The Origin and Nature of Evil

“Archaic philosophy, recognizing neither Good nor Evil as a fundamental or independent power, but starting from the Absolute ALL (Universal Perfection eternally), traced both through the course of natural evolution to pure Light condensing gradually into form, hence becoming Matter or Evil.”
(H. P. Blavatsky, “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 73)

The above statement by the main founder of the modern Theosophical Movement should not be taken to mean that the whole question of the origin and nature of evil is as simple as “Spirit = Good, Matter = Evil.” Nor would it be correct to conclude that matter itself is something inherently evil or “devilish.” This cannot be the case, since ultimately it comes from the same Source as spirit.

If we take all of the Theosophical explanations on evil as a unified whole, we come to see that it is the manifested existence of matter which inevitably gives rise to imperfection. Evil and all its aspects are the automatic natural byproduct and result of the existence of matter or, to put it more precisely, the existence of manifestation and the existence of duality, without which there can be no manifestation. What we term “evil” is really “imperfection” because perfection belongs only to pure Spirit. Nevertheless, the manifested Universe is not a “bad” thing simply because varying degrees and forms of imperfection are an inevitability in it. The manifested Universe is a necessity for the experience and evolution of the soul, as we will see elaborated on below.

There are some popular forms of spirituality, such as Unity, Science of Mind, and New Thought in general, which often make statements such as “Only God exists and therefore only love and good exists,” “There is no evil,” and “It’s all God, it’s all good.” This ideology is derived by them originally from Christian Science, which in turn reflects – whether consciously or not – some ideas from the far older Ajativada form of Advaita Vedanta Hinduism. These subjects can be read about in Theosophy on Christian Science, Mind Cure, & Mental Healing and The Meaning and Nature of Maya (Illusion). We also have A Comparison between New Thought and Theosophy which shows the various ways in which Theosophy and New Thought agree but also the sometimes significant differences. One of those differences is that Theosophy does not try to deny the existence of things which are definite objective realities in this world, such as evil, hate, pain, cruelty, and suffering. Naturally, no-one would like such things to exist but we cannot pretend they are not there. Denying their existence will not get rid of them.

Theosophy holds firmly to the notion of non-duality and universal oneness but it makes the necessary philosophical, logical, and practical distinction between absolute existence and manifested existence. In the Three Fundamental Propositions presented at the very beginning of “The Secret Doctrine,” it is emphasised that the whole Universe is pervaded by duality but then it is equally emphasised that there is no ULTIMATE duality. In the highermost, innermost part of our being, at the level of our True Self, there is only ONENESS, an unequivocal UNITY, absolute divine PERFECTION, and it is on this level that all is truly one and the same. Why then does manifestation, duality, and, with it, suffering, have to exist? Some light will be shed on this in the following compilation.

H. P. Blavatsky’s article “The Origin of Evil,” excerpted below, is on the primal, metaphysical, cosmic origins of that which we call “evil.” In other words, it deals more with the “universals” than the “particulars.” We will also look at Robert Crosbie’s article of the same name, along with a few other Theosophical statements, which shed light more on the origin of evil in human life. To really and clearly comprehend these things requires attention, concentration, and reflection. To read is not enough; one must calmly and meditatively think over what one has read.



(In “H. P. Blavatsky Theosophical Articles” Vol. 1 and HPB Pamphlet #2 “Moral and Social Issues”)

The problem of the origin of evil can be philosophically approached only if the archaic Indian formula is taken as the basis of the argument. Ancient wisdom alone solves the presence of the universal fiend in a satisfactory way. It attributes the birth of Kosmos and the evolution of life to the breaking asunder of primordial, manifested Unity, into plurality, or the great illusion of form. Homogeneity having transformed itself into Heterogeneity, contrasts have naturally been created: hence sprang what we call Evil, which thenceforward reigned supreme in this “Vale of Tears.” . . .

