According to Krishna, who is an Asura? || Acharya Prashant, on Bhagavad Gita (2020)

Acharya Prashant (AP): In chapter 16 of Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna has done something quite special—special even by his own exalted standards. He has made it amply clear what the difference between the Asurī man, the man with demonic tendencies, and the divine man is. Even among these two, he has elaborated upon the demonic man, the Asurī man in greater detail. Just a few verses are devoted to the one having the right disposition, the divine disposition, but a lot more verses, more than ten, are devoted to the one having the Asurī disposition. ’Asurī’ you understand? Monstrous, demonic, Asura.

So, verses 19, 23, 24, and then many others, but from verse 7 to verse 18 all have been quoted. I’ll start from verse 19, then move to 23 and 24.

तानहं द्विषतः क्रूरान्संसारेषु नराधमान् ।

क्षिपाम्यजस्रमशुभानासुरीष्वेव योनिषु ॥ 16.19 ॥

tān ahaṁ dviṣhataḥ krūrān sansāreṣhu narādhamān

kṣhipāmy ajasram aśhubhān āsurīṣhv eva yoniṣhu

These malicious and cruel evil-doers, most degraded of men, I hurl perpetually into the wombs of Asuras only, in these worlds.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 16, Verse 19

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Now, then the description of the Asura:

यः शास्त्रविधिमुत्सृज्य वर्तते कामकारतः ।

न स सिद्धिमवाप्नोति न सुखं न परां गतिम् ॥ 16.23 ॥

yaḥ śhāstra-vidhim utsṛijya vartate kāma-kārataḥ

na sa siddhim avāpnoti na sukhaṁ na parāṁ gatim

He who, setting aside the scriptures, the Shastras, acts under the impulse of his own desire, he attains not to perfection, nor happiness, nor the Goal Supreme.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 16, Verse 23

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Then, verse 24:

तस्माच्छास्त्रं प्रमाणं ते कार्याकार्यव्यवस्थितौ ।

ज्ञात्वा शास्त्रविधानोक्तं कर्म कर्तुमिहार्हसि ॥ 16.24 ॥

tasmāch chhāstraṁ pramāṇaṁ te kāryākārya-vyavasthitau

jñātvā śhāstra-vidhānoktaṁ karma kartum ihārhasi

Let the Shastra, the Scripture, bear authority in ascertaining what needs to be done and what ought not to be done. Having known what is said in the scriptures, you should act.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 16, Verse 24

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Questioner (Q): Shri Krishna has defined Asuras as the ones who act under the impulse of their desire. He also says that Asuras keep on taking birth in Asura-wombs. If that is so, then how will the cycle break?

In modern times, reading the Shastras and respecting them has been given a rather derogatory meaning. This makes it even more difficult for people to come closer to the spiritual scriptures. How come we came this low, and what should be done now?

AP: Right. So, the first part of the question. Who is an Asura? An Asura is one who keeps the scriptures aside, detests them, ignores them, even derides them, and says, “What I know is right. What I feel like saying is the Truth. My own experience determines the Truth.” That is the relation of the demon with the spiritual scriptures — he disregards spiritual scriptures, even hates them. That’s what Shri Krishna is very concretely saying in chapter 16 of Shrimad Bhagavad Gita.

Instead of listening to the scriptures, they want to act under the impulse of their own desire. Their desire they take as supreme. In fact, there is nothing higher for them than the dictates of their own desires and tendencies. That’s what they call as their ‘liberty’ and their ‘freedom’. They say, “If I feel like doing something, I'll do that. That is the determinant of my action—my feeling. If I have an impulse to do something, I’ll go ahead and do that. And if I do that, I’ll call myself as a 'free person'. And Truth is freedom; therefore, if I follow the path of my desire, I'll reach Truth.”