We shall read from Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto Eight, Chapter Twenty-two: “Bali Maharaja Surrenders His Life.” We begin with the chapter summary:
“The summary of this twenty-second chapter is as follows. The Supreme Personality of Godhead was pleased by the behavior of Bali Maharaja. Thus the Lord placed him on the planet Sutala, and there, after bestowing benedictions upon him, the Lord agreed to become his doorman.
“Bali Maharaja was extremely truthful. Being unable to keep his promise, he was very much afraid, for he knew that one who has deviated from truthfulness is insignificant in the eyes of society. An exalted person can suffer the consequences of hellish life, but he is very much afraid of being defamed for deviation from the truth. Bali Maharaja agreed with great pleasure to accept the punishment awarded him by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In Bali Maharaja’s dynasty there were many asuras who because of their enmity toward Visnu had achieved a destination more exalted than that of many mystic yogis. Bali Maharaja specifically remembered the determination of Prahlada Maharaja in devotional service. Considering all these points, he decided to give his head in charity as the place for Visnu’s third step. Bali Maharaja also considered how great personalities give up their family relationships and material possessions to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Indeed, they sometimes even sacrifice their lives for the satisfaction of the Lord, just to become His personal servants. Accordingly, by following in the footsteps of previous acaryas and devotees, Bali Maharaja perceived himself successful.
“While Bali Maharaja, having been arrested by the ropes of Varuna, was offering prayers to the Lord, his grandfather Prahlada Maharaja appeared there and described how the Supreme Personality of Godhead had delivered Bali Maharaja by taking his possessions in a tricky way. While Prahlada Maharaja was present, Lord Brahma and Bali’s wife, Vindhyavali, described the supremacy of the Supreme Lord. Since Bali Maharaja had given everything to the Lord, they prayed for his release. The Lord then described how a nondevotee’s possession of wealth is a danger whereas a devotee’s opulence is a benediction from the Lord. Then, being pleased with Bali Maharaja, the Supreme Lord offered His disc to protect Bali Maharaja and promised to remain with him.”
COMMENT by Giriraj Swami
The Lord appears in various incarnations to favor the devotees. Although Bali Maharaja was born in a family of demons, he was a devotee, and Vamanadeva appeared to favor him, as well as to favor the demigods, who were also devotees.
The Lord reciprocates with the particular mentality of each individual devotee. Bali Maharaja was inclined to give charity. In fact, he had achieved his opulence by the favor of the brahmans to whom he had given so much. Therefore Lord Vishnu, in order to take service from Bali Maharaja, assumed the form of a brahman and begged some charity from him. And because Bali Maharaja was so inclined to give charity to brahmans, he agreed to give Vamanadeva whatever He asked. Vamana replied, “I would like three steps of land.” Bali Maharaja was surprised. He said, “I thought You were more intelligent. You could ask for a whole planet. Why do You ask only for three steps of land?” And Vamana answered, “If I cannot be satisfied by three steps of land, I will not be satisfied by even a whole planet.” Srila Prabhupada enunciated the same principle for devotees, especially for brahmacharis: “All you need is a little service, a little prasada, and a little place to lie down at night”—three steps of land and a little prasada and service. Vamanadeva Himself played the role of a brahmachari, so He set the example.
Now we come to the point at which Prahlada Maharaja appears in the arena where Bali Maharaja had been arrested and bound by the ropes of Varuna because of his failure to keep his promise. After Bali Maharaja agreed to give three steps of land, Vamanadeva expanded Himself into a gigantic form. With one step He covered the entire upper planetary system, and His toe actually pierced the coverings of the universe. Spiritual water from the causal ocean entered the universe through the hole made by His toe, and that spiritual water became the Ganges River. Then with His second step Vamanadeva covered the entire lower portion of the universe, and so with two steps He had covered the entire universe. Thus He concluded that Bali Maharaja would not be able to fulfill his promise and should therefore be arrested and punished. Now Bali Maharaja will find the most intelligent solution to the problem and tell the Lord, “You can place Your third step on my head, and thus I will fulfill my promise.”
