Enumerating the divine qualities, Krishna gives a complete picture of human traits and tendencies. The description naturally covers the devilish or destructive traits also. Krishna’s list in this is longer and more detailed. Why should the evil tendencies be described at such length?
How to deal with harmful tendencies
Krishna has described earlier the process of imbibing good qualities. In fact, he has been talking about it all along. It is true that the sādhaka’s focus must always be on cultivating good and benevolent traits in himself. At the same time, he has to understand that the opposite qualities also constitute Nature and that in anyone these traits and expressions may be predominant. So, how to deal with evil becomes a very crucial question.
Moreover, the society he lives in is itself a blend of the two notes. He has to strive to safeguard against and win over the unwanted tendencies. So, he should be sufficiently poised to face the adverse notes and must go forward without getting unduly perturbed by them.
This means he has to make a provision in his mind for all kinds of individuals and groups around him. This is possible only through discretion and enlightenment, which alone have the power to contend and eliminate the demonic (āsurī) traits. The clarity and confidence instilled by this kind of spiritual enlightenment are ineffable. They help the seeker go forward without hesitation.
The purpose of spiritual wisdom or enlightenment is to imbue the seeker with right perception and strengthen his mind and intelligence to be effective in any situation. In wisdom alone lie innate power, resolve and skill.
Krishna continues with the description of the traits:
Ostentation including hypocrisy, arrogance, pride, hatred and anger, cruelty or harshness, ignorance and delusion – these are the features, Arjuna, of one born with destructive qualities. Divine traits conduce to liberation, freedom, and the destructive ones to bondage. Do not lament or grieve, Arjuna; you are born with the divine qualities.
In six characteristics, Krishna has summed up the destructive human tendencies. To pretend to be whatever one is not, is ostentation. A virtuous person will not feel the need to display his virtues deliberately. In all his thoughts and actions, his virtues will definitely find a place. No particular effort is necessary to consciously display them.
Arrogance or conceit is another destructive trait. The seeker must be humble, soft-spoken and considerate on all occasions. Arrogance is unspiritual. It will always bring downfall.
Abhimāna denotes pride. To be good and noble is laudable. But if it stimulates pride or infatuation, it spells danger. By its very nature, abhimāna is wrong and destructive. Like white ants devouring the very core of the timber they inhabit, arrogance and abhimāna destroy one’s inner personality.
Hatred and anger are also self-destructive traits. Pāruṣya denotes hardness or harshness. Spirituality has the sure effect of melting and softening one’s inner personality.
Krishna now speaks of ajñāna, ignorance. To remain blinded, refusing to listen to the words of the wise, or not heeding the pronouncements of Scriptures, is the result of sheer ignorance. How destructive it is to shut the doors to wisdom! But this is a distinct note of the non-divine people, the asura kind, says Krishna.
The seeker has to be watchful about the presence of such traits and prevalence of these in the society around. While he should strive to safeguard against them in himself, he should equally be ready to encounter these vices during his interaction with others. Without disgust, fear or intolerance he should persist with his spiritual elegance and resolve, even in the most adverse situations. And this is possible only by equipping himself with the right wisdom about the world and its allied complexities and challenges.
Krishna’s life was confronted with many a conflict. He had to meet and move with a variety of persons. It was a crucial occasion when Duryodhana and Arjuna both arrived in Dvāraka seeking Krishna’s favour to fight the Mahābhārata war. Imagine how grave was the unexpected confrontation it brought! Without losing composure, in all prudence and forethought, he ensured that Duryodhana got Dvāraka’s huge Nārayaṇī Army and Arjuna chose the unarmed Krishna himself. Āsurī tendency was met in its own style and terms, and the daivī after itself. Unless Krishna’s response was excellent, his behaviour exemplary in dealing with the occasion unaffectedly and judiciously, was such a splendid outcome possible?
While telling Arjuna that the divine traits alone will take one to the pedestal of supreme freedom, Krishna also emphasizes that the destructive traits surely have a binding effect. One should always therefore pay attention to cultivate necessary virtues, if his spiritual pursuit has to lead to fulfillment.
To Arjuna’s great relief, Krishna confirms: “O Arjuna, grieve not. You are born with divine tendencies”. By this, Krishna also assures seekers everywhere, that they are all endowed with divine qualities or attributes. This assurance is very important in the life of seekers. To strive for spiritual wisdom and perfection is good, great and the ultimate in human life. Whether the pursuit will be effective and will progress to fulfillment is a natural doubt of any seeking mind. This generates a feeling of uncertainty and a sense of despondency too. A good teacher has to redress this condition of the seeking mind effectively. Therefore words of assurance are indeed significant.
Anyone who has a mind to listen to or read spiritual dissertations is, by that very fact, imbued with spiritual virtues. It was in response to Arjuna’s spiritual submission and yearning that Krishna began to impart spiritual wisdom to him. Arjuna involved himself whole-heartedly in Krishna’s exposition of the supreme Truth and he began to raise pertinent questions. Does this not clearly show virtuousness in Arjuna?
Maleficent notes hinder right vision
The wicked or destructive kinds do not pay attention to the Wise. They have no sense of discretion or discrimination to perceive and evaluate matters morally, ethically or spiritually. They do not recognize anything like redemption or liberation for the mind. Nor do they give any place for inner purity, holiness, righteousness or truthfulness (śloka 16.7).
People of demonic nature believe that the world does not have any eternal foundation (apratiṣṭham). They declare that there is nothing like Truth, and to think of anything like a supreme God Almighty is absurd. Everything is born out of male-female union (aparasparasambhūtam 16.8), and therefore passion alone is what matters in life, they claim.
