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Are these Bhagavad-gītā verses referring to a particular sect of people or addressing all bad people in general? Is verse 16.8 implying that those who don't believe in a god have no moral compass?

16.6 In this world there are are two (kinds of) creation of beings: the divine and the demoniacal. The divine has been spoken of elaborately. Hear about the demoniacal from Me, O son of Prtha.

16.7 Neither do the demoniacal persons understand what is to be done and what is not to be done; nor does purity, or even good conduct or truthfulness exist in them.

16.8 They say that the world is unreal, it has no basis, it is without a God. It is born of mutual union brought about by passion! What other (cause can there be)?

16.9 Holding on to this view, (these people) who are of depraved character, of poor intellect, given to fearful actions and harmful, wax strong for the ruin of the world.

16.10 Giving themselves up to insatiable passion, filled with vanity, pride and arrogance, adopting bad objectives due to delusion, and having impure resolves, they engage in actions.

16.11 Beset with innumerable cares which end (only) with death, holding that the enjoyment of desirable objects is the highest goal, feeling sure that this is all.

[tr. by Swami Gambirananda]

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    Chapter 16 is about Deva-Asura vibhaga (difference). 16.6 starts with - "there are are two creation of beings - Hear about the demoniacal".. Those who say the world is unreal, without basis, without a God etc. fall under the Asura category. It refers to all those people who have the characteristics detailed further in the shlokas, and they are grouped under the name 'asura-tendency'. If atheists have one of the tendencies mentioned and carvakas have another, both sects are referred to as asuras insofar as they have these tendencies. – ram Dec 30 '17 at 3:32
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    I don't know why you're bringing Vaisheshikas into this. They believed in the authority of the Vedas, Yagnas, the existence of the soul, the existence of God, etc.; see my answer here for that last point: hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/21976/36 They just had an incorrect understanding of the material cause of the Universe. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 30 '17 at 5:08
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    @KeshavSrinivasan, though you have a good point for "Vaisheshikas", just for a healthy conversation, one can argue that "Believing in authority of Vedas, Yagnas, soul, God etc. doesn't guarantee, one to have divine quality". For example, BG 2.43-2.45 belongs to those people, who are influenced by Vedas in wrong way (i.e. flowery/wordily matters); BG 16.15, 17.5 belongs to those people, who do Yagnas etc for material reasons. Then there are people who believe in God etc, but to gain various blessings. I think, divine/demonic qualities may not directly relate to belief system. – iammilind Dec 30 '17 at 5:22
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    Not sure why you are bringing any groups into this. In Swami Gambhirananda's translation, Sankara says in his commentary to this verse that 'they' refers to demonical persons; and in verse 9, his commentary says 'of depraved character'. It does not refer to any person's beliefs or allegiance, it refers to their character. – Swami Vishwananda Dec 30 '17 at 5:37
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    @SwamiVishwananda "Not sure why you are bringing any groups into this" - it's not me who's bringing these groups into discussion, as one of the answers below says, it's the commentators on Gita who're bringing the various groups into the discussion. I'm just asking what are all the groups that are being targeted here. – sv. Dec 30 '17 at 16:46
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The Advaita philosopher Adi Shankaracharya interprets this verse as referring to the Charvakas, aka the Lokayatikas or materialistic atheists. Here is what he says in his Bhagavad Gita Bhashya:

asatyaṃ yathā vayam anṛtaprāyāḥ tathā idaṃ jagat sarvam asatyam? apratiṣṭhaṃ ca na asya dharmādharmau pratiṣṭhā ataḥ apratiṣṭhaṃ ca? iti te āsurāḥ janāḥ jagat āhuḥ? anīśvaram na ca dharmādharmasavyapekṣakaḥ asya śāsitā īśvaraḥ vidyate iti ataḥ anīśvaraṃ jagat āhuḥ। kiṃ ca? aparasparasaṃbhūtaṃ kāmaprayuktayoḥ strīpuruṣayoḥ anyonyasaṃyogāt jagat sarvaṃ saṃbhūtam। kimanyat kāmahaitukaṃ kāmahetukameva kāmahaitukam। kimanyat jagataḥ kāraṇam na kiñcit adṛṣṭaṃ dharmādharmādi kāraṇāntaraṃ vidyate jagataḥ kāma eva prāṇināṃ kāraṇam iti lokāyatikadṛṣṭiḥ iyam।।