So, Prahlada Maharaja came and made a statement that is important for today’s verse:
tvayaiva dattam padam aindram urjitam
hrtam tad evadya tathaiva sobhanam
manye mahan asya krto hy anugraho
vibhramsito yac chriya atma-mohanat
Prahlada Maharaja said: My Lord, it is Your Lordship who gave this Bali the very great opulence of the post of heavenly king, and now, today, it is You who have taken it all away. I think You have acted with equal beauty in both ways. Because his exalted position as king of heaven was putting him in the darkness of ignorance, You have done him a very merciful favor by taking away all his opulence.
PURPORT by Srila Prabhupada
As it is said, yasyaham anugrhnami harisye tad-dhanam sanaih (SB 10.88.8). It is by the mercy of the Lord that one gets all material opulence, but if such material opulence causes one to become puffed up and forget the process of self-realization, the Lord certainly takes all the opulence away. The Lord bestows mercy upon His devotee by helping him find out his constitutional position. For that purpose, the Lord is always ready to help the devotee in every way. But material opulence is sometimes dangerous because it diverts one’s attention to false prestige by giving one the impression that he is the owner and master of everything he surveys, although actually this is not the fact. To protect the devotee from such a misunderstanding, the Lord, showing special mercy, sometimes takes away his material possessions. Yasyaham anugrhnami harisye tad-dhanam sanaih.
Srila Prabhupada remarked that one astrologer in India had predicted that he would become the wealthiest man in India, and in the beginning he was very successful in business—first as the manager of Dr. Bose’s chemical laboratory in Calcutta and later as the proprietor of his own business. But in time his business began to fail, and he came across the verse he quoted in the purport here (yasyaham anugrhnami), in which Lord Krishna says that the first installment of His special mercy upon a devotee is to take away the devotee’s opulence so that the devotee has no recourse other than surrendering unto Him, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. And if the devotee tries to build up his opulence again, the Lord will take it away again—and again, until the devotee gives up the vain attempt to enjoy material opulence without the Lord.
Now, someone may hear about the Lord’s special mercy and become fearful: “I don’t want to lose my opulence. If I become a devotee and have to lose my opulence, I’d better not become a devotee.” But actually, the Lord does not always take away the devotee’s opulence; sometimes He gives the devotee more opulence, according to whatever is best for the particular devotee in their particular circumstance. So, we should have faith in the Lord, that He will do whatever is best for us.
In Bombay I have seen cases of devotees who have become extremely opulent by the grace of the Lord. One, Dr. Narendra Desai, who was later initiated as Nathaji dasa, had a father who was a very shrewd businessman and a member of parliament but suddenly passed away and left Dr. Desai, who was still relatively young, with the responsibility of taking over the family’s businesses. I used to meet many of the more affluent people of Bombay, and I heard talk about Dr. Desai, that he was a good person but not as shrewd as his father had been and therefore less likely to do so well in business. But Dr. Desai increased the business many times over. And he was very strict in his spiritual practices. He got up early every morning, had mangala-arati at home, and then chanted his rounds. He lived in a compound in a nice area of Bombay, with five buildings situated around a small park, with a driveway running in front of the buildings and encircling the park. In the morning, he would take a japa walk in the garden, and people would come up to him. Especially after he took initiation, people would approach him—people who hardly knew him—and say, “Oh, you have taken initiation. Why didn’t you consult me? I would have advised you differently.” But he opened new companies, and the new businesses flourished, and he became even more opulent.
So, sometimes, to encourage a devotee, Krishna will grant more opulence, but if the devotee becomes bewildered by the opulence, Krishna may take it away so that the devotee becomes free from false prestige and realizes his constitutional position as the eternal servant of Krishna. Whatever Krishna has to do for the benefit of the devotee, He will do. Thus the Lord is like a parent. The father will do whatever is best for the child. Sometimes he will give bitter medicine to the child, and sometimes he will give sweet candies. Sometimes he will indulge the child, and sometimes he will discipline the child. But whatever he does is meant for the child’s benefit. So, the Supreme Lord is the Supreme Father, and whatever He does is for the devotee’s benefit. Whether He gives the devotee opulence or takes it away, He acts with equal care.
