Why do people do evil actions? Is it due to karma?
People who do evil actions do so because they get evil thoughts and desires. Why do they think these evil thoughts and desires?
What do the scriptures say?
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The following is the excerpt from the teaching of Sri Ramana Maharshi.
Sri Ramana Maharshi : Man’s real nature is happiness.
Happiness is inborn in the true Self. His search for happiness is an unconscious search for his true Self.
The true Self is imperishable; therefore when a man finds it, he finds a happiness which does not come to an end.
Q.: But the world is so unhappy?
M.: Yes, but that is because the world is ignorant of its true Self.
All men, without exception, are consciously or unconsciously seeking for it.
Q.: Even the wicked, the brutal and the criminal?.
M.: Even they sin because they are trying to find the Self ’s happiness in every sin which they commit.
This striving is instinctive in man, but they do not know that they are really seeking their true selves, and so they try these wicked ways first as a means to happiness.
Of course, they are wrong ways, for a man’s acts are reflected back to him.
Q.: So we shall feel lasting happiness when we know this true Self?
M.: The Maharshi nods his head.
In my experience, bad actions lead to more bad actions. Bad actions also create bad karma. Your bad karma may influence you to do some bad action so that you can receive the result of your bad actions in the past.
People have no information on the scriptures; they have no good thoughts to stop them.
Scriptures warn us not to commit bad actions. There is the law of karma. Why would you want to suffer the consequences of bad actions? Only a bewildered fool cannot see this.
"While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises. From anger, delusion arises, and from delusion bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, intelligence is lost, and when intelligence is lost, one falls down again into the material pool." -- Bhagavad-gītā 2.62
This is why people do bad actions. They have lost their intelligence. They haven't been instructed to do good actions and restain themselves with yoga.
There is a nice Buddhist sutta that explains why an angry person does bad actions.
An angry person is ugly & sleeps poorly.
Gaining a profit, he turns it into a loss,
having done damage with word & deed.
A person overwhelmed with anger
destroys his wealth.
Maddened with anger,
he destroys his status.
Relatives, friends, & colleagues avoid him.
Anger brings loss.
Anger inflames the mind.
He doesn't realize
that his danger is born from within.
An angry person doesn't know his own benefit.
An angry person doesn't see the Dhamma.
A man conquered by anger is in a mass of darkness.
He takes pleasure in bad deeds as if they were good,
but later, when his anger is gone,
he suffers as if burned with fire.
He is spoiled, blotted out,
like fire enveloped in smoke.
When anger spreads,
when a man becomes angry,
he has no shame, no fear of evil,
is not respectful in speech.
For a person overcome with anger,
nothing gives light.
I'll list the deeds that bring remorse,
that are far from the teachings.
An angry person kills his father,
kills his mother,
& people run-of-the-mill.
It's because of a mother's devotion
that one sees the world,
yet an angry run-of-the-mill person
can kill this giver of life.
Like oneself, all beings hold themselves most dear,
yet an angry person, deranged,
can kill himself in many ways:
with a sword, taking poison,
hanging himself by a rope in a mountain glen.
Doing these deeds
that kill beings and do violence to himself,
the angry person doesn't realize that he's ruined.
This snare of Mara, in the form of anger,
dwelling in the cave of the heart:
cut it out with self-control,
discernment, persistence, right view.
The wise man would cut out
each & every form of unskillfulness.
'May we not be blotted out.'
Free from anger & untroubled,
free from greed, without longing,
tamed, your anger abandoned,
free from fermentation,
you will be unbound.
This is not a joke. Angry people ruin their life. They lost their wealth, insult their friends and loose all good people. Even animals avoid angry people.
The best remedy for anger is just the opposite: good wishes. Send good wishes to those who angered you and you will become free. Anger should be eliminated from the heart with acts of kindness for oneself and other living entities. Sorry for posting Buddhist suttas on Hindu StackExchange, but this information doesn't violate any Vedic thought and it gives additional explanations that are [as far as I know] not so elaborately explained in Vedic scriptures.
