical explanation for evil provided by Hinduism? What are the best resources to understand philosophy of the major schools of Hinduism at the beginner/intermediate level and its critique? Appreciate your time in answering these questions.

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Hello Lakshmi,

All is not well, but by the enabling grace of God we are managing. Let us continue to pray!

Well, the question you have raised is not only an important one but a sensitive one, particularly among our Hindu friends. So, a good critique to the philosophical & a Hindu view of evil would go as follows:

  1. First, we need to remember that Hinduism (the Philosophical view) teaches that there is no difference between ‘good’ & ‘evil’. Implying that evil in its true sense is unreal or at best an illusion. Unlike the Biblical view, it does not result from our wrong exercise of free will, rather, it is a product of our ignorance. Hence, they would argue that when you and I speak of evil, we are speaking the language of ‘Maya’ meaning the world of illusion. A pertinent question for us to ask them is, “why could it not be true that believing ‘evil is an illusion’, is itself an illusion?”
    In light of the above, other follow-up questions can be as follows:
    a. If evil is an illusion, what then is the origin of the illusion?
    b. How does one explain the fact that evil is universally persistent and seem so real? Take for instance the death of a child of a Hindu parent. He or she is impressed by the reality of it just as anyone else is impressed. It seems like he or she just argues that it is not real, but there is nothing to be gained by that proposition.
  2. Secondly, with regard to ‘reincarnation’ and ‘inequality at birth’, a few important critical questions have been raised and they are:
    a. The challenge of evaluating good karma (works) from the bad one. In reincarnation, the category of birth depends on the deeds done by the being in the previous life. That could range from lets say human, animal, vegetable etc. The critical question is, “if a being could belong to all categories of life and non-life, how could one attribute good karmic actions to impersonal creatures?”
    b. The other twin critical question for a pantheist is, “if all reality is one, then how does one differentiate karma of one creature from the other?” and furthermore, “what is the ultimate ground or standard for evaluating karmic (moral) behavior?”
  3. Finally, if liberation (or moksha) is the goal for every Hindu and the law of karma is the challenge to attain it, then the question to be raised is, “how does the illusion of evil relate to this?” For the law of karma states that if one sows evil deeds then one reaps the deserved spiritual consequence. Similarly, it would also be true to argue that if illusion alone is sown then you also reaped nothing but illusion.
    Furthermore, in light of the above, a Hindu would also have to account for the caste system. In fact, if all reality is one, then there is no basis for any distinctions such as ‘YOU’ & ‘I’, thus raising the important question of 'how is it that my karma is not your karma and vice versa?

To your other question of ‘what are the best resources to understand philosophy of the major schools of Hinduism at the beginner/intermediate level and its critique?’

First, I would recommend a text book which deals on the subject of ‘the major schools of hinduism’ i.e., “An Introduction to Indian Philosophy” by Satischandra Chatterjee & Dhirendramohan Datta and the other one would be ‘The religions of India’ by Roshen Dalal

Other books to engage with Hinduism would be as follows:

  1. Sharing your faith with a Hindu by Madasamy Thirumalai
  2. Disciple Making among Hindus by Timothy Shultz
  3. Communicating Christ among hindu peoples by George David

Thank you for asking,

Blessings,

Balajied.

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Hello again @Balajied_Nongrum!

Thank you for your quick and resourceful reply. I look forward to getting some of those books. I am so sorry to hear about the situation in Shillong. Having you answer questions this week is a great reminder to keep Shillong in our prayers. May it be protected from any further spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

The questions you suggest should really help with Hindus with a monistic Advaita view of God. I find it even more challenging to talk to Hindus (Hare Krishnas) who follow the Dvaita view of God where jiva (individual soul) is a separate entity from paramatma (supersoul) and they also maintain a distinction between individual souls. Moksha in this case is eternal service to a personal god. They bring up slightly different interpretation/explanations:

  1. They believe that evil comes from people’s own past actions which are stored as impressions in the conscience. Illusion to them is illusion to karma, to see human actions disconnected from the past and the future and is considered to be due to vain desires of the soul. The way to get out of illusion is to abide in karma as laid out in their scriptures. When good and evil is administered by god according to man’s karma, they argue all differences are gone as good and evil are defined by god’s purpose, which is always good. Evil is justified because of man’s past karma.

  2. As goodness cannot be attributed to any karma among lower species and impersonal creatures, they propose that the soul transmigrates through a preset sequence until the soul reaches the human level when karma becomes important.

I think your argument for evil being an illusion stands even in the Dvaita context. There is no ground for moral behavior or basis for stopping injustices. Any use of reason by them to explain their scripture suffers the possibility of illusion. I don’t mean to take more of your time but just wanted to put this view out here too for possible discussion. Thank you so much!

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Hello again Lakshmi,

Deeply appreciate your prayers. I do hope that all is well with you and your family too. Please be assured of my prayers.

Yes, you are correct with regard to the Dvaita which is a dualistic school of Vedanta, one of the six classical systems of ancient Indian philosophy. Its main exponent was Madhva who challenged Shankara’s concept of monistic Advaita view of God or one reality. Anyway, I will not dwell so much on the two points that you have mentioned, but will rather focus on the challenge of witnessing to our Hindu friends who associate themselves with the Hare Krishna movement otherwise known as ISKCON.

