Thursday, 8 August 2013

Evil, Freedom, Suffering and Sport

AN Moorthy Rao

Let us consider how some people explain the existence of evil: "God bestowed on man, right at the time of creation, all the powers and qualities that man needed. He does not want man to be a puppet in His hands. He has, therefore, given man freedom of will. Man is free to use these God-given qualities according to his own judgment. If he uses them for evil purposes it is, then, his own fault and not God's".

Let us apply this logic to the events in this world - past and present. Some years ago, an American youth gained notoriety by committing a series of murders. That is how he decided to use his God-given freedom. He was convicted all right. But, what about the victims of his freedom? Just as he had the 'freedom' to commit the murder, did his victims not have the freedom to live and not to be murdered? To say that they had the 'freedom to escape' is perverse logic. Someone may fire at me through the Window when I am just passing by. How can my freedom prevent it?

God gave freedom to Hitler and millions of people fell victims to it. God gave Gen. Dyer[1] freedom which he too used to slaughter men. Did the victims of these two men I have the freedom not to be killed? Perhaps yes, theoretically. Even so, they were not capable of saving themselves, faced with murderers. Can we throw someone into the sea, bound hand and foot, and then tell him, "You have the freedom to save your life?"

Did God punish Hitler? Eventually, he was defeated and he died. Well, he had to die some day; only, he died • a few years earlier. As for Dyer, he was honoured (for saving the Empire by butchering the innocent) by his people with a purse of 26000 pounds.

Even if they were punished, what did it matter to their victims! Anyway, that there is evil in this world is clear. Where does it come from? Just as there are some religions which believe in a virtuous God, so there are also religions that believe in a person that is evil incarnate. In the Bible, he is called Satan. He is said to be at the root of all evil. But surely, Satan did not create himself. All creation, including Satan, is the work of one God. Then, the responsibility for creating even the evil Satan is certainly God's. There has been no convincing answer to the question: 'Why did God create evil'? So, one can only conclude: 'Evil exists, God does not!’

The Problem of Pain and Misery

For the sake of convenience, let us club mental agony and physical pain and refer to them as 'suffering'. The problem of suffering has troubled me more than the problem of evil. Evil and suffering are possibly, but not necessarily, related. Why did God permit suffering? So far as I know, there are four answers to this question.

1. "Without the experience of suffering, we cannot know happiness". (Even if, for the sake of argument, we assume this to be true, the question arises: why did not God enable us to enjoy happiness without suffering? Well, let us leave it at that.) This is a far-fetched argument. If true, it leads to the conclusion that one cannot be aware of suffering unless one experiences happiness'. But, neither of these two arguments is sound. Is 'happiness' happiness only when it follows sorrow? Can one experience the sweetness of sugar only when one has tasted the bitterness of worm­wood earlier? Give a three-day old infant sugar and it relishes H. This is my personal experience. I was completely unaware of the anguish .of parents who had no children. There was a time when I used to say 'I would rather not have children at all. Nor the responsibility of bringing them up. And if I do have children, I will happily give them away to someone who does not have a child'. But I was, nevertheless, happy when my children were born. I shouldered the responsibility quite gladly - with no prior experience of suffering though!

2. "What we call suffering is, in fact, not suffering in the true sense. Viewed from a narrow and egoistic standpoint, it may be suffering. But for some reason and in some way, our suffering becomes essential in the larger interests of the world. God looks at 'suffering' from a cosmic point of view. Our finite minds are incapable of taking such a cosmic view. So, we experience suffering". This argument can be answered as follows:

  1. That suffering is essential for the larger good of the world is only conjecture, speculation, while suffering is a fact of life.
  2. Could not the all-powerful, all-knowing God achieve the good of the world without suffering? (God has had to face no end of criticism on account of His omnipotence and omniscience!)
  3. The proponents of this agreement assert "Our finite minds are incapable of taking a universal view. We, therefore, experience suffering". Now, what does it imply? That suffering is only an illusion? Even if it is, is the experience of' suffering not real? I knew an elderly gentleman. He headed a govern­ment department, earned a handsome salary and was also quite affluent. But, owing to some mental illness in his old age, he suffered from an illusion that he was extremely poor and, in fact, lived the life of a destitute. He hesitated to spend even a meagre sum on medicines. He complained about his plight to everyone. Till his death, he was a victim of this hallucination. His 'poverty' was, of course, only an illusion, but his suffering as a result of that illusion was a fact!

There is this limerick, ridiculing the view that suffering is not really suffering:

There was a faith - dealer of Deal[2]
Who said 'Pain isn’t real',
But when I sit on a pin,
And it punctures my skin,
I dislike what I fancy I feel!

