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–even in the Didache, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, the oldest Christian text known to us. 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. Daivim, 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 darkened consciousness, 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
“Fearlessness, purity of being, perseverance in yoga and knowledge, charity, self-restraint, and sacrifice, self-study, austerity, and uprightness, non-violence, truthfulness, absence of anger, renunciation, serenity, absence of calumny, compassion for all beings, freedom from desire, gentleness, modesty, absence of fickleness, vigor, patience [or: forgiveness], fortitude, purity, freedom from malice [or: hatred], freedom from pride; these are the endowment of those born to a divine destiny” (16:1-3).
Since this is self-explanatory, I am going to give you the Sanskrit terms and their full definitions taken from A Brief Sanskrit Glossary of the words that have more than one meaning.
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.
Charity. Danam: “Giving;” gift; charity; almsgiving; self-sacrifice; donation; generosity.
Self-restraint. 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: Austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline; self-denial; spiritual force.
Uprightness. Arjava: Straightforwardness; 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.
Serenity. Shanti: Peace; serenity; calm; tranquility; contentment.
Absence of calumny. Apaishunam: Absence of calumny, slander, or fault-finding.
Freedom from desire. 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.
Vigor. Tejas: Vigor; strength.
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).
Freedom from malice. Adrohas: Freedom from malice; absence of hatred.
Freedom from pride. Atimanita: Excessive pride; high honor.
These are the endowment of those born to a divine destiny. 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. It is a pity that it is not applied to those that claim to be gurus. This I can tell you: I saw for myself that 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 [or: fraud], arrogance, pride, anger, harshness, and ignorance are the endowment of those born to a demoniacal destiny” (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 destiny leads to liberation, the demoniacal to bondage. Do not grieve: you are born to a divine destiny, Arjuna” (16:5).
If we cultivate those qualities on the deva list and root out those on the demon list our liberation is assured in time, just as increased bondage is certain for 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 classes of created beings in this world: the divine and the demoniacal. The divine has been explained at length, now hear from Me about the demoniacal” (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 the 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.
“Demoniacal men do not understand when to act and when to refrain from action. Neither purity, nor good conduct, nor truth is found in them” (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” or: “I am a ‘doubting Thomas.’” 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 basis, without a God, brought about by sexual union alone–how else?’” (16:8) This is certainly a picture of those that today consider themselves the intellectual, academic, and political elite. “Holding this view, these men of lost souls, of small intelligence, and of cruel actions, come forth as enemies of the world for 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 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–lost to God and to themselves. When we begin practicing meditation we see how lost we are to ourselves. Fortunately, this is a 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 with leads to divinity.
“Attached to insatiable desire, full of hypocrisy, arrogance, and lust, having accepted false notions through delusion, they work with unclean resolves” (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 immeasurable anxiety, 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 they aggressively defend them and repulse any means of alleviation.
“Bound by a hundred snares of hope, devoted to desire and anger, they seek to obtain, by unjust means, hoards of wealth for the gratification of their desires” (16:12). Sounds like the ideal modern “consumer.”
“‘This has been obtained by me today; this desire I shall attain; this is mind, and this wealth 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. I am a 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. Who else is equal to me? I shall worship, I shall give in charity, 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 religion” and give thanks to God for “His goodness”? The worse thing is: they are the target of their own delusions.
“Led astray by many imaginings, enveloped in a net of delusion, attached to the gratification of desires, they fall into a foul hell” (16:16). And that hell is their own foul mind.
“Self-conceited, stubborn, filled with the pride and arrogance of wealth, they perform sacrifices only in name, with hypocrisy, and not according to scriptural injunction” (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, force, insolence, desire, and anger, those malicious people hate Me in their own and 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.
“Those cruel haters, impure and vile men, I constantly hurl into demonic wombs in the cycles of rebirth” (16:19). Our environment–especially our family–is a reflection of our inner mind, otherwise we would have been born elsewhere.
“Entering demonic wombs, the deluded, not attaining Me in birth after birth, from there go to the lowest 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. She believed it, because it 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. 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: “This is the threefold gate of hell, destructive of the self: desire [kama], anger [krodha], and greed [lobha]. therefore one should abandon these three” (16:21).
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 and demanding egotism. As Krishna explains: “For a man dwelling on the objects of the sense, an attachment to them is born; from attachment, desire is born; from [frustrated or disappointed] desire, anger is born. From anger arises delusion [moha]; from delusion, loss of the memory; from loss of the memory, destruction of intelligence [buddhi]; from destruction of intelligence one is lost [destroyed]” (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: “Released from these three gates to darkness, a man does what is best for himself. Then he 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 acts under the impulse of desire, casting aside the injunctions of the scriptures, does not attain perfection, nor happiness, nor the highest 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 of course 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, determining your standard by the scriptures, as to what is and what is not to be done, knowing the scriptural injunction prescribed, 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
Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:
- The Battlefield of the Mind
- On the Field of Dharma
- Taking Stock
- The Smile of Krishna
- Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
- Experiencing the Unreal
- The Unreal and the Real
- The Body and the Spirit
- Know the Atman!
- Practical Self-Knowledge
- Perspective on Birth and Death
- The Wonder of the Atman
- The Indestructible Self
- “Happy the Warrior”
- Buddhi Yoga
- Religiosity Versus Religion
- Perspective on Scriptures
- How Not To Act
- How To Act
- Right Perspective
- Wisdom About the Wise
- Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
- The Way of Peace
- Calming the Storm
- First Steps in Karma Yoga
- From the Beginning to the End
- The Real “Doers”
- Our Spiritual Marching Orders
- Freedom From Karma
- In the Grip of the Monster
- Devotee and Friend
- The Eternal Being
- The Path
- Caste and Karma
- Action–Divine and Human
- The Mystery of Action and Inaction
- The Wise in Action
- Sacrificial Offerings
- The Worship of Brahman
- Action–Renounced and Performed
- Freedom (Moksha)
- The Brahman-Knower
- The Goal of Karma Yoga
- Getting There
- The Yogi’s Retreat
- The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
- Union With Brahman
- The Yogi’s Future
- Success in Yoga
- The Net and Its Weaver
- Those Who Seek God
- Those Who Worship God and the Gods
- The Veil in the Mind
- The Big Picture
- The Sure Way To Realize God
- Day, Night, and the Two Paths
- The Supreme Knowledge
- Universal Being
- Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
- Worshipping the One
- Going To God
- Wisdom and Knowing
- Going To The Source
- From Hearing To Seeing
- The Wisdom of Devotion
- Right Conduct
- The Field and Its Knower
- Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
- Seeing the One Within the All
- The Three Gunas
- The Cosmic Tree
- The All-pervading Reality
- The Divine and the Demonic
- Faith and the Three Gunas
- Food and the Three Gunas
- Religion and the Three Gunas
- Tapasya and the Three Gunas
- Charity and the Three Gunas
- Sannyasa and Tyaga
- Deeper Insights On Action
- Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
- The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
- The Three Kinds of Happiness
- The Great Devotee
- The Final Words
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Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary