ASSOCIATES OF MAHATMA GANDHI > VINOBA BHAVE > TALKS ON THE GITA > Conflict between the Divine and the Demoniacal Tendencies


16. Conflict Between The Divine And The Demoniacal Tendencies

88. Divine Qualities: The Harbinger Of Purushottamyoga

  1. Brothers, in the first five Chapters of the Gita, we saw how life should be lived and its purpose fulfilled. From the Sixth Chapter to the Eleventh one, we viewed bhakti from various angles. In the Eleventh Chapter, we had the grand vision of bhakti. In the Twelfth Chapter, we compared saguna and nirguna bhakti and had a look at the noble attributes of the bhakta. Examination of karma and bhakti was complete at the end of the Twelfth Chapter. Jnana was then discussed in Chapters 13, 14 and 15. We learnt therein that the Self should be separated from the body, the three gunas should be conquered for that purpose and in the end, we should see the Lord everywhere. In the Fifteenth Chapter, the whole science of life was seen at a glance. Life reaches its consummation in Purushottamyoga. Nothing remains to be said thereafter.

  2. I cannot bear to see karma, jnana and bhakti separated. Some seekers are so inclined that they can think of nothing but karma, while some imagine bhakti as a distinct path and put exclusive emphasis on it. Some have disposition towards jnana only. But I am not an exclusivist; I do not believe that life means only karma or bhakti or jnana. I do not also subscribe to the doctrine that life is a combination of these three; nor do I subscribe to the utility-oriented view that life should have karma, bhakti as well as jnana in some measure. That karma, bhakti and jnana are the successive stages in sadhana, is also not acceptable to me. I do not also think that in life there should be harmony between karma, bhakti and jnana. I wish to experience complete identity between karma, bhakti and jnana.  To understand what I mean, let us take the example of a piece of a sweet. Every piece of a sweet has sweetness, every piece has some size and some weight. The sweetness, size and weight are not distinct and separable things. When I put a piece into my mouth, I taste its sweetness, devour its size and digest its mass. It is not that some pieces have sweetness only, some have only size and some have only weight. Every action in life should likewise be full of service, love, as well as knowledge. Karma, bhakti and jnana, all should permeate the whole of life. Every action should be spiritual. This is what Purushottamyoga means. Infusing the whole of life with spirituality is, of course, easier said than done.  When we go deep into its implications, we realise that for pure and selfless service bhakti and jnana must be there within the heart. Karma, bhakti and jnana are thus completely and absolutely one and the same. Purushottamyoga is the highest state in which this is attained. This is the pinnacle of life.

  1. Now, what does this Sixteenth Chapter tell us?  Just as the glow on the horizon proclaims that the sun is about to rise, the rise of Purushottamyoga in life is preceded by the glow of virtues. This Chapter describes this glow, and also the darkness which this glow dispels. We seek concrete proof to get convinced about anything. How are we to know that service, bhakti and jnana have become part of our life?  We must have some test. We toil in the field and measure the result in terms of the yield of the grains. Similarly, the progress of our spiritual quest should also be measured. We should assess our experience, see how far good tendencies have become part of our nature and how many virtues have been imbibed, how far life has been infused with the spirit of service. This is what this Chapter tells us. In this context, the Gita uses the term daivi sampatti (divine qualities) and calls the qualities opposed to them asuric’ (demoniacal). The Sixteenth Chapter describes the battle between these two sets of qualities.

89. The Forces Of Light And Darkness

  1. Just as in the First Chapter Kauravas and Pandavas are found pitted against each other, here the armies of the divine and the demoniacal qualities have been pitted against each other. It has been the tradition to use allegories while describing the struggle between the good and the evil that has been raging since time immemorial in the human mind. There is fight between Indra and Vritra in the Vedas, between gods and demons in the Puranas, between Rama and Ravana in the Ramayana, between Ahura Mazda and Ahriman in Zoroastrianism, between God and Satan in Christianity, between Allah and Eblis in Islam. In all the religions, this fight has been described. In poetry, gross things are described by subtle images whereas subtle feelings are described in terms of gross images in the religious texts. I am not suggesting that the description of the battle at the beginning of the Gita is merely imaginary; it may have been a historical event. But the poet has used it for his own purpose. Giving the allegory of a battle, he tells us what to do when the conflict of duties assails us. The Sixteenth Chapter depicts the battle between the good and the evil. Allegorical description of the battle is also there in the Gita.

