What really is evil? || Acharya Prashant (2015)

To personally meet or connect with Acharya Prashant: click here.

यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत ।
अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् ||

Bhagwad Gita(Chapter – 4, Verse – 7)

Whenever there is a decay of religion and growth of injustice; to protect the virtuous, to destroy the wicked, I manifest Myself, through the ages.

Question: Sir, it is said in the Bhagwad Gita that “Whenever there is rise in evil the Lord will come”. But Sir, good and evil both are defined by ego. Then what is this evil that the Lord will come to destroy?

Speaker: There are two kinds of evil just as we are two. We are two, we operate from two centres, and similarly there are two evils and two kinds of virtues as well. There is one evil that the ego labels as evil. It is the counterpart of virtue. There is one bad that the ego calls as bad, it is the shadow of good, it is the dual companion of good. So you can comfortably limit yourself to the definition provided by the ego that “there is the good and the evil and the both are as per my choice, my knowledge, my universe of which I am the centre”. Or you have the option to move to a more sublime understanding of evil which is, that evil is not what ego decides to be evil but the evil is whatever the ego decides.

Bhagwad Gita - ego

Usually we call that as evil which we want to call as evil. It is not that the evil is that which we want to call as evil. The evil lies in the very act of wanting. The ego itself is the evil and the devil. What is the evil? Not the counterpart of good, not one end of duality but entire game of duality. Whenever you operate from the centre of ego, this is evil. Now, operating from the centre of the ego, you may act very pious; you may be doing all the virtuous acts, yet it would all be evil because the very centre is that of ego, because the very root is poisonous. So seated in the ego whatever you do, acts of seemingly great virtue, acts of deep morality, act that seem like religious acts: service, help, care, concern, love, passion, it is all evil because it is arising from the ego.

What is not evil then?  That is the central question that the Gita takes up. What is it that is worth doing? What is it that is not worthy of renunciation? How does a man live? What is his dharma (religion)? And the answer is very simple. Don’t even decide.

Whatever you will decide will come from ego.

Make way for the action to happen. Have the guts to step out of your own way. ‘You’ are the evil, and once you are gone whatever is left, is not evil. You can’t fight the evil because the evil is not separate from you. ‘You’ are the evil. Even your best intention is just an evil intention.

So what does Krishna mean when He says that “whenever there is rise in evil, the Lord comes”?

Whenever there is rise in evil, whenever ignorance and arrogance rise, obviously the result is suffering. The Lord does not drop physically somewhere from the heavens. The metaphor must be understood it does not mean when there will be people of certain kind who would be behaving in evil ways then some avatar will descend from the skies. What it simply means is that whenever the ego inflates, the consequence is suffering and suffering itself calls for its cessation. You do not like to suffer. This call of cessation of suffering itself is the coming of the Lord.

The ego is caught in a quandary. It likes to be inflated but it does not like to suffer. But the natural consequence of its own inflation is suffering. It likes to be big, it likes to act powerful, but the more powerful it acts, the more it suffers and suffering is something it does not like. So the very inflation of the ego, the very rise of ego, the very increase of evil, is also a parallel increase in the urge to dissolve the evil, the suffering, the ego. The Lord doesn’t come from anywhere; the ego sees its own futility, its vanity and surrenders.

That is what Krishna means when Krishna says “I come”. Two things have to be understood. First, Krishna is not a body that will come. Second, not only is Krishna not a body, there is also no question of his coming because He is the only element that is. So, where is the question of his coming and departing?

First thing is, Krishna is not a body, Krishna is not a man standing in front of Arjun and preaching. So when Krishna says, “I come”, I is not the limited self, the limited body, or the man uttering the words. The second thing is, in “I come”, not only is ‘I’ to be really understood, this ‘coming’ too must really be understood. Krishna cannot come. This word coming does not really apply to Krishna. When he says, “I come”, all He means is that “I am anyway always there, you come to me. Under the load of your own evil burning, by the flames of your own self-created hell, you come rushing to me”.

Krishna actually has no way of coming to Arjun. Arjun has to come to Krishna. Krishna can call, Krishna can sit inside Arjun, Krishna can play a game in which He becomes Arjun and comes back to himself. But actually, He has no way of going somewhere. He is pretty helpless. How can He go anywhere? To go anywhere He will have to be absent from there. His situation is such that He has no place to hide. Even if He hides, He will have to hide under Himself. But we like to hear these statements, that “when the world will fall to the depths of evil, then some great avatar or Prophet will come”. Do you know why we want to think this way? Because somewhere it gives us the consolation that the Prophet is not already present. We want to say that, “He will come”. We love saying that He only occasionally comes.

