Bhagavad Gita and the Problem of Evil
Bhagavad Gita is the holy scripture in Hinduism and it is considered to be one of the most important work pieces in this religion. This book is believed to contain the advice given by Lord Krishna to Arjuna in the battle of Kurukshetra. Lord Krishna is one of the incarnations of Vishnu, a supreme deity in Hinduism and he is known to have helped the Pandavas or the good people win over the Kauravas or the bad people in the Battle of Kurukshetra. During this battle, one of the Pandava brothers, Arjuna, is confused about his role and why he should fight the battle at all. This is why Lord Krishna advises him about the good winning over the evil and the role that Arjuna should play in the same.
The Bhagavad Gita is a compilation of several pieces of advice given by the Lord. It comprises of many aspects that include how one should live a perfect life, what is the meaning of God, what is good and evil, why is there good and ad in this world and what will prevail, what is the purpose of birth and how can one reach God.
Out of these several aspects enshrined in Bhagavad Gita, this paper will focus on the problem of evil. It will specifically dwell on whether evil was condemned at all in the Gita and if so how.
Dharma is the starting point of Bhagavad Gita and it simply means righteousness in every action. During the incarnation of Vishnu as Lord Krishna, the Bharatha dynasty in India, the largest and the most prominent one, was having problems with its successors. There were two brothers, Dhrutharashtra and Pandu. The former was blind and had 100 sons called Kauravas while the latter died early with five sons. In the Hindu tradition, the eldest son was the throne successor which meant the eldest son of Pandu was the heir to the throne. Dhrutharashtra’s oldest son Duryodhana was the jealous and evil and conspired against his cousins to get to the throne.
To solve this problem, Pandavas and Kauravas went to war (Hridyananda dasa, 2013).
Evil in Bhagavad Gita
At the beginning of the battle, Arjuna argues that he cannot fight with others as this amounts to injustice to the others. He contends that the men standing to fight have families and children and it is wrong for him to kill these men. To appease Arjuna and to motivate him to fight, Lord Krishna delivers his sermon.
Killing Another Human Being
Interestingly, Lord Krishna does not justify Arjuna’s claim at all. He does not think that it is wrong to kill another person even after knowing that the death of that soldier would have a negative impact on his family. In those days, women were not allowed to work and therefore, by killing the breadwinner, the entire family is disrupted.
Lord Krishna’s argument that the Kauravas are evil are also unfounded. Every person is created by God which means there is no person who deserves to be punished because he is evil. Through his sermon, the Lord justifies punishing the evil when on the contrary, he should be taking steps to protect them. In Chapter 9, Verse 18, He says that He is the master, refuge, guardian and well-wisher. If this is the case, then how can it be justified to harm or even kill those who commit mistakes. On the contrary, should the Lord not take steps to protect His every child from harm?
For this, the Lord has responded in the fourth chapter that talks about He appears in the world when the amount of evil (adharma) begins to overtake the good (Dharma). He explained that every act and thought comes from Him and everything in the world happens for a reason. He gave four reasons why Arjuna should fight in the war. He said that the “embodied self is immortal and it is not destroyed when the body is destroyed (12-25), what is born must die again and what dies must be born again (26-9), it is the duty of the princely (kshatriya) class to fight in a just war (31-3) and Arjuna would lose face in backing out of the battle at the last moment and would be accused of cowardice (34-7)” (Zaehner, 1973, p.121). Lord Krishna also said that evil cannot be avoided and in a war, it is both tragic and honorable for the warrior, therefore Arjuna should fight (Easwaran, no date).
He also contended that He is everything and everywhere. Like an efficient government that creates laws and implements them, it is also the Lord’s duty to implement His rules of righteousness on Earth. When the obedience to this law wanes, He has to come down to protect and uphold it for the benefit of humanity and their future sustenance.
The Lord further said that the reason for the existence of such evil people and their eventual death goes to show to the rest of the world as well as for posterity that humans should abide by certain philosophical and ethical laws. Otherwise, they will perish too. For this reason, he contended that He brings evil into this world and makes them get killed by the good.
Heaven or Hell
The Hindu religion believes in life after death. The followers of this religion believe that the actions they commit during their lifetime will decide if they will go to heaven or hell. After their karma is exhausted, they are born on earth again. Their actions in the past life will determine to a large extent their next life. In others, the good or bad karma committed during one lifetime will carry on to others as well until all the bad karma is exhausted. When this happens, the soul ultimately reaches the Lord.
In this light of this belief, how is it possible that Duryodhana, the oldest and the most evil of the Kauravas went to heaven and not hell. How is it possible that such an evil person who was directly and indirectly responsible for the death of thousands of men went to heaven? Should he not be punished for his evil acts by going to hell? Also, by sending him to heaven, was not the Lord sending the wrong message to the world? People will tend to assume that it is right to commit evil and they still have a chance to go to heaven just like Duryodhana. This is against all the established principles of righteousness.
To counter these questions, Lord Krishna said that duty comes above everything else and anyone who fulfills his or her duty can enter the heaven. Accordingly, Duryodhana completed his duty as a warrior because he fought valiantly in the war. He did not shy away from the enemy and did not run away. For a person born in the warrior clan, the ultimate duty is to defend the country even if it means getting killed. In this regard, Duryodhana finished his duty with dignity and this earned him a place in heaven (Palshikar, 2013).
Further, the Lord said that there is hope for anyone who commits evil provided he accepts his mistake and surrenders to Him. In Bhagvad Gita (Chapter 9, verse 30-31), He says that even if a man has misbehaved grossly, he has refuge provided he worships Me and is devoted to Me. When he does so, he attains the mind of a sage and gets everlasting peace in his mind. After this enlightenment, he will only commit good deeds and will eventually reach me. In other words, even the most evil person in the world can convert to a righteous person provided he is devoted to the Lord.
Therefore, Duryodhana went to heaven because he fulfilled his duties and at the time of his death, he realized his folly. He surrendered himself to Lord Krishna and as a result, he went to heaven and not hell.
From both these arguments, it is clear that Bhagavad Gita talks about how good will ultimately triumph the evil even though it might look like evil is having an upper hand.
Relevance in Today’s World
The Bhagavad Gita opens with evil in the first stanza. It says that man has to discern between the good and the evil in everyday life and at the time of sleeping in the night, every person should ask whether this battle between good and bad was won. This saying is relevant in everyday life as well because human beings have to constantly discern between good and bad.
There is an everlasting struggle between good and evil at the physical, emotional, psychological and philosophical levels. There is faith and doubt, pride and humility, spiritual and material desires, bravery and cowardice, truth and lies, happiness and sorrow and good and bad habits (Yogananda, 2013). Every person makes a conscious choice between the good and the bad aspects, depending on their respective circumstance, ability, need and upbringing. When they choose good over the evil, their life will e peaceful and this choice will take them one step closer to God.
Evil is one of the central themes of Bhagavad Gita because it was written as a result of the fight between the good Pandavas and the evil Kauravas. In this scripture, there are many aspects that look like evil was upheld, but in reality, it is only truth and good that won the battle. A deep analysis of the Bhagavad Gita reveals that the Lord is everywhere and conceives everything. He is the one who puts mankind in a particular situation to help people to learn something new. In this sense, He was the one who created good and bad people and made them fight because he wanted to uphold dharma or righteousness. The eventual goal is to teach humans for generations spanning through thousands of years that choosing the right way of life is the only way to have a good life. To teach this, the Lord descended as Krishna and abolished evil from this world.
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