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The Divine and the Demonic

Part 76 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

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Divine and demonic

In every religious tradition we have the idea of two ways to live in this world or two kinds of people to be found in this world. And in each tradition there are several forms of this classification. So now in this sixteenth chapter we find what is no doubt the oldest recorded form of this approach. Vyasa postulates that human beings are divided into two types: divine and demonic. He uses two Sanskrit words: daivim and asurim–devic and asuric.

Deva literally means “shining one.” Though it is usually applied to highly evolved astral beings, in this chapter it refers to people who live in the light of spiritual consciousness which illumines their outer life as well. These people were called Arya in more ancient writings and in the teachings of Buddha. Devim, or devic, is the inner and outer state of such shining ones, and indicates that they are progressing toward liberation.

Asura means one who is without light (sura), without spiritual consciousness, who has a darkened consciousness, even preferring dark to light. Such persons are asuric (asurim), turned away from divinity within and without and moving further into degradation of consciousness and life.

This is a grave subject, especially since we often see divine and demonic traits in the same person. Such a one must discriminate clearly and eliminate the demonic and foster the divine. So in considering this we must not think that if we have a preponderance of devic qualities it assures us that all is well. Even the presence of a single demonic quality or tendency is of great danger to us lest it draw us away from the light into the dark. On the other hand, if in a predominantly demonic person we find one or more divine traits we can encourage them to move more into the light. For no one ever stands still: we are either moving upward or downward. Yet at all times we must remember that the Self of both the daivic and the asuric is fundamentally divine.

The divine personality

The Holy Lord said: Fearlessness, purity of being, steadfastness in knowledge and yoga, almsgiving, self-control, sacrifice, self-study [swadhyaya], tapasya, and straightforwardness, non-violence, truthfulness, absence of anger, renunciation, tranquillity, without calumny, compassion for beings, uncovetousness, gentleness, modesty, absence of fickleness, vigor, patience, fortitude, purity, absence of hatred, absence of pride–they are the endowment of those born to a divine state (16:1-3).

Since this is self-explanatory, I am going to give you the Sanskrit terms and the full definitions of the words that have more than one meaning, taken from A Brief Sanskrit Glossary.

Fearlessness. Abhaya(m): “Without fear;” fearlessness; a state of steadfastness in which one is not swayed by fear of any kind; absence of fear.

Purity of being. Sattwasamshuddhi: Purity of being; purity of heart; purity of feeling; increase of light and purity; purification of one’s existence.

Almsgiving. Danam: “Giving;” gift; charity; almsgiving; self-sacrifice; donation; generosity.

Self-control. Dama: Self-control; control of the senses; restraint; taming; domination.

Sacrifice. Yajna: Sacrifice; worship; offering; sacrificial ceremony; a ritual sacrifice; usually the fire sacrifice known as agnihotra or havan.

Self-study. Swadhyaya: Introspective self-study or self-analysis leading to self-understanding. It can also mean study of scriptures and spiritual texts, especially those pertaining to the Self.

Austerity. Tapasya: Practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline; self-denial; spiritual force.

Straightforwardness. Arjava: honesty; rectitude; righteousness; simplicity.

Non-violence. Ahimsa: Non-injury in thought, word, and deed; non-violence; non-killing; harmlessness.

Truthfulness. Satya(m): Truth; the Real; Brahman, or the Absolute; truthfulness; honesty.

Renunciation. Tyaga: Literally: “abandonment.” Renunciation.

Tranquility. Shanti: Peace; serenity; calm; tranquility; contentment.

Without calumny. Apaishunam: Absence of calumny, slander, or fault-finding.

Uncovetousness. Aloluptwam: Freedom from desire, lust, or greed.

Gentleness. Mardava(m): Gentleness; kindness; mildness; tenderness.

Modesty. Hri: Modesty; bashfulness; absence of pride.

Absence of fickleness. Achapalam: Determination; absence of fickleness; absence of change; immovability; fixedness, firmness; steadiness; steadfastness.

Vigor. Tejas: Vigor; strength; radiance.

Patience. Kshama: Patience, forgiveness; forbearance.

Fortitude. Dhriti: Determination; determined; steadfast; constant; attraction; sustaining effort; firmness; patience; endurance; fortitude; courage; strength.

Purity. Shaucha: Purity; cleanliness (of mind and body).

Absence of hatred [malice]. Adrohas: Without malice; absence of hatred.

Absence of pride. Atimanita: Without excessive pride; high honor.

They are the endowment of those born to a divine state. Fortunately we do not have to possess all of these to be yogis, but we should work toward it. This is a valuable checklist and can reveal who is a real spiritual aspirant destined to get somewhere. No one is beyond it. This I can tell you: Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh (Divine Life Society) embodied every one of these virtues to the maximum possible degree. So it can be done.


