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Durable Link to this BlogSaturday, November 23, 2002

Gods, Men, and Demons

God and Demon Reside in Man!

According to Hindu schools of thought, three tendencies exist in all human beings. They are sattva (balance or restraint), rajas (being active and impulsive), and tamas (inert or cruel). The degrees to which these qualities are developed defines the behavior of a person. Among the saint-like, sattva predominates. Impatient and adventurous people exhibit rajas, and those who are destructive have the trait of tamas in them. Analogously, these qualities can be attributed to the gods, humans, and demons. 

It is believed that strict discipline is required to maintain the human condition. An Upanishadic story illustrates these tendencies thus:

Once gods, humans and demons all children of Brahma Prajapati (God of Creation) went to him separately seeking instruction. To each of the group, he taught only one syllable -D is for.. "da". The gods took to mean it as  damyata or "control your senses". The men interpreted it as datta -- "accept whatever is given", and the demons understood it as dayadhvam -- "be kind".

Sage Shankaracharya has interpreted this anecdote very lucidly. There are no gods or demons other than men. The same human beings could be godly, by cultivating virtues like self-control, charity, and compassion (sattvic people). Those lacking in self-control, but otherwise endowed with some goodness, are average men (those with rajas). Those who are cruel and take pleasure in violence are demons. All three disciplines dwell within human nature. According to the degrees of balance, performance of good deeds and control of greed and cruelty, men may be termed as gods, humans, or demons.

See Also:
• Topics on Hindu Philosophy
• Hinduism Potpourri

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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