And the devotee accepts the Lord’s dealings equally, completely surrendered, with full faith that the Lord will do whatever is best for him. Thus Prthu Maharaja prayed:
tvan-mayayaddha jana isa khandito
yad anyad asasta rtatmano ’budhah
yatha cared bala-hitam pita svayam
tatha tvam evarhasi nah samihitum
“My Lord, due to Your illusory energy, all living beings in this material world have forgotten their real constitutional position, and out of ignorance they are always desirous of material happiness in the form of society, friendship, and love. Therefore, please do not ask me to take some material benefits from You, but as a father, not waiting for the son’s demand, does everything for the benefit of the son, please bestow upon me whatever You think best for me.” (SB 4.20.31)
Srila Prabhupada said that in his own case, in the beginning Krishna tested him by taking everything away—his business failed—and in the end Krishna tested him by giving him everything. And Srila Prabhupada, as Krishna’s representative and servant, actually did become the richest man in India—not just spiritually, but even materially. Of course, he did not think that anything was his own; he saw everything as Krishna’s. But he did have very nice places to stay, very nice servants, and very nice prasada according to his taste, and he was blessed with all opulence by the grace of the Lord.
Now we come to today’s verse:
yaya hi vidvan api muhyate yatas
tat ko vicaste gatim atmano yatha
tasmai namas te jagad-isvaraya vai
Material opulence is so bewildering that it makes even a learned, self-controlled man forget to search for the goal of self-realization. But the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Narayana, the Lord of the universe, can see everything by His will. Therefore I offer my respectful obeisances unto Him.
The words ko vicaste gatim atmano yatha indicate that when one is puffed up by the false prestige of possessing material opulence, he certainly neglects the goal of self-realization. This is the position of the modern world. Because of so-called scientific improvements in material opulence, people have entirely given up the path of self-realization. Practically no one is interested in God, one’s relationship with God, or how one should act. Modern men have altogether forgotten such questions because they are mad for material possessions. If this kind of civilization continues, the time will soon come when the Supreme Personality of Godhead will take away all the material opulences. Then people will come to their senses.
The same principle that operates in an individual’s life also operates in the evolution of a society’s collective life. Here Srila Prabhupada gives the warning that if modern civilization continues to be mad after material acquisition and neglectful of the real goal of life—to be reinstated in one’s constitutional position as the eternal servant of Krishna and go back home, back to Godhead—then, to show favor to the bewildered souls of the modern age, Krishna may take away their opulence.
Srila Prabhupada often related the story of the yogi and the mouse. Once, a mouse approached a yogi and said, “I am being harassed by a cat.” So, the yogi said, “Then what do you want?” The mouse replied, “I want to become a cat.” “All right,” said the yogi. “Now you become a cat!” And he fulfilled the mouse’s desire. After some time, the cat approached the yogi and said, “I’m being harassed by a dog.” The yogi said, “What do you want?” And the cat replied, “I want to become a dog.” “All right; so be it.” After some time, the dog approached the yogi and said, “I am afraid of a tiger.” “Do you want to become a tiger?” “Yes.” “So be it.” But as soon the dog became a tiger, he started to look at the yogi as if he was going to pounce on him and devour him. And the yogi immediately said, punar musiko bhava—“Again you become a mouse.”
Srila Prabhupada explains that by the grace of the Lord, modern civilization has gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. But if in their opulence people think they can finish the Lord and enjoy their opulence without Him, then the Lord may say, punar musiko bhava—“Again you become a mouse. No more skyscrapers, no more superhighways, no more mega-computers. Go back to the fields. Go back to the jungles.” Then people may become sober. They may wake up from their dream. They may consider, “Boy, we’ve put all our efforts into material civilization, and look what happened.”
