GOD & Anti-GOD
(Interactive session on 24.8.2013)
Keynote address by Mr. Ashok Sengupta
(Other participant speakers: Mr. Asim K. Banerjee, Ms. Sharmila Bhawal, Dr. B.B. Chakravarti, Mr. Amitava Tripathi, Dr.Kalyan Chakravarthy, Dr. Santosh Ganguly, Mr. Paritosh Bandopadhyay, Mr. Ramesh Chanda, Dr. Suhas Majumdar)
[Devotional song, composed by Mr. Amitava Tripathi, set to tune & rendered by Mr. Ashim Banerjee(Jr.)]
Anchor, Introduction & Conclusive Remarks: Asish K.Raha
It is puerile to attempt a definition of God as definition means limitation and God is above all limitation. Nevertheless, to borrow from Voltaire, God has created us in God’s own image and we the humans have ‘returned the compliment’ (by creating God in our image). In the process, we have assigned the following three attributes to God – Omni-potency, Omni-presence and Omni-science. That God has above three attributes is universally accepted by all religions. The term Omni-potent implies that against the will of God nothing happens and that everything is under complete control of God. Yet, we have conceived an Anti-God called by various names such as the Devil, the Satan, the Mara, the Asura etc., who is not under God’s control and is constantly at work to thwart whatever God design or desire. The term Omni-present suggests that God is present everywhere, in the heart of every being. But we maintain that there is no trace of divinity in the Devil’s heart. The term Omni-scient means that God is all-knowing, the past, the present and the future. Yet God is believed to be uncertain about the Devil’s next move and cautions man time and again not to be enticed by the Devil. In this way, we have created an Anti-God, as powerful as God, whom even God is unable to destroy. Now the question is whether the concept of Anti-God is compatible with God, given the above three unqualified attributes.
Duality is an essential feature of a procreative universe where we have matter and anti-matter, male and female, positives and negatives, Purusha (soul) and Prakriti (nature), Shiva and Shakti etc., etc. Since we are conscious, and our consciousness must have a source as it cannot logically emanate from a vacuum, we source our consciousness to God called Pure or Super-Consciousness via Prakriti (nature) and Purusha (soul), thereby suggesting that both the Prakriti and the Purusha are conscious or sentient. The concept of Anti-God confronts us with the dilemma whether duality exists at the highest level as well, the ultimate source of creativity and positive virtue, called God and the ultimate source of negative qualities and vices, called the Anti-God, or the entire concept of Anti-God is a misnomer and illusory.
A belief in the existence of both God and anti-God and their inherent antagonism, has been the common feature of all religions since time immemorial. Almost all civilizations and traditions foster the belief that supra-physical beings are divided into two camps, one sustaining the good and other promoting the evil. Devas and Asuras, God and Devil or Shaitan, Buddha and Mara, Christ and anti-Christ, Ahura Mazda (or Ohrmazd) and Angra Mainyu (or Ahriman). The list of names of antagonistic supra-beings can be longer if we care to look into other religions and traditions, both past and present.
The Devas and the Asuras in Hindu tradition
It is, however, a fact that the Asuras of Hindu tradition are not comparable with the Devil or Satan of Jewish and Christian traditions, put in short as Abrahamic tradition or for that matter, Mara of Buddhist tradition. While Devil or Satan or Mara is the evil personified and ever-antagonistic to God, Asuras of Hindu tradition are not so. The Asuras are stated to have common parentage as their rival Devas (wrongly translated as gods), with sage Kashyapa as their father, and Diti and Aditi as their respective mothers. Some of the Asuras like Bali and Prahlada were extremely pious, righteous and devoted to Lord Vishnu, one of the Hindu Trinities, having undertaken rigorous austerity and long penances, while some of the Devas were stated to have fallen from the path of the Truth thereby incurring wrath of the Almighty. Obviously, therefore, it would not be correct to depict Asuras as all evil, and the Devas as all virtue. However, since vast majority of the Asuras were arrogant, egoistic, lustful and repressive and the vast majority of the Devas were virtuous, righteous, protector of the weak and God-fearing, the former have been generally identified as evil while the latter as virtuous.
