World Scripture


Religions have conceptualized the infirmity of the human condition as an interior war between two opposing natures, one good and the other evil. As long as people experience this state of contradiction, they can neither realize their divine self nor achieve a state of unity and wholeness. Paradoxically, while people immersed in worldly affairs may not always recognize the war within themselves, it is precisely in leading a conscientious life, when striving to do good and be good, that this conflict comes to the fore.

The world's religions conceptualize this conflict in various ways. The first group of passages locates the two natures in the fabric of creation itself: thus Zoroastrianism and Hinduism teach that the earth is a battlefield between two opposing good and evil powers, and Hinduism and Jainism distinguish between the divine Self and the material existence in which it is bound.

The monotheistic religions, however, cannot allow a dualism that locates the conflict in the fabric of creation itself, for that would raise insuperable problems for the doctrine of the unity of God. They delimit these warring powers to the carnal desires within the individual soul, or to the errant spiritual influences which incite such desires--see Demonic Powers, pp. 435-44. The next group of scripture passages hold this view: for example, Paul's observation of the war between spirit and flesh and the Jewish doctrine of the Good and Evil Inclinations. Buddhism, which regards material reality as resultant of mind and deals entirely on the level of psychology, likewise emphasizes the war within the person, between its innate emptiness and the fetters caused by craving for selfhood. We conclude with passages expressing the more general idea that the human self is often its own worst enemy.

This body is mortal, always gripped by death, but within it dwells the immortal Self. This Self, when associated in our consciousness with the body, is subject to pleasure and pain; and so long as this association continues, freedom from pleasure and pain can no man find.

1. Hinduism. Chandogya Upanishad 8.12.1

Just as knowledge, in spite of it being intangible, gets obliterated under the influence of wine, so the self, though originally intangible, gets its qualities obstructed under the influence of tangible karma particles. In its state of bondage, the soul, though intangible, conceives itself to be tangible [identical with the body].

2. Jainism. Pancadhyayi 2.57

Two birds, united always and known by the same name, closely cling to the same tree. One of them eats the sweet fruit; the other looks on without eating.

Seated on the same tree, the jiva moans, bewildered by his impotence. But when he beholds the other, the Lord worshipped by all, and His glory, he becomes free from grief.

When the seer beholds the self-luminous Creator, the Lord, the Purusha, the progenitor of Brahma, then he, the wise seer, shakes off good and evil, becomes stainless, and reaches the supreme unity.

3. Hinduism. Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.1-3

The First Fundamental Principle is the primary cause of the succession of deaths and rebirths from beginningless time. It is the Principle of Ignorance, the outgoing principle of individuation, manifestation, transformation, succession and discrimination. From the working out of this Principle there has resulted the various differentiation of minds of all sentient beings, and all the time they have been taking these limited and perturbed and contaminated minds to be their true and natural Essence of Mind.

The Second Fundamental Principle is the primary cause of the pure unity of Enlightenment and Nirvana that has existed from beginningless time. It is the principle of integrating compassion, the indrawing, unifying principle of purity, harmony, likeness, rhythm, permanency, and peace. By the indrawing of this Principle within the brightness of your own nature, its unifying spirit can be discovered and developed and realized under all varieties of conditions.

4. Buddhism. Surangama Sutra

Pancadhyayi 2.57: Cf. Pancadhyayi 2.35-36, p. 383. Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.1-3: The tree represents the body. The two birds are the jiva or individual soul and the Atman or Self. Cf. Bhagavad Gita 13.19-22, pp. 178f.; Atharva Veda 19.51.1, p. 228. Surangama Sutra: Cf. Dhammapada 1-2, p. 722.

There are two orders of creation: one divine, the other demonic.

5. Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 16.6

Yes, there are two fundamental spirits, twins which are renowned to be in conflict. In thought and in word, in action, they are two: the good and the bad. And between these two, the beneficent have correctly chosen, not the maleficent.

Furthermore, when these two spirits first came together, they created life and death, and now, in the end the worst existence shall be for the deceitful but the best thinking [Heaven] for the truthful person.

Of these two spirits, the deceitful one chose to bring to realization the worst things. But the very virtuous spirit, who is clothed in the hardest stones, chose the truth, and so shall mortals who shall satisfy the Wise Lord continuously with true actions.

6. Zoroastrianism. Avesta, Yasna 30.3-5

The offspring of Prajapati were of two kinds: gods and demons. Of these the gods were younger and the demons the older. They were disputing the possession of these worlds. The gods said, "Well, let us overpower the demons at the sacrifice with the Udgitha chant [chanting the Sama Veda]."

They said to speech, "Chant for us!" "Very well," she said. So speech chanted for them the Udgitha. Whatever delight is in speech, that she chanted for the Gods; whatever she speaks well, that is for herself. The demons knew: "By this singer they will overpower us." They attacked her and pierced her with evil. The evil that makes one speak what is improper, that is that evil.