  1. Kurukshetra, the battle-ground of the Mahabharata war, is inside us as well. If you observe carefully, you will realise that it is the battle raging within the mind which we see in the world outside in the concrete form. The one whom I see as my enemy confronting me in the outside world is, in fact, the evil in my mind that has taken concrete shape. Just as a mirror gives my true image, the good and the evil thoughts in my mind have their images in the outside world as friends and enemies. I see in the dreams what I experience or think while I am awake. Similarly, that which is in my mind is seen by me in the outside world. There is absolutely no difference between the battle within and the battle without. In fact, the real battle is that which is waged within ourselves.

  2. Virtues and vices are pitted against each other within our mind. Both the armies are in neat formations. Every army needs a commander. The virtues too have nominated a commander. He is abhaya (fearlessness, or freedom from fear). Fearlessness has been given the first place in this Chapter. This has not happened accidentally; it must have been deliberate. No virtue can develop without fearlessness. Virtues have no value without truthfulness, and fearlessness is essential for commitment to truth. Virtues cannot develop in an atmosphere charged with fear; in such an atmosphere they, in fact, prove to be vices. In such an atmosphere even good tendencies get weakened. Fearlessness is the leader of all the virtues. An army has to be alert about attacks both from the front and the rear. It can be surreptitiously attacked from the rear as well. Therefore, while fearlessness is at the front, humility has been stationed at the rear to guard the army. It is indeed an excellent strategy. In all, twenty-six virtues have been listed here. You may imbibe twenty-five of them excluding humility, but if your ego gets inflated thereby, an attack from the rear will make you lose whatever you have gained. That is why humility has been placed at the rear. In the absence of humility, there is no knowing when victory will turn into defeat. Virtues can be developed only by keeping fearlessness at the front and humility at the rear. Most of the twenty-four virtues in between them can be said to be synonyms of non-violence. Compassion for all creatures, gentleness, forgiveness, serenity, freedom from anger and malice—all these are different terms for non-violence. In fact, all the virtues are contained in truth and non-violence; truth and non-violence are the essence of all of them. But fearlessness and humility are in a different category. Fearlessness makes advance possible and humility ensures safety. With truth and non-violence in our armoury, we should march ahead fearlessly. We ought to move freely over the whole expanse of the vast and extensive life. There must, of course, be humility to prevent us from slipping. We can then fearlessly move ahead, carrying out experiments in truth and non-violence. In short, Truth and non-violence develop because of fearlessness and humility.

  3. Against this army of virtues, the army of vices is pitted. About hypocrisy, ignorance etc., the less said the better. We know them well. Hypocrisy is as though ingrained in us. The whole edifice of life as if stands on that foundation. And of ignorance, it can be said that it has become an innocent excuse for us to cover our lapses. We seem to think that it is not, after all, a serious crime. But the Lord says that ignorance is a sin. Socrates had said just the opposite thing. In the course of his trial he said, What you think as sin is only ignorance, and ignorance is excusable. How can there be any sin without ignorance, and how can you punish ignorance?  But the Lord is saying that ignorance too is a sin. We know that ignorance of law is no excuse in a court of law. Ignorance of the Divine law too is a crime. In fact, both the Lord and Socrates mean the same thing. The Lord is telling us how to look at our ignorance while Socrates is telling us how to look at others sins. The sins of others should be forgiven, but it is a sin to forgive ignorance in ourselves. We should not allow the least vestige of ignorance to remain in ourselves.

90. Four Stages In The Development Of Nonviolence

  1. Thus the divine and the demoniacal qualities are arrayed against each other. We should stick to the divine qualities and shun the demoniacal ones. Development of the divine qualities like truth and non-violence has been going on since time immemorial, but still there is much to be done. There is unlimited scope for development so long as we live in society. Even if an individual develops himself to perfection, scope for social, national and global development ever remains. Individuals have to use their own development to stimulate development in others just as manure stimulates growth of the crops. We can take in this context the example of the development of non-violence which has been going on for ages and is still going on.

  2. It is worth studying how non-violence has developed progressively. We would then understand how spirituality has progressively developed in life and how it can develop further.