We love saying, “Yada-yada he dharmasy- that whenever there is the loss of Dharma, only then Krishna comes”. See how nicely we have interpreted it, to make it conditional. We have said, “Krishna will be there, you know, only when there is loss of Dharma, a grave loss of Dharma”. So it means that he does not always have to be there. And when Krishna is not there, the field is open for you. “Hurray! Let us make merry”.

So, ignorant, mischievous, and very harmful interpretations of these famous lines from the Gita have been floating since centuries. People have been constantly clamouring, that when there is too much evil, then the avatar comes. Sir, Krishna has no way of coming. He is the only presence that is. By making his coming timebound, by making his coming conditional, by making his coming situational; don’t you see that your haughty ego is trying to create space for itself? You are saying, “The palace belongs to the king but He visits it occasionally. So when he is not there, the ‘I’ can make merry”.

You really are smart, very smart. What you forget is that not only does the palace belong to the king, the palace is the king. Not only do you live in the palace of the king, you too belong to the king. You are not separate from the king. One objective that the ego has is to somehow maintain a separate identity from the great Self, from the Ultimate, from God. And this objective of the ego will be fulfilled in a thousand ways. Obviously, the ego wearing a pious look, the ego trying to act holy, cannot directly say that. It can’t directly say that, “I do not love Krishna, that I am not Krishna”. It cannot directly say that. So it will find indirect mischievous roots like saying that some avatar will come. Some avatar is not going to come, he is already there. He is there in every breath you take; He is running in your veins as blood; He is arising in your mind as thoughts. There is nothing but him. You are the avatar.

Bhagwad Gita - avatar

Now this is dangerous. “So, Krishna is already here? Oh! My God, where is He?” Makes us feel nice if He is at least in the next room. But if somebody tells us that He is sitting right in front of us, it is dangerous. And it becomes suicidal, when we know that He is sitting right in our heart. It is obviously uncomfortable if Krishna is sitting in the adjoining room. It is dangerous if He is sitting in front of you and it is suicidal, if He is sitting in your heart. That cannot be accepted.

“Let me interpret these words according to my convenience. How does it matter where these great words came from? All that matters is my self-preservation. I must be able to preserve myself”.

Krishna is not prompting Arjun to kill Bhishma. If you are thinking on these lines, if you are seeing multiple characters of which Krishna is another character, then you are not seeing anything. To understand Krishna is to see him in the speaker of the words, is to see him in the listener of the words, is to see him in the arrow that Arjun fires and is to see him in every slain warrior.

So what is evil then? The evil is just a joke. When there is only Krishna, how can there be evil? When there is only Krishna, where is the question of evil? The very mention of evil is amusing. There can be a bit of mistake but there is no question of something as big as evil because the only big is Krishna. Everything else is small, trivial, and inconsequential. Why call it evil? Call it some kind of trivial error, some kind of a mistake; you can’t give it any more weightage than that.

Arjun’s suffering arises not from the fact that he doesn’t want to kill his relatives. It arises from his basic ignorance, about what is it that is all around. Krishna is not nudging Arjun to kill his relatives. Krishna is telling Arjun what this entire drama is all about. That is why eighteen chapters were required. Otherwise the thing would have been simple. “Arjun as your friend, as your mentor I recommend that you shoot”. It would have been so simple. But no, that won’t solve the problem. Arjun’s problem is that he doesn’t know that he won’t be firing the arrow.

Arjun’s problem is that he does not see Krishna in himself, in his Gandiva(bow) and in his arrows. Arjun’s problem is that he does not see that one Truth all around and you cannot call it evil. This is just a joke; you cannot see what is there. What is evil about it? You are making a mistake. There is a banana peel lying on the road in front of you; you do not see it, would you want to call it evil, blasphemous? Would you go to that extent? Just say it is a mistake. And if you make that mistake, then you pay the price. What is the price? You slip and you get hurt, that is it. So hell is nothing but a place littered with banana peels. You keep slipping. Hell is a place where the floor has been meticulously made of banana peels; you just keep slipping. Your slipping is your hell. What else is your hell? Arjun is slipping. He is thinking of himself as Arjun, he is thinking of others as somebody.

“There is Bhishma, there is Duryodhana, there is Drona. How do I shoot at them, what will I do with all this kingdom?”

Says Krishna, “What do ‘you’ have to do with the kingdom? Is the kingdom ‘yours’?”  It is a joke.

Arjun is claiming to fight a war that is not his; Arjun is claiming to get a kingdom that is anyway not his. This is the mistake and that is the only evil: to raise yourself big, to feel responsible. And this feeling of responsibility has been drilled deep into our psyche: “You are responsible”, “You have a duty”,”This is evil and this is hell”.

These are your useless efforts at going away from Krishna.

It is His game; He knows how to take care of it. It is His game and that is why even you are here. Remember, even you could not have been here, had it not been His game. It is His game and He will play it. You do not matter. It hurts, it pinches the ego.