Then they said to the breath, "Chant for us!"... Whatever delight is in breath, that he chanted for the gods; whatever fragrance he smells well, that is for himself. The demons... pierced him with evil. The evil that makes one smell what is improper, that is that evil.

Then they said to the eye, "Chant for us!"... Whatever delight is in the eye, that he chanted for the gods; whatever beautiful he sees, that is for himself. The demons... pierced him with evil. The evil that makes one see what is improper, that is that evil.

Then they said to the ear, "Chant for us!"... Whatever delight is in the ear, that he chanted for the gods; whatever he hears well, that is for himself. The demons... pierced him with evil. The evil that makes one hear what is improper, that is that evil.

Then they said to the mind, "Chant for us!"... Whatever delight there is in the mind, that he chanted for the gods; whatever he thinks well, that is for himself. The demons... pierced him with evil. The evil that makes one think what is improper, that is that evil. Thus they afflicted the senses with evil; they pierced them with evil.

Then they said to the Life Breath, "Chant for us!" "Very well," he said. So the Breath chanted for them. The demons knew, "By this singer they will overpower us." They attacked him and wanted to pierce him with evil. But just as a lump of earth is scattered when it strikes on a stone, in the same way they were scattered in all directions and perished. Therefore the gods increased and the demons diminished. He who knows this increases in himself and his enemies diminish.

7. Hinduism. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.3.1-7

Bhagavad Gita 16.6: Cf. Satapatha Brahmana, p. 441. Yasna 30.3-5: Zoroastrianism demands a decision, to choose either the good or the evil spirit which rage in conflict within the self. Cf. Yasna 30.2, p. 675; Videvdad 1.3-11, p. 438.

The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.

8. Christianity. Matthew 26.41

Man prays for evil as he prays for good; man is ever hasty.

9. Islam. Qur'an 17.11o

Every person has both a bad heart and a good heart. No matter how good a man seems, he has some evil. No matter how bad a man seems, there is some good about him. No man is perfect.

10. Native American Religions. Mohawk Tradition

The mind is said to be twofold:
The pure and also the impure;
Impure--by union with desire;
Pure--from desire completely free.

11. Hinduism. Maitri Upanishad 6.34

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.3.1-7: The senses, though created good, are hopelessly invaded by evil--cf. Samyutta Nikaya xxxv.28, p. 381; only the Life Breath (prana) remains inviolate. The prana is channeled through yoga; hence it is through yoga and meditative disciplines that one can establish an inviolate foundation of goodness within oneself. Qur'an 17.11: Prayer is an expression of one's desire and intention; hence it is possible to pray for evil either out of ignorance or insincerity. Yet God does not necessarily treat all prayers alike, for he looks for true piety; cf. Qur'an 2.177, p. 861. Mohawk Tradition: This is the conclusion to a creation account given in full on pp. 438f. Maitri Upanishad 6.34: Cf. Mueller's translation, p. 722. Cf. Dhammapada 1-2, p. 722; Bhagavad Gita 3.36-41, p. 417.

By the fetters of envy and selfishness are all bound--gods, men, demons, nagas, gandhabbas and every other great class of beings--so that although they wish, "Would that we might live in friendship, without hatred, injury, emnity or malignity," they still live in emnity, hating, injuring, hostile, malign.

12. Buddhism. Digha Nikaya ii.276, Sakkapanha Suttanta

Rabbi Isaac said, "Man's evil inclination renews itself daily against him, as it is said, 'Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil every day.' [Genesis 6.5]." And Rabbi Simeon ben Levi said, "Man's evil inclination gathers strength against him daily and seeks to slay him... and were not the Holy One, blessed be He, to help him, he could not prevail against it."

13. Judaism. Talmud, Kiddushin 30b

Five are the robbers lodged in this body--
Lust, wrath, avarice, attachment, and egoism.

14. Sikhism. Adi Granth, Sorath, M.3, p. 600

The self is the one invincible foe when acting with the four cardinal passions: anger, pride, deceitfulness, and greed.

15. Jainism. Uttaradyayana Sutra 23.38

Lust, hatred, and delusion
ruin the man of wicked heart.
They are begotten in himself
like the lush growth of pith in the stem.

16. Buddhism. Itivuttaka 45

Alas, all my efforts have come to nothing!
I have not lessened my pride,
I have not cast down my vanity:
My mind is still the slave of evil impulses!
Nanak prays, O Lord, save, save!

