Demonic Qualities of Asuras, the Evil People

Demonic or Asura Qualities

by Jayaram V

Demonic qualities (asura sampada) are the tendencies (pravrittis) that are opposed to God and liberation. They interfere with our spiritual practice by creating mental afflictions (klesas) and disturbances (vrittis) and lead us in the wrong direction (durgati). The demons are the dark forces of the universe. They are forever in conflict with gods, the forces of light. God is the balancing power. He makes sure that the demons stay in their ordained sphere and do not upset the universal peace or spread chaos and terror, which they love to do whenever they get an opportunity. The demons not only live in the dark worlds (asurya lokas), they also live in various aspects of manifestation, including our minds and bodies, as tendencies and impulses. When they invade the bodies, men lose their discretion and indulge in senseless acts of violence, anger, cruelty, delusion, greed, pride and lust.

According to our tradition, earth has a great significance in the creation of God. Liberation and ascent into higher worlds is possible only through mortal existence; so also the possibility of degradation and descent into the darkest hells. Whoever from the higher worlds wants to attain liberation, that being has to come here and take birth to move forward. Therefore, for the gods and demons, the earth is a battleground. The gods need the human beings for their nourishment; and the demons need them for increasing their strength. Both sides are always looking for opportunities to increase their influence upon earth. They do it mostly by influencing our thoughts and actions and guiding our lives according to their grand designs

We need to know how demonic nature arises and manifests in us and how it may interfere with our lives and liberation. Such knowledge helps us remain on the right side of things. By avoiding them and staying away from those who possess them, we can minimize our chances of falling into degradation. If you know how demonic people live and act, you can avoid their company and save yourself from a great calamity, for calamity it is to fall into the company of demonic people or become one like them. We need to know the distinction between the divine and demonic qualities, so that we develop discernment and make right choices in guiding our lives towards light and liberation and of those who depend upon us or look to us for inspiration and guidance. By knowing the distinction between the two, and cultivating proper discernment, we can lead righteous lives, performing our obligatory duties in obedience to the will of God. At the same time we can also avoid becoming vehicles of demonic forces and falling into depravity and degradation

Being deluded and ignorant by nature, human beings have the potential to be good or wicked depending upon the choices they make and the attitude with which they seek things and perform their actions. Since we are modeled in the manner of the Cosmic Being (Purusha) we contain within ourselves all the essential aspects of creation in the form of organs, components (tattvas) and energies. Depending upon our purity and propensity, we may nurture either the gods or the demons that reside in us. If we feed the divinities with sattvic food, and good thoughts and actions,, we allow the divinities to grow in strength and help us in our self-transformation and liberation. On the contrary, if we feed the demons, they grow in strength and transform our minds and bodies into virtual hells. What we do and what we sow within our consciousness, therefore, is of utmost importance in our lives and our wellbeing. So also the food we eat. If we eat sattvic food, we grow into gods. If we eat tamasic food, we grow darkness in us

The Bhagavadgita describes the demonic beings as destructive, cruel and deluded beings, who do not acknowledge God or His role as the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer of the worlds. Because of their ignorance, they do not worship Him or offer their respects. Instead, they hate Him or envy Him. Even if they worship Him, they do so out of egoism and vanity, to satisfy their personal desires and show off their power and status. For them the physical Self is the real Self and the material world is the only reality. If it suits them, they worship God but if they deem it necessary, they do not mind to oppose Him and fight with Him

Impurity is for the mind and the body. The Self is always pure and resplendent, even in its embodied state. It is impervious to evil. However if one engages in evil actions, it remain bound to the mortal world, enveloped in ignorance. The physical Self and the inner Self, these are the two fundamental aspects of a living being. By its actions and attachments, the physical self binds the immortal Self to the cycle of births and deaths. Therefore, for the deluded and ignorant, their demon, or the enemy, exists but within themselves as their own being. Unless they purify their minds and bodies and surrender themselves to God, they will remain deluded and distracted from the goal of liberation. We find a reference to these two selves in the Mundaka Upanishad as the two birds perched on the tree of life; one eats and enjoys the sweet and bitter fruit of the tree, while the other bird, the Self, calmly watches. The tree is a reference to the body; the enjoying bird is the physical self and the witnessing bird is the immortal Self. If they are in harmony, peace prevails. If they are not, chaos and disorder reign