“I don’t matter? I think I am the only one that matters”.

You do not matter; the game will take care of itself. So relax, but that becomes too much.

“I have always been told that my fate is to strive, labour, suffer. How can I just relax?”

This lack of relaxation is evil.

Bhagwad Gita - evil

Do you want to know who an evil man is? The one, who cannot relax, the one who has a thousand responsibilities, the one who thinks that he has any duty other than serving Krishna, is an evil man. And that is the reason why Krishna has to say, “Sarva-dharman parityajya mamekam saranam vraja(Give up your various scriptures, principles and duties and come only to My Grace.)”{ Bhagwad Gita, Chapter-18,Verse-6}

Who is an evil man?  Who has some duty, except the one towards Krishna. It is very difficult to know that because we have an image of the evil. In our image the evil is someone with bloodshot eyes, with a cruel demeanor, out to hurt somebody, not caring. What you do not realize is that in the existential album, evil may have just a totally different face. Existentially evil may be a very responsible man or woman, fulfilling all her duties, full of care and concern. But that is not the image that you have. If you are asked to draw the face of an evil man, you will never draw the face of a caring mother. You will not do that, but therein may lie the evil.

You say, “I am responsible”, “My child”. But Krishna is clearly saying, “Be nirmam(free of my-ness)”(Bhagwad Gita). In your social language, nirmamta (detachment) is an ugly word. The one who does not like the word nirmamta, is also surely the one, who does not like Krishna because Krishna is nirmam.

We need to get rid of these images and if we cannot get rid of them, we at least need to change them. Next time your kid says, “Mamma, draw me an evil man”, draw the face, the soft face of a caring lady probably with a tear or two in her eyes; maybe you can look into the mirror for inspiration. Maybe you can the draw the face of a man who is donating money to a poor man. May be you can draw the face of a responsible employee, a responsible father, the ideal son, the dedicated wife.

I am still not sure that whether Devesh (pointing towards the questioner) understands evil. Krishna says, “Whenever evil rises, I come”. But to see Krishna as Krishna, you have to fist see evil as evil. Evil will rise, Krishna will come. May be evil is already there and Krishna is already there. But to realize Krishna, you also have to realize evil. You do not realize evil because you have images of evil.

You do not look at a man preaching the scriptures and immediately say ‘evil’. Do you do that ? Because that quite does not match with your image.

“Oh! He is a holy man; he is speaking on the Bhagwad Gita, how can he be evil”?

You do not look at the old grandmother praying that the granddaughter gets married before her death. You do not look at this granny and say, ‘evil’, do you do that? In fact, you feel respectful. You do not hurl abuses, you do not clutch her neck, you do not run away shouting, “evil, evil”. In fact, you bow down and touch her feet. Because you cannot see this granny as evil so you cannot also see Krishna, even though He is all around you. When you cannot see the false as false, how will you see the True? For you, that which is false, is comfortably masquerading as the true. How will you ever see the True? You are full of social customs, etiquette, morality, and responsibility. When you are so full of these, then there is no Krishna for you. Remember I am not saying there is no Krishna, I am saying, there is no Krishna for you.

So the Sun might be right vertically up your head but you are that little insect hiding under the rock; there is no Sun for you. Now it does not matter that the rock itself is composed out of the energy of Sun. Does the rock realize that? In its own little world the rock is acting as a barrier to the Sun and the rock is quite pleased about it. The rock does not even realize that its own being comes from the Sun. Without the Sun’s energy, there can be no rock and without the Sun’s energy there cannot be any insect hiding under the rock. The insect itself is the power of the Sun.

Krishna is not one of your mental characters. Krishna doesn’t exist on the plane of your imagination. Krishna is that which is beyond your imagination and yet powers your imagination. Do not think of him as an ordinary being who comes and goes. You come and go. You deliver discourses. Krishna is not the speaker of the Gita, Krishna is the field in which all Gitas are recited and heard. Foolish are those who think that there is Krishna, who is delivering the Gita, and there is Arjun, who is listening to the Gita. No, there is just the field of Krishna. Beyond time, beyond space and in that, the game of leela is happening.

Sometimes, somebody utters a Gita. Sometimes, someone listens to a Gita. It is okay.

The day you start seeing Krishna, you will find it difficult to go to Bhagwad Gita. If someone will ask you, “Have you read the Gita?”, you will say, “Which one?”

What is Gita? The utterance of Krishna. When there is only Krishna, all utterance is His utterance. “All that I read is Gita, all that I see is Krishna. So which particular Gita are you talking of?

Today if mankind is at a point where they have to keep going back to one particular document that was uttered a few thousand years back; and if they have to be dependent on it, if they have to continuously refer to that document as the final word, it is only because of their inner poverty.

