Thanatopsis: An Integral Meditation on Evil

As a follow-up our earlier video on The Integral Stage, Sacrilegious and Sexy AF, which was featured here on Integral Life, we have produced an episode on the topic of evil. How do we understand and relate to it integrally? Is there any place for this concept in an integral postmetaphysical spirituality? I hope you enjoy the episode, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Video is unavailable on YT. Probably sorted out by the bots?

That’s odd; I don’t know. It is still there, and I don’t think Integral Life is blocking it. I can access it in this post even when I’m signed out, in guest mode.

Maybe it is only here in Europe.

Hello Bruce, Layman,
It will take me a while to get to this, but I wanted to tell you that I just watched the TIS “God-Talk” episode a couple of days ago. Listening to Bruce start it off with his “negative” view of God-talk, I was saying “yes! yes! yes!” And then I listened to Layman with his “positive” view, and again, it was “yes! yes! yes!” Then I realized, oh yes, we must be Integralists…

It was a great conversation and really enjoyable listening/watching you two, love the humor, you made me laugh, as well as think. Thank you!

Thank you for listening to it, LaWanna, and for your feedback. It was one of our earliest videos. I kind of want to go back and redo it, now that I have a bit more practice…

This episode of TIS sent me to Chapter 14 of Aurobindo’s The Life Divine to review his take on “The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong, and Evil,” which was really significant to me at one time. He examines evil from three points of view: in relation to the Absolute or supreme Reality; evil’s origin and place in the cosmic workings; and its action and “point of hold” in the individual being.

As you might imagine, his take is that evil (along with falsehood, error, and wrongness) have no direct root in the supreme Reality: “…there is nothing there that has this character; they are creations of the Ignorance and Inconscience, not fundamental or primary aspects of the Being, not native to the Transcendence or to the infinite power of the Cosmic Spirit.” "If the limited Knowledge which is the nature of Ignorance, renounces its limitations, if Ignorance disappears into Knowledge, evil and falsehood can no longer endure: for both are fruits of unconsciousness and wrong consciousness and, if true or whole consciousness is there replacing Ignorance, they have no longer any basis for their existence. There can therefore be no absolute of falsehood, no absolute of evil; these things are a by-product of the world movement: the sombre flowers of falsehood and suffering and evil have their root in the black soil of the Inconscient (unconsciousness or without conscious thought). …the relativity of truth and error, good and evil is a fact of our experience, but it is similarly a by-product, it is not a permanent factor native to existence…" (Emphasis mine)

And this: “Therefore, the relation of truth to falsehood, of good to evil is not a mutual dependence, but is in the nature of a contradiction as of light and shadow: a shadow depends on light for its existence, but light does not depend for its existence on the shadow. The relation between the Absolute and these contraries of some of its fundamental aspects is not that they are opposite fundamental aspects of the Absolute; falsehood and evil have no fundamentality, no power of infinity or eternal being…” (Doesn’t that make you happy?)

And yes, of course, there is evil in the manifest world, for “…once truth or good manifests, the conception of falsehood and evil becomes a possibility; for whenever there is an affirmation, its negation becomes conceivable…and because conceivable, therefore in a way inevitable, for all possibilities push towards actuality,” “It may be said on this ground that these opposites (evil, etc.)…can take rank as implied absolutes and are inseparable from all cosmic existence. But…it is only in cosmic manifestation that they become possible; they cannot pre-exist in the timeless being, for they are incompatible with the unity and bliss that are its substance. In cosmos also, they cannot come into being, except by a limitation of truth and good into partial and relative forms and by a breaking up of the unity of existence and consciousness into separative consciousness and separative being. …As soon as separateness enters, these things (evil, wrong, etc.) also can enter; but even this simultaneity is not inevitable. If there is sufficient mutuality, even in the absence of an active sense of oneness, and if the separate beings do not transgress or deviate from their norms of limited knowledge, harmony and truth can still be sovereign and evil will have no gate of entry. There is, therefore, no authentic inevitable cosmicity of falsehood and evil.…they…arise only at a certain stage when separativeness culminates in opposition and ignorance in a primitive unconsciousness of knowledge and a resultant wrong consciousness and wrong knowledge with its content of wrong will, wrong feeling, wrong action, and wrong reaction.”