Srila Prabhupada thought that the means for taking away the opulence of the maddened materialistic civilization could be a world war or nuclear war. When I was in the Western European zone, the GBC for the zone showed the leaders there a movie about a town in England called Sheffield and what would happen there if an atomic bomb were dropped on it—what would happen to the people. It was quite a terrifying look into a possible future of the world. So, Srila Prabhupada has given the hint that if we remain maddened by material opulence and sense gratification, and forget God and the real purpose of life, then God may take away our material opulence to make us sober. And He may do it through devastation. But then again, if by our preaching and distributing books people can realize their actual identities and purpose of life, they may not need to suffer the consequences of atomic warfare to wake up.
One day in 1971, when Srila Prabhupada was staying in a house in Delhi, the father of the boy who was translating Srila Prabhupada’s books from English into Hindi came there to visit him. The father was also sort of a devotee, but he had a bad habit—smoking. So, Srila Prabhupada asked the father, “Have you given up smoking?” And the father answered, “No. But isn’t there some special mercy? Can’t I get some special mercy so that I can give up smoking?” And Srila Prabhupada replied, “Special mercy? Yes, there is special mercy: yasyaham anugrhnami harisye tad-dhanam sanaih. The Lord can give special mercy, and when He gives that special mercy, the first thing He does is He takes away the devotee’s material opulence. And, as the verse continues, then the devotee becomes poverty-stricken, and when he becomes poverty-stricken all of his friends and relatives reject him. So he suffers doubly. He suffers because he has lost his opulence, and he suffers because his so-called friends and family rebuke him and neglect him. So, yes, there is special mercy.” Then Mr. Gupta said, “No, no. That’s all right. I don’t want any special mercy. I’ll make my own efforts.”
That is the basic choice. As long as we are faithful to Krishna, He won’t forsake us; He will give us the chance to come to Him voluntarily. But if He sees that there is an impediment that we are unable to overcome—such as material opulence—He will remove the impediment so that we can come to Him more easily. And if the Lord does choose to take away the obstacle of material opulence, the devotee accepts it. But if the devotee is strong enough to remember his position as the Lord’s eternal servant and use the material opulence to serve Krishna, then the Lord does not have to take it away. As Srila Prabhupada said, “In the beginning the Lord tested me by taking everything away, and in the end He tested me by giving me everything.” So, if Krishna feels we are ready, He can give us any amount of opulence to be used in Krishna’s service.
Sometimes Srila Prabhupada would say, “Krishna is the proprietor of the universe, and He can give you the whole world, but what would you do with it?” When we preach, opulence does come, but as we become more and more pure, Krishna will entrust us with more and more opulence, because He knows that we will use it in His service and won’t become bewildered. As Srila Prabhupada once wrote to me, “If we work sincerely without any material aspirations, Krishna will help in all respects.”
In any case, our mood should be like that of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, who prayed, manasa, deho, geho, jo kichu mor: “Whatever I have—my mind, my body, my words, my family, my household paraphernalia—it all belongs to You. In life or in death, in happiness or distress, in opulence or poverty, You are my Lord and I will serve You.”
manasa, deho, geho, jo kichu mor
arpilun tuwa pade, nanda-kisor!
“Mind, body, and family, whatever may be mine, I have surrendered at Your lotus feet, O youthful son of Nanda!”
sampade vipade, jivane-marane
day mama gela, tuwa o-pada barane
“In good fortune or bad, in life or death, all my difficulties have disappeared because I have chosen those lotus feet of Yours as my only shelter.” (Saranagati)
That should be our mood in devotional service. Hare Krishna.
Are there any questions or comments?
Sankara Pandit dasa: Do we have to reach any particular stage to understand that the Lord is reciprocating with our mentality?