Anti-God in Abrahamic traditions
It is pertinent to note that Judaism as represented by the Old Testament does not mention Devil or Satan. The Hebrew word ‘ha-satan’ that was translated as ‘Satan’ actually meant ‘adversary’. Ha-satan in the Book of Job is mentioned as a member of the Divine Council of God playing the role of “the prosecutor”. Job was a good human, God-fearing and obedient. When the Divine Council met, God praised Job to ha-satan. Thereupon, ha-satan pointed out with humility that Job’s loyalty to God was owing to the lavish endowment and bestowal of whatever could be possibly desired by a human. The real test of loyalty of Job would be when everything that was given to him was taken away by God. God thereupon entrusted ha-satan the responsibility to test Job. Ha-satan, however, applied dubious method and means to entice Job away from God for which ha-satan was expelled from the Heaven. Ever since, ha-satan became inimical to the humans. What follows from the above anecdote was that ha-satan was under God’s control, being subordinate to Him.
Medieval Judaism, however, was more rational in its approach to the concept of Satan or Devil having personified it in three different roles, viz. an accuser, a seducer, and a persecutor, who was among the sons of God. It clearly viewed evil as abstract, and rejected the belief in rebel or fallen angels. The concept of ha-satan as adversary to God was taken as a metaphor. The Kabbalah in Hasidic Judaism in later period presented Satan as an agent of God who was assigned the task to lure humans into sin and then accuse the sinner. Still later in 18th century, the Jews of Chasidic tradition regarded ha-satan as Baal Davar.
Jesus, however, has been cited as referring to the Satan by some New Testament writers in 1st century literature outside the Bible. The Satan has been variously described by the Christian scholars such as the ‘The Prince of this world’ (refer ‘The Book of John’), ‘the Prince of the power of the air’, ‘the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience’, and ‘the God of this world’ (refer Corinthians). It may be mentioned in this regard that Judaism, Christianity and Islam have on the whole dwelt upon the Devil, also called Satan, and/or Lucifer, as a rebellious fallen angel or demon that targeted humans with the sole intent to lead them astray. It is credited with bringing death into the world. Enoch describes the Devil as the Prince of Grigori who was driven out of Heaven for rebelling against God. The Devil or the Satan has also been identified in the Book of Revelation as the serpent which lured Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.
The word Devil originated from the Greek word diabolos, the Latin word diabolus, the Old English word deofol, and the Middle English word devel. According to the Christian tradition, God and the Devil fight over the souls of humans, the latter along with its army of evil spirits striving constantly to lure humans away from God into the Hell.
Islam refers to the Devil as Iblis or Shaytan. The Quran says that God created Iblis along with other Jinn out of smokeless fire. Except the power to do evil, Iblis has no other power. According to the Islamic tradition, Iblis was expelled by God as he refused to pay homage to Adam, even though ordered by God to do so, claiming that he was superior to Adam, the human, as because humans were made of earth unlike him, and, therefore, was not obliged to pay homage to him. Other angels in compliance with God’s directive paid homage to Adam and escaped the wrath of God. Thus expelled, Iblis became the Devil and its mission till the Qiyamah (Resurrection) is to deceive humans. After the Qiyamah, Iblis will be consigned to thefire of Hell with all the persons it has deceived.
It will thus be seen that though defiant to God, the Satan in both Christian and Islamic traditions is depicted as a fallen angel and subordinate to God.
Anti-God In Buddhist tradition
The term Anti-God is a misnomer for Buddhism which does not refer to or dwell upon God. However, the Buddha referred to Mara, not as Anti-God, but as anti-enlightenment or anti-Nirvana, cast almost in the same mould as the Devil/Satan who enticed Jesus with all material prosperity and comfort if only he deviated from his spiritual path. From that limited perspective, Mara in Buddhism can be likened to the Devil in Abrahamic tradition.