He goes on to talk about views in ancient myth and traditional religion and common to all systems of occult knowledge of there being “Forces of Darkness/Evil” (as well as Forces of Light/Good) in the invisible cosmos, and says: “The theory of this traditional knowledge is perfectly rational and verifiable by inner experience, and it imposes itself if we admit the supraphysical and do not cabin ourselves in the acceptation of material being as the only reality.” And, “Modern thought is aware of no invisible forces other than those revealed or constructed by Science; it does not believe that Nature is capable of creating any other beings than those around us in the physical world, men, beasts, birds, reptiles, fishes, insects, germs and animalculae. But if there are invisible cosmic forces physical in their nature that act upon the body of inanimate objects, there is no valid reason why there should not be invisible cosmic forces mental and vital in their nature that act upon his mind and his life-force.” So he says, these representations of the past of invisible cosmic forces or powers are true at least in principle, and reminds us that when we look into ourselves deeply, we find that “…the mind, heart and sensational being of man are moved by forces not under his own control and that he can become an instrument in the hands of Energies of a cosmic character without knowing the origins of his actions.” “…He can realize that he is…an embodied soul through whose action cosmic Nature is seeking to fulfill itself, the living ground of a vast debate
between a darkness of Ignorance out of which it emerges here and a light of Knowledge which is growing upwards towards an unforeseen termination.” And he emphasizes again that error, falsehood, evil are cosmic powers, but relative in their nature, not absolute; they are not “…primal powers of the cosmos, but creations of Life or of Mind in life.”

“The duality begins with conscious life and emerges fully with the development of mind in life; the vital mind, the mind of desire and sensation, is the creator of the sense of evil and of the fact of evil. Moreover, in animal life, the fact of evil is there, the evil of suffering and the sense of suffering, the evil of violence and cruelty and strife and deception, but the sense of moral evil is absent; in animal life there is no duality of sin or virtue, all action is neutral and permissible for the preservation of life and its maintenance and for the satisfaction of the life-instincts. The sensational values of good and evil are inherent in the form of pain and pleasure, vital satisfaction and vital frustration, but the moral idea, the moral response of the mind to these values are a creation of the human being.”

Then he talks about all the ways we try to arrive at an ethical system of what is good and evil, right and wrong, for ourselves, from individual ideas to utilitarian and social law to intellectual or cosmic principles to religion, culminating with rejecting all of them, including conscience, as being ultimately unsatisfactory, to say “…there is certainly within us, though less easily active, more masked by surface elements, a deeper spiritual sense, the soul’s discernment, an inborn light within our nature.”

This is a great chapter, very in-depth; I barely scratched the surface. To the extent I understand the chapter, and I think I do most of it, I agree. I certainly think Ignorance/Inconscience and Separativeness are at the root of the “evil.” I think the Thanatopsis speakers hit upon some of these points as well, in different language, and maybe disagreed with some of this too. But thanks to all of you for the opportunity to revisit this topic, and for the obvious effort you put into your presentations.

So let’s end this with an inspirational quote from the Gita:

“One whose intelligence has attained to Unity, casts away from him both sin and virtue.”

An interesting read and some of the same conclusions I’ve come to in my own investigations and meditations on such matters. However one question that still comes up and lingers from time to time is the recognition that yes the Absolute is NOT evil and is outside of such distinctions of Good/Evil one could say, the experience of going through such divisions and pains IS, and is the Absolute, since there is nothing that is not.