Materialism patronizes Indian metaphors and imagery now [i.e. at the end of the 19th century]. In a new work upon the subject by Dr. Mainlander, “Pessimism and Progress,”one learns that Indian Pantheism and German Pessimism are identical; and that it is the breaking up of homogeneous matter into heterogeneous material, the transition from uniformity to multiformity, which resulted in so unhappy a universe. Saith Pessimism [Note: The Pessimism spoken of here and in this article was a form of German philosophy that originated largely with the ideas of Arthur Schopenhauer and was developed further by various people, including the famous Friedrich Nietzsche. The most – though still only partially – Theosophically inclined of the Pessimists was Eduard von Hartmann, whose “Philosophy of The Unconscious” is referred to numerous times by HPB in “The Secret Doctrine.”]:

“This [transition] is precisely the original mistake, the primordial sin, which the whole creation has now to expiate by heavy suffering; it is just that sin, which, having launched into existence all that lives, plunged it thereby into the abysmal depths of evil and misery, to escape from which there is but one means possible, i.e., by putting an end to being itself.”

This interpretation of the Eastern formula, attributing to it the first idea of escaping the misery of life by “putting an end to being” – whether that being is viewed as applicable to the whole Kosmos, or only to individual life – is a gross misconception. The Eastern pantheist [Note: The Eastern and esoteric pantheism which HPB refers to many times in this article is not the worship of physical Nature but the reverent recognition that all is Divine and that the Divine is all; “pan-theos” literally meaning “All God,” “All Deity,” or “All Divine.” It is synonymous with philosophical monism or non-duality.], whose philosophy teaches him to discriminate between Being or ESSE and conditioned existence, would hardly indulge in so absurd an idea as the postulation of such an alternative. He knows he can put an end to form alone, not to being –and that only on this plane of terrestrial illusion. True, he knows that by killing out in himself Tanha (the unsatisfied desire for existence, or the “will to live”) – he will thus gradually escape the curse of rebirth and conditioned existence. But he knows also that he cannot kill or “put an end,” even to his own little life except as a personality, which after all is but a change of dress. And believing but in One Reality, which is eternal Be-ness, the “causeless CAUSE” from which he has exiled himself into a world of forms, he regards the temporary and progressing manifestations of it in the state of Maya (change or illusion), as the greatest evil, truly; but at the same time as a process in nature, as unavoidable as are the pangs of birth. It is the only means by which he can pass from limited and conditioned lives of sorrow into eternal life, or into that absolute “Be-ness,” which is so graphically expressed in the Sanskrit word sat.

The “Pessimism” of the Hindu or Buddhist Pantheist is metaphysical, abstruse, and philosophical. The idea that matter and its Protean manifestations are the source and origin of universal evil and sorrow is a very old one, though Gautama Buddha was the first to give to it its definite expression. But the great Indian Reformer assuredly never meant to make of it a handle for the modern pessimist to get hold of, or a peg for the materialist to hang his distorted and pernicious tenets upon! The Sage and Philosopher, who sacrificed himself for Humanity by living for it, in order to save it, by teaching men to see in the sensuous existence of matter misery alone, had never in his deep philosophical mind any idea of offering a premium for suicide; his efforts were to release mankind from too strong an attachment to life, which is the chief cause of Selfishness – hence the creator of mutual pain and suffering. In his personal case, Buddha left us an example of fortitude to follow; in living, not in running away from life. His doctrine shows evil immanent, not in matter which is eternal, but in the illusions created by it: through the changes and transformations of matter generating life – because these changes are conditioned and such life is ephemeral. At the same time those evils are shown to be not only unavoidable, but necessary. For if we would discern good from evil, light from darkness, and appreciate the former, we can do so only through the contrasts between the two. While Buddha’s philosophy points, in its dead-letter meaning, only to the dark side of things on this illusive plane; its esotericism, the hidden soul of it, draws the veil aside and reveals to the Arhat all the glories of LIFE ETERNAL in all the Homogeneousness of Consciousness and Being. Another absurdity, no doubt, in the eyes of materialistic science and even modern Idealism, yet a fact to the Sage and esoteric Pantheist. . . .

