From Questions and Answers of Volume 5 of The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda
Q.—How can you reconcile your optimistic views with the existence of evil, with the universal prevalence of sorrow and pain?
A. —I can only answer the question if the existence of evil be first proved; but this the Vedantic religion does not admit. Eternal pain unmixed with pleasure would be a positive evil; but temporal pain and sorrow, if they have contributed an element of tenderness and nobility tending towards eternal bliss, are not evils: on the contrary, they may be supreme good. We cannot assert that anything is evil until we have traced its sequence into the realm of eternity.
Devil worship is not a part of the Hindu religion. The human race is in process of development; all have not reached the same altitude. Therefore some are nobler and purer in their earthly lives than others. Every one has an opportunity within the limits of the sphere of his present development of making himself better. We cannot unmake ourselves; we cannot destroy or impair the vital force within us, but we have the freedom to give it different directions.
Q.—Is not the reality of cosmic matter simply the imagining of our own minds?
A.—In my opinion the external world is certainly an entity and has an existence outside of our mental conceptions. All creation is moving onwards and upwards, obedient to the great law of spirit evolution, which is different from the evolution of matter. The latter is symbolical of, but does not explain, the process of the former. We are not individuals now, in our present earthly environment. We shall not have reached individuality until we shall have ascended to the higher state, when the divine spirit within us will have a perfect medium for the expression of its attributes.
Q.—What is your explanation of the problem presented to Christ, as to whether it was the infant itself or its parents that had sinned, that it was born blind?
A.—While the question of sin does not enter into the problem, I am convinced that the blindness was due to some act on the part of the spirit of the child in a previous incarnation. In my opinion such problems are only explicable on the hypothesis of a prior earthly existence.
Q.—Do our spirits pass at death into a state of happiness?
A.—Death is only a change of condition: time and space are in you, you are not in time and space. It is enough to know that as we make our lives purer and nobler, either in the seen or the unseen world, the nearer we approach God, who is the centre of all spiritual beauty and eternal joy.
Q.—What is the Hindu theory of the transmigration of souls?
A.—It is on the same basis as the theory of conservation is to the scientist. This theory was first produced by a philosopher of my country. The ancient sages did not believe in a creation. A creation implies producing something out of nothing. That is impossible. There was no beginning of creation as there was no beginning of time. God and creation are as two lines without end, without beginning, and parallel. Our theory of creation is “It is, it was, and is to be”. All punishment is but reaction. People of the West should learn one thing from India and that is toleration. All the religions are good, since the essentials are the same.
Q.—Why are the women of India not much elevated?
A.—It is in a great degree owing to the barbarous invaders through different ages; it is partly due to the people of India themselves.
When it was pointed out to Swamiji in America that Hinduism is not a proselytising religion, he replied:
“I have a message to the West as Buddha had a message to the East.”
Q.—Do you intend to introduce the practices and rituals of the Hindu religion into this country (America)?
A.—I am preaching simply philosophy.
Q.—Do you not think if the fear of future hell-fire were taken from man there would be no controlling him?
A.—No! On the contrary, I think he is made far better through love and hope than through fear.