Fostering this kind of vision, those with destructive or devilish tendencies are virtually lost in the hands of their own distorted notions, engrossed in villainous acts leading to degeneration and ruin.
Human mind and intelligence are capable of fostering good as well as bad to any extent. There are noble and benevolent views and visions available to help and compel the way of good. Equally, there are maleficent visions and inspirations to promote the cause of bad.
Here Krishna describes the harmful, unsocial, fissiparous qualities fostered by the wicked minds. The view of the wicked minds is that the world has no base and therefore it allows one to do anything whatsoever. Such destructive and extremist views give them sanction to indulge in any kind of vice and endanger the society.
With greed and infatuation, given to pride and prestige, they cling to deluded notions and beliefs to pursue vicious acts and schemes (16.10). Led by endless ambitions, they embark upon all kinds of wicked means for amassing wealth, employing it as a tool to accomplish anything they set their minds on (16.11).
They feel proud of whatever they inflict on those whom they hate. Without rhyme or reason, they go on destroying those whom they dislike or who stand in their way. They may even proclaim themselves as God Incarnate. They cite their own reason to support their atrocities. They feel they are the most powerful and the most fortunate. None can match them. All else are but inferior. They perform yajñas and yāgas with their own wicked motives. They are lavish in giving gifts for the purpose.
By that they feel confident of religious sanction and support for what they do. But in reality they are tottering in ignorance. Confounded, overpowered by the powerful thoughts of destruction and given to unjust passions, they end up in the foulest of hells (16.15 & 16).
Lost in self-esteem, haughty, intoxicated with wealth and its influence, performing rituals and sacrifices ostentatiously violating all rules, thriving on egoism, insolence and hate, these wicked persons deride and detest the supreme Reality, dwelling in other bodies as well as their own, bringing self-destruction (16.18).
I throw these hateful, cruel, inauspicious and vilest among humans, again and again into the demoniacal wombs.
The order of creation is such that these cruel people will be repeatedly damned into wicked wombs again and again. From there, unable to think of the supreme Reality and mend their ways, they reach deeper levels of delusion and downfall (16.20).
Is Krishna’s description threatening or enlightening? It is primarily to inform the good and noble minds about the disaster of courting wicked resolve, however tempting and sensuous it may be. The exposure must have its sure effect. By knowing clearly and well in advance what it would be to sway from their august path and fall a victim to pleasures of the opposites, the good and noble will be able to reinforce and intensify their path in all earnestness.
At the same time, it is a fact that the world remains multiple in its ways. The only course for the seeker is to develop timely insight and sensibility not to get disturbed by any trait or tendency he encounters in anyone, and continue to preserve and pursue one’s own virtue and goodness with unswerving dedication and resolve.
Three-fold door to hell
Krishna now proceeds to summarize the whole enunciation of the chapter:
Passion, hatred and greed are the three-fold door to hell in this world. Therefore, these three are to be renounced.
This is where Bhagavad Gita excels. While he discusses the traditional and epic views on the subject, Krishna is quite sensitive and emphatic to add the final spiritual or Vedantic assessment in the matter. This alone is, of course, what counts ultimately.
Three are the doors, Krishna says, leading one to hell. These are nowhere other than in the mind of every one. When passion, hate or greed emerges in the mind, instantly open up the direct doors to hell too.
Where is hell in one’s own life then? It abides in the mind itself. These doors can be safely shut. That will verily bring victory over hell. Krishna’s statement is not new. He has been emphasizing it throughout.
In the second chapter, when analyzing the status and value of Vedas, particularly their ritualistic pronouncements, Krishna clearly stated how even the Vedic votary falls a victim to kāma, bhoga and aiśvarya, thereby abandoning all his discretion and discrimination (2.42-44).
In describing the sthitaprajña and sthitadhī also, he specifically pointed out how sanga (attachment) to an object grows into strong desire and greed, which then leads, step by step, to anger, hate, delusion and downfall (2.62,63). The same emphasis was again made in the 3rd chapter (3.34). In another way, he pointed out the same truth in the 5th chapter (5.23) too.
The warning against kāma and krodha continues throughout the discussion. Here too he refers to the same plight by describing the inner doors to hell. The main thread of the discussion thus becomes quite evident, emphatic and supreme.
He, who is free of these three doors (passion, hatred and greed) to hell (darkness), works towards self-felicity. Thus he attains the supreme goal.
True spiritual evolution consists in gaining freedom from this threefold hell. Once he ensures this, the seeker is safe and will head towards supreme redemption.
Krishna emphasizes that all the Scriptures are there to help humanity to tread this great path of inner purity and redemption. If anyone were to disregard the benevolent voice of the Scriptures, that would be to bring about degeneration and downfall to himself as well as the society (16.23).
“Arjuna,” says Krishna, “this is the summum bonum of all śāstras. Understand this well and incorporate the knowledge in everything you do. To heed the Scriptures is to avoid the hellish life and work one’s way to heaven right here and now. Let the great holy Scriptures be the guide for every one. They are the right test-track.”
Bringing in the twin concepts of daiva and āsura and elaborating both keeping in view the constant aim of striving for inner purity and redemption, Krishna reinforces Arjuna’s understanding as well as that of the seeker of all times. The discussion becomes broad-based, yet its central focus only grows clearer and sharper.
(From Essential Concepts in Bhagavad Gita - Volume 5)