“Your appearance as a cowherd child is for the benefit of the devotees, and although I have committed offenses at Your lotus feet by stealing away Your cows, boys and calves, I can understand that You have mercy upon me. That is Your transcendental quality; You are very affectionate toward Your devotees.” (Brahma speaking to Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 14)Download this episode (right click and save)
The suras and the asuras. Good and evil. Right and wrong. Pious and impious. The struggle between the two has been ongoing since before anyone can remember. In television and film the choice is depicted with the vision of two competing voices. One on each side of the individual’s head, there is conflicting counsel. “Should I do the right thing, which deep down I know? Or should I follow my senses, which will only give me short-term pleasure, sacrificing long-term benefit?”
In terms of Vedic teachings, the suras are like demigods. The asuras are simply the negation of the suras. The asuras are like demons. While the suras have good qualities, the asuras do things like lie, cheat, and steal. Most importantly, they are against God. Because of this disposition, they are repeatedly cast into different kinds of inauspicious bodies, in essence getting lower births.
“Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men, are cast by Me into the ocean of material existence, into various demoniac species of life.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.19)
As God is a person, He has lila, or pastimes. In that lila sometimes even the suras make mistakes. After all, the mode of goodness is still material. Though the suras are on the right track, and while they generally acknowledge the existence of the Supreme Lord, they are prone to slipups. Occasionally, they even go against the person to whom they were previously devoted.
1. Lord Brahma
God is one, though He has different manifestations suited to the times, circumstances, and desires of the devotees, who want to connect with Him. That connection is known as bhakti, and it is not dependent on the body type. An asura can be a devotee. There is the famous Daitya prince, Prahlada Maharaja, who is the symbol of sacrifice and role model for countless pious souls. By birth he appeared in an impious family, but devotion trumps all material circumstances.
As God in His original transcendental form is all-attractive, one name for Him is Krishna. He appeared in the land of Vrindavana some five thousand years ago and had many pastimes that are described in Vedic literature. From the Shrimad Bhagavatam we find the incident of Lord Brahma stealing the cows and cowherd boys.
Brahma is the first sura. He is the creator. Think of an artist sitting at his canvas, with the main colors at his palette. He can mix those colors in different proportions to make new ones, and from there he sets about creating art.
Brahma does something like this with the species. He takes the three modes of nature - goodness, passion and ignorance - and gives body types to the conditioned souls, the jivas. In this way we understand that evolution is spiritual and not material. The soul transmigrates from body to body. As the body is material, and thus dull and lifeless, it is not capable of doing anything to create a future body.
Brahma is in charge of populating the creation. This is a very important post. Since he is the first living entity, he is also a spiritual master, or guru. He is highly advanced and very dear to the Supreme Lord. At the same time, there is the side of Brahma that is conditioned. He lives for the longest time, but he still goes through birth and death. Though mostly in the mode of goodness, sometimes he makes mistakes.
One time was with Krishna in Vrindavana. The Supreme Lord was there in the form of a beautiful youth. Krishna was the center of attention for everyone in the town, which was a rural community. Krishna and His young friends had the responsibility of taking the calves to the pasturing grounds. One time Brahma decided to play a trick on Krishna. He stole the boys and the cows, and left Krishna by Himself.
There was no issue, though. The Supreme Lord is better at creating than Brahma. Krishna immediately expanded Himself to create forms that looked identical to the missing calves and cowherd boys. He and those expansions returned home and no one was the wiser. The play went on for an entire year until Brahma finally realized the folly of his ways. Krishna did not hold a grudge, and everything was fine afterwards. The incident teaches the lesson that even highly advanced souls have a difficult time understanding the potency of Krishna.
Brahma is in charge of creating, and Indra is in charge of the army of the suras. The demigods get their share of yajna, or sacrifice, and respond accordingly with sufficient rainfall and other material opulences. In Vedic culture there are so many religious rituals for pleasing the suras. Even the occasion of buying a new car calls for a puja, or worship. It is offered to Vishvakarma, the architect of the demigods.
“In charge of the various necessities of life, the demigods, being satisfied by the performance of yajna [sacrifice], supply all necessities to man. But he who enjoys these gifts, without offering them to the demigods in return, is certainly a thief.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.12)
One year the residents of Vrindavana skipped the annual puja intended for Indra. The foster-father, Nanda, listened to the advice of young Krishna. Instead of worshiping Indra, they would take the already prepared paraphernalia and worship the nearby Govardhana Hill instead. This really shouldn’t have been an issue. The people were innocent, after all, following their heart, which was fully attached to Nanda’s son.
Indra’s jealousy got the better of him. So incensed at the perceived insult, he retaliated with devastating rainfall. The storm was so bad that it threatened to wash everyone away, after they had just worshiped Govardhana Hill. Krishna again proved that He is stronger and smarter than the demigods. He lifted the just worshiped hill and held it up as an umbrella for seven straight days.
Like Brahma before him, Indra ended up being quite remorseful. Again, Krishna did not hold a grudge. The incident was instructional. Worship of the Supreme Lord in devotion, without material motivation, has no equal. In full surrender, the residents of Vrindavana were protected from all potential sinful reaction that could have come from missing demigod worship. This is the promise of bhakti. Krishna protects the devotion of His devotees.
Suras and asuras since beginning of time,
One demigods, other as demons defined.
Though devoted remaining vulnerable still,
Gods like Indra in Vraja rain to fill.
And Brahma the cowherd boys stealing,
Afterwards for forgiveness appealing.
Supreme Lord holding a grudge not,
Highest love for devotees He’s got.