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there good and evil in the Baghavad Gita?
By Ben Martin
The reader of the Baghavad Gita is often left puzzled by Krishna's perspective on good and evil. Sometimes he seems to imply that there are absolute standards of righteousness, but other times he appsrently says that there is no good and evil for his devoted worshippers, and he himself certainly has a different standard of good and evil than we expect. We, like Arjuna also, can not tell how we should act given these ambiguities. This, however, is exactly the kind of state Krishna wants us to reach. We should not be concerned with actions and their outcomes, because the goal of a devotee of Krishna is not perfection, but transcendence. Consistent with this, even though good and evil exist, they are irrelevant for the one with knowledge.
Good and evil deeds exist on the lowest, material level of understanding. Krishna often makes references to things that are good or evil, or he implies that something is one or the other, but it appears that he makes this judgment with human standards to appeal to Arjuna. Beyond this level of understanding are the three Qualities of Material Nature: Goodness, Passion, and Dark Inertia. The Qualities determine one's actions and whether they are good or evil. A person in which Goodness dominates will commit more good acts, while a person in which Dark Inertia dominates will commit more evil acts. So, good and evil exist, but they are determined by the Qualities.
Because of this, one can escape the stain of evil acts merely by unattachment. Then he is not responsible, but, rather, his nature is. This is critical, because all persons commit good and evil deeds, even ones yoked to the Yoga of Intellect, as Krishna points out himself (2.50-51). Both are unavoidable if one is to fulfill his dharma, which is, short of devotion to Krishna, the highest goal (3.35), besides being the inescapable destiny of every person. Arjuna faces this very problem; both of his choices are "wrong," but Material Nature and his ksatriya nature will drive him to act anyway (18.59-60). But, if he is unattached, and does not involve his ego, he is free from the stains of evil deeds (5.10, 18.17, et al). He is free to act as he should according to his karma and dharma (18.47-48), without worrying about whether his deeds are good or evil.
Even though one's actions are determined by forces of the Qualities which are beyond his control, all of them are not equal in the eyes of Krishna. Goodness is better than Passion, and both are better than Dark Inertia. This judgment, however, is not determined by which produces more good or evil actions, but by which brings one closest to Krishna. Goodness leads upwards, because out of it arises knowledge (14.17-18). But to reach the final and ultimate goal of the Gita, liberation of the embodied self by devotion to Krishna, one must transcend these three Qualities (14.20) and their good and evil fruit, because, no matter how good a Quality is, it by nature binds self to body (14.5).
When one obtains this goal, transcendence, evil does not matter. One can live an evil life and still attain to Krishna (9.30), and he will be liberated from past evil (10.30, 18.66). In point of fact, light and energy (associated with Goodness and Passion) are the same as delusion (associated with Dark Inertia) (14.22), and good and evil are the same to him. This is the highest level of understanding. Those who have knowledge understand that the universe is not simply divided into to opposing forces; they are not deluded by "pairs of opposites" (7.28). Yes, good and evil still exist, but they are not part of the ultimate reality. Krishna is ultimate reality, and there is only one Krishna, not two opposite ones.
The doctrine that becomes clear is that the follower of Krishna should not concern himself with good and evil. On earth, if he is only unattached he is spared the effects of evil. And, beyond this world, they are a totally inappropriate standard. Therefore, we should act according to our nature, not concerning ourselves with whether such actions are good or evil, nor attaching ourselves to the good or evil fruits of those actions. Furthermore, we should seek Krishna to attain Brahman. Then all things will be meaningless except for the One, Krishna.
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