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    3: The Problem of Evil

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    Chapter 4
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    The question why there is evil in existence is the same as why
    there is imperfection, or, in other words, why there is creation
    at all. We must take it for granted that it could not be
    otherwise; that creation must be imperfect, must be gradual, and
    that it is futile to ask the question, Why we are?

    But this is the real question we ought to ask: Is this
    imperfection the final truth, is evil absolute and ultimate? The
    river has its boundaries, its banks, but is a river all banks? or
    are the banks the final facts about the river? Do not these
    obstructions themselves give its water an onward motion? The
    towing rope binds a boat, but is the bondage its meaning? Does
    it not at the same time draw the boat forward?

    The current of the world has its boundaries, otherwise it could
    have no existence, but its purpose is not shown in the boundaries
    which restrain it, but in its movement, which is towards
    perfection. The wonder is not that there should be obstacles and
    sufferings in this world, but that there should be law and order,
    beauty and joy, goodness and love. The idea of God that man has
    in his being is the wonder of all wonders. He has felt in the
    depths of his life that what appears as imperfect is the
    manifestation of the perfect; just as a man who has an ear for
    music realises the perfection of a song, while in fact he is only
    listening to a succession of notes. Man has found out the great
    paradox that what is limited is not imprisoned within its limits;
    it is ever moving, and therewith shedding its finitude every
    moment. In fact, imperfection is not a negation of perfectness;
    finitude is not contradictory to infinity: they are but
    completeness manifested in parts, infinity revealed within

    Pain, which is the feeling of our finiteness, is not a fixture in
    our life. It is not an end in itself, as joy is. To meet with
    it is to know that it has no part in the true permanence of
    creation. It is what error is in our intellectual life. To go
    through the history of the development of science is to go
    through the maze of mistakes it made current at different times.
    Yet no one really believes that science is the one perfect mode
    of disseminating mistakes. The progressive ascertainment of
    truth is the important thing to remember in the history of
    science, not its innumerable mistakes. Error, by its nature,
    cannot be stationary; it cannot remain with truth; like a tramp,
    it must quit its lodging as soon as it fails to pay its score to
    the full.

    As in intellectual error, so in evil of any other form, its
    essence is impermanence, for it cannot accord with the whole.
    Every moment it is being corrected by the totality of things and
    keeps changing its aspect. We exaggerate its importance by
    imagining it as a standstill. Could we collect the statistics of
    the immense amount of death and putrefaction happening every
    moment in this earth, they would appal us. But evil is ever
    moving; with all its incalculable immensity it does not
    effectually clog the current of our life; and we find that the
    earth, water, and air remain sweet and pure for living beings.
    All statistics consist of our attempts to represent statistically
    what is in motion; and in the process things assume a weight in
    our mind which they have not in reality. For this reason a man,
    who by his profession is concerned with any particular aspect of
    life, is apt to magnify its proportions; in laying undue stress
    upon facts he loses his hold upon truth. A detective may have
    the opportunity of studying crimes in detail, but he loses his
    sense of their relative places in the whole social economy. When
    science collects facts to illustrate the struggle for existence
    that is going on in the kingdom of life, it raises a picture in
    our minds of "nature red in tooth and claw." But in these mental
    pictures we give a fixity to colours and forms which are really
    evanescent. It is like calculating the weight of the air on each
    square inch of our body to prove that it must be crushingly heavy
    for us. With every weight, however, there is an adjustment, and
    we lightly bear our burden. With the struggle for existence in
    nature there is reciprocity. There is the love for children and
    for comrades; there is the sacrifice of self, which springs from
    love; and this love is the positive element in life.

    If we kept the search-light of our observation turned upon the
    fact of death, the world would appear to us like a huge charnel-
    house; but in the world of life the thought of death has, we
    find, the least possible hold upon our minds. Not because it is
    the least apparent, but because it is the negative aspect of
    life; just as, in spite of the fact that we shut our eyelids
    every second, it is the openings of the eye that count. Life as
    a whole never takes death seriously. It laughs, dances and
    plays, it builds, hoards and loves in death's face. Only when we
    detach one individual fact of death do we see its blankness and
    become dismayed. We lose sight of the wholeness of a life of
    which death is part. It is like looking at a piece of cloth
    through a microscope. It appears like a net; we gaze at the big
    holes and shiver in imagination. But the truth is, death is not
    the ultimate reality. It looks black, as the sky looks blue; but
    it does not blacken existence, just as the sky does not leave its
    stain upon the wings of the bird.