We find in Buddhist texts how Mara had made unsuccessful attempts to entice young Siddhartha away from the path of Truth. The plain version of the story is as follows. When Siddhartha who was about to be Buddha was in deep meditation, Mara brought his three beautiful daughters known as Tanha (Craving), Arati (Boredom), and Raga (Passion). When they failed to distract Siddhartha, Mara called his monstrous soldiers to destroy Siddhartha, claiming that he was the rightful occupant of the seat of enlightenment while Siddhartha was an imposter, and his soldiers cried out in confirmation as his witnesses. Siddhartha then touched the earth with his right hand and the earth spoke out “I am your witness”. Mara thereafter disappeared. With the ascent of the morning star, Siddhartha was enlightened and became the Buddha.
As to the poser whether Mara was the Devil of the Christian tradition, Buddhist scholars find significant differences. Although both represent evil, the concept of evil in Buddhism widely differs from that in Abrahamic tradition and religions. In the latter tradition, the evil is external while in Buddhism evil is fundamentally internal. The Buddha indicated that the Mara operated in the five senses and the mind. To him, therefore, Mara symbolized unenlightened humanity or the whole of mundane existence. From the above point of view the lower self of every human being including the Buddha is Mara till the enlightenment dawns upon us. Only in Nirvana, one gets rid of Mara. In Hinayana Buddhism, Mara has been described to be of the following four types: Klesa-mara, or Mara as the embodiment of all painful emotions, Mrtyu-mara, or Mara as the ceaseless cycle of birth and death, Skandha-mara, or Mara as metaphor for the entirety of mortal existence and Devaputra-mara, or Mara as the son of a deva (god), i,e. Mara as a realistic entity, rather than a metaphor.
Anti-God in Puranic tradition
In one of the Puranas, the origin of the Devas and the Asuras has been depicted as follows. The sage Kashyapa had two wives, Aditi and Diti. Aditi’s children were the Devas and Diti’s the Asuras, the latter being the first-born. According to Shatapatha Brahmana, the Devas and the Asuras both came from Prajapati, but while the Devas chose pursuit of truth, the Asuras chose the path of falsehood. Aitrareya Brahmana relates that the Devas hold power by day and the Asuras hold equal power by night. There would be similar stories about the origin of these supra-beings in other traditions and religions. Let us narrate one story from a long-lost civilization that is supposed to have pre-dated the Vedas as well as all the civilizations that came up in the Mesopotamia – Egypt – Greece region – the Chaldean, Egypt of Pharaohs, Greece in the age of Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries or the Cabala of the Jews.
The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram on God & Anti-God
This story was told by the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram at Pondicherry to the Ashramite children, mostly pre-teen and early-teen ones. The story told by the Mother, originated from a ‘very old Tradition’, and sounded like a children’s tale. But its symbolism was profound.
Once it so happened that the unmanifest ‘God’ decided to manifest Himself ‘in order to know Himself in detail.’ To that end He first manifested His consciousness, which is the Universal or Divine Mother, and urged her to create a universe. The Universal Mother emanated four beings, representing four essential powers or attributes of God: Truth, Consciousness or Light, Life and Bliss. But since the manifestation is based on absolute freedom, each of those high and essentially godlike beings deemed themselves to be the very Godhead himself, which of course is an absurdity, for the Divine is One. This means that, in a manner of speaking, they distanced themselves from their origin, thereby turning into its opposites. Truth became Falsehood. Consciousness or Light became the black Inconscient, Life became Death, Bliss became Suffering. The anti-God came into God’s creation!
Dis-satisfied, the Great Mother turned to God for help. God said to her: ‘Start again, but this time try to do it in such a way that the beings are less independent. And it was thus that the gods were created. ‘But as the first four had come before them, at every step the gods ran into them, and so it was that the world changed into a battlefield, between the gods and the demons, the good and the evil, as all the great Traditions tell. Time and again, the gods have to do battle with the first four Asuras and their emanations – for the Asuras had the power to multiply into cascades of millions of lesser beings who resembled them and assisted them in their work.