We bring into this world only what we have accumulated in past lives. This is our inheritance, so to speak. God has absolutely nothing to do with it, nor does anyone else or any factors whatsoever other than our own previous action. It is our destiny as determined by us–none other and nothing other.

Hypocrisy, arrogance, conceit, anger, harshness and ignorance are the endowment of those born to a demonic state (16:4).

Those who spontaneously exhibit these traits are demonic in nature. We see this even in children and it increases as the years go along. The environment of the demonic reflect their nature–those around them have the same traits as individuals and as a society in general.

The divine state is deemed to lead to liberation, the demonic to bondage. Do not grieve: you are born for a divine state (16:5).

If we cultivate those qualities on the deva list and root out those qualities on the demon list our liberation is assured in time, just as increased bondage is certain for those who persist in the ways of the demons. It is interesting to see the modesty of Arjuna and his awareness of human frailty, for Krishna sees that he fears lest he be of demonic destiny. This is how it always is on this earth: the unworthy feel worthy and the worthy feel unworthy. There is a healthy self-doubt and self-mistrust.

More about the demons

There are two types of beings in this world: the divine and the demonic. The divine has been described at length. Hear from me of the demonic (16:6).

The Gita is a very positive and spiritually optimistic book, so why are we being shown the way of demons? For a very positive reason: so we will detect demonic ways in ourselves and counteract them, and so we will discern whether those we encounter are divine or demonic. For the wise yogi avoids the demonic and seeks out the divine. If he finds demonic persons already in his life he eliminates these associations. Usually when he meditates and changes his vibration they fade out of his life, but if not then he must himself terminate the association as gently and diplomatically as possible.

Demonic men know not what to do or refrain from; purity is not found in them, nor is good conduct, nor is truth (16:7).

This is so true that it takes the breath away. The demonic not only do not know what they should or should not do, they hate the very idea of knowing, because then they would have to face their corruption. And they hate anything that would somehow make the truth plain to them. They are opponents of truth, purity, and right action. And that includes those who contentedly (often smugly) say: “I am an agnostic.” As Jesus told Nicodemus: “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:19-21).

“The world,” they say, “is without truth, without a basis, without God, produced by mutual union, with lust for its cause–what else?” (16:8).

This is certainly a picture of those that today consider themselves the intellectual, academic and political elite.

Aparaspara is translated “mutual union” by many translators into English, but it literally means “not one by the other,” or “not by a succession.” In his translation Judge has: “not governed by law,” and Aurobindo: “a world of chance.” It seems to me that the idea is denial of both cause and effect and the manifestation of the universe in an orderly and hierarchical manner according to exact laws. We are all familiar with the atheistic-materialistic ideas about the universe being without meaning, purpose or even order. It seems to me that Vyasa is indicating that such a view of the world without either God or cosmic order is demonic.

Holding this view, these lost souls, small-minded and of cruel deeds, arise as the enemies of the world, bent on its destruction (16:9).

This verse has some interesting aspects that need looking into. Two words are used to describe these demons:

Nastatmanas. This word means those whose souls are lost, in the sense of a condition of being lost, and those who have lost touch with their souls. It is amusing to think how annoyed many yogis get when Fundamentalist Christians ask them if they are “saved,” but here we have the same concept in the Gita! Those away from God are lost and those that have been rescued from that state are saved. The souls wandering in illusion from life to life are certainly lost–to themselves. When we begin practicing meditation we see how lost we are to ourselves. Fortunately, this is only a mental condition that can be corrected by our own effort. For we are always one with God and completely in charge in the highest levels of our being.

Alpabuddhayas. This means those of small intelligence–both those who because of lack of evolution are limited in intelligence, and those who willfully choose to narrow their intelligence, to make their minds small in scope.

The actions of such people are cruel, greedy, and selfish–in other words: egocentric. They come into this world as its enemies, because its purpose is evolution and eventual liberation, and they loathe anything that uplifts and enlightens and will do anything to destroy it. To destroy spiritual knowledge and life is to strike at the very root of the world: its divine purpose. All like them are enemies of humanity, for true humanity is that which leads to divinity.

Attached to insatiable desires, full of hypocrisy, arrogance and intoxication, having accepted false ideas through delusion, they act with foul purposes (16:10).

Enslaved not just to the objects of desire, but to desire itself, these addicts of degradation are yet filled with pride, reveling in falsehood and illusion, bullying anyone who dares to not conform to their degraded ways. Believing their own madness they rush onward, increasing the pollution of their hearts.

Clinging to boundless cares ending only in death, with gratification of desire as their highest aim–convinced that this is all– (16:11).

