The world is so confused and out of joint, why does Brahma not set it straight? If he is master of the whole world, Brahma, lord of the many beings born, why in the whole world did he ordain misfortune? --Bhuridatta Jataka

One He causes to believe; one He causes to disbelieve; one He causes to be rich; one He causes to be poor... one He allows to do good; one He allows to do evil; one He causes to enter Heaven; one He causes to enter Hell... --Al-Attas

Hindu and Sufi Origins of Evil

Sufism,1 a monotheistic, mystical faith, is usually practiced in the context of a Muslim tradition, with relatively unified, cohesive, and internally consistent doctrines and myths. Hinduism,2 on the other hand, is a complex of highly diverse polytheistic religions whose myths and doctrines are numerous and often contradictory. The former faith originated in the Middle East in the twelfth or thirteenth century AD, the latter in the Indian subcontinent around 1500 BC. Are these religions' views regarding the origin of evil comparable in any way, or are they as different as one would expect considering their diverse beliefs, practices and origins?

To the Sufis, God is a Unity of existence and everything is within and part of God. Both good (baik) and evil (jahat) are from God. Yet, God Most Exalted wills (and approves) only good, and does not will and approve evil. The inherent paradox of this view and thus the problem of evil are acknowledged in the Sufi tradition, and attempts are made to address them.

To the Hindus all of existence is also a unity, Brahman. But the manifestations of God in Hinduism are many, from Brahma, the Creator deity, to a host of lesser gods. Though part of Brahman, as all thing are, evil, papa, has no consistent origin to the Hindus. The problem of evil is also alternately affirmed and denied (from authority to authority, and from scholar to scholar) as having relevance to Hinduism.

In the Sufi account, the original, undifferentiated, transcendent God differentiates Himself and then through an involved processes becomes creation articulating itself to itself. As part of this creation both the power to rebel, resist and transgress as well as the power to subdue are manifest in the attribute of God called Divine Majesty.

It is the sinner, in his essence manifesting Divine Majesty, that justly suffers and is redeemed. Yet the sinner himself is God who suffers both as agent and as patient of evil, and in that is made manifest to him his own Power, his own Majesty.

At the same time, manifesting as He who Wills and Approves, God wills only good, fidelity and righteousness.

In Hinduism too there are many manifestations and apparent contradictions.

In order to distinguish actions, the creator seperated dharma and adharma and made the pairs of opposites such as happiness and unhappiness. Though here the creator god is willingly creating evil, it is, paradoxically, considered a good act; since, without distinguishing features such as good and evil the universe would not exist.

Here there is a clear parallel between the Sufi and Hindu accounts of evil. Both come from the unity and are a consequence of the differentiation of that unity. However, there are differences in motives between the Sufis' God who wishes to manifest himself to himself versus the Hindu god's wish for there to simply be a world. In neither case are the motives further explained (it is not clear why the Sufi God wish to manifest to himself, nor why the Hindu god wish to create the world), but at least the origin of evil is addressed.

It is more difficult to draw parallels with Sufism to other Hindu accounts of the origin of evil.

In one account the Hindu creator god is forced, by time or karma, to create evil. He does not consider evil 'a good thing' but cannot avoid it. Still other accounts have God dismembering himself in a cosmic sacrifice to create the four classes of men, along with evil elements (and sometimes Man himself) from god's own ignoble parts.

The God of the Sufis can not be forced, so a clear discrepancy is evident between the above account and that of Sufism. The dismemberment of the Hindu god could be analogous to the differentiation of the Sufi God, but there the similarity ends, for the Sufis would not consider any part of their God to be ignoble.

There are Hindu accounts of gods atoning for their own transgressions by transferring their evil to other gods or to man.

In Sufism God also transgresses against himself in his Majesty, however the evil of that act is not expiated by transferring it to Man as in Hinduism. Instead the expiation is achieved through suffering.

These accounts barely scratch the surface of the variety of explanations for the origin of evil in Hinduism. Yet it is clear that in many important respects they differ widely from the single account that is given by the Sufis. In particular, the Sufi account seems to seek a glorification of God, while the Hindu accounts are much more ambivalent about the characteristics of their gods, allowing them to be imperfect.

1The account of Sufism, as described here, will be taken from John Bousfield's Good, evil and spiritual power: Reflections on Sufi teachings, published in David Parkin's Anthropology of Evil, 1979

2The account of Hinduism is taken from Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty's The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology, 1976 along with the Wikipedia entry on Hinduism:

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