There’s been a lot of talk in religious studies about the asura. Everything I know about them is second-hand—that is, through what I’ve read in English. I’m not a Sanskrit scholar. But from poking my nose in bookstores, visiting libraries and, more recently, web surfing, this brief survey sums up the main points:
Initially, the asura were early Hindu sky gods in the Rig Veda. Like many ancient supernatural beings, they competed with the suras for power. Toward the end and after the Veda, the asura diminished in status.¹ Later the asura became evil devas, enemies of the gods.
For Buddhists, the asura are low-ranking demigods existing in a realm of desire, more specifically, sensual desire. This makes them unhappy because they can never satiate their longings.
In the 20th century, the Oxford-educated Indian mystic philosopher Sri Aurobindo makes frequent reference to a wicked “reign of the Asura,” a tide of cosmic evil that he believes must be overcome through a combination of contemplative intercession and action. Aurobindo applies the idea of the asura not only to personal evil but also to the greater social evils present during WW-II, such as Nazism and Fascism. But what makes Aurobindo different is his claim that he helped the Allies win the war through his meditative efforts. This is an interesting assertion, if seemingly impossible to verify.
The concept of “distance healing” is pretty common now among New Age enthusiasts and those interested in Shamanism. But the idea of a “distance military support” is not quite so evolved, except, perhaps, in the field of remote viewing.
Because the word asura sounds sort of cool, it’s not surprising that it appears in video games and also in mythical fiction. Some conservative religious groups might object to this. But if we look at the history of the concept, it’s always been evolving. So who has the right to say that the evolution of an idea should stop now, just because a certain population happens to like it the way it is?
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