17. Sikhism. Adi Granth, Shalok, M.9, p. 1428

Digha Nikaya ii.276: Cf. Maitri Upanishad 3.2, p. 412. Kiddushin 30b: This is the Jewish doctrine of the Evil Inclination. See Kiddushin 30b, p. 526; Berakot 51, p. 926; Shabbat 105b, p. 407; cf. James 4.1-3, p. 416; 1 Peter 2.11, p. 926. Sorath, M.3: Sikhism describes the evil within the mind through the doctrine of the Five Robbers. Cf. Asa-ki-Var, M.1, p. 456; Shalok Sehskriti, M.5, p. 1055. Shalok, M.9: Cf. Jaitsari Chhant, M.5, p. 410.

I know what is good
but I am not inclined to do it;
I know also what is bad,
but I do not refrain from doing it;
I just do as I am prompted to do
by some divine spirit
standing in my heart.

18. Hinduism. Mahabharata

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

19. Christianity. Romans 7.15-24

Man should discover his own reality
and not thwart himself.
For he has the self as his only friend,
or as his only enemy.

A person has the self as a friend
when he has conquered himself,
But if he rejects his own reality,
the self will war against him.

20. Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 6.5-6

Mahabharata: These words are spoken by the evil King Duryodhana as he breaks his promise to the five Pandava brothers to allow them to return from their exile in the forest to claim five villages. The 'divine spirit' is really an evil spirit which affirms his evil intentions. Romans 7.15-24: Christians have interpreted this passage in two ways: either Paul is describing his inner struggles prior to his conversion, or he is speaking as a saved Christian who remains in a state of contradiction. In the former case, receiving Christ brings wholeness and spiritual freedom, as the will becomes in accord with the Good; cf. 1 John 3.9, p. 227. The latter interpretation stresses that Christians are still bound by Original Sin and hence must be subject to the discipline of the Church; cf. Romans 8.23, p. 318; James 4.1-3, p. 416; 1 Peter 2.11, p. 926. Bhagavad Gita 6.5-6: Cf. Matthew 12.30, p. 674; Acarangasutra 5.36, p. 679.

Surely God wrongs not men anything, but men wrong themselves.

21. Islam. Qur'an 10.44

By oneself alone is evil done; it is self-born, it is self-caused. Evil grinds the unwise as a diamond grinds a hard gem.

22. Buddhism. Dhammapada 161

Whatever harm a foe may do to a foe, or a hater to a hater, an ill-directed mind can do one far greater harm.

23. Buddhism. Dhammapada 42

The Reactive Mind is a portion of a person's mind which works on a totally stimulus-response basis, which is not under his volitional control, and which exerts force and the power of command over his awareness, purposes, thoughts, body, and actions. Stored in the Reactive Mind are engrams, and here we find the single source of aberrations and psychosomatic ills.

24. Scientology. L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology 0-8

Beware! your clinging-to-ego is greater than yourself;
Pay heed! your emotions are stronger than yourself.
Your vicious will is far wickeder than yourself;
Your habitual thought is more characteristic than yourself;
Your ceaseless mental activity is more frantic than yourself.

25. Buddhism. Milarepa

Although enemies such as hatred and craving
Have neither any arms nor legs,
And are neither courageous nor wise,
How have I been used like a slave by them?

For while they dwell within my mind
At their pleasure they cause me harm,
Yet I patiently endure them without any anger;
But this is an inappropriate and shameful time for patience.

Should even all the gods and anti-gods
Rise up against me as my enemies,
They could not lead nor place me in
The roaring fires of deepest hell.

But the mighty foe, these disturbing conceptions,
In a moment can cast me amidst [those flames]
Which when met will cause not even the ashes
Of the king of mountains to remain.

All other enemies are incapable
Of remaining for such a length of time
As can my disturbing conceptions,
The long-time enemy with neither beginning nor end....

While in cyclic existence, how can I be joyful and unafraid
If in my heart I readily prepare a place
For this incessant enemy of long duration,
The sole cause for the increase of all that harms me?

And how shall I ever have happiness
If in a net of attachment within my mind
There dwell the guardians of the prison of cyclic existence,
These disturbing conceptions that become my butchers and tormentors in hell?

26. Buddhism. Shantideva, Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life 4.28-35

Dhammapada 42: Cf. Dhammapada 103, p. 731. Scientology 0-8: 'Engrams' are traces of unconscious behaviors and habits. Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life 4.28-35: Cf. Dhammapada 33-37, p. 733; Dhammapada 1-2, p. 722.

Mencius said, "How can one get a cruel man to listen to reason? He dwells happily in danger, looks upon disaster as profitable and delights in what will lead him to perdition. If the cruel man listened to reason, there would be no annihilated states or ruined families....

"Only when a man invites insult will others insult him. Only when a family invites destruction will others destroy it. Only when a state invites invasion will others invade it. The T'ai Chia says,

When Heaven sends down calamities,
There is hope of weathering them;
When man brings them upon himself,
There is no hope of escape.

This describes well what I have said."

27. Confucianism. Mencius IV.A.8

Mencius IV.A.8: The T'ai Chia is a chapter in the Book of History.