The problem of protection from violent attacks had always been there before the non-violent man. At first he devised the idea of having a special class of fighters—the Kshatriyas—for the protection of the society. But that class itself turned against the people. The non-violent Brahmins then had to tackle the problem of protecting themselves from the Kshatriyas who were intoxicated with power. Parshuram, although non-violent, took to violence and started exterminating Kshatriyas. He resorted to violence to make the Kshatriyas abandon violence. It was certainly an experiment in non-violence, but it could not succeed. Parshuram is said to have exterminated the Kshatriyas twenty-one times; still they survived, as the attempt was basically flawed. How can Kshatriyas be rooted out when you yourself become a violent Kshatriya?  The seed of violence survived. One may go on cutting trees; but new trees will continue to come up so long as the seeds are not destroyed. Parshuram was undoubtedly well-meaning, but his experiment was strange. He was trying to exterminate the Kshatriyas by becoming a Kshatriya himself. In fact, he should have begun by chopping off his own head!  I am pointing out the flawed nature of Parshurams experiment, not because I am wiser; I am a child before him. But I am standing on his shoulders and can therefore see much farther; and it appears to me that the basis of his experiment was wrong. Resorting to violence to counter violence results only in increasing the number of the violent. But this was not realised at that time. Good-natured and well-intentioned people of that time, men of non-violence, experimented according to their lights. Parshuram was a firm believer in non-violence and he resorted to violence, not for the sake of it, but to establish non-violence.

  1. That experiment failed. Then came the age of Rama. Brahmins again began to think about the matter. They had already given up violence and had resolved never to commit violence themselves. But then how to repel attacks from the demons?  They thought that the Kshatriyas have anyway taken to violence; so it is better to make them fight the demons. Sage Vishwamitra, therefore, brought Rama and Lakshman to protect his yajna (sacrificial worship) from the demons and destroyed the demons through them. Today we think that non-violence should be able to take care of itself; it should not be dependent on others. But sages like Vasishtha and Vishwamitra did not consider it infra dig to utilize the services of Kshatriyas for their protection. But what would have happened, had Vishwamitra not found Rama?  He would then have preferred to die rather than taking up arms. The experiment of fighting violence by violence had been a thing of the past, and the resolve to remain personally non-violent was now firm. The non-violent men were ready to die if they could not get Kshatriyas to protect them. In the Ramayana, there is an incident wherein Rama enquires about the heaps of bones he had seen and the sages tell him that those were the bones of the non-violent Brahmins who, on being attacked by the demons, embraced death without putting up any resistance. This type of non-violence had the element of sacrifice in it, but there was also an expectation of protection from others. With such weakness, there cannot be perfect non-violence.

  1. The saints of the mediaeval times carried out the third experiment. They resolved, Now we will never seek protection from others and rely on non-violence itself to protect us. That alone can be the true protection.  This experiment was on an individual plane; and on that plane, it was carried to perfection. But it did not have a social dimension. Had people asked the saints what should be done in the face of a violent attack, they would perhaps have failed to give an unequivocal answer; they would perhaps have admitted their inability to give a definite guidance to the people in such an eventuality. Again, it is childish impertinence on my part to blame the saints. But I am telling you what I can see standing on their shoulders. The saints should forgive me for my comments; and I am sure that they would, as they are large-hearted. It is not that the thought of making collective experiments in non-violence must not have crossed their minds, but they must have thought that the situation was not ripe for such experiments. They made different experiments on the individual level; but, a science, after all, develops through such experiments only.

  1. Now we are in the midst of the fourth experiment, in which the whole society is engaged in resisting violence through non-violent means.

These are the four experiments in non-violence. All of the earlier experiments were imperfect, and our present experiment too is imperfect. This is but inevitable in the course of evolution. But in the context of their times, the experiments of the past were the best possible ones. After thousands of years, our present non-violent war too would appear to have a large measure of violence in it. There will be many more experiments in non-violence in future. Not only jnana, karma and bhakti, but even all the virtues have been continually developing. Only the Lord, the Supreme Self, is perfect; none else is.  Purushottamyoga in the Gita is perfect; but it is yet to be fully developed in individual and social life.

The sayings too go on acquiring newer and higher meanings and connotations. The sages are considered seers of the mantras (Vedic verses), not their authors, as they saw their meanings through a vision. But those are not the exclusive meanings of the mantras. More developed meanings can be seen by us. This is so, not because there is something special in us; it is on the basis of their experiments and experiences that we have gone ahead.

I have chosen non-violence as an example and reviewed its development, as it is the essence of all the virtues, and also because we are engaged in a non-violent struggle1.