3. Sport: The ‘sport’ theory is similar to the 'interest of the world' theory. Just as our finite minds cannot comprehend the cosmic system so they cannot comprehend God's sport ('Leela') either.

All that we see in the world around - goodness and evil, pain and pleasure - is God's sport, maya. This is how D.V. Gundappa put it[3]: "Why does the infant in the cradle move its limbs, its eyes and tongue? For sport, just sport. Play is natural to energy. God's energy is infinite and His energy plays in a hundred different ways. It is natural for energy to act. It knows no laws. Divine energy indulges in sport as it wills. Creation, the working of the world, the dissolution of the world, all flow from this sport. They are all the sport of Ishwara .... And since He is Ishwara he must have subjects, mustn't He? Or else, whose 'Ishwara' or Master is He? Ishwara is a relative term. It requires action. God wished to rule and so created this world.

And so, this world was created that God might rule.
... ·purusha evedam sarvam', 'Sarvam khalvidam Bramha'.

DVG did not invent this argument. It has been advanced for centuries. The authorities[4] cited by him in support of this argument make this clear.

The idea of God's sport is found in the West also. We find these words in Shakespeare's 'King Lear':

As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;
They kill us for their sport. (IV, 37-8)

(These are the words of one of the characters - Gloucester; we should not assume that they express Shakespeare's own views.)

The same view is found in Thomas Hardy’s novel 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles'. At the end of the novel, after the heroine Tess has been hanged, Hardy bitterly comments on 'the sport of God’: 'The President of the Immortals had ended His sport with Tess'.

The words of Shakespeare and Hardy do not support 'the sport of God'. Bitterness, man's helplessness and the feeling that God is heartless are strikingly expressed in them. But DVG accepts and commends this sport. If we examine his argument it will be seen that orthodoxy has got the better of logic. Explaining the amusement of the sport, he compares God's 'leela' to an infant's movements of its limbs. He says that this activity is mere sport. In other words, there is no purpose behind these movements. To act, to engage in play is in the very nature of energy'. Where there is energy, there is sport. The sport is not governed by any set of rules.

But, DVG has attributed to this God, who is not governed by any law or compulsion, the desire for action ­'karma'. "God decided to rule and hence created this world". But ruling requires a system, a machinery (we have discussed this earlier). A system demands willed action. This means that God must have decided, prior to creation, the nature and form of the world He was going to create. Creation, then, could not have been as purposeless an act as the movements of an infant! 'Everything is just 'leela' and 'this world was created only so that Ishwara may rule over it' - one of these statements must be wrong!

'Sarvam khalvidam Brahma' (all this is Brahma) and. 'Purusha evedam sarvam' (all this is Purusha) - DVG has quoted both these statements ( 'Devaru' - page 21). The statement 'all is Brahma' contradicts the other statement that God created this world. If all is Brahma, then, this world could not have been Brahma's creation, but only His manifestation.

Looking at the ways of the world, one hardly finds any evidence of a wise force with clearly defined aims at work. About one lakh people died in Iran in an earthquake last month. A larger number must have been injured and rendered homeless. Why do such things happen? Why should the lava spew out of volcanoes and kill people? Why wars? And why homicidal tendencies in man, insane tendencies that destroy millions of innocent people, tendencies that even slaughter our own people? Why is. it that we are still slaves of emotions like selfishness and hatred, even millions of years after Homo Sapiens first appeared on this planet and in spite of the teachings of men like Socrates and Buddha? Who planted this weakness in us?

From my teens, I have often seen a heart-rending scene: little children in rags, some even naked, with pathetic faces, broken earthen pots in their hands, hovering around houses where auspicious pipes are playing and happy events (like marriages) are celebrated, and these children and their parents, grabbing at the left­over food that is thrown into the dust bins. This is such a common sight that even as I write these lines, I cannot help feeling that this is a cliché. Cannot God see this? Has even one of those hundreds of children ever risen above that plight and tasted happiness? Can they ever even dream of rising above it? Dare we tell those children "Your hunger is in fact not hunger, shivering is not shivering and your agony is not agony. It is all just one facet of the Universal Order" or "All your suffering is God's lila (Maya)"? Is it for this kind of 'governing' that God created this world? Is He governing or is He indulging in bizarre games?