Due to the presence of impurities in our consciousness, we tend to indulge in actions that lead to our suffering and bondage. We live with the belief and the illusion that somehow the laws of life do not apply to us and somehow we remain untouched by the consequences of our own actions and the transience of life. With that assumption, we live as if Nature is going to make an exception out of us and keep us alive for long, free from the process of aging and dying. If this were not so, a majority of people upon earth would live their lives responsibly and work for their salvation. Since this is not happening, most of us remain wedded to our egoistic thinking and selfish actions. Some would even go to the extreme and become demonic. They give themselves over completely to demonic nature and bring upon themselves great misery

Practice of virtue is necessary for our liberation. The rules and restraints prescribed on the path of yoga are necessary to bring about a transformation in our selves. Studying scriptures like the Bhagavadgita and assimilating their teachings helps us greatly to cultivate right conduct and lead god-centric lives on the path of righteousness. Knowledge comes in two ways and both are essential to overcome our ignorance and suppress the latent demonic tendencies inherent in our nature. One is the intellectual knowledge, which arises from study (svadhyaya), and the other arises from personal experiences arising from regular practice (abhyasa). Both lead to the refinement of character and discerning wisdom whereby we know what leads to liberation and what contributes to bondage

In the 16th chapter of the Bhagavadgita, we find a very detailed description of the demonic qualities of the wicked people and the consequences arising from them. Lord Krishna explains that there are two types of beings in the world, the divine and the demonic. Divine tendencies lead to liberation and demonic ones to bondage and suffering. The scripture declares that those who fall deeply into evil ways are the lowest of the humanity. Because of their demonic nature, they are cast forever into unclean and demonic wombs. Born thus in evil wombs, birth after birth, they sink into the lowest hell (16.19 & 20). What leads to such vile nature? Lord Krishna says that lust (kama), anger (krodha) and greed (lobha) are the triple gates of hell. They lead to one’s downfall. Those who are liberated from them work for their spiritual welfare; but those who disobey the scriptural injunctions and act under the influence of their lustful passions attain neither perfection, nor happiness nor the Highest Goal.

The Bhagavadgita (16.06) says that there are two types of beings in the world, the divine and the demonic. According to the Upanishads, in the beginning of creation Brahma created demons, gods and humans in the same order. The humans share the qualities of both and also support them both by nourishing them. The demonic beings prefer darkness because of their tamasic quality; the divine beings prefer light because of their sattvic nature. The demonic beings perform actions selfishly out of vanity and egoism; the divine beings perform actions selflessly as an offering to God. By nature the demonic beings are cruel and prefer pain to pleasure; the divine beings are pleasure oriented and prefer happiness and personal comfort. The demonic beings are opposed to God; the divine beings obey His commands and follow His percepts. The demonic people love to spread chaos, confusion and disorder; the light beings love to spread peace, happiness and orderliness. The demonic people regard the mind and the body as the real Self, while the divine beings consider it a mere temporary construct prone to death, disease and destruction. The demonic people live as if there is no life beyond death. The gods are immortals and last till the end of creation. The following list of demonic qualities is based on the teachings of the scripture. They suggest why it is important to tread the path of gods rather than that of demons.

Lack of discrimination: Demonic people lack discrimination since their intelligence is deluded by ignorance and impurities. Therefore, they do not know what actions should be performed and what should be avoided (16.7). They consider enjoyment of desires as the highest goal instead of liberation (16.11).

Lack of balance: Demonic people lack balance. The go to extremes in performing their actions or voicing their opinions, with little consideration for their strengths and weakness and in disproportion to their wealth or power

Lack of virtue: Demonic people do not believe in virtuous conduct. They do not know about cleanliness; nor do they know about traditions and customs (acharam). They lack truthfulness. Filled with lust, vanity, pride and arrogance, pursuing illusory things because of delusion, they engage in unclean actions. They are self-centered, selfish, egoistic, and narrow-minded and indulge immediate gratification without worrying about the consequences (16.14)

Lack of knowledge: They hold perverted opinions about the nature of the world and creation, thinking that the world is unreal, without foundation, and exists solely because of sexual activity (16.08). Deluged by ignorance, not knowing the true nature of their essential nature, they take pride in their birth, family lineage, wealth and religiosity (16.15)

Lack of compassion: Since they cannot discern the truth of our existence, they engage in hostile and cruel actions seeking the destruction of the world (16.09)

Lack of stability: Demonic people suffer from countless worries until their death, as they give themselves completely to enjoyment of worldly pleasures (16.11)

Lack of respect for truth and justice: Driven by expectations and given over to thoughts of lust and anger, they try to amass wealth by unjust and unlawful means for the fulfillment of desires.

Lack of respect for tradition: Conceited, arrogant, proud, and intoxicated by wealth, they perform sacrifices for namesake only out of vanity and against tradition (16.17)

Lack of devotion to God: Given over to egoism, vanity, strength, lust and anger, they hate God and envy Him, who abides in them as well as in others (16.18). Carried away by delusion, they not recognize Him as the supreme and Imperishable (7.13) and worship Him (7.15)

Lack of respect for the inner Self: Lacking in knowledge and intelligence, and not knowing His Supreme State as the Supreme Lord, they disrespect the Self that lives in the human body (9.11). Instead of taking refuge in the Self, they take refuge in the demonic nature (9.12)

Demonic people of the Age of Kali

In this age of Kali, the world will increasingly become vulnerable to demonic nature, whereby people lose their sense of right and wrong and become materialistic and excessively evil. As one saintly person once remarked, in the beginning the demons used to live in far away worlds of total darkness. Later they began living in remote places upon earth, where light could not enter. Then they began entering our thoughts, as our minds became polluted with unclean thoughts. Nowadays they live very much inside us as we have given ourselves completely to the dominance of rajas and tamas. They are now not only ruling us from inside but also from outside as our leaders and role models. The demons have conquered the world, at least temporarily, until another incarnation comes. All religions are completely under their sway. Hence we have so much hatred and ill will arising from our religious beliefs and practices. In the Mahanirvana Tantra, Goddess Parvathi speaks about the evil nature of the present age, which is summarized below.

  • It will be a sinful age, full of evil customs and deceit, as Dharma will be destroyed, and people will pursue evil ways.
  • The Vedas will lose their power and Smritis (sacred books of revelations) will be forgotten. Many of the Puranas, which contain stories of the past, and describe the ways of liberation, will be destroyed.
  • Men will become averse to religious rites. They will lose morality and virtue, and give themselves over to evil actions. They will become without restraint, maddened with pride, lustful, gluttonous, cruel... addicted to mean habits... thievish, calumnious, malicious, quarrelsome...devoid of all sense of shame and sin and of fear to seduce the wives of others.
  • The priests will live like the working class. Neglecting their own daily sacrifices, they will officiate at the sacrifices of the low. They will become greedy, given over to wicked and sinful acts... Eating unclean food and following evil customs, they will...lust after low women, and will be wicked and ready to barter for money even their own wives to the low. In short, the only sign that they are Brahmanas will be the thread they wear. Observing no rule in eating or drinking or in other matters, scoffing at the Dharma Scriptures, no thought of pious speech ever so much as entering their minds, they will be but bent upon the injury of the good.
  • Since people of this age are full of greed, lust, and gluttony, by that they will neglect their sadhana (spiritual practice) and will fall into sin. Having drunk much wine for the sake of the pleasure of the senses, they will become mad with intoxication, and bereft of all notion of right and wrong
  • Some will violate the wives of others, others will become rogues, and some, in the indiscriminating rage of lust, will go (whoever she be) with any woman.
  • Overeating and drinking will disease many and deprive them of strength and sense. Disordered by madness, they will meet death, falling into lakes, pits, or in impenetrable forests, or from hills or housetops.
  • While some will be as mute as corpses, others will be forever on the chatter, and yet others will quarrel with their relatives and elders. They will be evil-doers, cruel, and the destroyers of Dharma

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