Assuming that others too might be reading this, so let me just give a background about this movement. The Hare Krishna movement (ISKCON) is an expression of Bhakti Hinduism. The devotees worship Krishna exclusively as the Lord of the universe. This is essential to attain moksha (salvation), the only way to break the cycle of rebirths or reincarnation. In fact, among all the diverse forms of Hinduism, this (Bhakti devotion) is the one that is more theistic in nature. Unlike the Vedanta school (Monist), this form reflects their longing for intimacy with God.

However, to your point, moksha (salvation) as offered in Bhakti Hinduism, still speaks of an escape from the impersonal karma-samsara reality idea. So, in a sense does not offer anything which is realistic both in this world or the after life. When you compare this with Christianity, Christ does not only offer us eternal life but He also transform us both spiritually & morally in this world.

From the Christian apologetics point of view let me share first the positive aspect of Bhakti Hinduism and then offer the negative critique:

Positive points that can be identified with Christianity are as follows:

  1. The Krishna devotees (like Christians) believe in a personal God who can save as well as have a relationship. Because Krishna is seen as the avatar of Vishnu (god) (or vice versa), the supreme form of a personal god.
  2. The Krishna devotees stress on the need for a relationship with God by focusing on our inadequacy. Implying that we can’t do it by ourselves. Hence, we need him for our deliverance.
  3. The Krishna devotees pay high premium on the deep yearning of the human heart wherein they speak of the possibility of experiencing his love.

In establishing a negative critique, we would do well by focusing on how Christianity differs from ISKCON.

  1. First, we need to draw their attention to the difference between the Avatars in general (in this case, Krishna, the 8th manifestation of Vishnu) and the incarnation of Christ. Christ’s incarnation is a one time event that is deeply rooted in history. Question to ponder here is, are there historical accounts for the existence of Krishna?
  2. The favor of Krishna to his devotees is restricted by the law of karma which is impersonal in nature and has nothing to do with Krishna and his nature as the manifestation of god. This in turn is not compatible with the beliefs of the broad Hindu belief. However, for Christ the salvation He offered was on the basis of His holy life, death and resurrection. It met the very righteous demands of God.
  3. Krishna’s forgiveness to his devotees comes at no cost at all. Whereas, for Christ, it costed God everything, hence, the forgiveness of our sins is not only something that is objectively true (as a propositional truth) but it is also subjectively relevant to our lives. So, much so that our lives are transformed (here in the now) with the promise of an everlasting and eternal life in fellowship with God.

Hope this is helpful.

Thank you for asking.

Balajied.

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Hi @Balajied_Nongrum,

This is very helpful! I think this is probably the first time I have brought up this question with someone with a Hindu philosophy background as yourself. I also learnt from your approach to sometimes respond to the intent behind the question - mainly how to reach an ISKCON devotee. I think sometimes my conversations have been sidetracked by being drawn into details when there were other angles of approach. As I read your response, one contradiction that came through glaringly is - How can Krishna who himself is subject to karma release man from karma? I am going to look into the evidence for Krishna in more detail and see what they have. Very grateful for your help, resources and prayers. My family in India is well too! Still praying for their salvation. God bless your ministry! May be one day I can visit Shillong and have a chance to visit RZIM there! :slightly_smiling_face: Thank you!

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Hello @Mary Beth,

Thank you for your question.

First of all, I deeply appreciate the efforts you are making to understand and also to learn about Hinduism in order to better communicate Christ to friends from the Hindu background. Yes, you are spot on in identifying or detecting the apparent contradiction that is there in pantheism. In fact, many of their own scholars too do admit these difficulties such as the one you have raised and also as I have pointed out in my first response @Lakshmismehta i.e., point 1 & 3 in particular. Personally, I have not come across any satisfactory explanations on this matter.

Anyway, for your further reflection and a better understanding on the subject that you have raised & on Hinduism in general, I would recommend the following books. Two of which I have already mentioned in my first response to @Lakshmismehta i.e., 1. Sharing your faith with a Hindu and 2. Disciple Making among Hindus. Both are available on Kindle.

To the above two, I would add the following two:

  1. Who Made God? by Ravi Zacharias & Norman Geisler (Please read chapter 8 & 9)
  2. Seeing Jesus from The East by Ravi Zacharias & Abdu Murray (This is the latest one and this will give you a glimpse into the dynamics of belief vs behaviour from the eastern culture point of view)

By the way, all of these books are available on Kindle.

Thank you,

Blessings,

Balajied.

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@Balajied_Nongrum Thank you for taking the time to answer all my questions. I appreciate the book recommendations as well.

May the Lord equip you with wisdom, discernment and faith as you shepherd your family, work and outreach.

Grace and peace,
Mary Beth

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Hello @Balajied_Nongrum! Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. I have very little understanding of Hinduism, but am trying to learn more about it. In sharing with @Lakshmismehta this week, I relayed to her that some of the concepts I cannot seem to grasp. My questions are:

If good and evil are illusions then why is karma necessary? Does karmic law hold individuals responsible for illusions (good or evil) in the next life?

Point #3 in your first reply to @Lakshmismehta seems to touch on this a little. Again, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to enlighten us on Connect.

Grace and peace to you,
Mary Beth

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