The Gods and the Demons in Our Inner Psychology

We find in the ancient Indian epic, Ramayana, an interesting sub-plot which changes the very complexion of what appears to be a battle between ‘good’ personified by Rama and his family, and ‘evil’ as personified by Ravana and his kin. As we delve deeper into the tale, we find that Ravana was himself a great devotee of Lord Shiva. Yet the story goes even deeper. It turns out that Ravana in a past lifetime was a doorkeeper for Lord Vishnu, attending closely and with great devotion in Vishnu’s heavenly abode, along with his brother Kumbakarna. One day some Rishis demanded entry and were delayed, and therefore cursed them to take 3 human births before they could return to heaven. They took birth as Asuric beings and carried out untold destruction and imposed suffering on innumerable beings, so as to obtain the attention of Lord Vishnu and have their human life ended at the hands of the God they adored. Vishnu took birth as Lord Rama to carry out the wishes of his devotee and return Ravana to his rightful place in heaven.

There was obviously both tremendous darkness and tremendous light within the being that incarnated as Ravana, and the curse of the Rishi gave an opportunity for this darkness to be exposed and to get it resolved rather than simply suppressed.

We many times in today’s world try to assign the labels ‘good’ or ‘evil’ to various individuals, particularly brutal dictators or those who purposely cause enormous suffering for others for their own self-aggrandisement. While they may not all be Vishnu’s devotees who have been cursed, it is quite likely that at some point in time, their tremendous vital force and (in some cases) mental powers will turn from selfish pursuits to those that recognise the oneness of all existence and work to support the creation in a positive manner, and when that time comes, their abilities and the force they have accumulated within their being will turn the greatest darkness into the greatest light. This does not, of course, imply that we should accept or condone such actions in any particular circumstances. Even Sri Rama had to undertake a battle to defeat Ravana, not just allow his then current lifetime depredations to endure forever. Nor does it imply that we should justify to ourselves internally the idea that we can act like demons in order to become enlightened!

The Mother notes: “Once you have understood this, many worries come to an end and you are very happy, very happy. If one finds one has very black holes, one says, ‘This shows I can rise very high’, if the abyss is very deep, ‘I can climb very high.’ It is the same from the universal point of view; to use the Hindu terminology so familiar to you, it is the greatest Asuras who are the greatest beings of Light. And the day these Asuras are converted, they will be the supreme beings of the creation. This is not to encourage you to be asuric, you know, but it is like that — this will widen your minds a little and help you to free yourself from those ideas of opposing good and evil, for if you abide in that category, there is no hope.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Becoming Aware of the Shadow, pp. 139-143

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