Te, they, the domoniacal persons; ahuh, say; that the jagat, world; is asatyam, unreal-as we ourselves are prone to falsehood, so is this whole world unreal; apratistham, it has no basis, it does not have righteousness and unrighteousness as its basis; it is anisvaram, without a God-nor is there a God who rules this (world) according to rigtheousness and unrighteousness (of beings). Hence they say that the world is godless. Moreover, it is aparaspara-sambhutam, born of mutual union. The whole world is born of the union of the male and female impelled by passion. (That union is) kama-haitukam, brought about by passion. Kama-haitukam and kama-hetukam are the same. Kim anyat, what other (cause can there be)? There exists to other unseen cause such as righteousness, unrigtheousness, etc. Certainly, the passion of living beings is the cause of the world. This is the view of the materialists.

The Sri Vaishnava Acharya Vedanta Desikan interprets the verse as referring to the followers of a few different philosophical schools:

kapilagurukumārilajinasugatacārvākādimatānuvartina

So he lists the followers of Samkhya, the Purva Mimamsa followers of Prabhakara, the Purva Mimamsa followers of Kumarila Bhatta, the Jains, the Buddhists, and the Charvakas. See my answer here for the atheistic views of the Samkhya and Purva Mimamsa schools.

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Since, the verse BG 16.8 is in continuation of BG 16.6-7, the term "they" means "those with demonic nature". So your Qn boils down to:

Do people of demonic nature belong to particular sect?

Ofcourse No. It's not related to groups of people being bad/good or sinful/sinless. There are verses in Gita, which says that even the worst among the humans, could be considered "SAdhu", if he/she has glued the devotion within the supreme Self.

Demonic nature

As a rule of thumb from the natural observation of Gita, those with increased qualities of Tamas (ignorance), catalysed with Rajas (passion), have demoniacal nature. While Sattva is towards divine nature.

The qualities of Sattva, Rajas, Tamas are explained in chapter 14 & 18 with good detail. For example, demonic people are possessed with the "singular & binding" qualities like:

  • Pride, arrogance, showoff, rudeness, (Rajas) & ignorance (Tamas); [BG 16.4]
  • They don't know what to do (Dharma) and what not to do (Adharma) [BG 16.70, 18.31];
  • Lack purity in mental & physical aspects (lack of Sattva)
  • Hurtful to others [BG 16.13-15, 17.6]
  • ...

In nutshell, Those with divine nature, have the tendency of liberation, the people with demonic nature tend to remain bound within certain plane of world, to consume various colours of life/afterlife.

BG 16.5 - The divine quality is [for] the Liberation; The demonic [quality] is considered as bondage ...

Note that, any kind of loka, where existence is possible -- is a bondage. Because every'thing' has all the 3 modes (Sattva, Rajas, Tamas) present within them [BG 18.40].


Though Gita doesn't explicitly say, but it's quite possible that the certain groups of people may have increased Rajas/Tamas. And it won't be surprising, if the atheists, chArvakas & even vaisheshikas may have more demonic nature and less divine nature.


Clarification:

BG 16.8 is slightly mistranslated by Gambhirananda (because, Asatyam ≠ Unreal). I would recommend to refer Sivananda's (Guru of Gambhirananda) translation in this case.
Here, how it can be translated word to word:

BG 16.8 - Without [any] truth, without [any] foundation, "they" call the universe with no Supreme; Without any mutuality, [it's] born from the purpose of what else but lust.