These demons live in hell, even on earth, clinging to their fears and anxieties. We see this all the time in the way people love conflict and their own misfortunes. How many times do we see people that can easily be freed from their miseries, but aggressively defend them and repulse any means of alleviation.

Bound by a hundred snares of hope, given over to desire [lust] and anger, they seek to gain by unjust means accumulation of wealth to gratify their desires (16:12).

Sounds like the ideal modern “consumer.”

“Today this has been acquired by me. This I shall also obtain. This is mine, and this gain also shall be mine (16:13).

This is the pursuit of the dream of most people that is really a nightmare.

“That enemy has been slain by me, and I shall slay others, too, for I am the Lord, I am the enjoyer, I am successful, powerful and happy (16:14).

This is certainly the philosophy of most of the world’s governments, and of the big business that controls and motivates them.

“I am wealthy and high-born,” they say, “Who else is equal to me? I shall sacrifice, I shall give, I shall rejoice.” Thus, they are deluded by ignorance (16:15).

If this is not a picture of contemporary mankind, then what is? See how they “get religious” and give thanks to God for his “goodness”? And worse: they are the target of their own delusions.

Led astray by many imagined fancies, caught in a net of delusion, addicted to the gratifying of desire, they fall into a foul hell (16:16).

And that hell is their own foul mind.

Self-conceited, stubborn, filled with the intoxication of wealth, they sacrifice in name only, for show, not according to the prescribed forms (16:17).

Religion is no sign of virtue, as this verse shows. The religion of such persons has themselves as its center and its measure of worth. And the worst are those that “make up my own religion,” disregarding the ways and the words of the wise.

Clinging to egotism, power, haughtiness, desire and anger, these malignant people hate me in their own and in others’ bodies (16:18).

They do not mind parroting the “You Are God And I Am God” cliche, but they hate the manifestation of the divine Self in the form of moral purity and spiritual discipline as outlined by Patanjali:

  1. Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness
  2. Satya: truthfulness, honesty
  3. Asteya: non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriativeness
  4. Brahmacharya: sexual continence in thought, word and deed as well as control of all the senses
  5. Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness
  6. Shaucha: purity, cleanliness
  7. Santosha: contentment, peacefulness
  8. Tapas: austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline
  9. Swadhyaya: introspective self-study, spiritual study
  10. Ishwarapranidhana: offering of one’s life to God

They are masters of The Big Talk, but these ten virtues will be definitely missing from their minds and lives. You and I cannot change such people, but we can do one good thing: avoid them altogether.

These malicious evildoers, cruel, most degraded of men, I hurl perpetually into only the wombs of demons here (16:19).

Our environment–especially our family–is a reflection of our inner mind, otherwise we would have been born elsewhere.

Entering the demonic wombs, and deluded birth after birth, not attaining to me, they fall into a progressively lower condition (16:20).

The implication is that such persons sink so low that they become inwardly subhuman and and may even begin being born in animal bodies. This is a terrible thought, but more than one person has told me of seeing animals that seemed to be degraded humans. Yogananda once brought a cat to Brahmacharini Radhalila and asked her to care for it, saying that it had been a human being. “I won’t tell you what it did in its previous life to be born as a cat, because if I told you, you would hate it and would not take care of it.” She believed what he told her, because the cat had human eyes, not the eyes of a cat, and whoever it looked at would feel it instantly and get the shivers.

The demon doors

As we saw at the beginning of this chapter, the truly worthy often question their worth and are very aware of the possibility of their going astray. The demons, on the other hand, are completely assured of their worth and goodness. (Bishop Fulton Sheen tells in his autobiography of being called to the deathbed of a very old woman who said to him: “I am the worst woman in New York City.” “No you aren’t,” he told her. “If you were the worst woman in New York you would claim to be the best woman in New York.”) So, since Krishna’s message will only be heard by those of divine tendency, he tells us how to ensure that we will not fall into demonic consciousness:

Triple is the gate of this hell, destructive of the Self: desire, anger and greed. Therefore one should abandon (renounce) these three (16:21).

Kama, krodha, and lobha are the three Sanskrit words used here.

Kama is desire in any form. It is harmful because it overshadows the intelligence and will power and impels us to worthless or negative actions. So whether it is a mild force or a volcanic passion, desire must be resisted and eliminated, and lust is the greatest destroyer of all. Rather than desires we should have intelligent decisions backed up by the enlightened will.

Krodha is anger in all its shades of intensity. Anger is really frustrated egotism. As Krishna explains: “For a man dwelling on the objects of the senses, attachment to them is born; from attachment desire is born; and from [thwarted] desire anger is born. From anger arises delusion; from delusion, loss of memory; from loss of memory, destruction of intelligence [buddhi]: from destruction of intelligence one is lost” (2:62-63).

