Even the Greatest Sinner Can Achieve Salvation

There is an apocryphal story about the sage Valmiki, author of the great epic story of Sri Rama, the Ramayana. He was said to be a dacoit, translated loosely as a highway robber, violent and focused on obtaining his personal satisfaction without regard for others or the conventions of society. At a certain point he had a life experience that opened his eyes about the meaning of his life. Along the way, he experienced real inner experiences of enlightenment, giving up his former evil lifestyle and became the sage who has been revered and admired ever since.

The story illustrates that once one changes the direction of one’s life, even those who have taken on the extreme rajasic tendencies of an asuric nature can achieve redemption and liberation. The basic tendencies of the nature play out and create one’s karma, action, and this can create a downward spiral for those who are controlled by the nature of the asura; however, at some point when the force of that karma has been spent, and the rajasic extreme has been exhausted, there is an opportunity for the rise of sattwa, and with it, knowledge, light and a new focus for the life.

Sri Aurobindo reminds us that there is no “absolute” soul of good or of evil. “All souls are eternal portions of the Divine, the Asura as well as the Deva, all can come to salvation: even the greatest sinner can turn to the Divine. But the evolution of the soul in Nature is an adventure of which Swabhava and the Karma governed by the Swabhava are ever the chief powers…”

Following the propensities of a nature dominated by Rajas, “…the man, if he does not stop short and abandon his way of error, has eventually the Asura full-born in him, and once he has taken that enormous turn away from the Light and Truth, he can no more reverse the fatal speed of his course because of the very immensity of the misused divine power in him until he has plumbed the depths to which it falls, found bottom and seen where the way has led him, the power exhausted and misspent, himself down in the lowest state of the soul nature, which is Hell. Only when he understands and turns to the Light, does that other truth of the Gita come in, that even the greatest sinner, the most impure and violent evil-doer is saved the moment he turns to adore and follow after the Godhead within him. Then, simply by that turn, he gets very soon into the sattwic way which leads to perfection and freedom.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 17, Deva and Asura, pp. 458-459

The Asura Nature

The type of the asuric nature shows power of action, intelligence and drive, but these, instead of being devoted to increasing harmony, light and well-being for all, in a universal good will and compassion, are focused rather on the fulfilment of desire and the raising up and aggrandizement of the ego. The Asura does not care for balance, but rather seeks to dominate, control, and master everyone and everything in his path. Blinded by ambition, greed and power-lust, and drunken with the fruits of acquisition, the Asura lets nothing stop him in his path of domination. Such individuals become blinded to any kind of harmonious balance and are willing to sacrifice other lives, and cause enormous pain, and destroy the harmony of the world if they believe it furthers their ambition.

Sri Aurobindo comments on the nature of the Asura: “They see naturally in the world nothing but a huge play of the satisfaction of self; theirs is a world with Desire for its cause and seed and governing force and law, a world of Chance, a world devoid of just relation and linked Karma, a world without God, not true, not founded in Truth.”

“The Asuric man becomes the centre or instrument of a fierce, Titanic, violent action, a power of destruction in the world, a fount of injury and evil. Arrogant, full of self-esteem and the drunkenness of their pride, these misguided souls delude themselves, persist in false and obstinate aims and pursue the fixed impure resolution of their longings.”

“In the egoism of their strength and power, in the violence of their wrath and arrogance they hate, despise and belittle the God hidden in themselves and the God in man. And because they have this proud hatred and contempt of good and of God, because they are cruel and evil, the Divine casts them down continually into more and more Asuric births. Not seeking him, they find him not, and at last, losing the way to him altogether, sink down into the lowest status of soul-nature….”

The pain and suffering that surround the Asuric birth are not just limited to those impacted in the world, but redound upon the soul driven by this unceasing force of desire that eats away at the inward substance of the soul.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 17, Deva and Asura, pp. 456-458

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