For the philosopher there is but one real life, Nirvanic bliss, which is a state differing in kind, not in degree only, from that of any of the planes of consciousness in the manifested universe. The Pessimist calls “Nirvana” superstition, and explains it as “cessation of life,” life for him beginning and ending on earth. The former ignores in his spiritual aspirations even the integral homogeneous unit, of which the German Pessimist now makes such capital. He knows of, and believes in only the direct cause of that unit, eternal and ever living, because the ONE uncreated, or rather not evoluted. Hence all his efforts are directed toward the speediest reunion possible with, and return to his pre-primordial condition, after his pilgrimage through this illusive series of visionary lives, with their unreal phantasmagoria of sensuous perceptions.

Such pantheism can be qualified as “pessimistic” only by a believer in a personal Providence; by one who contrasts its negation of the reality of anything “created” – i.e., conditioned and limited – with his own blind unphilosophical faith. The Oriental mind does not busy itself with extracting evil from every radical law and manifestation of life, and multiplying every phenomenal quantity by the units of very often imaginary evils: the Eastern Pantheist simply submits to the inevitable, and tries to blot out from his path in life as many “descents into rebirth” as he can, by avoiding the creation of new Karmic causes. The Buddhist philosopher knows that the duration of the series of lives of every human being – unless he reaches Nirvana “artificially” (“takes the kingdom of God by violence,” in Kabalistic parlance) – is given, allegorically, in the forty-nine days passed by Gautama the Buddha under the Bo-tree. And the Hindu sage is aware, in his turn, that he has to light the first, and extinguish the forty-ninth fire before he reaches his final deliverance. Knowing this, both sage and philosopher wait patiently for the natural hour of deliverance; whereas their unlucky copyist, the European Pessimist, is ever ready to commit, as to preach, suicide. [Note: Philipp Mainländer himself sadly eventually chose to commit suicide, on “pessimistic philosophical” grounds.] Ignorant of the numberless heads of the hydra of existence, he is incapable of feeling the same philosophical scorn for life as he does for death, and of, thereby, following the wise example given him by his Oriental brother. . . .

This [i.e. about the 49 Fires] is an esoteric tenet, and the general reader will not make much out of it. But the Theosophist who has read Esoteric Buddhism may compute the 7 by 7 of the forty-nine “days” and the forty-nine “fires,” and understand that the allegory refers esoterically to the seven human consecutive root-races with their seven subdivisions. Every monad is born in the first and obtains deliverance in the last seventh race. Only a “Buddha” is shown reaching it during the course of one life. . . .

The seeds of evil and sorrow were indeed the earliest result and consequence of the heterogeneity of the manifested universe. Still they are but an illusion produced by the law of contrasts, which, as described, is a fundamental law in nature. Neither good nor evil would exist were it not for the light they mutually throw on each other. Being, under whatever form, having been observed from the World’s creation to offer these contrasts, and evil predominating in the universe owing to Ego-ship or selfishness, the rich Oriental metaphor has pointed to existence as expiating the mistake of nature; and the human soul (psüche), was henceforth regarded as the scapegoat and victim of unconscious OVER-SOUL. But it is not to Pessimism, but to Wisdom that it gave birth. . . .

As mankind multiplies, and with it suffering – which is the natural result of an increasing number of units that generate it – sorrow and pain are intensified. We live in an atmosphere of gloom and despair, but this is because our eyes are downcast and riveted to the earth, with all its physical and grossly material manifestations. If, instead of that, man proceeding on his life-journey looked – not heavenward, which is but a figure of speech – but within himself and centered his point of observation on the inner man, he would soon escape from the coils of the great serpent of illusion. From the cradle to the grave, his life would then become supportable and worth living, even in its worst phases. . . .

