How does Buddhism explain the existence of evil?

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How does Buddhism explain the existence of evil?

Postby rybak303 » Fri Sep 10, 2010 7:57 am

I have been studying Christianity and its explanation for evil and pain in the world. I was wondering what the Buddhist reply is to the question of where evil comes from and why evil and pain exist in the world, both in man and in nature? Does Buddhism believe in Satan and sin as the cause for evil?
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Re: How does Buddhism explain the existence of evil?

Postby Ben » Fri Sep 10, 2010 9:04 am

Hi Rybak

Evil doesn't come from anywhere except within. Very basically, the three unwholesome roots or 'poisons' are ignorance, craving and aversion, and all misery is traced back to those three roots. The progenitor of craving and aversion is ignorance. As Buddhists we engage in practice to eradicate these three roots and how they manifest as discrete mental defilements.

With regards to pain - that depends upon what you mean. Depending upon what you mean - there are detailed explanations. But if you mean what I think you mean - difficult situations people find themselves, its the result (fruition) of one's kamma. Again, very basically, what you sow, so you shall reap. If you act with unwholesome intentions, so misery will follow. If you act with wholesome intentions, so happiness will follow. It is the Buddhist doctrine of causation.

There is no direct correlation between satan and any being in the Buddhist pantheon. A manifestation of 'evil' is a being of the deva realm known as Mara. But Mara is, like all beings, conditioned and does not live forever. Before the present being known as Mara, the jatakas (birth stories of the Buddha) suggest that the Buddha's personal attendant, Ananda, was the previous 'Mara'. Another thing to remember is that Mara is the one who endeavours to keep beings rolling around samsara - not necessarily trapped in hell realms. In one sutta, Mara, appearing in the retinue of the Brahma Baku, is portrayed as being the one who endeavours to keep Brahma deluded in believing he was the one who created the universe and the father of all beings.
But for many Buddhists, Mara is just an anthropomorphism of the five hindrances of sloth-torpor, restlessness-worry, sensual desire, doubt and ill-will, or mental defilements.
kind regards

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Re: How does Buddhism explain the existence of evil?

Postby Paññāsikhara » Fri Sep 10, 2010 9:50 am

rybak303 wrote:I have been studying Christianity and its explanation for evil and pain in the world. I was wondering what the Buddhist reply is to the question of where evil comes from and why evil and pain exist in the world, both in man and in nature? Does Buddhism believe in Satan and sin as the cause for evil?


Buddhism doesn't talk about "evil" that much, and doesn't really have the notion of "sin".

What it does have, though, is the notion of "dissatisfaction" (sometimes rendered as "suffering", or "pain"), and the "cause of dissatisfaction". The cause is defiled or afflicted states of mind. The root afflictions are craving, aversion and delusion. These mentally afflicted or defiled states lead to dissatisfaction as a result, through a natural process. This natural process is that of "action and result" (karma-vipaka), which is described as operating as "dependent origination". When the causes are present, the result comes naturally.

None of this necessitates some "evil force" such as Satan or the Devil, at all. However, there is a notion of "Mara" in Buddhism. Literally "mara" is from the word for "death" (mr), though it has several meanings: One of those meanings is simply mental afflictions / defilements (as described above). Though another meaning is an actual powerful evil being. However, the appearance of such a powerful evil being is very rare, and even then, it doesn't have a huge amount of power to affect people. The definition of "mara" as afflictions is probably more important.
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Re: How does Buddhism explain the existence of evil?

Postby Paññāsikhara » Fri Sep 10, 2010 9:51 am

Ben wrote:Hi Rybak

Evil doesn't come from anywhere except within. Very basically, the three unwholesome roots or 'poisons' are ignorance, craving and aversion, and all misery is traced back to those three roots. The progenitor of craving and aversion is ignorance. As Buddhists we engage in practice to eradicate these three roots and how they manifest as discrete mental defilements.

With regards to pain - that depends upon what you mean. Depending upon what you mean - there are detailed explanations. But if you mean what I think you mean - difficult situations people find themselves, its the result (fruition) of one's kamma. Again, very basically, what you sow, so you shall reap. If you act with unwholesome intentions, so misery will follow. If you act with wholesome intentions, so happiness will follow. It is the Buddhist doctrine of causation.

There is no direct correlation between satan and any being in the Buddhist pantheon. A manifestation of 'evil' is a being of the deva realm known as Mara. But Mara is, like all beings, conditioned and does not live forever. Before the present being known as Mara, the jatakas (birth stories of the Buddha) suggest that the Buddha's personal attendant, Ananda, was the previous 'Mara'. Another thing to remember is that Mara is the one who endeavours to keep beings rolling around samsara - not necessarily trapped in hell realms. In one sutta, Mara, appearing in the retinue of the Brahma Baku, is portrayed as being the one who endeavours to keep Brahma deluded in believing he was the one who created the universe and the father of all beings.
But for many Buddhists, Mara is just an anthropomorphism of the five hindrances of sloth-torpor, restlessness-worry, sensual desire, doubt and ill-will, or mental defilements.
kind regards

Ben



Wow! Ben, I didn't read your post before I posted above. Quite of interesting that our answers are so similar! Almost paragraph for paragraph, too. :jumping:
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Re: How does Buddhism explain the existence of evil?

