Battling the Asuras

Rama and His army battling Ravana“…Ravana, although born of a brahmana father, Vishvashrava, was nevertheless called an asura or rakshasa because of his offenses against Lord Ramacandra (Vishnu) and Hanuman (a Vaishnava)…” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya 3.147)

Hanuman - a pure devotee of God The devotees of God are the true saints of this world. Their pure love for Krishna enables them to acquire all good characteristics automatically, without much endeavor. Due to their staunch faith and belief in the mercy of the Almighty, the devotees serve as the greatest welfare workers, helping others break out of the perpetual cycle of birth and death. However, not everyone takes kindly to their religious efforts. Their main source of opposition comes from the staunch atheists, the asuras. These enemies of God will do anything to thwart the execution of devotional service by others.

Often times we’ll watch the news and we’ll hear a reporter or a field expert bemoan the current predicament of the world. Invariably, they’ll say that things have never been worse and that there is too much infighting and bickering going on in government and around the world. They long for the halcyon days of the past when opposing parties got along and didn’t fight so much. It is nice to wish for a peaceful condition, but in actuality, fighting has been going on since the beginning of time. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, give us a detailed history of creation. The primary texts of the other major religions of the world also provide similar lineages, but the Vedas go one step further in that they tell us about creations past, present, and future. The earth we live on today is destined to be destroyed and then recreated in the future.

“O son of Kunti, at the end of the millennium every material manifestation enters into My nature, and at the beginning of another millennium, by My potency I again create.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.7)

As far as this creation goes, the first living entity was Lord Brahma, who took birth from the navel of Lord Vishnu. Vishnu is an expansion of Lord Krishna, who is the original Personality of Godhead. Every living entity on this earth is a descendent of Brahma. From Brahma sprung the 8,400,000 varieties of species. Amongst the humans and other man-like species, we get information that there are generally two types of people, suras (devatas) and asuras. The suras are devotees; they believe in the Supremacy of God. The asuras are the atheists; they don’t believe in God. Since the beginning of creation, there has been an ongoing struggle between the suras and the asuras. Through the course of time, the specific issues over which people fought may have changed, but the root of the problem still always boils down to the issue of belief in God.

As a result of their atheism, the primary characteristic of an asura is that they believe this material world to be the beginning and end of everything. They identify solely with the gross material body. They think in terms of “I” and “mine” and also base their existence on their physical attributes. “I am American; I am Indian; I am black; I am white.” These distinctions certainly do exist, but the asuras believe that at their core, they are different from everybody else simply because of their physical attributes.

Vyasadeva The Vedas tell us that this sort of thinking represents the height of ignorance. The very first instruction taught to aspiring transcendentalists is aham brahmasmi, meaning “I am a spirit soul, part of Brahman.” Brahman is the impersonal effulgence emanating from Lord Krishna. Brahman is the sum and substance of creation, comprising all of matter and spirit. By understanding the truth that “I am Brahman”, one can understand that they are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, who is the source of Brahman. Some people mistakenly take Brahman to be the end of spiritual understanding. People who study Vedanta often times come to this conclusion. Veda means knowledge and anta means end, thus Vedanta means the end of knowledge. Though many of the aphorisms in the Vedanta-sutras describe God in an impersonal way, this is done primarily as a reference tool. The author of the Vedanta-sutras, Vyasadeva, Himself has written a commentary where he states without a doubt that God is a person and that His original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna. This commentary is known as the Shrimad Bhagavatam, or Bhagavata Purana.

Once a person realizes that they are a spirit soul, they can advance further in their spiritual education. Next comes the stage when a person realizes that not only are they a a spirit soul part and parcel of God, but that every living entity is equal to them constitutionally. This is one of the hardest facts to understand. We only have knowledge of our own life experiences. Our soul is enclosed in our gross material body, thus we can only experience life through our own senses. This makes it difficult to realize that every other person goes through similar experiences because they are also spirit souls at the core. Sometimes the bodies of other living entities are different, but this is only due to the laws of material nature as they manifest through guna and karma. Gunas are material qualities: goodness, passion, and ignorance, and karma is fruitive activity or material desire. Walk through any big shopping mall on a weekend, and you’ll see hundreds of people all going to different stores looking for specific items. They are all wearing different clothes, walking in a different way, and also willing to spend different amounts of money. This is a microcosm of how the entire universe works. People have different qualities and desires, thus they are put into different types of bodies. This does not mean that all of us are different, or that one person is better than another.

