Demoinic Qualities According to the Bhagavadgita

Demonic or Asura Qualities

by Jayaram V

Summary: Human beings are a mixture of both divine and demonic qualities according to the predominance of the gunas and the presence of other impurities. In this essay we present the nature of demonic qualities, their influence, the conduct of demonic people, the nature of evil and the consequences of sinful actions according to the Bhagavadgita.

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) but also in other worlds and forms, including our minds and bodies, as tendencies and impulses. When they invade the bodies, humans lose their discretion and indulge in senseless acts of violence, anger, cruelty, delusion, greed, pride and lust.

Importance of human life

According to Hinduism, earth has a great significance in the creation of God. Only the beings of the earth have the unique opportunity to work for their liberation and ascend into higher worlds. However, at the same time they also face the risk of falling into darkest hells through sinful actions. If anyone from other worlds aspires to attain liberation, they have to take birth in the mortal world and strive for it. Since the earth has such a significance in the cosmic design of God and the fate of the worlds, both gods and demons consider our world a major battleground to establish their dominance and control. Besides, the gods cannot live without humans, just as we cannot live with our domestic animals. They depend upon humans for nourishment and the sacrificial offerings they make; while the demons look to them to extend their influence and establish their control. Both groups keep an eye on our world and lives, looking for opportunities to increase their influence and control. They exploit our vulnerabilities, desires and expectations to influence our thoughts and actions, and our conduct and behavior to suit their needs.

Therefore, it is important for us to know how demonic nature arises and manifests in our conduct and behavior, and how it may interfere with our lives and liberation. The knowledge will help us not only to safeguard ourselves against evil but also remain on the right side of life and on the side of God. By avoiding evil and staying away from those who possess evil or demonic qualities, we can minimize our chances of falling into evil ways and becoming victims of demonic nature. If you know the nature of evil and demonic qualities, how they manifest in human behavior, and how evil people with demonic qualities live and act, you can avoid their company, remain on guard and save yourself from a great calamity, for calamity it is to fall into the company of demonic people or become one like them.

By listing both divine and demonic qualities the Bhagavadgita teaches the distinction between them so that we can develop discernment and make right choices in guiding our lives towards light and liberation. We can also use the knowledge to guide others or regulate our moral and social conduct for the welfare of the world. 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 protect ourselves from becoming unwitting vehicles of evil nature, depravity and degradation.

The body as the battleground between good and evil

Since human beings are deluded and ignorant by nature, they have the potential to follow good or evil, according to their past karma, or their present conduct, knowledge and intelligence. If they cultivate divine qualities, they have a great chance of travelling to the immortal world upon their death by the path of gods. However, if they cultivate demonic qualities, they fall into demonic worlds. Human life is precious. Each human being is modelled in the same way as the Cosmic Being (Purusha) with a body and soul like him. Hence, we contain within ourselves all the essential aspects of creation as 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 (pure) food, 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 to 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, or the evil ones, as destructive, cruel and deluded, who do not acknowledge God or his role as the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer of the worlds. Because of their ignorance, they do not sincerely worship him or offer their respects. Instead, they hate Him or envy him. Even if they worship him, which they often do, they do it out of egoism and vanity to satisfy their personal desires or improve 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 necessary, they do not mind opposing Him and fighting with him.

The Self as the enemy of the Self

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 remains bound to the mortal world, enveloped in ignorance. The physical Self and the eternal Self are the two fundamental aspects of a living being. By its actions and attachments, the physical Self incurs karma and binds the immortal Self to the cycle of births and deaths. Therefore, for the deluded and ignorant, their minds and bodies which are filled with impurities, become their enemies and obstruct their spiritual Wellbeing. Unless they purify them 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 which are perched on the tree of life. One eats and enjoys the sweet and bitter fruit of the tree, while the other one, the Self, calmly watches the whole drama. The tree is a reference to the mortal world, the bird which enjoys it the physical self or the ego and the witnessing bird is the immortal Self. If they are in harmony, peace prevails. If they are not, chaos and disorder reign in one’s life.

Due to the presence of impurities in our consciousness, human beings indulge in selfish actions which lead to their suffering and bondage. Deluded people, who disregard their spiritual nature and destiny, live with the belief and under the illusion that somehow the laws of life do not apply to them and somehow they will remain untouched by the consequences of their own actions and the transience of life. With that assumption, they live as if Nature is going to make an exception out of them and keep them alive for long, free from the process of aging and dying. If this is not true, a majority of people upon earth would live responsibly and work for their salvation. Since it does not happen in the real world, evidently most people remain wedded to their egoistic thinking, and selfish actions. Some would even go to the extreme and become demonic. They give themselves over completely to evil nature and bring upon themselves great misery

The practice of virtue is necessary for liberation. The rules and restraints of Yoga are necessary for self-transformation and purification. 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. Both are necessary to overcome ignorance and suppress the latent demonic tendencies that are mixed up with human nature. One is the scriptural knowledge, which arises from the self-study (svadhyaya) of the sacred texts, and the other is the experiential knowledge which arises from personal experiences and 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.

Demonic qualities and evil nature

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 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.

Lacking 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).

Lacking 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

Lacking 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)

Lacking 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)

Lackin 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)

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

Lacking 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.

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

Lacking 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 do not recognize Him as the supreme and Imperishable (7.13) and worship him (7.15)

Lacking respect for the inner Self: Lacking 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 in 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 forever be 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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