A short sketch on the life and character of Prahlada
by Gauranga Darshan Das
” Devotional service rendered to God with an unmotivated heart and unwavering regularity completely satisfies the self. “
The Unobstructed Flow of Bhakti
Did you ever notice the flow of oil being poured into a bowl? Compare it with the flow of water being poured into a cup. The difference is that the flow of oil (taila dhara) is seamless and consistent without obstruction, resembling a glossy finished column. On the other hand, the flow of water (jala dhara) is unsteady, obstructed, sprinkling water particles around. While the former seems to be focused on reaching its destination, the later seems to get distracted with diverted attention.
Achieving anything in life needs focus and determination. If our efforts and attitudes are consistent like the flow of oil, we can achieve our intended goals easily and quickly. But if our endeavors are distracted and inconsistent like the flow of water, our success is hampered. In spiritual life, consistent focus on spiritual practices is of vital importance.
Bhakti or pure devotional service unto the Lord Krsna or Visnu is described to be ahaituki and apratihata.
Ahaituki means not to have any selfish agendas behind one’s spiritual practice. Apratihata means not to have any interruptions or irregularities in the practice. Advancement and satisfaction in bhakti depend on the purity of our intent and regularity of our practice.
In this world, our devotion to God is often obstructed by obstacles of various types. When reversals come, a spiritual seeker strives to remain focused in one’s devotion by deriving inspiration from exemplary devotees. A wonderful example of such causeless and ceaseless devotion to God is seen in the life of a young devotee named Prahlada.
Transmission that Transcends All Barriers
Prahlada was the son of a great demoniac king named Hiranyakasipu. When Prahlada was in the womb of his mother Kayadhu, Hiranyakasipu went to perform austerities to get boons from Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe.
At that time, the demigods attacked the demons and arrested Kayadhu to kill her child after he is born. But Narada Muni stopped the demigods and gave shelter to pregnant Kayadhu in his own hermitage.
Narada Muni then taught Kayadhu the principles of spiritual life and the glories of devotional service unto the Supreme Lord Visnu. But Kayadhu could not hear those teachings attentively as she was anxious about her husband’s return and her child’s well-being. However, Prahlada, who was still within Kayadhu’s womb, heard those divine instructions very eagerly, that resulted in his unflinching devotion to Lord Visnu.
In a communication system, when the transmitter of a signal is potent and when the receiver is perfectly tuned into those signals, the transmission of data takes place very effectively. Similarly, in spiritual communication, when the guru is an advanced devotee of Krsna, and when the disciple is eager to receive knowledge and inspiration from the guru, the transmission of bhakti takes place very effectively. Being in the mother’s womb with undeveloped senses was no barrier for Prahlada to receive the knowledge of bhakti from Narada Muni.
Age, Caste and Company Are No Bar
Hiranyakasipu, after having received rare boons from Lord Brahma, became puffed up. Out of his hatred for Visnu and falsely thinking himself to be the supreme controller, he stopped the worship of Visnu in his kingdom and tormented Visnu’s devotees in various ways.
Although Prahlada was the son of such an envious demon, Prahlada himself had no demoniac tendencies or attachment to his father’s extensive property and influence. His heart was filled with love for Lord Visnu, and as a result, the so-called privileges and pleasures of this mortal world seemed trivial to him.
Little Prahlada, hardly five years old, was sent to school where the children of demons studied politics and diplomacy under materialistic teachers named Sanda and Amarka. Prahlada never liked those teachings and was fixed up in the teachings of bhakti-yoga given by Narada Muni.
Prahlada’s demoniac birth, tender age, and the company of those who hated Lord Visnu didn’t have an impact on his devotion to Visnu. When our internal consciousness is focused on our beloved objective, the external obstacles cannot hamper our success. Though the external atmosphere is surcharged with nondevotional vibrations, a determined devotee’s inner atmosphere is immersed in love for God.
Generally, we are influenced by the people around us. But if we are determined and prayerful, we can transcend the influence of negative association and achieve our higher goals. Prahlada, through his constant absorption in Visnu, was effortlessly overcoming every crisis.