If the world had to continue like this, it would never turn godlike, it would never revive its divine origin again. But when she created the gods, the Supreme Creatrix poured her divine Love into the dark Inconscient. It is this Love which is the driving force of the development of the world, of its evolution on the way back, or up, to its divinization. And as all forces are beings and all beings are forces, this love is a Divine phenomenon, ever present at the core of manifestation. It is personification of this love which we call incarnation of the Avatars, the series of direct divine interventions in the unfolding of the evolution.
The above story from ‘a very old tradition’ has elements that will be found in every religion on this fundamental question of co-existence of God and anti-God. In our tradition, the story of creation described in the Nasadiya Sukto of Rig Veda, has lot of similarity with the above story, our Puranas mention that the Asuras came before the devas, and the Upanishadic theory of evolution (vivartana) being preceded by involution (nivartana) is on the same line of what the above story says about Divine Love descending (involuting) into Inconscient, the very root of all existence, and then evolving up to its origin.
Good-evil dualism in Hindu scriptures
Dwelling more on Indian tradition, let us see how our scriptures on religious /spiritual issues, dealt with this fundamental dualism that we are discussing today. Vedas have many stories of battle between the Devas and the Asuras – Indra destroying Vritrasura with his thunderbolt (Vajra), Panis steeling the cows (divine light) of Indra and hiding them in dark caves, Shmbhala battling the gods from his mountain hideout, to name only a few.
The Upanishads are called the Vedanta as they are the final part of the Vedas, as also because they espouse the secret meaning of the Vedic mantras. Although Keno-upanishad starts with a story of battle between the Devas and the Asuras, in which the Devas win, the Deva – Asura dualism is replaced in Upanishad with that of a more philosophical dualism of Vidya (wisdom) and Avidya (ignorance of the existence of Divinity). Ishopanishad advocates the seeker of spiritual path, to take both Vidya and Avidya in his stride, warning that an exclusive focus on Vidya would plunge one to greater darkness. The same type of holistic approach is found in the Vedas also, where the Rishi prays to Aditi, the mother of the Devas as well as to Diti, the mother of the Asuras in the same mantra. In the Gita, the nomenclature changes to Para and Apara, but a similar holistic approach can be noticed in the treatment of this fundamental dualism. Unlike the Upanishads, the Gita deals with Deva-Asura dualism in a more comprehensive way. Chapter 17 (Saptadasha Adhyaya) of Gita talks about Daivi Sampada and Asuri Sampada. This is, however, a psychological way to deal with the inherent tendencies in a man.
Coming to the Puranas, which are, in a way, the basis of the outer form of Hinduism, Deva – Asura antagonism is portrayed there in its crudest but colourful form. The Asuras are also seen there performing great austerities (tapasya) to gain powers and win a boon from Lord Shiva (One of the Hindu Trinities, the other two being the Lord Vishnu and the Lord Brahma) to defeat the Devas.
God and anti-God antagonism is also the basic focus of those dealing with occultism, both in the western form of witchcraft or oriental (Indian) form of Tantric practices. The practitioner is advised to be very careful in his use of symbols and mantras since an incorrect use may have the unintended but dangerous consequence of strengthening the evil instead of the divine.
Sri Aurobindo on historic personae branded as evil
Were there historical personalities branded as asuric? Some say, the great conqueror of ancient times, Chengiz Khan was a typical example of an asura. Another example in modern period is that of Hitler whose destructive military campaigns during the 2nd world war, was said to be guided by a great asura. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother said this Asura was the Lord of Falsehood, who assumed the role of the Lord of the Nations and possessed Hitler to cause catastrophic damage to the human civilization. Sri Aurobindo, who was then trying to manifest the highest supramental consciousness on earth to take mankind to the next phase of evolution, had to focus on the destruction of Hitler and his Axis forces, before resuming his efforts for a supramental descent.
There are other historical personalities who got the label of the devil, asura or anti-Christ. This was more pronounced during the religious wars in Europe during the middle ages.