Eastern wisdom teaches that spirit has to pass through the ordeal of incarnation and life, and be baptised with matter before it can reach experience and knowledge. After which only it receives the baptism of soul, or self-consciousness, and may return to its original condition of a god, plus experience, ending with omniscience. In other words, it can return to the original state of the homogeneity of primordial essence only through the addition of the fruitage of Karma, which alone is able to create an absolute conscious deity, removed but one degree from the absolute ALL.

Even according to the letter of the Bible, evil must have existed before Adam and Eve, who, therefore, are innocent of the slander of the original sin. For, had there been no evil or sin before them, there could exist neither tempting Serpent nor a Tree of Knowledge of good and evil in Eden. The characteristics of that apple-tree are shown in the verse when the couple had tasted of its fruit: “The eyes of them both were opened, and they knew” many things besides knowing they were naked. Too much knowledge about things of matter is thus rightly shown an evil. . . .

One thing is, however, clear: the absolute necessity for some solution, which embraces the facts of existence on an optimistic basis. Modern Society is permeated with an increasing cynicism and honeycombed with disgust of life. This is the result of an utter ignorance of the operations of Karma and the nature of Soul evolution. It is from a mistaken allegiance to the dogmas of a mechanical and largely spurious theory of Evolution, that Pessimism has risen to such undue importance. Once the basis of the Great Law is grasped – and what philosophy can furnish better means for such a grasp and final solution, than the esoteric doctrine of the great Indian Sages – there remains no possible locus standi for the recent amendments to the Schopenhauerian system of thought or the metaphysical subtleties, woven by the “philosopher of the Unconscious.” The reasonableness of Conscious Existence can be proved only by the study of the primeval – now esoteric – philosophy. And it says “there is neither death nor life, for both are illusions; being (or be-ness) is the only reality.” This paradox was repeated thousands of ages later by one of the greatest physiologists that ever lived. “Life is Death,” said Claude Bernard. The organism lives because its parts are ever dying. The survival of the fittest is surely based on this truism. The life of the superior whole requires the death of the inferior, the death of the parts depending on and being subservient to it. And, as life is death, so death is life, and the whole great cycle of lives form but ONE EXISTENCE – the worst day of which is on our planet.

He who KNOWS will make the best of it. For there is a dawn for every being, when once freed from illusion and ignorance by Knowledge; and he will at last proclaim in truth and all Consciousness to Mahamaya:


Words attributed to Gautama Buddha in “The Light of Asia”]



(In “The Friendly Philosopher” and “Universal Theosophy”)

A being could be neither infinite, supreme, nor omnipresent; for there is That in which all beings, however high, or planets, or solar-systems, have their existence – Space, which exists whether there is anything in it or not; which has no beginning nor ending; which always is; which is outside as well as inside of every being. Any being must be less than Space; could the Absolute be less than Space? Illimitability and infinitude are not in relation to any being whatever; hence creation from the point of view of a Creator has to be abandoned. . . . We have to go back of all form, back of every kind of being, to see that all beings and all forms spring from One Source, which is not different in any. It is indeed the Supreme which lies within and behind every being; every being of every kind in the universe is in its innermost essence a ray from and one with It. It is Life. It is Spirit. It is Consciousness. Each is God in his innermost Essence. . . .

Good has no existence by itself; evil has no existence by itself. The two terms relate to matters of conduct and of impressions we receive. They merely characterize the effects produced upon us: a thing is “good” to us if it benefits us in any way, and “evil” if it does not benefit us. Who is it that judges between good and evil effects? In every case, it is the man himself. One man will say such and such things are good for me, and such and such things are evil; while another man, with a different point of view and different relations to things, will perhaps say the exact contrary about the very same matters. So it always resolves itself into the individual point of view: in the last analysis each man is himself the sole director and final authority as to what is good and what is evil, so far as he is concerned. . . .

