Sin, Evil, Hostile Forces and Purification

The sophistication of the Vedic thinkers can be seen in their handling of this topic. As Sri Aurobindo states, “the crude conception of sin as a result of natural wickedness of man found no place in the thought of these deep thinkers”. RV has no concept like hell into which all the evil doers are cast. The RV has several words for sin like agha, enam and so on, but does not rigidly divide actions into the two categories of good and evil. The only actions it condemns are, non-giving and the non-recognition of the role of devās or nature in all actions, ayajvanaĥ; “He is in a state of sin who eats alone (10.117.6)”.

The RV recognises the existence of evil forces and the existence of persons who come under their sway. The evil forces are intimately connected with ignorance or unconsciousness achitti (3.18.2, 4.12.4, 4.2.11 and 10.87.11). In Veda, satyam stands for the Truth and ritam stands for the cosmic law of manifestation in accordance with the Truth or Truth to be manifested in an ideal environment. Evil or falsehood is opposed to this cosmic law ritam and opposed to the progress of the human beings towards all-round perfection. Some of the phrases associated with these evil persons are: causing stumbling or calamities, durita, ill-lit house, duroka, those with evil movements, durevaĥ, doers of wickedness, dushkŗt, evil-minded, durmanma, evil in speech, aghashamsa, untrue, asataĥ, full of falsehood, asatyah, unreal, asata, those with no faith, ashraddhan, or bringer of evil, aghāyata, crookedness, vŗjina or hvara as distinguished from the straightness of the followers of the good etc.

Veda states in many places that the influences of evil can be overcome by the force of goodness bhadra, a power bestowed by the devās. Usually the deities Agni or Varuņa are appealed for purification.

According to RV, all sin arises from an attachment to narrowness. It is the non-perception of Right and Truth in mind and in the will or it is the inability in the life of energies to follow the path of Truth or sheer inefficiency of the physical being to rise to the greatness of the Divine Law. Varuņa is the master of all oceans, the deva of vastness, vastness in the physical. The pressure exerted by Varuņa to release us from our narrowness can be often painful. There are many verses in which the rişhi pleads with Varuņa not to give him pain. “From poverty of will, we have gone contrary to thee. By ignorance, we have put away thy laws, smite us not (7.89.3,5)”. Varuņa is called upon “to remove Nirriti, the demon of sin and death, liberate us from the sin enah we have committed (1.24.9)”. The same verse suggests that purification is done not by ritual, but prayer and the power of mantra, “May thy gracious thought sumati flow wide and deep, liberate us from the sin we may have committed”. The rişhi prays to Varuņa in (1.24.15) to release him from the three psychological bonds, the bond above (the limitations of mind), the bond middle (the limitations of life-energy and emotion) and the bond below (the limitations posed by the physical body). Rigveda prefers the concrete phrase falsehood to the abstract phrase ignorance in describing evil. It is only by removing the mental and moral infirmities that we secure a foundation in Varuņa‘s wide and deep thought-mindedness. Hence Varuņa is described as directing many physicians (1.24.9).

Varuņa of hallowed understanding,

Holds aloft a mass of life-giving radiance, which streams down;

May these rays sink deep and set within us. (1.24.7)

Similarly purification, pāvaka, occurs more than a hundred times in RV. Again there is no mention of the so- called ritual purification either by means of a bath or by avoiding foods of certain type or other customary actions. Purification is basically psychological.

There is an entire hymn (1.97) of 8 verses dedicated to Agni, the purifier. Each verse here ends with the refrain, “May our sin agham wither in lament”. It is given in several different ways. The first verse states “Agni, by shining your felicities may the sin wither”. Second verse states “we worship thee for obtaining the safe path of progress, for happy field and for felicities. When these powers come to us, sin leaves us automatically”.

Again in (1.23.22), Waters, the Universal Divine energies of Truth and Light, are called to take away whatever sin, betrayal abhidudroha, falsehood anŗtam duritam is present. The next verse declares that “I have become one with the essence of these energies, rasena.”

Veda recognises the cosmic forces of evil and sin typified by the demons and dasyus, the chief of whom are Vŗtra and Vāla, with associates like Shambara and Shushņa. Vŗtra is the demon who holds up the benevolent cosmic energies and prevents them from reaching the humans. The character of Vŗtra is described in (4.19.3).

Indra the lord of Divine Mind wages a battle along with the other devās, kills Vŗtra and allows the cosmic energies denoted as Waters āpah to reach the human. The demon Vāla hides the spiritual  knowledge signified by go, the Vedic cow, in the inner regions of our being indicated by the cave guha. Bŗhaspati, the Lord of the potent Word and Indra destroy Vāla and allow the hidden spiritual knowledge to be accessible to the humans. Suşhņa is the demon who dries up all our subtle energies. The fight with Vŗtra and Vāla are mentioned in numerous verses. The battle takes place in the mid-world antariksha which governs our life energies and emotions, the place where the demons get access to us. Just as Indra fights with Vŗtra and Vāla at the cosmic level, the power of Indra, manifested in us, fights the forces of ignorance and evil within our subtle body.

A careful inspection of the verses dealing with these foes reveals that the foe cannot be the cloud or human beings. In (4.19.3), the psychological nature of the foes is clear by the phrases, “that cannot be known or waked”, abudhyam and “which waketh not to knowledge”, abudhyamānam.

RV has some verses regarding the origin or identity of these demons. (5.12.4) poses the question “O Agni, who are the binders who keep the foundation of falsehood, guardians of the untrue words?” The reply is in the next verse (5.12.5). “They are thy (Agni’s) comrades who have turned away from thee, they who were benignant shivāsah have become ashiva. They speak crooked things to the seer of straightness”.

According to the RV sages, there is no such thing as primordial evil. These demons have a purpose in the vast scheme of this manifestation and when that purpose is over, they are absorbed back into the infinite. RV reiterates again and again that the world is pervaded by the Supreme One implying that even in the evil, there is a core of goodness. The supreme consciousness present in the core of the evil is termed by the phrase “the Sun lying in darkness” in many verses such as (1.117.5), (3.39.5). (3.39.5) states that “Indra with his friends the ten dashagvās found the Truth, even the Sun dwelling in darkness”.

The knowledge so hidden in the darkness can be released as indicated in the poetic phrase “Indra milked the cows from out of the darkness (1.33.10)” or “release the honey covered by rock” (2.24.4).

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