People do evil actions because they lack wisdom. They fail to fight with their hidden animal instincts of the senses, like lust, greed and anger. They lack viveka (wisdom) and vairagya (renunciation) just like inferior animal-insect souls.
It [the Mundaka Upanishad] leads you on, beyond the senses — infinitely more sublime than the suns and stars. First Angiras tried to describe God by sense sublimities — that His feet are the earth, His head the heavens. But that did not express what he wanted to say. It was in a sense sublime. He first gave that idea to the student and then slowly took him beyond, until he gave him the highest idea — the negative — too high to describe.
He is immortal, He is before us, He is behind us, He is on the right side, He is on the left, He is above, He is beneath.
Upon the same tree there are two birds with most beautiful wings, and the two birds always go together — always live together. Of these, one is eating the fruits of the tree; the other, without eating, is looking on.
So in this body are the two birds always going together. Both have the same form and beautiful wings. One is the human soul, eating the fruits; the other is God Himself, of the same nature. He is also in this body, the Soul of our soul. He eats neither good nor evil fruits, but stands and looks on.
But the lower bird knows that he is weak and small and humble, and tells all sorts of lies. He says he is a woman, or he is a man or a boy. He says he will do good or do bad; he will go to heaven and will do a hundred sorts of things. In delirium he talks and works, and the central idea of his delirium is that he is weak.
Thus he gets all the misery because he thinks he is nobody. He is a created little being. He is a slave to somebody; he is governed by some god or gods, and so is unhappy.
But when he becomes joined with God, when he becomes a Yogi, he sees that the other bird, the Lord, is his own glory. "Why, it was my own glory whom I called God, and this little "I", this misery, was all hallucination; it never existed. I was never a woman, never a man, never any one of these things." Then he gives up all his sorrow.
When this Golden One, who is to be seen, is seen — the Creator, the Lord, the Purusha, the God of this universe — then the sage has washed off all stains of good and bad deeds. (Good deeds are as much stains as bad deeds.) Then he attains to total sameness with the Pure One.
The sage knows that He who is the Soul of all souls — this Atman — shines through all.
He is the man, the woman, the cow, the dog — in all animals, in the sin and in the sinner. He is the Sannyâsin, He is in the ruler, He is everywhere.
Knowing this the sage speaks not. (He gives up criticizing anyone, scolding anyone, thinking evil of anyone.) His desires have gone into the Atman. This is the sign of the greatest knowers of Brahman — that they see nothing else but Him.
He is playing through all these things. Various forms — from the highest gods to the lowest worms — are all He. The ideas want to be illustrated.
Everyone is seeking happiness but material happiness is transitory. A Bhogi seeks happiness in matter but a Yogi finds it in Atman. This is also explained in Bhagvata Gita Chapter 2
But an undisciplined person, who has not controlled the mind and senses, can neither have a resolute intellect nor steady contemplation on God. For one who never unites the mind with God there is no peace; and how can one who lacks peace be happy?
Just as a strong wind sweeps a boat off its chartered course on the water, even one of the senses on which the mind focuses can lead the intellect astray.
Therefore, one who has restrained the senses from their objects, O mighty armed Arjun, is firmly established in transcendental knowledge.
What all beings consider as day is the night of ignorance for the wise, and what all creatures see as night is the day for the introspective sage.
Just as the ocean remains undisturbed by the incessant flow of waters from rivers merging into it, likewise the sage who is unmoved despite the flow of desirable objects all around him attains peace, and not the person who strives to satisfy desires.
That person, who gives up all material desires and lives free from a sense of greed, proprietorship, and egoism, attains perfect peace.
O Parth, such is the state of an enlightened soul that having attained it, one is never again deluded. Being established in this consciousness even at the hour of death, one is liberated from the cycle of life and death and reaches the Supreme Abode of God.
-- Bhagavad Gita 2.66-72