Postby chownah » Fri Sep 10, 2010 1:52 pm

rybak303 wrote:I have been studying Christianity and its explanation for evil and pain in the world. I was wondering what the Buddhist reply is to the question of where evil comes from and why evil and pain exist in the world, both in man and in nature? Does Buddhism believe in Satan and sin as the cause for evil?

Rybak303,
What do you mean by evil? Could you define it precisely?
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Re: How does Buddhism explain the existence of evil?

Postby Tex » Fri Sep 10, 2010 2:58 pm

rybak303 wrote:where evil comes from and why evil and pain exist in the world


Ben and Pannasikhara gave excellent answers. The second Noble Truth covers the causes of suffering/dissatisfaction if you want to read further.

It is also important to remember that the Buddha declined to answer certain metaphysical questions, such as "is the Cosmos eternal?" and others. These questions, while tempting to ponder, are not connected with the goal, which is liberation from suffering.

The following simile is one of the most famous in the Pali Canon:

"It's just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends & companions, kinsmen & relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a priest, a merchant, or a worker.' He would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know the given name & clan name of the man who wounded me... until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short... until I know whether he was dark, ruddy-brown, or golden-colored... until I know his home village, town, or city... until I know whether the bow with which I was wounded was a long bow or a crossbow... until I know whether the bowstring with which I was wounded was fiber, bamboo threads, sinew, hemp, or bark... until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was wild or cultivated... until I know whether the feathers of the shaft with which I was wounded were those of a vulture, a stork, a hawk, a peacock, or another bird... until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was bound with the sinew of an ox, a water buffalo, a langur, or a monkey.' He would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was that of a common arrow, a curved arrow, a barbed, a calf-toothed, or an oleander arrow.' The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him.


Quoted from: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... tml#poison

As you can see, sometimes the "why?" is not the most pressing thing. If your doctor diagnosed you with cancer, asking "why me?" is a very natural response, but it doesn't get you any closer to getting that cancer into remission. Buddhism is about understanding the human condition as it really is and then overcoming it.
"The serene and peaceful mind is the true epitome of human achievement."-- Ajahn Chah, Living Dhamma

"To reach beyond fear and danger we must sharpen and widen our vision. We have to pierce through the deceptions that lull us into a comfortable complacency, to take a straight look down into the depths of our existence, without turning away uneasily or running after distractions." -- Bhikkhu Bodhi
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Re: How does Buddhism explain the existence of evil?

Postby Jason » Fri Sep 10, 2010 6:37 pm

rybak303 wrote:I have been studying Christianity and its explanation for evil and pain in the world. I was wondering what the Buddhist reply is to the question of where evil comes from and why evil and pain exist in the world, both in man and in nature? Does Buddhism believe in Satan and sin as the cause for evil?


The short answer is ignorance. For more of my thoughts on this, see my last blog post.
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

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Re: How does Buddhism explain the existence of evil?

Postby Jason » Fri Sep 10, 2010 6:39 pm

Tex wrote:
rybak303 wrote:where evil comes from and why evil and pain exist in the world


Ben and Pannasikhara gave excellent answers.


Agreed. Well said, guys.
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

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Re: How does Buddhism explain the existence of evil?

Postby Sunset » Fri Sep 10, 2010 9:58 pm

rybak303 wrote:I have been studying Christianity and its explanation for evil and pain in the world. I was wondering what the Buddhist reply is to the question of where evil comes from and why evil and pain exist in the world, both in man and in nature? Does Buddhism believe in Satan and sin as the cause for evil?

Dear Rybak

The Buddha advised all things without exception are simply natural elements (dhatu). The roots of evil, namely, the mental defilements of greed, hatred & delusion, are simply natural phenomena, just like oxygen, trees, gold, feathers, etc, are natural phenomena.

Examples of the Buddha's advice in this context are as follows:

6. "But venerable sir, might there be another way in which a monk can be called skilled in the elements?"

"There might be, Ananda. There are, Ananda, these six elements: the pleasure element, the pain element, the joy element, the grief element, the equanimity element, and the ignorance element. When he knows and sees these six elements, a monk can be called skilled in the elements.

7. "But venerable sir, might there be another way in which a monk can be called skilled in the elements?"

"There might be, Ananda. There are, Ananda, these six elements: the sensual desire element, the renunciation element, the ill will element, the non-ill will element, the cruelty element, and the non-cruelty element. When he knows and sees these six elements, a monk can be called skilled in the elements.

Bahudhatuka Sutta


Bhikkhus, in dependence on an element there arises a perception, there arises a view, there arises a thought.