Fearlessness in Facing Confrontations
Hiranyakasipu once tested Prahlada’s knowledge by asking him to repeat what he had learned from his teachers. Ignoring the topics taught by his materialistic teachers, Prahlada fearlessly repeated the essence of the teachings of Narada Muni, his real teacher. He instructed his powerful father that worshiping Lord Visnu is in the best interest of every human being.
sravanam kirtanam visnoh
arcanam vandanam dasyam
iti pumsarpita visnau
bhaktis cen nava-laksana
kriyeta bhagavaty addha
tan manye ‘dhitam uttamam
Prahlada Maharaja said: “Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia and pastimes of Lord Visnu, remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship with sixteen types of paraphernalia, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one’s best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him (in other words, serving Him with the body, mind and words)—these nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service. One who has dedicated his life to the service of Krsna through these nine methods should be understood to be the most learned person, for he has acquired complete knowledge.” (SB 7.5.23-24)
Prahlada fearlessly explained to his father that the materialistic way of life entangles one in this world, but service to the devotees of Krsna or Visnu frees one from material contamination and elevates one to the spiritual platform.
Even when his teachers Sanda and Amarka chastised Prahlada, he didn’t budge even a little from his determination in bhakti. He fearlessly spoke the truth, which was against their philosophy of discriminating between people as friends and enemies. He said that every living being is a part of God and His servant and thus they are all one in quality.
Facing a fierce demon and boldly confronting his conceptions is not possible for an ordinary person. A tender child generally fears chastisement and punishment from a strict elder, but Prahlada boldly opposed the demoniac philosophy of Hiranyakasipu and his teachers, while simultaneously being humble and respectful to them.
Even Deadly Dangers do not Matter
Enraged at Prahlada’s staunch devotion to Lord Visnu, hard-hearted Hiranyakasipu tried to kill him. But Hiranyakasipu couldn’t kill Prahlada by throwing him under the feet of big elephants, by throwing him among huge snakes, by employing destructive spells, by hurling him from the top of a hill, by conjuring up illusory tricks, by imprisoning him, by administering poison, by starving him, by exposing him to severe cold, winds, fire and water and by throwing heavy stones to crush him.
Throughout these extreme abuses and mistreatments, Prahlada’s faith in Lord Visnu and His protection didn’t diminish even slightly. Further he absolutely had no bitter feelings towards Hiranyakasipu, who tormented him in many ways. A devotee is ajata-satru; he is never hateful of anyone, even towards those who hate him.
Developing faith in God’s protection is very rare. Even after attaining some faith, it is tested and disturbed by the inevitable calamities of this world. Ordinary people lose faith in God’s protection or blame God for their difficulties. Srila Prabhupada writes, “In case of benefit, no one will deny that it is God-sent, but in case of loss or reverses one becomes doubtful about how the Lord could be so unkind to His devotee as to put him in great difficulty.” (SB 1.17.22 Purport).
Advanced devotees like Prahlada accept even reversals as God’s blessings. Srila Prabhupada writes, “A devotee’s conclusion is that no one is directly responsible for being a benefactor or mischief-monger without the sanction of the Lord; therefore, he does not consider anyone to be directly responsible for such action. But in both the cases, he takes it for granted that either benefit or loss is God-sent, and thus it is His grace.” (SB 1.17.22 Purport).
Divine Teachings in Demons’ Arena
When the attempts to kill Prahlada failed, he was sent to school again. When his classmates called him to play in the absence of their teachers, Prahlada spoke to them in sweet words about the futility of material life.
Prahlada said, “One shouldn’t waste the rare and valuable human life for sense gratification and get entangled in materialistic family affairs. A human being should perfect one’s life by worshiping the infallible Supreme Lord Visnu with bhakti. Nothing is unobtainable when Lord Visnu is satisfied. The pure spirit soul gets entangled due to material intelligence. Bhakti or devotion to Lord Visnu is the best path that disentangles the soul from material existence.”
Thus Prahlada urged his classmates to take to Visnu-bhakti. Prahlada’s schoolmates loved his teachings and rejected the instructions of their materialistic teachers. Hearing about this from Sanda and Amarka, Hiranyakasipu became furious.
After all, it’s the power of God!
Sanda and Amarka reported about Prahlada’s activities in school and Hiranyakasipu became furious. Perplexed about how his five-year-old boy could be so fearless, Hiranyakasipu asked Prahlada, “You rascal, you know that when I am angry all the planets of the three worlds tremble, along with their chief rulers. By whose power have you become so impudent that you appear fearless and overstep my power to rule you?”
Prahlada Maharaja replied: “The source of my strength, is also the source of yours. Indeed, the original source of all kinds of strength for every single being is Lord Visnu.” An advanced devotee is convinced that not only he or she but every living being is ultimately dependent on the Supreme Lord’s power. Without the Lord’s sanction, not a blade of grass moves.
