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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Good and Evil

It is commonplace among many cultures to assume a duality between two competing forces, one wholly good and the other wholly evil and opposed to the first. Orthodox Christianity has God and Satan (or the Devil), Orthodox Islam has Allah and Iblis, Hinduism has the devas and the asuras. Zoroastrianism is often believed to be a dualism between Ahura Mazda and Ahriman. Shint¯ has the sun goddess Amaterasu and the storm god Susa-no-¯. All these fundamental dualisms arise either from a misinterpretation of their basic scripture or from inconsistent theologies. For example, a Being, whether good or evil, can only act where it is, but if Deity is omnipresent and benevolent there is nowhere an Evil Being could act. Zoroastrianism is not really a fundamental dualism, but rather it clearly states that both good and evil tendencies reside in human beings, evil being just our misuse of our inherent divine power, not a temptation from a source external to us. In fact the word “Satan” merely means “adversary” and implies in Judeo-Christian-Islamic religion a similar human tendency to be tempted by our own desires. Iblis, in Islam, is “the proud one” — also called Satan or shaitani.e., “Distant” in Arabic. Both are suggestive of a sense of separateness or egotism, again indicating that evil resides in us, not in some separate being. In Shinto, Susa-no-o merely personifies our often stormy or undisciplined nature.

Helena P. BLAVATSKY clearly states this in The Secret Doctrine (II:389):

There is no Devil, no Evil, outside mankind to produce a Devil. Evil is a necessity . . . for progress and evolution, as night is necessary for the production of Day, and Death for that of Life. . . . Satan represents metaphysically simply the reverse or the polar opposite of everything in nature. He is the “adversary,” allegorically, . . . because there is nothing in the whole universe that has not two sides — the reverses of the same medal. But in that case, light, goodness, beauty, etc., may be called Satan with as much propriety as the Devil, since they are the adversaries of darkness, badness, and ugliness.

Were it not for contrasts, the human mind could neither understand nature nor develop moral strength on its evolutionary journey by struggling against involutionary forces, which are just as divine. Again, to quote Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine (II:214):

According to the views of the Gnostics, these two principles are immutable Light and Shadow, Good and Evil being virtually one and having existed through all eternity, as they will ever continue to exists so long as there are manifested worlds.

As the old adage has it “Daemon est Deus inversus,” i.e., “Demon is Deity inverted” (cf. Ibid., II, p. 412). Or to put it less metaphysically “it is neither nature nor an imaginary Deity that has to be blamed, but human nature made vile by seflishness” (ML, p. 274).

The “Problem of Evil,” which has puzzled theologians for centuries, is resolved in theosophy by the doctrines of involution and evolution along with the twin doctrines of karma and reincarnation. When people find themselves in situations which would normally be incompatible with that expected from a benevolent Deity, it is not God who is to blame, but their own past actions, perhaps done in previous incarnations. And when they grow in spirituality, they do so not without struggle, for the essence of spiritual growth is getting rid of egotism, the sense of separateness — and that egotism, that sense of individuality, has been developed naturally in the long course of involution. As it has been sometimes put, we involve from a state of unconscious perfection into a state of conscious imperfection only to evolve to a condition of conscious perfection. It is in the middle part of our journey that so-called “evil” exists.

See also EVIL.


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