“Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men, are cast by Me into the ocean of material existence, into various demoniac species of life.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.19)
Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is very kind. There is none more kind, in fact. His treatment of the demons gives an example. The English word “demon” has a specific connotation. It is associated with the bad guys in movies, people who do not even behave human-like sometimes. In Sanskrit, the equivalent term is asura. This is simply a negation of the word sura, which means “devotee.” A sura has the divine qualities, while the asura has the demoniac.
“The transcendental qualities are conducive to liberation, whereas the demonic qualities make for bondage. Do not worry, O son of Pandu, for you are born with the divine qualities.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.5)
Therefore the terms sura and asura are not assigned subjectively. The terms are based on qualities possessed. I can be drinking a glass of water right now and know for sure that it is water based on the properties of the beverage. If those properties are present, there is no question about what I am drinking. Only a fool would think such an issue is up for interpretation. A good lawyer will argue against me anyway, but they are just doing their job. When they see that the sky is blue, they know it to be so, but just to stay true to their profession they may argue that it is not blue from time to time.
The asura’s root quality is enviousness of the Supreme Lord. They have a lot to be envious over. In God we find the qualities of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, wisdom and renunciation to the fullest degree. They also exist in Him simultaneously. Not that He has full strength one day and then full wisdom the next. We see people in the gym who are very strong and think that they lack intelligence. The nerd is supposedly very smart but lacking in strength. The person living as a renounced monk doesn’t have much wealth. The famed rock star living the hedonistic lifestyle has tremendous wealth but no renunciation.
In God such deficiencies are not present. The individual, who is not God nor will he ever be in the future, has a choice in how to act with knowledge of God’s position. The asura makes the wrong choice. They stay envious. In an objective analysis this is a stupid choice. If you know someone else is superior to you and will always remain so, what is the point to being envious? Why not join their side, especially if they are not envious of you? If they have all good qualities, wouldn’t a friendly relationship with them be more beneficial?
All-compassion is also found in God, who is known as Krishna because of His all-attractiveness. He has many other names as well, all assigned to Him by those who understand Him to an extent. Since full knowledge exists only in Him, it is impossible for anyone else to know Krishna completely. With His unmatched compassion, Krishna allows the asura to stay an asura. That is what they want after all. They don’t want to be a sura. They don’t want to be devoted to Krishna. They would rather hopelessly try to reach the position of God themselves.
To facilitate their desire, Krishna casts the asuras into so many lower species, lifetime after lifetime. A lower species is one where knowledge is lacking. A dog will have sex with anyone. It also doesn’t know to not use the kitchen floor as a restroom. The fish does not know when to stop eating. The monkey is a thief without a conscience. In this way the lower species are lacking intelligence. The most important intelligence relates to knowing God, and we know that the lower species have no shot at knowing God. Unable to ever know Him, they cannot make the choice to be devoted to Him. Hence the asura thrown into the lower species is guaranteed to remain an asura, at least for the foreseeable future.
Now let’s take the opposite situation. How does the asura behave when put in control? If they are given temporary positions of power, do they leave the suras alone? Do they allow the devoted souls to practice their devotion without obstruction? Since the asuras are envious of Krishna, they are also envious of those who are devoted to Krishna. Unlike the all-compassionate, all-attractive Lord, they will do whatever they can to convert the suras into asuras. They will posit theories that deny the existence of God. They will tell others to worship them; mind you only after they have risen to positions of power. “Why pray to God for food when the government will grow it for you? Don’t worry about abortion, it is not killing. It is merely a way for a woman to exercise her reproductive rights. Don’t worry about the destruction of the earth through constant drilling. This is merely a sign of progress. God gave us this land to enjoy, so why should we restrain ourselves?”
In Vedic texts the examples of asuras and their behavior are more pronounced. Describing historical events, the Ramayana tells us of a time when a very powerful asura, who was more technically known as a Rakshasa, or man-eater, loved to attack the peaceful suras living in the remote wilderness. He and his brethren would attack during times of sacrifice, which is akin to going into a church while a priest is giving a sermon and then laying siege to the place. The Rakshasas would kill the sages and then eat them. And who were these sages bothering? They had no money. They were not harming anyone.
On one side Krishna allows the envious to remain so, and on the other the asura does not allow the devoted to continue practicing. Based on this objective analysis alone we see that Krishna’s side is superior; He is fair. Under further analysis, the cause for that superiority is revealed: Krishna is God, the same God that everyone knows about to some degree, whether or not they choose to worship Him. His devotees inherit His divine qualities to a degree, and therefore what they teach is always rooted in righteousness.
If devoted to the impious way,
Krishna says a demon you will stay.
Reward matched to what they desire,
In pursuit of temporary not to tire.
But if the roles should happen to reverse,
Demons for devotees create conditions adverse.
As Supreme Lord, Krishna the most fair,
Superior when objectively to compare.