“Happiness is the nature of the spirit, as stated in the Vedanta-sutras: anandamayo ‘bhyasat—the spirit is by nature full of happiness. Happiness in spiritual nature always increases in volume with a new phase of appreciation; there is no question of decreasing the bliss.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.6.18 Purport)
Friend1: I know there have been debates over this issue for centuries. Great philosophers, religious leaders, and the generally curious have opined. Many of them consider man to be evil, a defective breed, in a sense hardwired to follow destructive behavior.
Friend2: And that is the reason they need to repent? Admit that you are a sinner and pave the way towards entering the light.
Friend1: Not only one time, either. Go to confession on a regular basis. Realize just how ingrained the sinful tendencies are inside of you.
Friend2: This applies to every person, correct?
Friend1: Under that model, yes.
Friend2: Oh boy.
Friend1: Couldn’t the argument be made, though? Turn on the news on a given day. So many bad things happen. People commit unspeakable violence. They are unfaithful to their spouse. They inflict damage upon the family and neighborhood.
Friend2: You could say the news itself is just as culpable. They bring the stories that push their agenda. They are not interested in a fair presentation at all. They create the illusion that something is happening, when in fact the majority opinion may be on the other side.
Friend1: Is it fair to say that man is indeed evil? What is the Vedic opinion on this?
Friend2: Well, what do you think it is?
Friend2: The acceptance and rejection of temporary bodies.
Friend1: There is the idea of forgetfulness, which is actually caused by the Supreme Lord. He is behind remembrance, as well.
सर्वस्य चाहं हृदि सन्निविष्टो
मत्तः स्मृतिर् ज्ञानम् अपोहनं च
वेदैश् च सर्वैर् अहम् एव वेद्यो
वेदान्त-कृद् वेद-विद् एव चाहम्
sarvasya cāhaṁ hṛdi sanniviṣṭo
mattaḥ smṛtir jñānam apohanaṁ ca
vedaiś ca sarvair aham eva vedyo
vedānta-kṛd veda-vid eva cāham
“I am seated in everyone’s heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.15)
Friend2: Sure, and you can live in any of the three modes: goodness, passion and ignorance.
Friend1: Okay, so ignorance would easily translate to the horrible deeds aspect. But would people in the modes of goodness and passion be considered evil? They are still attached to material life, which means rebirth in the future.
Friend2: Is that your final answer?
Friend1: Haha, I’m not sure. I think it would be an easy case to make. To say that man is not inherently evil is more difficult to prove.
Friend2: Actually, you are forgetting the tendency towards service. This is the dharma of the individual; the characteristic that defines them. Even in the case of evil tendencies driven by anger, lust and greed, the same dharma is there at the foundation.
Friend1: Are you saying that a mass murderer is involved in some kind of service when they go on a killing spree?
Friend2: Absolutely. The truth is that the tendency can never be removed; that is the meaning to dharma. When we see evil manifest, the cause is the inversion of the service spirit. More specifically, there is a tendency towards love.
Friend1: What do you mean by inversion?
Friend2: Think of driving a car in reverse. The proper procedure when trying to get somewhere is to put the car in the “drive” mode. This allows you to move forward. A person puts the car in reverse by mistake and ends up striking another vehicle in the rear. Another time an elderly person actually maneuvers the vehicle into a house. This does not mean that the car is at fault. The person has committed an error, but there is no proof of an underlying wicked intent.
Friend1: Okay, but that is only one example. How do you say that the tendency is towards love with respect to the entire body?
Friend2: The Sanskrit word is ananda. Every being is inclined towards this objective. That is the purpose of living. The ananda gets inherited from the origin of everything, the Supreme Lord. He is complete bliss. The distinction is that the ananda never leaves Him. There is no inversion with His attitude, whereas falling to the material world can cause us to behave in the wrong way.
Friend1: Are you saying that it is more the place than the person?
Friend2: Certainly, the material world is conducive towards forgetting the Almighty and service to Him. That is the meaning to maya, which is the illusory energy. At the same time, falling to the material world does not take place accidentally. The choice is made, though we may have difficulty in establishing the precise time and location of the original decision.
Friend1: I see. Man isn’t inherently evil, then. You’re saying that they are actually good on the inside.
Friend2: Transcendentally good. The soul is without blemishes. The illusion is actually only a mentality. We think that we are far away from God, in a land devoid of His presence, when in fact the situation can change in an instant, without the requirement of physical travel. Through the exercise of bhakti-yoga a person’s outlook begins to change. At the highest stage the devotee is likened to an incredibly discerning swan, who sees only the good in everything. The paramahamsa notices the presence of the Divine in every aspect of living, including in the behavior we would typically categorize as evil.
Shooting, killing and stealing,
To worst instincts appealing.
Why not man as evil viewed,
Based on evidence reviewed?
Towards bliss actual tendency,
Though reversed in maya generally.
Service for highest being intended,
Paramahamsa with vision extended.