Let us remember, too, that the Tree of Knowledge mentioned in the Bible was the knowledge of both good and evil. Good and evil are not to be considered separately, but together. You cannot tell good except by its opposite, evil. Goodness would speedily cease to be such, were it not for the operation of its contrary.

There are many things in life regarded by us as evils – like sorrow and death – which are not, in fact, evils. They are merely stages and conditions through which we pass in our progress up the ladder of development. We need not be afraid of death, for death will never touch us at all. We pass on out of life, and on. One of the Great Teachers said that death ever comes to the Ego as a friend. There is no need to fear anything, for there is nothing in the universe, high or low, that can ever destroy us – our consciousness, or our acquired individuality. Mistakes occur, for many of our actions are performed through ignorance, and evil results follow. Even so, it is through those very wrong actions that we learn. It is through the operation of vice that virtue is seen as a resistance to vice.

The origin of evil is to be found in ignorance of our own true natures. There are no afflictions put upon us by any being other than ourselves. We are afflicted just to the extent that we make ourselves open to affliction. Things affect some people terribly. The same things affect other people very little or not at all. Why? Because of their point of view. Attitude towards things makes the suffering or the not suffering, the pleasure or the pain – not the things in themselves. If we knew ourselves to be divine beings merely going through a school of life – our whole purpose to learn – what would there be to fear, or even to be anxious about? If it were not for the obstacles in life – if life were one happy, placid dream – we never would make the motion or the effort that would arouse the highest characteristics of thought and action. It is by reason of the obstacles we have to overcome that we become stronger and obtain nobler traits. There is no such thing as a divinely created being, for everything that exists becomes.

Is it not true that now we can look back upon and smile at anything “bad” that ever happened to us in the past? It looked awful at the time, but it has passed, and we can see that from those very things came something of gain, of strength and wisdom. Under the law no one can meet with an obstacle which he is not able to overcome; the obstacle is but an opportunity for him to get rid of some defect which he now possesses. Often the very things which seem the most difficult for us prove to be the most beneficent. . . . The Path is within ourselves, not outside; each of us is the stair to his own development. . . .

Then, too, because we think we know what is good and what is evil, we are very anxious that everybody else should be made to think in the same way. We want to prohibit those things which we do not desire ourselves; we want other people to eat what we think they ought to eat, and to clothe themselves as we think they should be clothed. We talk much of the “rights” of men. But we have just one right, and that is the right to do right. No man was ever made “good” by law; no man was ever made moral by law. Each man must be a law for himself, both moral and spiritual. . . .

When we get the right attitude of mind – and that is what discipleship is – there is not a quality in us, not a force, not an attribute, but can be put to the best and highest use. We do not get off this plane. We do not cut off any part of our being. We do not destroy the usefulness of any part of us, but put all to the proper use and for the proper end. Herein is seen the difference between one who knows and one who does not know. One who knows does not get off to the Christian’s heaven, nor to any other heaven. He works right here where he finds himself and does the best work he can with the instrument he now has, fearing nothing, trusting the Law of his own being. If any being will trust the Law of his own nature, if he will work on with nature by helping all others in every direction possible, then all nature will turn and help him. It never was otherwise. It cannot be otherwise.



Esoteric philosophy admits neither good nor evil per se, as existing independently in nature. The cause for both is found, as regards the Kosmos, in the necessity of contraries or contrasts, and with respect to man, in his human nature, his ignorance and passions. There is no devil or the utterly depraved, as there are no Angels absolutely perfect, though there may be spirits of Light and of Darkness; thus LUCIFER [i.e. literally “Light Bringer,” “Light Bearer,” not to be viewed as any type of anthropomorphic being or devil or demon] – the spirit of Intellectual Enlightenment and Freedom of Thought – is metaphorically the guiding beacon, which helps man to find his way through the rocks and sandbanks of Life, for Lucifer is the LOGOS in his highest, and the “Adversary” [i.e. the literal meaning of the Hebrew word “shatan” or “satan”] in his lowest aspect – both of which are reflected in our Ego. (Vol. 2, p. 162)