The process of Krishna never begins and never stops. He is a continuous creativity. His every movement is Gita.

But you cannot see that, so you have to go back to one particular book. And you keep quoting from that book again and again.

What is this entire world?

In essence, Krishna.

As sight, the beauty of Krishna.

As sound, the flute of Krishna.

As word, the Gita of Krishna.

As diversity, the friends, the companions, animals, trees and rivers of Krishna.

 What else is this world?

Bhagwad Gita - Krishna

Those who claim to respect Krishna are the ones who are actually full of contempt towards Him. They are the ones who limit Him to a statue. They are the ones who make Him into a poster and put up on some wall. They are the ones who do the unthinkable act of celebrating the birthday of Krishna. Now, this is evil.

The Upanishadic wisdom – the entire tradition of Vedanta – came from very developed minds. They certainly knew timekeeping, yet you find no mention of dates on any Vedantic documents. They could have done that. In fact the world’s oldest calendar comes from India. So these people certainly knew this much, they could have put dates there. But they never recorded: who said what and when did somebody say something. They never recorded when was Krishna born, never. And they never recorded when the character called Krishna die. This was out of a simple understanding and respect that He is not a character at all. Characters come and go, so dates can be given to their arrival and departure. But to Krishna, no date should be given. So they never recorded the date. They simply avoided it. And here we are, celebrating Krishna’s birthday every year. This is evil. But again because we have images of evil, so you will never call the so called devotees of Krishna who celebrate Janmashtami as evil. You look at that crowd and the word ‘evil’ simply does not come to your mind. Does it? It does not come to your mind but that is evil.

To think that a Krishna is ever born, is evil. When you realize the essence of Krishna, remember you see both together, you see Krishna as Krishna and you see Maya as Maya (false as false). Maya is not abhorrent anymore because Maya too, you know to be as Krishna, Krishna’s Maya. Maya is just not Maya. Maya is Krishna’s Maya. Yet it is not really Krishna, it belongs to Krishna but it is not Krishna in his purity and simplicity. And because it is Krishna’s Maya, hence calling it evil is not really proper; we will just call it a joke. Or if we are in a foul mood then we can call it a mistake. But let us not go to the extent of calling it evil.

To see Krishna is to rebel against stupidity. It will not be possible for you to keep participating in rubbish. When his flute calls it will not be possible for you to remain engaged in cacophony. That is the only rebellion that is there; that is what Krishna calls as, “I come”. He does not come to you, you go to Him. You go to Him leaving everything else behind. And you don’t bother because whatever you are leaving behind is anyway just a mistake. Not a big deal, is it? To leave the mistakes behind.

Do not be victimized by these conventional images. Those who have interpreted these verses further tell us that Krishna says, “paritranaya sadhunam vinasaya ca duskrtam (I come to redeem the sages and to punish the evil doer; whenever evil rises, I come, to help the good ones and punish all the villains. {Bhagwad Gita, Chapter 4, Verse 8})”. This kind of a screenplay is more suited to a C-grade Bollywood movie, not to this holy existential play. Leela does not operate like this. It is in a cheap thriller that the hero arrives on his sports bike to help the nice oldies.

What kind of sages are these, that need to be helped?

The sage by definition is the one who is no more in need of being helped. Get rid of that image of the sage: “That old man who can be anytime troubled by the mischief makers. So it is now upon a Krishna to come and help this poor man”. Images, images, images… So there are these baddies roaming around, taking away others properties, running away with somebody’s wife, raping a woman in the middle of a court. So Krishna is needed. Our limited, rotten, juvenile minds come up with these kinds of interpretations of the holy verses.

There are no people. These verses refer to the game between the mind and the Centre. These verses do not refer to persons. Never think that ‘sadhunaam(Wisemen) refer to a few persons, ‘duskrtam(evil doers)’, do not think it refers to persons. Till the time you interpret these as persons, you think of yourself as a person. Till the time you think of yourself as a person you do not see yourself as Krishna. When you do not see Krishna, how will you ever know the Gita?

So to read these verses in the person mode is to miss the message of Gita. Gita is spoken by Krishna and is meant to be read only by Krishna. No Arjun can ever understand Gita, never. Only Krishna can understand it. And till the time you insist that you are an Arjun or manav(human), why bother yourself with the Gita?

You do not know Krishna, you refuse to acknowledge the Krishna within you, how will you know Gita?

– Excerpts from a clarity Session held at Advait Sthal. Edited for clarity.

Watch the session at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfQA_HLlfMA

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  1. “What is this entire world?

    In essence, Krishna.

    As sight, the beauty of Krishna.

    As sound, the flute of Krishna.

    As word, the Gita of Krishna.

    As diversity, the friends, the companions, animals, trees and rivers of Krishna.

    What else is this world?”

    Gita and Krishna explained in the most relatable way.


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