When we love someone, we feel their presence always and everywhere. A devotee who is in love with the omniscient Godhead feels His presence and sees Him everywhere at all times. On the other hand, an atheistic person devoid of love of God cannot see the all-pervading God anywhere. Although having no qualification to see God, he challenges the devotees to show God.
Hiranyaksipu threatened to kill Prahlada and challenged him if his God were present in a pillar in the assembly hall. Knowing the all-pervading nature of the all-powerful
Supreme Lord, Prahlada firmly said, “Yes!” Hiranyakasipu struck the pillar in rage. To prove the words of His devotee true, that God is all-pervading, the Supreme Lord Visnu appeared from the pillar in an unprecedented form as Nrsimha-deva, half-man and half-lion.
After enjoying fighting pastimes for some time, Lord Nrsimha-deva placed Hiranyakasipu on his lap and killed him at the time of sunset, on the doorway, merely with His nails. The demigods celebrated the Lord’s deed and offered Him various prayers.
Accomplished but not Arrogant
None of the prayers of the demigods could pacify the angry Lord Nrsimha-deva. Even Laksmi-devi, the Lord’s eternal consort, was fearful of approaching Him. Then Lord Brahma requested Prahlada to pacify Nrsimha-deva.
Although Prahlada was the chosen one to pacify the Lord when all the great demigods and sages failed to do so, Prahlada didn’t feel superior to them. A Vaisnava who is fully qualified to serve the Lord still thinks oneself extremely low. He is never falsely proud of his qualifications. Prahlada prepared himself to offer prayers to the best of his ability, for his own purification.
In his heartfelt prayers, Prahlada showed his deep humility, devotion, eagerness for shelter, fear of conditioned life, compassion for the fallen souls, knowledge of the Godhead’s unlimited opulence and his gratitude towards his guru Narada Muni who taught him bhakti. In his various prayers, Prahlada indirectly indicated and directly declared that bhakti is the ultimate refuge and that the material opulences are futile.
naradhanaya hi bhavanti parasya pumso
bhaktya tutosa bhagavan gaja-yutha-paya
Prahlada Maharaja said: “One may possess wealth, an aristocratic family, beauty, austerity, education, sensory expertise, luster, influence, physical strength, diligence, intelligence, and mystic yogic power, but I think that even by all these qualifications one cannot satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead. However, one can satisfy the Lord simply by devotional service. Gajendra did this, and thus the Lord was satisfied with him.” (SB 7.9.9)
Its not a Business Transaction
Lord Nrsimha-deva was very much pleased with Prahlada’s prayers and told him to ask for any benediction he wanted. Considering material benedictions to be impediments in bhakti-yoga, Prahlada told Nrsimha-deva not to tempt him with boons, and that he wasn’t a merchant to trade his devotional service for some material benefit.
Prahlada said, “A servant who desires material profits is not a qualified servant. A master who bestows boons to maintain his position is not a pure master. I am Your unmotivated servant, and You are my eternal master not ‘dependent’ on my service. If at all You want to offer me some boon, may I not have any material desires.” Prahlada then requested the Lord to excuse his father, and the Lord said that Hiranyakasipu has been purified along with twenty-one generations.
Thus Prahlada serves as an unparalleled and an ideal example of selfless and seamless devotion unto Lord Visnu. By the mercy of Narada Muni, Prahlada received the seed of bhakti, and by performing bhakti without motivations and interruptions, he became so exalted experiencing the bliss of bhakti within him at every moment.
Advancement in bhakti depends on the intensity of one’s absorption in practicing it. If one performs bhakti with selfish motivations and undue interruptions, he cannot experience the intended pleasure of heart. Both candle and a 2000-watt bulb can light a dark room. But the dim candle flame illuminates a corner of the room, while the bulb illuminates the entire room. Similarly, if one’s practice of bhakti is weak and wavered like the dim light of a candle, one cannot derive full pleasure that bhakti can offer. On the other hand, if one’s performance of bhakti is powerful as a 2000-watt bulb, one experiences the full bliss of bhakti. Therefore, seeking inspiration from the character of little Prahlada, let us take our baby steps to intensify our practice of devotional service.
Gauranga Darshan Das is dean of the Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha (www.vidyapitha.in) at ISKCON Govardhan Eco Village (GEV). He teaches scriptural courses at several places in India. He has written study guides including Bhagavata Subodhini, Caitanya Subodhini and Gita Subodhini, and compiled vital scriptural verses in the form of the Ratnamala and Tattvamala series. He runs a free monthly e-magzine called Bhagavata Pradipika.