And now it stands proven that Satan, or the Red Fiery Dragon, the “Lord of Phosphorus” (brimstone was a theological improvement), and Lucifer, or “Light-Bearer,” is in us: it is our Mind – our tempter and Redeemer, our intelligent liberator and Saviour from pure animalism. Without this principle – the emanation of the very essence of the pure divine principle Mahat (Intelligence), which radiates direct from the Divine mind – we would be surely no better than animals. (Vol. 2, p. 513)

For further clarification on the Theosophical view of Lucifer and the way in which it challenges centuries of Christian theological misuse of this pre-Christian term (which in its origins is perfectly pure and noble) please see Lucifer The Lightbringer.



I will point out the greatest, the chief cause of nearly two thirds of the evils that pursue humanity ever since that cause became a power. It is religion under whatever form and in whatsoever nation. It is the sacerdotal caste, the priesthood and the churches; it is in those illusions that man looks upon as sacred, that he has to search out the source of that multitude of evils which is the great curse of humanity and that almost overwhelms mankind. . . . Look at India and look at Christendom and Islam, at Judaism and Fetichism [i.e. the worship of physical objects as God or Gods; found particularly in Africa, Voodoo, and Japanese animism]. It is priestly imposture that rendered these Gods so terrible to man; it is religion that makes of him the selfish bigot, the fanatic that hates all mankind out of his own sect without rendering him any better or more moral for it. It is belief in God and Gods that makes two-thirds of humanity the slaves of a handful of those who deceive them under the false pretence of saving them. Is not man ever ready to commit any kind of evil if told that his God or Gods demand the crime?


To summarise . . .


(In “The Gupta Vidya” Vol. 2 “The Golden Thread”)

. . . one may begin to comprehend Universal Good (the Agathon) in terms of the sacrificial circulation and return of the life essence to its invisible source, continually sifting what is needed by the immortal Monad and casting off the rest for appropriate redistribution amongst the lower kingdoms of nature. Evil is that which consolidates and which refuses to acknowledge the source. In terms of the relativity of opposites, evil is that which obscures the light, whilst good is that which transmits the light. The highest good is self-luminous. . . . H. P. Blavatsky pointed out that if the homogeneity of the one Absolute is accepted, then one must also accept in the realm of the heterogeneous that good and evil are twin offshoots of the same trunk of the Tree of Being. If one does not accept this, then one is committed to the absurdity of believing in two eternal absolutes.

“Indeed, evil is but an antagonizing blind force in nature; it is reaction, opposition, and contrast,– evil for some, good for others. There is no malum in se [i.e. “badness in itself,” “evil in itself”]: only the shadow of light, without which light could have no existence, even in our perceptions. . . . There would be no life possible (in the Mayavic sense) without Death, nor regeneration and reconstruction without destruction. . . . On the manifested planes, one equilibrates the other.”        The Secret Doctrine, i 413-414

For a truly fundamental understanding of good and evil, along with all the other pairs of objective opposites, one must turn to the quintessential distinction between the manifest and the unmanifest.


This article may have raised more questions about various things. Please make use of the site search function (the magnifying glass symbol at the top of the page) and visit the Articles page to see the complete list of over 300 articles covering all aspects of Theosophy and the Theosophical Movement. We recommend reading The Two Paths which explains how the ideal approach to spirituality and indeed to life itself is to seek enlightenment solely in order to better help and serve suffering humanity. It is only through divine Compassion – embodied in and expressed by ourselves – that the world’s sufferings can decrease.

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“The real evil proceeds from human intelligence and its origin rests entirely with reasoning man who dissociates himself from Nature.”
(Mahatma K.H.)