“Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has very favorably stressed the importance of this process of hearing. According to His method, if people are simply given a chance to hear about Krishna, certainly they will gradually develop their dormant awareness or love of Godhead.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 7.141 Purport)
Friend1: What would you say is the fundamental difference between the devotee and the demon?
Friend2: Just look at the Sanskrit words for each and you’ll get an idea.
Friend1: Is it sura and asura?
Friend1: One is basically a negation of the other.
Friend2: Exactly. The sura is devoted to God. They are a kind of species, having a specific collection of material elements for their body. They are mostly in the mode of goodness, which describes the nature of a type of body, activities, sacrifice, charity, intelligence and so forth.
Friend1: You can’t be a sura unless you are of that species?
Friend2: No, because the word applies to general characteristics as well. The suras as a species live in the heavenly realm, but you can find sura-like people anywhere and within any family. Remember Prahlada Maharaja, the famous son of a Daitya king. Daityas are like asuras.
Friend1: Okay, so the asuras would be the opposite in qualities? Are they a species too?
Friend2: Yes and yes. The Daityas are a kind of asura; they trace their lineage back to Diti, who is the sister of Aditi. The suras come from Aditi; hence they are also known as the Adityas. But you can also find an asura anywhere. They are not devoted to God. That is their trademark characteristic.
Friend1: I think I’ve heard you mention before that one way to tell an asura is to notice their aversion to praising the Supreme Lord.
Friend2: Absolutely. Think of it like showing Dracula the cross.
Friend1: That’s funny. People will say that you can find asura-like people in religious garb, that sometimes religious people are the most dangerous.
Friend2: There is no doubt about that.
Friend1: Doesn’t that invalidate your assessment?
Friend2: On the contrary, it provides a way to decipher authenticity. Paraphernalia and official occupation are good ways to identify religious people at the outset, but you should also investigate further. See how they talk. Do they say God is a person? Do they make material advancement the objective in life and somehow ascribe that goal to the wishes of the Supreme Deity? Do they point to some miracle in their life relating to health and then say that their faith in God is due only to that?
Friend1: Such people would be asuras, then?
Friend2: It just means they aren’t totally devoted to God the person. The asuras in religious garb will quote verses from scriptures of various traditions. They will mentally speculate as to the meaning. They sometimes have their own guru, which supposedly gives them authority, but the conclusions are still wrong. Better than all these ways is to see if they praise God the person. Do they know that He is Bhagavan, who is full of opulences? If they don’t know, they may be innocent. But if they have heard these things about God and then rejected them, they are certainly asuras.
Friend1: Well, I hope you know that I was setting you up here.
Friend2: The asura side of you coming out again?
Friend1: [smiles] No, but I wanted to make sure there were no doubts on the issue. Let’s assume that the asura will go to any length to get what they want, even pretend to be religious.
Friend2: Yes. Think of the Rakshasa Ravana appearing in disguise in front of Sita Devi, the goddess of fortune.
Friend1: I’m glad that you mentioned him. I was reading about the incident where Hanuman met Kalanemi, who was Ravana’s uncle.
Friend2: Yes, when Hanuman was searching for the life-giving herb for Lakshmana, the younger brother of Rama.
Friend1: Kalanemi was a bad guy. He put on the religious garb and set up a tiny ashrama to fool Hanuman. When Hanuman approached him, Kalanemi even said some good things about Rama. Then Hanuman went to a nearby lake to clean himself before hearing further.
Friend2: Right and in that lake was a crocodile who tried to kill him.
Friend1: There is the issue. Here was an asura-like person who said nice things about Rama. And they said those things in order to do harm to Hanuman.
Friend2: Kalanemi was no doubt bad. But look at the result of his praise of Rama. Hanuman did not get hurt. On the contrary, Hanuman liberated the crocodile by killing it. The soul then revealed its true form of an Apsara, who had previously been cursed. She told Hanuman about Kalanemi’s real identity. Then Hanuman killed Kalanemi.
Friend1: Okay, but I’m asking about the general case. If someone says good things about Rama, who is God the person, how can they still be an asura?
Friend2: People say things that they don’t mean all the time. How many guys have told their girlfriends that they love them just so they could continue to get along?
Friend1: You’re saying there is no harm in hearing from such people?
Friend2: There is harm in that they will eventually twist the meaning. They will not speak straight on God’s position with respect to the living entities. But if they speak the truth, then the power of the words protects the devotee. Kalanemi didn’t harm Hanuman. It was Kalanemi who reaped the benefit by speaking the truth about Rama, even if he had ill intentions. This shows that hearing of the Supreme Lord is always beneficial, provided the words being heard are truthful.
To be saved from all fear,
Of the Supreme Lord just hear.
From the asura never to come praise,
So stuck are they in sinful ways.
Even if not believing what speaking,
Both they and devotee benefit reaping.
Just dedicate some time and sit,
Hear about Lord before body to quit.