91. A Great Experiment In Nonviolence: Giving Up Flesh-eating

  1. So far, we saw how non-violent men devised ways to protect themselves from violent attacks. This is one aspect of non-violence. We saw how non-violence has been developing in human relationships characterised by conflicts and clashes. But there is conflict between men and beasts too. Men have still not been able to solve the conflicts among themselves and they are also unable to live without eating the flesh of animals of lower and weaker species. Human beings have been around for thousands of years and still they have not thought about how to live in a way that befits human beings. But change is taking place in this respect as well. In all probability, men in prehistoric times ate roots and fruits only. But it appears that, in the course of time, perverse thinking led most of the mankind to take to flesh-eating. Good and wise men, however, did not like this and laid down a restriction that if anybody wants to eat meat, he should eat the meat of animals sacrificed in yajnas only. Their intention was to minimise violence. In the course of time, some people completely abjured meat and others, who could not do so, were permitted to eat it after offering the same to the Lord and undergoing some sacrifice and penance in a yajna. Permission for meat-eating only in yajna was thus for limiting violence, but this was later misused on a large scale; performance of yajnas just to have an opportunity to eat flesh became quite common. Lord Buddha then came forward and said, You may eat flesh if you like; but do not do so in the name of the Lord. This too was to limit violence and develop self-restraint. Thus, through sacrifices in the yajnas as well as through their rejection, we learnt to abjure meat. In this way, we gradually gave up flesh-eating.

  2. This great experiment in the history of the world took place only in India. Millions of people became vegetarians. If we are vegetarians today, we can claim no credit for that. We have got used to it because of the merit of our ancestors. We are now surprised and shocked when we hear or read that the sages of yore used to eat flesh. We cannot imagine it. It is creditable to them that they abjured flesh through great efforts in spite of being used to it. We have inherited their virtues without any efforts on our part. The fact that they ate meat and we do not do so does not mean that we are better; we have been benefited by their experience and vegetarianism has become natural to us. We should now proceed further. We should try the experiment of giving up milk also as it also is an animal product. It is unbecoming for man to take milk of other animals. Perhaps our descendants in the distant future would be shocked to learn that their ancestors used to drink milk. They may consider us barbarians. Some of us take a vow not to take milk. Our descendants may fail to understand why a vow was necessary at all!

In short, we should go on experimenting with fearlessness and humility. There is ample scope for development; no virtue has yet been developed to perfection.

92. The Three Asuric Ambitions: Power, Culture And Wealth

  1. The Lord has described the demoniacal qualities too, so that we could keep away from them and concentrate on the development of divine qualities. The essence of the demoniacal way of life is in three things: power, culture and wealth. Those with this nature want to impose their culture on the whole world, believing it to be the best. And why is it the best?  Because it is theirs! Individuals with this nature, and empires built up of such individuals, are after these three things only.

  2. The Brahmins believe that their culture is the best, that all the knowledge is contained in their Vedas. They want hegemony of the Vedic culture established over the whole world. अग्रतश्चतुरो वेदान् पृष्ठतः सशरं धनूः (‘The four Vedas should be in the front, and the arms should follow them’) is what they want. But when arms are to follow the Vedas, the poor Vedas are as good as finished. Muslims also believe that whatever is written in the Koran alone is true. Christians too believe that truth is contained in the Bible only. They believe that nobody, howsoever noble and virtuous he may be, can ever be redeemed if he does not believe in Christ. They have provided only one door to the house of the Lord; only through the door of Christ can one approach Him!  People provide a number of doors and windows to their houses, but how strange it is that they provide only one door to God’s house!

  1. कुलीन मी चि संपन्न माझी जोडी कुठें असे(‘I am of noble lineage. I have all the riches. None can equal me.’)—This is what everybody thinks. We want to be known as descendants of some or the other great sage or king. This is the case in the West too. There too, people boast of being the descendants of Norman nobles etc. We have the guru-shishya (master-pupil) tradition also, wherein people relate themselves to great sages. This too is an attempt on their part to claim greatness for themselves and their culture. But, if your culture is really great, let it be reflected in your actions, in your conduct. But people are not bothered about that. To aspire to spread the culture that we do not practice in our own life is a demoniacal (asuric) way of thinking.

  2. In the same way, some people think, I am the only one fit to posses all the wealth in the world. I want all that wealth and I shall have it. Why do I want it?  To divide it equally among all!’  Akbar used to feel sincerely that the Rajput kingdoms should be incorporated in his empire, so that there would be reign of peace. Modern demons want that all the wealth should be concentrated at a single place. What for?  To redistribute it.

  3. For this, power is needed. All the power must therefore be concentrated in my hands. My word must prevail. Everybody must follow my dictates. Freedom means obedience to me!—That is what they think.

Thus the demoniacal nature lays stress on culture, power and wealth.