The anti-God is supposed to hinder any move of men towards God. But a difference can be noticed in degree of opposition depending on what the sadhaka aims in his sadhana. The asura is said to be controlling this world from the beginning of creation. Even when they allow, with some resistance, a solitary soul to escape the cycle of karma and rebirth, into moksha or nirvana or to the delight of Vaikunthaloka or Shivaloka, their opposition is many times more severe when some kind of a divine order is sought to be established on this earth. That is why the Vedas, which had a holistic outlook towards life and sought to set up a divine order on it, was more concerned with the Asura than later-day philosophies like Buddhism which concentrated on nirvana, or an escape of the human soul from this earthly bondage of ignorance and suffering. That is why, the religions, anywhere in the world, which sought to impose some kind of divine order in human society or even to aim for a kingdom of heaven on earth, have dealt with God/anti-God dualism in a substantial way in the scriptures.
Sri Aurobindo’s mission to divinize the world
Among the philosophers and spiritualists of modern era, Sri Aurobindo is the one who aimed at establishing a divine life an earth. This threatens the kingdom of the Asura here and one, therefore, notices direct confrontation with the Asura in his life as well as in the life of the Mother, his collaboratrix. There are interesting stories from the life of the Mother, about her encounter with the Asuras of Death, of Suffering and of Falsehood under many circumstances. Same was the case with Sri Aurobindo, who had to deal with the opposition from the Asuras time and again in his life.
Surprisingly, the Asura in his fearsome robes, is hardly seen in any of the writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother (except of course when the Mother told stories of her own life or narrated those in her personal diaries). In his magnum opus, The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo has dealt with very comprehensively the issue of divine and undivine, much in the same way Ishopanishad dealt with Vidya and Avidya. But this is Brahmavidya for one wanting to divinize his life. This is totally different from the way God – anti-God dualism is visualized in Western occultism, witchcraft or in some of the religions.
In his writings on Yoga, Sri Aurobindo has, however, frequently talked about the ‘adverse forces’, that misguide the sadhak and create hindrances on his path. But Sri Aurobindo says, the adverse forces serve a divine purpose, it is to test the sadhak on his way to perfection.
To these adverse forces have been applied all types of demonic and ‘dark’ names in the scriptures of all religions, as if the sole mission of those negative forces was to damn the God-seeker and to cause them all kinds of troubles and obstacles. The reality is somewhat different, for where is the devil if not in God? If he is not in God, then there is little left in God, because this world is evil enough (and quite a few others, too), and little remains that is pure, except perhaps a dimensionless and spotless mathematical point. But as experiences show us, these disruptive forces have their place in the universal economy, and they are disruptive only on the scale of our little consciousness of the moment — even then, their disruption has a specific purpose. First, they always catch us at the chink in our armour; if we were solid and of a single piece, they could not shake us even for a second. Moreover, if, instead of whining and blaming the devil or the wickedness of the world, we look into ourselves, we find that each of these attacks has exposed one of our innumerable righteous self-deceptions, or as Mother puts it, has pulled off one of the little cloaks we throw over things so as not to see. The little cloaks, as well as the big ones, not only cover our own sores, they are everywhere in the world, over its little deceits and its huge conceit. If the disruptive forces pull off the cloaks a bit violently at times, it is not just randomly or with wanton malice, but to open our eyes and compel us to a perfection we were balking at; because as soon as we have got hold of a grain of truth or a wisp of an ideal, we have the unfortunate tendency to put it under lock and key in an airtight and infallible construction, and not budge from there. In other words, for the individual as for the world, these rather ungracious forces are instruments of progress. ‘That by which you fall is that by which you rise,’ says the Kularnava Tantra in its wisdom.
On philosophical plane
God’s negations are as useful to us as his affirmations, says Sri Aurobindo. The Adversary will disappear only when he is no longer needed in the world, observed the Mother. And we very well know that he is needed, as the touchstone is for gold, to make sure we are true.
The anti-God, the devil, the asura or the adverse forces, therefore, serve a divine purpose, they help us to become perfect. The anti-God exists, because God has willed so, and the seeker has to take its attacks in the right spirit.
