[Advaita-l] Shankara on "The Problem of Evil"

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Fri Oct 24 09:51:33 CDT 2003

Shankara argues against what can be better called "The Problem of
Injustice" in the Brahma sUtra BhAshhya 2.1.34-36:

(Translation by Swami Gambhirananda)

Brahma sUtra 2.1.34: "No partiality and cruelty (can be charged against
God) because of (His) taking other factors into consideration."

Shankara's Commentary:

Opponent: God cannot reasonably be the cause of the world.
For that would lead to the possibility of partiality and cruelty. For
it can be reasonably concluded that God has passion and hatred like
some ignoble persons, for He creates an unjust world by making some
experience happiness e.g. gods and others, some experience extreme
misery e.g. animals etc., and some experience moderate happiness and
sorrow e.g. humans etc. Hence there will be a nullification of God's
nature of extreme purity, (unchangeability), etc., that are declared in
the Vedas and Smritis. And owing to infliction of misery and
destruction on all creatures, God will be open to the charge of
pitilessness and extreme cruelty, abhorred even by a villain. Thus on
account of the possibility of partiality and cruelty, God is not an
agent (i.e. the cause of the world).

Vedantin: To this we say, "No partiality or cruelty can be charged
against God."
How can this be so?
"Because of His taking other factors into consideration." Had God
created this erratic world by Himself, irrespective of other factors,
He would be open to these charges of partiality and cruelty. But in His
isolation (from these) He has no creatorship, for God makes this
unequal creation by taking the help of other factors. 
What factors does he take into consideration?
We say that these are merit and demerit. No fault attaches to God,
since this unequal creation is brought about in conformity with the
virtues and vices of the creatures that are about to be born...Thus God
is not open to the defects of partiality and cruelty, since He takes
other factors into consideration...

3.1.35 "If it be argued that it is not possible (to take Karma into
consideration in the beginning), since the fruits of work remain still
undifferentiated, then we say, no, since the transmigratory state has
no beginning."

Shankara's Commentary:

Opponent: There could have been no Karma before creation, in accordance
with which a diverse universe could have emerged; for
nondifferentiation is emphasized in the text, "O amiable one, in the
beginning all this was but Existence, one without a second. (Ch. U.
4.2.1). it is only after creation that results of work, depending on
the diversification into bodies etc. could be possible, and the
differentiation into bodies could be possible by depending on the
results of work. This will lead to the fallacy of mutual dependence
(logical seesaw). Thus, well may God become active by depending on the
fruits of work after the creation of multiplicity. But before this
emergence of diversity it would perforce be without any variety, since
the fruits of work bringing about differentiation would be absent. 

Vedantin: That is no defect, since the transmigratory state has no
beginning. This defect would have arisen if transmigration had a
beginning. But if that state has no beginning, there is nothing
contradictory for the fruits of work and the variety in creation to act
as cause and effect of each other on the analogy of the seed and
How again is it known that this transmigratory state has no beginning?
To this the answer is:

2.1.36: "Moreover, this is logical, and (so) it is met with (in the

Shankara's Commentary:

And it is logical for the transmigratory existence to have no
beginning; for had it emerged capriciously all of a sudden, then there
would have been the predicament of freed souls also being reborn here,
as also the contigency of results accruing from non-existing causes,
for the differences in happiness and misery would have no logical


And we realize the beginningless of creation from the Vedas and the
Smritis. In the Vedas, for instance, occurs the text, "Myself entering
into this as the embodied soul (jIva-AtmA - living being)" (Ch. U.
6.3.2). Referring to the beginning of creation, this text speaks of the
embodied soul as the "living being" on account of its sustaining life,
and thereby it shows that creation, this text through the word jIva
(living one) which comes into use from the fact of supporting the life
process (jIvana)? ... And the mantra text, "The Ordainer created the
sun and moon like those of previous cycles" (Rig Veda 10.190.3) shows
the existence of earlier cycles of creation...The conclusion made in
the Puranas also is that the past and future cycles of creation are



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