  1. There was a time when the Brahmins were dominant in society. They made laws and laid down codes of conduct. Kings bowed before them. That era passed, and was followed by the age of the Kshatriyas. The Kshatriyas waged wars of conquest and fought with each other for supremacy. The Kshatriya culture too passed in the course of time. The Brahmins used to believe that only they are fit to be teachers; others should learn from them. They were proud of their culture. The Kshatriyas were concerned with power; they reveled in killing their enemies. Then came the age of the Vaishyas. The Vaishyas are concerned solely with making money. They are not bothered if they have to face humiliations provided their purse is intact. All they want is to acquire more and more money. Do not the British tell us, ‘If you want Independence, have it by all means; but give us facilities and concessions to sell our manufactured goods. Then you may study your culture as much as you want. Remain poor and care for your culture; we are least bothered about that.’ These days, wars are fought basically for economic gains. This age too will pass; it is indeed on its way out.

93. Self-restraint: The Scientific Way To Get Rid Of Desire, Anger And Greed

  1. We should try to get rid of the asuric tendencies. Desire, anger and greed represent the essence of the demoniacal character. These demoniacal passions have the world dancing to their tune. This dance must stop. We must shake them off. Anger and greed spring from desire. Greed follows desire when circumstances are opportune for its gratification, and anger follows when desire is thwarted. The Gita has enjoined us repeatedly to keep away from these three enemies. The same has been said at the end of the Sixteenth Chapter. These are the three broad gateways to hell. Roads leading to hell are quite wide and there is a lot of traffic through them!  One can find many companions on the way. But the path of truth is narrow.

  2. How are we to safeguard ourselves from desire and anger?  By accepting the way of self-restraint laid down by the shastras. Experiences of the saints constitute the shastras (the codes of conduct). A shastra evolves out of the lessons drawn by the saints from their experiments. Therefore, hold fast to self-restraint that these codes prescribe. Do not have any unnecessary doubts. There is no point in sterile arguments like ‘What will happen to the world in the absence of desire and anger?  Is it not necessary to have them, at least in a small measure?’  Desire and anger are already there in too large a measure—much more than needed. Why create unnecessary confusion?  Do not worry that the human race will come to an end if desire (for sensual pleasure) disappears. No matter how many children you produce, a day is bound to come when the human race will disappear from the earth. This is what the scientists are telling. The earth is slowly getting colder. At one time the earth was extremely hot. There were no living creatures on it. A time will come when the earth will become excessively cold and all life will come to an end. It may take millions of years, but this is bound to happen. You may go on procreating; the day of doom cannot be averted. The Lord descends on the earth for the protection of dharma, not for the protection of numbers. As long as there is one man devoted to dharma, one man who is beware of sin and committed to truth, there is no cause for worry. The Lord will take care of him. People without dharma are as good as dead.

  3. Taking all this into consideration, live in the world with self-restraint and avoid excesses. Do not follow your own whims; and also do not follow the whims and wishes of the people; that is not what the Gita calls loksamgraha’.  Loksamgraha does not mean following the wishes of the people. Organising men in large numbers or accumulating wealth does not necessarily lead to progress. Development does not depend on numbers. If population grows unchecked, men will kill one another. Firstly, they will kill birds and beasts and lose balance and will then kill and devour their own children. If desire, lust and anger are considered useful, there can be no doubt that men will end up devouring each other. Loksamgrah means showing the people the path of pure morality. If by freeing itself from lust and anger the human race disappears from the earth, it may reappear on Mars. One need not have worry on that count. God is unmanifest, but immanent. He would take care of all. Therefore, emancipate yourself, redeem yourself first. Do not look too far into the future. Do not worry about the whole of creation and the human race. Increase your moral strength, eschew desire, lust and anger from your mind. आपुला तूं गळा घेई उगवूनि (‘Free your own neck from the noose.’). Even if you could do this much, it is sufficient.

  1. It is a pleasure to watch the sea of samsara from a distance. How can a drowning man enjoy the beauty of the sea?  The saints stand on the shore and enjoy the sight of the sea of samsara. There can be no joy without imbibing this attitude of remaining detached like the saints. Be detached like a lotus-leaf. Buddha has said that the saints stand on the hill-top and look down at samsara, which then appears trivial to them. Try to do likewise, and you too would find it trivial; you would lose interest in worldly affairs.

In short, the Lord has exhorted us in this Chapter to shun the demoniacal qualities and acquire the divine ones. Let us make efforts in this direction.



  1. Vinoba was addressing the political prisoners jailed during the satyagraha campaign in 1932.