The above verse shows the mix of Tamas & Rajas among those with demonic nature:

  • Tamas: "They", don't have any truth or foundation. Yet they call the world without any "God" (the supreme one). Because in the immediate observation they don't see the God, they come to conclusion that there is no God. Shortsightedness is a predominant trait of ignorance viz. Tamas
  • Rajas: "They" also believe that, world is not born or progressed with mutuality founded by Dharma; It's pure game of lust. Like dumb animals, 2 people got attracted to each other and thus they bore a child. On such basis of mere probability, the world is born. Lust is born of Rajas.

Everyone has Tamas/Rajas within them, as part of Prakruti. The predominance of these modes, would lead to demonic nature.

  • the reason the Gita doesn't explicitly say is because it doesn't. Verse 8 and also verse 9 refer to an individual person's character. It does not refer to any particular group. – Swami Vishwananda Dec 30 '17 at 5:40
  • "It does not refer to any particular group." -- @SwamiVishwananda, that's what I have answered above! --- BTW, If you are referring to the last para of my answer, then it's my personal opinion based on obervation. If you refer Mahabharata, then there were certain cultural groups, which were usually condemned. Such scenario is possible today as well. People with similar mentalities tend to be together and make a society. For example, how will you rate the ISIS from middle east OR Nazis from Germany OR racist skinheads in UK? The list can go on. – iammilind Dec 30 '17 at 5:45
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    A similar kind of verse is also there in Isha Upanishad. This verse is also talking about "Asuri" people and their nature. Also read the commentary by Shankaracharya.- wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/isha-upanishad/d/doc122462.html – SwiftPushkar Dec 30 '17 at 6:13
  • Can you add some more details for verse 16.8 "16.8 - They say that the world is unreal, it has no basis, it is without a God. It is born of mutual union brought about by passion! What other (cause can there be)?" What does without a God mean? What does belief or no-belief in a god have to do with demonic qualities? – sv. Dec 30 '17 at 18:04
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    @sv., I have clarified the verse 16.8 in more details. The translation is done from Sanskrit to English. In nutshell, the verse shows the ignorance of such people (predominantly Tamas / ignorance). – iammilind Jan 1 '18 at 5:49
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According to Swami Sivananda's commentary, they might be referring to Vaiśeṣikas as well.

Translation By Swami Sivananda

16.8 They say, "This universe is without truth, without (moral) basis, without a God, brought about by mutual union, with lust for its cause; what else?"

Commentary by Swami Sivananda

16.8 asatyam without truth? apratiṣṭham without (moral) basis? tē they? jagat the world? āhuḥ say? anīśvaram without a God? aparasparasambhūtam brought about by mutual union? kim what? anyata else? kāmahaitukam with lust for its cause.

Commentary: They hold that the universe is without any substratum or support or an undying basic reality.This is a description of the opinion of atheists like the Charvakas and other materialists. They do not believe in the existence of Brahman Who is the support of this world. They do not even accept the existence of an Isvara in this world. They say: "We are unreal. Therefore this world also is unreal? the scriptures which declare the truth are also unreal. What else but lust can be the cause of this universe Sexual passion is the sole cause of all living creatures. There is no such thing as the theory of Karma. The whole world is caused by the mutual union of man and woman under the impulse of lust. There is neither virtue nor vice. There is no Lord Who dispenses the fruits of actions of the individuals according to virtue and vice. Dharma and Adharma are not the basis of this world.

Sexual desire is the sole basis for this universe. This world is a world of chance." They are not endowed with the faculty of introspection. They are ignorant of the 'field' (Nature) and 'knower of the field' (God). Mutual union: Sexual union; it may mean the union of atoms. The world arose from the combination of atoms according to the Vaiseshikas.

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    Yes, it's true that the Vaisheshika school believed that the world arose from a combination of atoms. But they thought that the motion of atoms was directed by God. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 30 '17 at 19:00

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