SN 14.13


Bhikkhus, sensual thoughts arise with a source, not without a source; thought of ill will arises with a source, not without a source; thought of harming arises with a source, not without a source. And how is this so?

In dependence on the sensuality element there arises sensual perception; in dependence on the sensual perception there arises sensual intention; in dependence on the sensual intention there arises sensual desire; in dependence on the sensual desire there arises sensual passion; in dependence on the sensual passion there arises a sensual quest. Engaged in a sensual quest, the uninstructed worldling conducts himself wrongly in three ways - with body, speech and mind.

In dependence on the ill will element there arises perception of ill will...

In dependence on the cruelty element there arises perception of harming...

In dependence on the renunciation element there arises perception of renunciation...

In dependence on the non-ill will element there arises perception of non-ill will...

In dependence on the harmlessness element there arises perception of harmlessness. In dependence on the perception of harmlessness there arises intention of harmlessness; in dependence on intention of harmlessness there arises desire for harmlessness; in dependence on desire for harmlessness there arises passion for harmlessness; in dependence on passion for harmlessness there arises a sensual quest. Engaged in a quest for harmlessness, the instructed noble disciple conducts himself rightly in three ways - with body, speech and mind.

SN 14.12


Warm regards

:smile:
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Re: How does Buddhism explain the existence of evil?

Postby rowyourboat » Sat Sep 11, 2010 8:26 am

I think Buddhism finds it unnecessary to project an 'evil' which exists somehow 'out there'. If you get past this assumption and look at the details you will see that evil actions, deeds and thoughts come from people's minds. There is no real evidence that they are put there by someone else. They seem to have some (outdated) relevance to survival, so there is a good enough reason why they exist. The good news is that they can be reduced bit by bit using various means -leading to happiness for yourself and others. Dont forget we also have the capacity for goodness as well, which can be increased.

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Re: How does Buddhism explain the existence of evil?

Postby rybak303 » Mon Sep 13, 2010 9:34 am

Thank you for the well thought out responses everyone. It sounds from what I heard that according to Buddhism evil comes from within which is similar to the Christian interpretation, although in the Christian interpretation there is also a source of evil which exists outside of us as well as within us. Most of you mentioned the source of our internal evil as coming from defiled thoughts, aversion, and greed. But why do we have these defiled thoughts, aversion, and greed to begin with? Does Buddhism give any answers for reason we find ourselves with the defiled thoughts, aversion, and greed or is it like what forum member Tex said with his fascinating quote that Buddhism doesn't concern itself with such questions but rather tries to find the cure here and now?
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Re: How does Buddhism explain the existence of evil?

Postby Goofaholix » Mon Sep 13, 2010 10:09 am

rybak303 wrote:Does Buddhism give any answers for reason we find ourselves with the defiled thoughts, aversion, and greed or is it like what forum member Tex said with his fascinating quote that Buddhism doesn't concern itself with such questions but rather tries to find the cure here and now?


Exactly that. Buddhism isn't concerned about how greed, aversion, and delusion (I don't think evil is an appropriate word) all started, but it is concerned about how greed, aversion, and delusion is perpetuated and how we can stop it perpetuating.

There is no garden of eden type story in Buddhism, and if there were would it change anything for you?
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: How does Buddhism explain the existence of evil?

Postby unspoken » Mon Sep 13, 2010 10:12 am

Human greatest enemy is not Satan nor Evil

Human's greatest enemy is ourself,
The biggest and the Only enemy is ourself.

With peace bringing this message to all
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Re: How does Buddhism explain the existence of evil?

Postby acinteyyo » Mon Sep 13, 2010 10:59 am

rybak303 wrote:Most of you mentioned the source of our internal evil as coming from defiled thoughts, aversion, and greed. But why do we have these defiled thoughts, aversion, and greed to begin with?

It all starts with ignorance (avijjā).
rybak303 wrote:Does Buddhism give any answers for reason we find ourselves with the defiled thoughts, aversion, and greed or is it like what forum member Tex said with his fascinating quote that Buddhism doesn't concern itself with such questions but rather tries to find the cure here and now?

In the Avijjā-Sutta AN X.61 (Book of the Tens, Paragraph 22 in the link) it is said:
"A first beginning of ignorance cannot be conceived, (of which it can be said), 'Before that, there was no ignorance and it came to be after that.' Though this is so, monks, yet a specific condition of ignorance can be conceived. Ignorance, too, has its nutriment, I declare; and it is not without a nutriment. And what is the nutriment of ignorance? 'The five hindrances,' should be the answer.

Buddhism doesn't concern with the question what was before, it deals with the given situation here&now in order to end suffering here&now. (quote: the man wounden with an arrow).

best wishes, acinteyyo
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Api cāhaṃ, āvuso, imasmiṃyeva byāmamatte kaḷevare, sasaññimhi samanake lokañca paññāpemi lokasamudayañca lokanirodhañca lokanirodhagāminiñca paṭipadan. (AN4.45)

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