Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #23 – The Problem of the Problem of Evil

June 3rd, 2024

I was surprised by the emotional reaction from some to my class and the questions and dialogue that ensued.


I was speaking on Nsiha-līlā and somehow a point in the class was made about reconciling evil in the world with the existence of God. This is just a summary of the perspectives on that issue.


“If one has lived a life of dharma and has thus gained the realizations one was meant to get by appropriately responding to one’s karma (destiny), one should be able to look back on all those experiences and understand that the consciousness that has evolved by the lessons of destiny has been worth any of the suffering needed to get there.”


The audience was divided, some seemed to be enlivened by my point and others disturbed. When I say disturbed, no one was disrespectful, but they expressed their personal challenges concerning my point, somewhat intellectually, but more emotionally. Here were the responses as far as I understood them at the time:


“There are so many horrible things that happen to one and it is so difficult to go through them. It seems this kind of philosophy, that it is all one’s fault, just adds to the burden.”


“I can accept that I have learned from my past, but I will find it hard to accept it if God puts me through more.”


“I am trying in devotional service, but these powerful emotions come up again and again. Why?”


“I was just so relieved when the doctor told me after my diagnosis of breast cancer that it wasn’t my fault. Now I find out it is.” [Related to me later.]


I tried to engage with each doubt by tackling the problem of evil comprehensively as I have done before as outlined in a previous Monday Morning Greeting[1], at the same time trying to remain sensitive to people’s individual feelings. It is not easy, however, to satisfactorily respond to a person’s trauma individually, while at the same time remaining cognizant of the collective mind of a whole audience. In fact, there were just as many who expressed how the philosophy has pacified them as people who felt challenged by the discussion. One lady offered a quote from the famous book A Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz:


“Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses suggest that inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him, mentally and spiritually.”


The discussion seemed to be so relevant that the following day I addressed the issue again to another audience in even a more thorough, and in a sense, refined way.[2] A few days later, I contacted one of the people initially raising doubts and asked for the question to be expressed so that I could understand it more clearly. This is what I received:


“It seems like an added cruelty to also hold the victim responsible to fix or move on from the dilemma and also blame them for not having enough faith or mental wherewith-all in the face of their circumstances—how to see God’s benevolence in the actual moment of pain’s infliction, when contending with what seems like that added cruelty?”


After receiving the reply, I began to contemplate if I could’ve responded in class more effectively. I don’t think there is anything more I could have added philosophically during my class or by my writings. I have dealt with this problem comprehensively.[3] In terms, of seeing God’s benevolence in the actual moment of pain, it’s a question of application of the philosophy. I therefore doubt, except in the rarest of instances, if it is the time and place for utilizing the philosophy of karma at all. In terms of speaking of it in a class of devotees, if the point comes up it must be addressed. But perhaps one should be a little cognizant of the trauma and pain that people, especially those growing up in the modern world, experience. The Yoga-sūtras make it clear that compassion (ahi) is the most important or most foundational yama (abstentions) and if there is any conflict with any other principle, such as satya (speaking truthfully), compassion takes precedence.


So, if such a situation arises again, in addition to tackling the issue comprehensively from a philosophical standpoint, I would stress to the audience how carefully the philosophy must be presented, and, of course, how it rarely should be the first response to trauma. Perhaps I could have also stressed another point, that an understanding that we are the ultimate cause of our destiny affirms our agency to change things in the future. That is comforting, while a sense of victimhood robs us of our own agency by externalizing the cause of our suffering, which dampens hope and is depressing.


Conclusion: There is the problem evil, an intellectual challenge, and the problem of the problem of evil, an emotional one. Both are not easily addressed, but I haven’t seen a better approach to this quandary than the Bhāgavatam.



[1] https://wavesofdevotion.com/2018/03/26/believers-and-the-elephant-in-the-room-tackling-the-challenge-of-evil/

[2] Home Program – May 26, 2024

[3] https://wavesofdevotion.com/2017/03/20/the-problem-of-evil/


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