    When we watch a child trying to walk, we see its countless
    failures; its successes are but few. If we had to limit our
    observation within a narrow space of time, the sight would be
    cruel. But we find that in spite of its repeated failures there
    is an impetus of joy in the child which sustains it in its
    seemingly impossible task. We see it does not think of its falls
    so much as of its power to keep its balance though for only a

    Like these accidents in a child's attempts to walk, we meet with
    sufferings in various forms in our life every day, showing the
    imperfections in our knowledge and our available power, and in
    the application of our will. But if these revealed our weakness
    to us only, we should die of utter depression. When we select
    for observation a limited area of our activities, our individual
    failures and miseries loom large in our minds; but our life leads
    us instinctively to take a wider view. It gives us an ideal of
    perfection which ever carries us beyond our present limitations.
    Within us we have a hope which always walks in front of our
    present narrow experience; it is the undying faith in the
    infinite in us; it will never accept any of our disabilities as a
    permanent fact; it sets no limit to its own scope; it dares to
    assert that man has oneness with God; and its wild dreams become
    true every day.

    We see the truth when we set our mind towards the infinite. The
    ideal of truth is not in the narrow present, not in our immediate
    sensations, but in the consciousness of the whole which give us a
    taste of what we _should_ have in what we _do_ have. Consciously
    or unconsciously we have in our life this feeling of Truth which
    is ever larger than its appearance; for our life is facing the
    infinite, and it is in movement. Its aspiration is therefore
    infinitely more than its achievement, and as it goes on it finds
    that no realisation of truth ever leaves it stranded on the
    desert of finality, but carries it to a region beyond. Evil
    cannot altogether arrest the course of life on the highway and
    rob it of its possessions. For the evil has to pass on, it has
    to grow into good; it cannot stand and give battle to the All.
    If the least evil could stop anywhere indefinitely, it would sink
    deep and cut into the very roots of existence. As it is, man
    does not really believe in evil, just as he cannot believe that
    violin strings have been purposely made to create the exquisite
    torture of discordant notes, though by the aid of statistics it
    can be mathematically proved that the probability of discord is
    far greater than that of harmony, and for one who can play the
    violin there are thousands who cannot. The potentiality of
    perfection outweighs actual contradictions. No doubt there have
    been people who asserted existence to be an absolute evil, but
    man can never take them seriously. Their pessimism is a mere
    pose, either intellectual or sentimental; but life itself is
    optimistic: it wants to go on. Pessimism is a form of mental
    dipsomania, it disdains healthy nourishment, indulges in the
    strong drink of denunciation, and creates an artificial dejection
    which thirsts for a stronger draught. If existence were an evil,
    it would wait for no philosopher to prove it. It is like
    convicting a man of suicide, while all the time he stands before
    you in the flesh. Existence itself is here to prove that it
    cannot be an evil.

    An imperfection which is not all imperfection, but which has
    perfection for its ideal, must go through a perpetual
    realisation. Thus, it is the function of our intellect to
    realise the truth through untruths, and knowledge is nothing but
    the continually burning up of error to set free the light of
    truth. Our will, our character, has to attain perfection by
    continually overcoming evils, either inside or outside us, or
    both; our physical life is consuming bodily materials every
    moment to maintain the life fire; and our moral life too has its
    fuel to burn. This life process is going on--we know it, we have
    felt it; and we have a faith which no individual instances to the
    contrary can shake, that the direction of humanity is from evil
    to good. For we feel that good is the positive element in man's
    nature, and in every age and every clime what man values most is
    his ideals of goodness. We have known the good, we have loved
    it, and we have paid our highest reverence to men who have shown
    in their lives what goodness is.

    The question will be asked, What is goodness; what does our moral
    nature mean? My answer is, that when a man begins to have an
    extended vision of his self, when he realises that he is much
    more than at present he seems to be, he begins to get conscious
    of his moral nature. Then he grows aware of that which he is yet
    to be, and the state not yet experienced by him becomes more real
    than that under his direct experience. Necessarily, his
    perspective of life changes, and his will takes the place of his
    wishes. For will is the supreme wish of the larger life, the
    life whose greater portion is out of our present reach, most of
    whose objects are not before our sight. Then comes the conflict
    of our lesser man with our greater man, of our wishes with our
    will, of the desire for things affecting our senses with the
    purpose that is within our heart. Then we begin to distinguish
    between what we immediately desire and what is good. For good is
    that which is desirable for our greater self. Thus the sense of
    goodness comes out of a truer view of our life, which is the
    connected view of the wholeness of the field of life, and which
    takes into account not only what is present before us but what is
    not, and perhaps never humanly can be. Man, who is provident,
    feels for that life of his which is not yet existent, feels much
    more that than for the life that is with him; therefore he is
    ready to sacrifice his present inclination for the unrealised
    future. In this he becomes great, for he realises truth. Even
    to be efficiently selfish one has to recognise this truth, and
    has to curb his immediate impulses--in other words, has to be
    moral. For our moral faculty is the faculty by which we know
    that life is not made up of fragments, purposeless and
    discontinuous. This moral sense of man not only gives him the
    power to see that the self has a continuity in time, but it also
    enables him to see that he is not true when he is only restricted
    to his own self. He is more in truth than he is in fact. He
    truly belongs to individuals who are not included in his own
    individuality, and whom he is never even likely to know. As he
    has a feeling for his future self which is outside his present
    consciousness, so he has a feeling for his greater self which is
    outside the limits of his personality. There is no man who has
    not this feeling to some extent, who has never sacrificed his
    selfish desire for the sake of some other person, who has never
    felt a pleasure in undergoing some loss or trouble because it
    pleased somebody else. It is a truth that man is not a detached
    being, that he has a universal aspect; and when he recognises
    this he becomes great. Even the most evilly-disposed selfishness
    has to recognise this when it seeks the power to do evil; for it
    cannot ignore truth and yet be strong. So in order to claim the
    aid of truth, selfishness has to be unselfish to some extent. A
    band of robbers must be moral in order to hold together as a
    band; they may rob the whole world but not each other. To make
    an immoral intention successful, some of its weapons must be
    moral. In fact, very often it is our very moral strength which
    gives us most effectively the power to do evil, to exploit other
    individuals for our own benefit, to rob other people of their
    rights. The life of an animal is unmoral, for it is aware only
    of an immediate present; the life of a man can be immoral, but
    that only means that it must have a moral basis. What is immoral
    is imperfectly moral, just as what is false is true to a small
    extent, or it cannot even be false. Not to see is to be blind,
    but to see wrongly is to see only in an imperfect manner. Man's
    selfishness is a beginning to see some connection, some purpose
    in life; and to act in accordance with its dictates requires
    self-restraint and regulation of conduct. A selfish man
    willingly undergoes troubles for the sake of the self, he suffers
    hardship and privation without a murmur, simply because he knows
    that what is pain and trouble, looked at from the point of view
    of a short space of time, are just the opposite when seen in a
    larger perspective. Thus what is a loss to the smaller man is a
    gain to the greater, and _vice versa_.

    To the man who lives for an idea, for his country, for the good
    of humanity, life has an extensive meaning, and to that extent
    pain becomes less important to him. To live the life of goodness
    is to live the life of all. Pleasure is for one's own self, but
    goodness is concerned with the happiness of all humanity and for
    all time. From the point of view of the good, pleasure and pain
    appear in a different meaning; so much so, that pleasure may be
    shunned, and pain be courted in its place, and death itself be
    made welcome as giving a higher value to life. From these higher
    standpoints of a man's life, the standpoints of the good,
    pleasure and pain lose their absolute value. Martyrs prove it in
    history, and we prove it every day in our life in our little
    martyrdoms. When we take a pitcherful of water from the sea it
    has its weight, but when we take a dip into the sea itself a
    thousand pitchersful of water flow above our head, and we do not
    feel their weight. We have to carry the pitcher of self with our
    strength; and so, while on the plane of selfishness pleasure and
    pain have their full weight, on the moral plane they are so much
    lightened that the man who has reached it appears to us almost
    superhuman in his patience under crushing trails, and his
    forbearance in the face of malignant persecution.