Lobha is greed, which includes envy and covetousness. Of the three it is the most obviously egotistical. It is both ego-worship and a demand that others worship our ego, too. Any force of “I want” is greed.

The truth is, these three doors to hell of the mind and body are mixed together. When you have one you are sure to have the other two, as time will prove. This being so, Krishna assures us that:

A man who is liberated from these three gates to darkness does what is best for him, and thus goes to the Highest Goal (16:22).

This is one of the most important teachings of the Gita. Tamodvarais can mean either “gates to darkness” or “gates to tamas.” In this instance I think it does mean the first, but it is instructive to realize that desire, anger, and greed, although rajasic, if indulged in will lead us down into tamas.

He who casts aside the injunctions of the scriptures, following the impulse of desire, attains neither perfection nor happiness, nor the Supreme Goal (16:23).

The need to follow the path outlined by the sages can hardly be exaggerated. Otherwise we follow our ego-whims, claiming to be intuitive and following our inner wisdom. Only those in the blinding grip of ego think that they can ignore the counsels of the enlightened and manage. But in most instances they really do not plan to manage. Rather, they plan to fall and then feel justified in abandoning any semblance of spiritual life altogether: “I used to be a yogi;” “I used to be a vegetarian;” “I used to be celibate;” “I used to be religious;” and worst of all: “I used to be a monk (or nun).” As Yogananda often said: “People are so skilled in their ignorance.”

Therefore the standards of the scriptures should be your guide in determining what should be done and what should not be done. Knowing what the scriptural injunctions prescribe, you should perform action here in this world (16:24).

This is the only sensible conclusion, one that will lead all who heed it to Eternal Wisdom.

Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Faith and the Three Gunas

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Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Preface to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:

  1. The Battlefield of the Mind
  2. On the Field of Dharma
  3. Taking Stock
  4. The Smile of Krishna
  5. Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
  6. Experiencing the Unreal
  7. The Unreal and the Real
  8. The Body and the Spirit
  9. Know the Atman!
  10. Practical Self-Knowledge
  11. Perspective on Birth and Death
  12. The Wonder of the Atman
  13. The Indestructible Self
  14. “Happy the Warrior”
  15. Buddhi Yoga
  16. Religiosity Versus Religion
  17. Perspective on Scriptures
  18. How Not To Act
  19. How To Act
  20. Right Perspective
  21. Wisdom About the Wise
  22. Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
  23. The Way of Peace
  24. Calming the Storm
  25. First Steps in Karma Yoga
  26. From the Beginning to the End
  27. The Real “Doers”
  28. Our Spiritual Marching Orders
  29. Freedom From Karma
  30. “Nature”
  31. Swadharma
  32. In the Grip of the Monster
  33. Devotee and Friend
  34. The Eternal Being
  35. The Path
  36. Caste and Karma
  37. Action–Divine and Human
  38. The Mystery of Action and Inaction
  39. The Wise in Action
  40. Sacrificial Offerings
  41. The Worship of Brahman
  42. Action–Renounced and Performed
  43. Freedom (Moksha)
  44. The Brahman-Knower
  45. The Goal of Karma Yoga
  46. Getting There
  47. The Yogi’s Retreat
  48. The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
  49. Union With Brahman
  50. The Yogi’s Future
  51. Success in Yoga
  52. The Net and Its Weaver
  53. Those Who Seek God
  54. Those Who Worship God and the Gods
  55. The Veil in the Mind
  56. The Big Picture
  57. The Sure Way To Realize God
  58. Day, Night, and the Two Paths
  59. The Supreme Knowledge
  60. Universal Being
  61. Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
  62. Worshipping the One
  63. Going To God
  64. Wisdom and Knowing
  65. Going To The Source
  66. From Hearing To Seeing
  67. The Wisdom of Devotion
  68. Right Conduct
  69. The Field and Its Knower
  70. Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
  71. Seeing the One Within the All
  72. The Three Gunas
  73. The Cosmic Tree
  74. Freedom
  75. The All-pervading Reality
  76. The Divine and the Demonic
  77. Faith and the Three Gunas
  78. Food and the Three Gunas
  79. Religion and the Three Gunas
  80. Tapasya and the Three Gunas
  81. Charity and the Three Gunas
  82. Sannyasa and Tyaga
  83. Deeper Insights On Action
  84. Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
  85. The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
  86. The Three Kinds of Happiness
  87. Freedom
  88. The Great Devotee
  89. The Final Words
  90. Glossary

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Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.

Read The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) by Swami Nirmalananda Giri (Abbot George Burke).

Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary

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