Is there something particular in us, which may help to deal with the anti-God? We would like to deal with this question in terms of the Vedic symbolism. The Vedas are said to be dominated by male gods, except the towering Aditi, the supreme creatrix. But we find the name of five other goddesses – Bharati, Ila, Saraswati, Sarama and Daksha – who help the performer of yajna. Sri Aurobindo says, they are the higher faculties of Vastness of Light, Revelation, Inspiration, Intuition and Discrimination. We are referring to the last-mentioned goddess, Daksha or Dakshina, who gives us the power of immediate discrimination or discernment, corresponding to the mental faculty of logical discrimination. In a mystic verse in the Rig Veda about the discovery of Truth, Vishwamitra says, Daksha helped the fathers, to discover ‘Truth, the sun lying in the darkness’ and chants, ‘He having Dakshina with him held in his right hand the secret thing that is placed in the secret cave concealed in the waters. May he, knowing perfectly, separate the light from the darknes, jyotir vrinita tamasa vijanan, may we be far from the presence of evil.
Daksha gives us the power to separate light from darkness, truth from falsehood, good from evil. The logical power of discrimination is inherent in all of us. The higher faculties of immediate discernment which the mysterious Vedic goddess Daksha represents would also flower as the seeker proceeds in his path. As Rishi Vishwamitra chanted, this is the surest way of keeping us far from the presence of evil, from the anti-God.
Reverting to our original posers in the Introduction as to whether the concept of Anti-God is compatible with God and whether duality prevails at the highest level where God may co-exist with Anti-God, we are in agreement that the concept of Devil is not compatible with the concept of God being the ultimate and only source of creation of the sentient Nature and the beings. In that sense, all the creations of God, including the Devil are necessarily subsumed in God. This is the sum and substance of the Vedantic philosophy, as has been eloquently spelt out in the Bhagavat Gita by Sri Krishna, and lucidly explained by Swami Vivekananda.
The Vedanta reconciles actual to the ideal so that earthly life coincides with life eternal. “You must always remember”, said Vivekananda in his talk on ‘Practical Vedanta’ “that the one central idea of Vedanta is this oneness. There is no two in anything, no two lives, nor even two different kinds of life for the two worlds…. There is but one life, one world, one existence. Everything is that One; the difference is in degree and not in kind.” That One in Vedanta is called Brahman, Which being all-inclusive cannot be numerically described. It is in conformity with this concept of Oneness that the Vedanta denies the existence of heaven and hell, the devil/Satan or the sin and any second outside the One (Ekamevadvitiyam). The Brahman is also described as Purna or the Whole that comprises all the matters and non-matters, as also all the qualities or the Gunas, namely the sattva, the Rajas and the Tamas. This being the case, in the ultimate state of realization, the pursuer of the Truth finds the Brahman in all entities, including the Devil/Satan so-called, and exclaims in pleasant surprise: ‘Thou art That’ (Tat Tvam Asi).
Having regard to this cardinal Vedantic message to the posterity, Vivekananda observed that one who worshipped God as all good worshipped only one legged God. God was all good as also all bad as all the qualities, good or evil, emanated from God and would be eventually subsumed in God.
The concept of Devil appears to be a reality to a pursuer of the Truth when he confronts various obstacles and temptations on his way to liberation/realization. When the Truth is realized, all the obstructers melt away as non est.
The above Vedantic concept conforms with the Big Bang theory that explains how from a microscopic point described as cosmic egg, multiple universes numbering 10 to the power of 500 evolved in almost no time, and how those evolved universes like bubbles are likely to shrink and disappear into its original source in distant future by way of involution. The only difference in a physicist’s outlook is that it describes above phenomena of creation and possible dissolution, evolution and possible involution as essentially deterministic and not the choice of the Super-Consciousness or the Supramental. This explains why Stephen Hawking in ‘The Grand Design’ has stated: “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going”. Be that as it may, we find it logical to accept the existence of a sentient source for our consciousness. The grand design of myriad universes is attributable, in our considered opinion, to the choice of a Super Mind rather than to the random interplay of particles in a chaotic Nature.
Our conclusion, therefore, is that God is ONE or the WHOLE and the entire creation, apparent or real, human or non-human, the Anti-God or the angel, is integral part of that ONE or the WHOLE.