Pruning Roses and the Aghasura Demon

Today I spent the early hours deadheading roses in the temple garden. Clipping, pinching and pulling away at withered flowers, my thoughts drifted around the potential we have to be cruel and even destructive. It is within us to inflict pain on others, and to even withstand their protest against us. When we feel or believe that we are right and that our course of action is for the greater good, we can inflict pain and appear to be cruel. We have that capacity in us. We can be cruel.

As the roses had huge deadheads the stems were bending almost to the ground. The new flowers were being denied nourishment as the withering flower heads used it up for seed. A picturesque rose garden thus looked bedraggled and neglected. I clipped away and as the petals and stalks gathered to a lifeless heap on the pathway my thoughts of cruelty continued. 'You have to be cruel to be kind' and isn't that so true for parents, dentists and surgeons. What about our defence forces, that just takes it to another level. 

In the ancient tales of Krishna, both Krishna and his childhood friends were gobbled up by a giant snake demon called Aghasura. The name literally means the cruel (agha) demon (asura). That is, a demon with the capacity to cause suffering through cruelty to others. The english word 'agony' may well be a derivative. As the tale goes, ultimately Aghasura is killed by Krishna. Drawing inference from this story, holy men have taught that Aghasura is within us and that we too must be rid of our tendencies toward cruelty. The opposite is recommended, 'ahimsa' or nonviolence, and perhaps by no one more than the great Gandhi ji himself.

As a rose struck back by tearing my clothes and scratching my arm with its thorns, it became evident that there is always some risk, either now or in the future, in exerting our personal power on others. A fine line exists between the achievement of greater good, harm to others and to ourselves, and can easy be crossed. My dad, and perhaps yours too, would say 'this hurts me more that it hurts you', and I believe that to be true in his case. Withstanding harm to ourself and to others in an act toward greater good can be an everyday affair for parents and those upon whom we depend. 

I am far from convinced that we must be free from our trait of causing and withstanding pain. It is a quality of survival. It is the animal within us whom at the end of the day must survive. It is me with the secateurs in the rose garden, or telling my daughter to clean her room despite determined protest. It is what makes us resilient, capable and strong. Our natural trait of being capable of inflicting pain only becomes cruelty when misused or disproportionately applied. It is not about becoming free of it. It is about understanding its motive, need and being clear that it is not only just about our personal survival but rather clearly contributes to a better us and the greater good. When free from wrong motive and purpose, our capacity to withstand and inflict pain is not in conflict with the spiritual path. When clean or free of ill will, it will become an expression of care, compassion and at best even love. When denied, artificially controlled, or repressed it will ultimately become the Aghasura demon that gobbles us up. 

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