This seems to trigger a human mind rule or idea that well if something acts/creates/is something, like a someone rapeing someone else is causing them pain and the causer of an-others suffering, this person/ phenomenon/ system would be hard pressed to be called considerate/loving/thoughtful/ideal/smart, and other traditional objection to god questions, why would god do this (perhaps stemming from a god out there creating the world here type of framework) or do this to itself, where is more of where I’m coming from, (a non-dual, self recognition of Self type of framework). Also answers like well to discover itself and experience itself, also fail to really adequately answer this, since it then can make one wonder about such matters as why would Absolute Love and perfection create or generate consciously/ or intrinsically with no conscious intent, painful horrific experiences (that yes can be seen through one could say, but yet still was the journey through such matters to find out so).

Hello Mu1,
Since Aurobindo says it so better than I ever could, let me quote a little more, from the same book, but Chapter 4, “The Divine and the Undevine.” These passages seem relevant to your questioning, or are at least a starting point for further thought and consideration.

"Once we admit a divine government of the universe, we must conclude that the power to govern is complete and absolute; for otherwise we are obliged to suppose that a being and consciousness infinite and absolute has a knowledge and will limited in their control of things or hampered in their power of working. It is not impossible to concede that the supreme and immanent Divinity may leave a certain freedom of working to something that has come into being in his perfection but is itself imperfect and the cause of imperfection, to an ignorant or inconscient Nature, to the action of the human mind and will, even to a conscious Power or Forces of darkness and evil that take their stand upon the reign of a basic Inconscience. But none of these things are independent of Its own existence, nature and consciousness, and none of them can act except in Its presence and by Its sanction or allowance. Man’s freedom is relative and he cannot be held solely responsible for the imperfection of his nature. Ignorance and inconscience of Nature have arisen, not independently, but in the one Being…" (bold emphases mine)

"…we must realize that the existence of ignorance, error, limitation, suffering, division and discord in the world need not by itself, as we too hastily imagine, be a denial or a disproof of the divine being, consciousness, power, knowledge, will, delight in the universe. They can be that if we have to take them by themselves separately, but need not be so taken if we get a clear vision of their place and significance in a complete view of the universal workings. A part broken off from the whole may be imperfect, ugly, incomprehensible; but when we see it in the whole, it recovers its place in the harmony, it has a meaning and a use. The Divine Reality is infinite in its being; in this infinite being, we find limited being everywhere…"

"There is then no real division or limitation of being, no fundamental contradiction of the omnipresent Reality; but there does seem to be a real limitation of consciousness; there is an ignorance of self, a veiling of the inner Divinity, and all imperfection is its consequence.

“At every turn it is the divine Reality which we can discover behind that which we are yet compelled by the nature of the superficial consciousness in which we dwell to call undivine and in a sense are right in using that appellation; for these appearances are a veil over the Divine Perfection, a veil necessary for the present, but not at all the true and complete figure.”

“All this imperfection is to us evil, but all evil is in travail of the eternal good; for all is an imperfection which is the first condition–in the law of life evolving out of Inconscience–of a greater perfection in the manifesting of the hidden divinity. But at the same time our present feeling of this evil and imperfection, the revolt of our consciousness against them is also a necessary valuation; for if we have first to face and endure them, the ultimate command on us is to reject, to overcome, to transform the life and the nature. It is for that end that their insistence is not allowed to slacken; the soul must learn the results of the Ignorance, must begin to feel their reactions as a spur to its endeavour of mastery and conquest and finally to a greater endeavour of transformation and transcendence.” …"This then is the law of the manifestation, the reason of the imperfection here. True, it is a law of manifestation only and, even, a law special to this movement in which we live, and we may say that it need not have been,–if there were no movement of manifestation or not this movement; but, the manifestation and the movement being given, the law is necessary."

Thanks for the lengthy reply, but it still doesn’t really answer the original thoughts of this whole shebang. And I’m not really sure they can or need to be answered.

I wrote something on this subject you might find interesting.

Could the answer be: Conceptualization can impede enlightenment?

Check the 5 reasons… on this site.

In my case it’s available! I’m in Austria right now.