Deva and Asura

Through the characteristic action and balance of the Gunas in any individual, we find that there are those who maintain a predominant action of Sattwa in the balance, while there are others who tend to create a balance of Rajas and/or Tamas with a much less evident action of Sattwa. For instance, looking at the basic life-orientation, there are those who diligently try to achieve relationships of harmony, balance and understanding, who focus on the creation of beauty and who try to apply the light of intelligence in their lives and relations to people, forces and objects. There are others who exercise the power of ambition or a need for acquiring and controlling, and these obviously focus their time, attention and energies differently than the first. Then again, there are those immersed purely in the physical drives and cravings, who seek, first and foremost, food, physical enjoyment, sex and other types of physical pleasures. This last type clearly does not come into the issue here. While everyone has their times and moments for satisfying the different intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual needs, the discussion here centers around the major focus and direction of an individual’s life.

Inasmuch as the Gita is now concentrating its attention on the transition from a life of bondage to the Gunas to one based in the spiritual consciousness, Sri Krishna first takes up the primary aims of life to organize the discussion and help Arjuna recognize that without a certain high sattwic preparation and culture, the transition really cannot be effectively prepared. Sri Krishna also distinguishes here those who seek after light, harmony and balance as cultivating the “daivic” Nature (that is, the nature of a Deva, or divine power/being/god through the Sattwic balance), versus those who emphasize an “asuric” Nature (that is, the nature of a Titan bent on control, domination and infliction of pain, through the Rajasic/Tamasic balance).

Sri Aurobindo comments: “These are the human representatives of the Devas and Danavas or Asuras, the Gods and the Titans. This distinction is a very ancient one in Indian religious symbolism. The fundamental idea of the Rig Veda is a struggle between the Gods and their dark opponents, between the Masters of Light, sons of infinity, and the children of Division and Night, a battle in which man takes part and which is reflected in all his inner life and action.”

The battle of Kurukshetra is in the end, a conflict between those who act upon the high and noble principles and ideals of the Devas confronting those who accumulate power for the service of their own egoistic satisfaction, the Titans or Asuras. Arjuna is the representative of the Deva and his role is to help humanity progress to a stage where the noble, the ethical, the harmonious balance rules society.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 17, Deva and Asura, pp. 454-455