Our Mahabharata is, in fact, a scathing indictment by Vyasa of this theory of 'Lila Vilaasa'. Yayathi who sought to satisfy his lust even at the cost of his son's youth: Shantanu, who for the sake of his own happiness could deny conjugal happiness to his son: Ganga, who threw away her children into the river: the same Shantanu who acquiesced in the murder of his children lest his lust should be denied satisfaction: Kunti, who, in the foot-steps of Ganga, set her own son afloat in a river; Duryodhana, who tried to kill the Pandavas by setting fire to the house of wax where they were staying; Dhritarashtra, who so doted on his son that he kept exclaiming 'Has he won? Has he won?' though the son cheated at dice, and who till the very end,danced to the evil tunes of his wicked son: Bhishma and Drona who were contemplating finer points of Dharma when Draupadhi was being disrobed and Duryodhana bared his thigh to her; Draupadhi who, as if she had not suffered enough because of the atrocities of Duryodhana and others, was again harassed by Jayadratha and Keechaka; Bheema, who drank the blood of Dushyasana and so on and on - did God - a sportive God! - indulge in a sport by making puppets of these men and women?

Finally, the Pandavas are said to have won the war, but for what enjoyment? Yudhishtara was not delighted on ascending the throne! It seems Mahabharata is also called 'Jaya' (victory). This is an irony. But the greater irony is the sight of even Duryodhana, Dushyasana and their friends triumphantly seated on thrones in Heaven!
If God who plays such strange and perverse games were to tell us: "Surrender to me and I shall take care of your welfare" ('Mamekam sharanam vraja' or 'Yogakshemam vahamyaham'), then man must summon the courage to tell Him: "Don't you trouble yourself. I shall seek my fellowmen's help and take care of myself" (Vahami Aham). Salvation of man can come from man alone. This, for us, would be a healthy attitude.

4. The fourth answer to the question of suffering and also the answer to the question: "Why did God create evil?" are the same: "God did not force suffering on you. It is your own making. It is you who misuse God-given freedom and resort to unjust action. Your suffering is the result of your own actions (karma)".

We have already discussed the issue of 'freedom' earlier. Those who argue" It is you who resort to unjust actions" must answer the question; who is this 'You'? It cannot be, obviously, individuals. It has to refer to the whole of mankind. The proponents of this argument seem to treat all mankind as 'one individual'. If the whole population of the world be only one individual, then it is possible to say "Well, you did it and you pay for it". But, there are in this world, billions of people. Quite often the ones who commit evil deeds and the ones who suffer the consequences of those deeds are entirely different. The victims of Gen. Dyer's monstrous act were innocent people! And, Gen. Dyer got in return not suffering but a reward of 26,000 pounds.

Misery is not always the result of someone's evil deeds. It may also be due to natural phenomena such as an earthquake. But one can find sufficient evidence to show that human suffering is more due to God (if He exists) than to man's evil actions or natural phenomena. Suffering and violence are woven into life. We cannot separate suffering from life any more than we can separate our limbs from the body. Carnivorous animals like the tiger and the lion kill deer for their food. This cannot be called an 'evil' deed or a 'sin'. It is their nature to eat flesh, not grass. If they don't kill other animals, they themselves will have to starve to death.
Zoologists say that if there were no carnivorous animals, there would have been an excessive growth of the deer population leading to starvation deaths among them. May be that is true. But, what a cruel system! There is no life without suffering!

Bacteria causing diseases like cholera, plague and typhoid have no ill-will towards us. To live and grow inside our bodies, causing suffering and even death, is their very natural activity. We cannot brand those activities as 'sin'. Just as burning is the very nature (Dharma)[5] of fire, so causing diseases in man is the very nature of these bacteria. Our survival demands that we kill them. If we don't, we cannot live!

Life on earth is built on such a strange, harsh and cruel system! Why couldn't the all-knowing, all-powerful God think of a better system?

The very existence of evil, violence and suffering only makes it abundantly clear that "A merciful and compassionate God does not exist".

[1] This man, Gen. Dyer, butchered thousands of innocent and unarmed men and women at Jalianwallabagh in Amritsar in 1919. The govemment found him guilty and secured his resignation. But, it granted him a pension and other benefits.

[2] I am relying entirely on my memory and hence may not be accurate. I do not remember the poet's name.

[3] 'Devaru' - pages 20-21

[4] DVG has also quoted the words "devasyaisha swabhavoyam" from the Mandukyakarika (1-9) and 'lokavattu leela kaivalyam from the Brahmasutras (2.1.33) (page 20)

[5] In this context, 'dharma' means inborn quality. That quality without which X cannot be X is its 'dharma'

Akkihebbalu Narasimha Murthy Rao (June 16, 1900—August 23, 2003) was an eminent Kannada writer.  He was the first Director of Kannada and Culture Department of the Karnataka Government.

His popular book, Devaru (God), won (1992) the Pampa Award instituted by the Government of Karnataka.

This essay is Chapter VI (Evil, Freedom, Suffering, and Sport of the book, which was translated into English by Prof LS Seshagiri Rao and published by Kannada Sahitya Parishath, Bangalore in 1995


Devaru by A N Murty Rao is a classical write up.He advises men that they are already powered to decide for themselves and there is no need to be blesses again

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