Good and Evil in Hinduism

Hinduism Essay Subject Image

by Jayaram V

Hinduism clearly identifies the difference between good and evil (dharma and adharma), but their  meaning and definition are different from what we traditionally understand as good and evil According to Hindu scripture good or divinity is represented by purity (sattva), light, balance, immortality, order, virtue and selflessness. Evil is represented by impurity (tamas), darkness, imbalance or extremity, chaos, sinful conduct, and selfishness.

The basic criteria to distinguish the good from evil is the intention. In Hinduism, all selfish intentions are evil,  and all selfless intentions are good, however trivial they may be. So are the actions and desires which arise from them. If you selflessly serving others and God, you are on the righteous path (dharma) and if you are selfishly living yourself and serving your own interests, you are on the sinful path (adharma). Good actions lead to meritorious karma (punyam) and evil actions lead to sin karma (papam).

Meritorious karma (punyam) leads to liberation, peace, and happiness, while sinful karma (papam) leads to suffering, rebirth, a reversal of fortune, and in severe cases a certain downfall into the darker and sunless worlds or hells. There is also a grey zone, the middle one, a combination of good and evil, represented by smoke, rebirth, mortality, and suffering, which is the nature of existence upon earth.

According to the Hindu Puranas, God stands between order and chaos, or figuratively between good and evil. Existence is defined by a constant struggle between order and chaos or between good and evil. Gods represent good, and demons evil. Humans stand in between, partaking the nature of both. The darkforces try to disturb the divine order while the gods, who represent light and delight strive to uphold it.

Many a time humans are caught in between these cosmic battles and become the unwitting witnesses and ultimate sufferers. Their lives and destinies depend upon the choices they make, and whether they stand on the side of dharma or adharma. The same struggle happens in the body of each being (jiva) upon earth. The divinities are present in the body also since the body is a replica of the macrocosm (Viraj), which is also defined in the scriptures as Death and Time.

Now, what humans are to God, the organs in the body are to humans. They are meant to be used by humans for righteous purposes to uphold dharma. If they are used for selfish purposes, they will accumulate sin and suffer from the consequences. If they are used for selfless services and sacrificial actions, both ritually and spiritually, they accumulate meritorious karma and enjoy the rewards of it. Thus, the life of each individual is shaped by the karma which accrues from his or her good and evil actions. Further, if those actions are performed as an offering to God with sacrificial attitude without desires, neither of the karmas attaches and a person becomes liberated.

According to the Upanishads, all the organs in the body are susceptible to selfish desires and intentions, and thereby to evil. Breath (prana) is the only exception. You can see that yourself. You engage the organs in your body such as your hand and feet when you have desires or when you want to achieve certain ends. Your mind can control them and direct them. However, your breath is not under your control. Whether you have desires or not, you keep breathing autonomously.

This is well illustrated in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad in a story, according to which once gods and demons had a tussle to establish their control over the human body. The demons went after each organ in the body, and gods failed to prevent them since the organs were susceptible to evil desires and intentions. They could not stop the eyes, the ears, the nose, speech, the skin, the tongue, etc., from succumbing to selfish desires and temptations and engaging in desire-ridden actions. Thus, in each case, the demons took control of the organs and defeated the gods. However, when they tried the same with breath, demons could not pierce it and perished.

Thus breath is a purifier, preserver and controller. All the organs in the body are propelled by desires, but one has to breath involuntarily. Breath is not under the control of our will or intention where as all the organs are susceptible to them. Hence breath is superior and invulnerable to desires and evil intentions.

Share This

Suggestions for Further Reading



Translate the Page