Krishna and Arjuna When one gains further knowledge of the soul and matter, they can work towards the ultimate aim of life; that of knowing and loving God. As stated before, the universe is constantly being created and destroyed. This tells us that everything here is temporary. For this reason, simply working for sense gratification and the accumulation of wealth is not the ultimate aim of life. All our possessions and relationships will have to be given up at the time of death. This means there has to be a higher meaning to our life. The Vedas tell us what that higher purpose is. In the human form of life, we can understand God and hopefully develop a love for Him. This love actually doesn’t need to be developed, but rather aroused. This is because our natural disposition is to be a devotee; a sura or devata. Through contact with material nature, ignorance envelopes our psyche, and we become forgetful of our relationship with God as His servant. Instead, we become bewildered into thinking that we are the master, and that we can become God through karmic activity. True knowledge is acquired once we realize that permanent happiness can only come through the execution of devotional service to Krishna.

"Anyone who quits his body, at the end of life, remembering Me, attains immediately to My nature; and there is no doubt of this." (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.5)

The devotees have realized these facts already. With their minds fixed on the highest platform of knowledge, they engage in acts of loving service to God and His pure devotees. If a person doesn’t have perfect transcendental knowledge, or even if they have no information about God, they are not likely to disturb the activities of the suras. The asuras are actually more than just atheists. An atheist can mean someone who doesn’t believe in God, but an asura actually believes in something; the materialistic way of life. Living in ignorance and identifying solely with their temporary body, they base their life’s activities around hoarding opportunities for sense gratification. Since asuras don’t know anything beyond death, they want to falsely enjoy as much as they can in their lifetime. To enjoy to the fullest, they must thwart the activities of others, since they view others as competitors in their pursuit of material wealth.

Demons throwing devotee Prahlada off a cliff The suras, or devotees, represent the biggest threat to the asuras. This is because the devotees are very charitable in their distribution of knowledge. They disseminate knowledge of Krishna and the Vedas to anyone who is willing to listen. This knowledge then leads others to give up their materialistic way of life. Hence more devotees are created, with the asuras eventually becoming a minority. The asuras are well aware of these facts, so they do their best to stop the activities of the devotees. They will stop at nothing to impede the worship of God. In order for a person to be successful in an attack, they must have power. A weaker opponent likely won’t be successful in battle. Knowing this, the asuras of today have taken to government to implement their atheistic ideas. As polls often show, the majority of the population believes in God to some degree. This makes it difficult for asuras to convince others of their philosophy on life. Thus they look to government to impose their way of thinking on the citizens. This is precisely the tact taken by communists. One will find that it is very difficult to preach about Krishna, or religion in general, in any communist or fascist state. Devotees will be censored, and many times put in jail for trying to chant the holy names of God in public.

“Communism is a movement of shudras, and capitalism is meant for vaishyas. In the fighting between these two factions, the shudras and vaishyas, gradually, due to the abominable condition of society, the communists will emerge triumphant, and as soon as this takes place, whatever is left of society will be ruined. The only possible remedy that can counteract the tendency toward communism is the Krishna consciousness movement…” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 8.20)

Even in the democracies of the world today, there has been a gradual turn to socialism, which is the younger brother of communism. So we can see that eventually, most of the world’s governments will take to thwarting religious activity. So what can be done? One need only look to the example of the great sages living in the Dandaka forest many thousands of years ago. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, many brahmanas set up camp in the woods. The peaceful atmosphere of the wilderness was more conducive to the execution of Vedic rituals and study of the scriptures. The demons of that time, the Rakshasas, were so merciless that they would harass the harmless sages living in the forests. Not only would the Rakshasas disrupt their sacrifices, but they would even eat the sages after killing them. The Rakshasas knew that if they could scare the brahmanas into giving up their occupational duties, there would be no opposition to their demoniac ambitions.

“Always dwelling in the forest and subsisting on fruits and roots, these sages cannot attain peace due to the Rakshasas of cruel deeds. These ascetics are devoured by terrible Rakshasas living on human flesh. While being eaten away, the sages dwelling in the forest of Dandaka, those best of the twice-born ones (brahmanas), said to me, ‘Please come to our rescue.’” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, Sec 10)

Lord Rama To alleviate the situation, the brahmanas looked to God. At the time, Lord Krishna had incarnated on earth as a pious prince named Rama. The greatest kshatriya warrior, Rama was roaming the forests with His brother Lakshmana and wife Sita Devi. The sages petitioned Rama to protect them from the demons. In the above referenced statement, the Lord is describing the plight of the sages to Sita. These brahmanas were very smart. They know that anyone who surrenders everything to God will always be guaranteed of protection.

"Give up all varieties of religiousness, and just surrender unto Me; and in return I shall protect you from all sinful reactions. Therefore, you have nothing to fear." (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.66)

As events would play out, Lord Rama would indeed protect the sages. He would eventually remove all of their fears by killing the leader of the Rakshasas, Ravana, in a fierce battle. There are many other examples in history of God providing unflinching protection to His devotees. That is His promise to us. If we stay committed to performing our duties in devotional service by chanting God’s names and delivering His glories to others, we will be immune from the attacks of the asuras.

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