    To live in perfect goodness is to realise one's life in the
    infinitive. This is the most comprehensive view of life which we
    can have by our inherent power of the moral vision of the
    wholeness of life. And the teaching of Buddha is to cultivate
    this moral power to the highest extent, to know that our field of
    activities is not bound to the plane of our narrow self. This is
    the vision of the heavenly kingdom of Christ. When we attain to
    that universal life, which is the moral life, we become freed
    from the bonds of pleasure and pain, and the place vacated by our
    self becomes filled with an unspeakable joy which springs from
    measureless love. In this state the soul's activity is all the
    more heightened, only its motive power is not from desires, but
    in its own joy. This is the _Karma-yoga_ of the _Gita_, the way
    to become one with the infinite activity by the exercise of the
    activity of disinterested goodness.

    When Buddha mentioned upon the way of realising mankind from the
    grip of misery he came to this truth: that when man attains his
    highest end by merging the individual in the universal, he
    becomes free from the thraldom of pain. Let us consider this
    point more fully.

    A student of mine once related to me his adventure in a storm,
    and complained that all the time he was troubled with the feeling
    that this great commotion in nature behaved to him as if he were
    no more than a mere handful of dust. That he was a distinct
    personality with a will of his own had not the least influence
    upon what was happening.

    I said, "If consideration for our individuality could sway nature
    from her path, then it would be the individuals who would suffer

    But he persisted in his doubt, saying that there was this fact
    which could not be ignored--the feeling that I am. The "I" in us
    seeks for a relation which is individual to it.

    I replied that the relation of the "I" is with something which is
    "not-I." So we must have a medium which is common to both, and
    we must be absolutely certain that it is the same to the "I" as
    it is to the "not-I."

    This is what needs repeating here. We have to keep in mind that
    our individuality by its nature is impelled to seek for the
    universal. Our body can only die if it tries to eat its own
    substance, and our eye loses the meaning of its function if it
    can only see itself.

    Just as we find that the stronger the imagination the less is it
    merely imaginary and the more is it in harmony with truth, so we
    see the more vigorous our individuality the more does it widen
    towards the universal. For the greatness of a personality is not
    in itself but in its content, which is universal, just as the
    depth of a lake is judged not by the size of its cavity but by
    the depth of its water.

    So, if it is a truth that the yearning of our nature is for
    reality, and that our personality cannot be happy with a
    fantastic universe of its own creation, then it is clearly best
    for it that our will can only deal with things by following their
    law, and cannot do with them just as it pleases. This unyielding
    sureness of reality sometimes crosses our will, and very often
    leads us to disaster, just as the firmness of the earth
    invariably hurts the falling child who is learning to walk.
    Nevertheless it is the same firmness that hurts him which makes
    his walking possible. Once, while passing under a bridge, the
    mast of my boat got stuck in one of its girders. If only for a
    moment the mast would have bent an inch or two, or the bridge
    raised its back like a yawning cat, or the river given in, it
    would have been all right with me. But they took no notice of my
    helplessness. That is the very reason why I could make use of
    the river, and sail upon it with the help of the mast, and that
    is why, when its current was inconvenient, I could rely upon the
    bridge. Things are what they are, and we have to know them if we
    would deal with them, and knowledge of them is possible because
    our wish is not their law. This knowledge is a joy to us, for
    the knowledge is one of the channels of our relation with the
    things outside us; it is making them our own, and thus widening
    the limit of our self.

    At every step we have to take into account others than ourselves.
    For only in death are we alone. A poet is a true poet when he
    can make his personal idea joyful to all men, which he could not
    do if he had not a medium common to all his audience. This
    common language has its own law which the poet must discover and
    follow, by doing which he becomes true and attains poetical

    We see then that man's individuality is not his highest truth;
    there is that in him which is universal. If he were made to live
    in a world where his own self was the only factor to consider,
    then that would be the worst prison imaginable to him, for man's
    deepest joy is in growing greater and greater by more and more
    union with the all. This, as we have seen, would be an
    impossibility if there were no law common to all. Only by
    discovering the law and following it, do we become great, do we
    realise the universal; while, so long as our individual desires
    are at conflict with the universal law, we suffer pain and are

    There was a time when we prayed for special concessions, we
    expected that the laws of nature should be held in abeyance for
    our own convenience. But now we know better. We know that law
    cannot be set aside, and in this knowledge we have become strong.
    For this law is not something apart from us; it is our own. The
    universal power which is manifested in the universal law is one
    with our own power. It will thwart us where we are small, where
    we are against the current of things; but it will help us where
    we are great, where we are in unison with the all. Thus, through
    the help of science, as we come to know more of the laws of
    nature, we gain in power; we tend to attain a universal body.
    Our organ of sight, our organ of locomotion, our physical
    strength becomes world-wide; steam and electricity become our
    nerve and muscle. Thus we find that, just as throughout our
    bodily organisation there is a principle of relation by virtue of
    which we can call the entire body our own, and can use it as
    such, so all through the universe there is that principle of
    uninterrupted relation by virtue of which we can call the whole
    world our extended body and use it accordingly. And in this age
    of science it is our endeavour fully to establish our claim to
    our world-self. We know all our poverty and sufferings are owing
    to our inability to realise this legitimate claim of ours.
    Really, there is no limit to our powers, for we are not outside
    the universal power which is the expression of universal law. We
    are on our way to overcome disease and death, to conquer pain and
    poverty; for through scientific knowledge we are ever on our way
    to realise the universal in its physical aspect. And as we make
    progress we find that pain, disease, and poverty of power are not
    absolute, but that is only the want of adjustment of our
    individual self to our universal self which gives rise to them.

    It is the same with our spiritual life. When the individual man
    in us chafes against the lawful rule of the universal man we
    become morally small, and we must suffer. In such a condition
    our successes are our greatest failures, and the very fulfilment
    of our desires leaves us poorer. We hanker after special gains
    for ourselves, we want to enjoy privileges which none else can
    share with us. But everything that is absolutely special must
    keep up a perpetual warfare with what is general. In such a
    state of civil war man always lives behind barricades, and in any
    civilisation which is selfish our homes are not real homes, but
    artificial barriers around us. Yet we complain that we are not
    happy, as if there were something inherent in the nature of
    things to make us miserable. The universal spirit is waiting to
    crown us with happiness, but our individual spirit would not
    accept it. It is our life of the self that causes conflicts and
    complications everywhere, upsets the normal balance of society
    and gives rise to miseries of all kinds. It brings things to
    such a pass that to maintain order we have to create artificial
    coercions and organised forms of tyranny, and tolerate infernal
    institutions in our midst, whereby at every moment humanity is

    We have seen that in order to be powerful we have to submit to
    the laws of the universal forces, and to realise in practice that
    they are our own. So, in order to be happy, we have to submit
    our individual will to the sovereignty of the universal will, and
    to feel in truth that it is our own will. When we reach that
    state wherein the adjustment of the finite in us to the infinite
    is made perfect, then pain itself becomes a valuable asset. It
    becomes a measuring rod with which to gauge the true value of our

    The most important lesson that man can learn from his life is not
    that there _is_ pain in this world, but that it depends upon him
    to turn it into good account, that it is possible for him to
    transmute it into joy. The lesson has not been lost altogether
    to us, and there is no man living who would willingly be deprived
    of his right to suffer pain, for that is his right to be a man.
    One day the wife of a poor labourer complained bitterly to me
    that her eldest boy was going to be sent away to a rich relative's
    house for part of the year. It was the implied kind intention of
    trying to relieve her of her trouble that gave her the shock, for
    a mother's trouble is a mother's own by her inalienable right of
    love, and she was not going to surrender it to any dictates of
    expediency. Man's freedom is never in being saved troubles, but
    it is the freedom to take trouble for his own good, to make the
    trouble an element in his joy. It can be made so only when we
    realise that our individual self is not the highest meaning of our
    being, that in us we have the world-man who is immortal, who is
    not afraid of death or sufferings, and who looks upon pain as only
    the other side of joy. He who has realised this knows that it is
    pain which is our true wealth as imperfect beings, and has made us
    great and worthy to take our seat with the perfect. He knows that
    we are not beggars; that it is the hard coin which must be paid
    for everything valuable in this life, for our power, our wisdom,
    our love; that in pain is symbolised the infinite possibility of
    perfection, the eternal unfolding of joy; and the man who loses all
    pleasure in accepting pain sinks down and down to the lowest depth
    of penury and degradation. It is only when we invoke the aid of
    pain for our self-gratification that she becomes evil and takes her
    vengeance for the insult done to her by hurling us into misery.
    For she is the vestal virgin consecrated to the service of the
    immortal perfection, and when she takes her true place before the
    altar of the infinite she casts off her dark veil and bares her
    face to the beholder as a revelation of supreme joy.
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