Giriraj Swami: I would say that a devotee can perceive the Lord’s reciprocation in any stage. I think of the different stages that begin with annamaya, appreciating the Lord’s mercy in the form of food. When we were traveling in India with Srila Prabhupada, one tourist from England joined us, and sometimes he would sit next to me during prasada. And he would say, “I am so degraded. I am so fallen. I am so bad. But still the Lord is giving me prasada. The Lord is very merciful.” He would remark, “Krishna is there. Krishna is there. Otherwise, how could I get nice prasada every day, even though I’m such a fallen soul?” He saw that the Lord was associating with him, or reciprocating with him, by giving him prasada. So, I think that any devotee in any stage can more or less appreciate the Lord’s kindness.
Higher levels of reciprocation will come as we advance—although in principle there is no difference. Krishna says, ye yatha mam prapadyante tams tathaiva bhajamy aham: “As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly.” (Gita 4.11) But the higher stages come as one progresses. Then one may realize that he or she wants to serve the form of Lord Narayana, so the Lord will appear as Lord Narayana. Someone will want to serve the Lord in the form of Ramachandra, so He will appear to that devotee in the form of Ramachandra. Someone will want to serve the Lord in the form of Krishna, and the Lord will appear in His original form as Krishna. Then too, if one wants to serve Krishna in vatsalya-rasa, Krishna will appear as baby Krishna in kaumara age. If one wants to serve in sakhya-rasa, Krishna will appear in pauganda age, about five to ten. And if someone wants to serve in madhurya-rasa, Krishna will appear in His attractive feature as Kishora, in kaisora age— Kishora-Kishori. So, in the liberated stage when one actually begins to develop his or her eternal relationship with the Lord in the spiritual world, the Lord will reciprocate by manifesting Himself in the particular form in which the devotee wants to see Him and serve Him.
Candramauli Swami: [inaudible]
Giriraj Swami: Candramauli Swami says that the Lord will favor a devotee by giving him the association of advanced devotees and more and more opportunity for service. And yes, that is very true, very true.
Devakinandan dasa: [inaudible]
Giriraj Swami: Devakinandan Prabhu says that as the world is becoming more materialistic, we can expect that the situation will become more hellish. But at the same time, we are in the golden age of Lord Chaitanya. So, can we expect that the world will become better?
One thing I have heard that makes sense—and Srila Prabhupada was not making predictions based on some mystic power or astrological calculations; he was just explaining the law of action and reaction—is that if you are sinful you will suffer and if you are pious you will enjoy. If the people continue to be sinful, they will suffer more, and, as he said, the ultimate loss is the loss of the body—death. Death is the ultimate calamity. One scenario that Srila Prabhupada mentioned is that if people do not become God conscious, there could be a nuclear devastation that would destroy much of the modern civilization and make people more sober. As Prabhupada says here, “The time will soon come when the Supreme Personality of Godhead will take away all the material opulence. Then people will come to their senses.” So, after people start to come to their senses, there will be more and more devotees. At present the number of devotees is insignificant compared with the number of demons. And the demons are much more powerful than the devotees. But after the devastation there will be many devotees, though there will still be many demons. So, the first war will be between the demons—one group of demons killing another group of demons. Then many devotees will come. And then the next war will be between the devotees and the demons, and the devotees will win. And then the world will become God conscious and happy.
Murari Chaitanya dasa: [inaudible]
Giriraj Swami: Murari Prabhu heard that Srila Prabhupada said that the day will come when we won’t have temples. We will just have the holy name. Well, the way you explained it, yes, it is true. We may not have temples, but we will always have the holy name. That’s more of a principle. As far as a prediction for the future, we do hear that at the end of Kali-yuga the world will be so bad that devotees will not be able to practice Krishna consciousness openly. Then they may have only the holy name. They won’t be able to have temples and deities. We saw during the communist era in Russia that in some places devotees were not allowed to practice Krishna consciousness freely. But even in jail, even in prison camps, even in psychiatric hospitals, they had the holy name.
Giriraj Swami: The point is that whatever happens, we will always have the holy name. Here the emphasis is on the importance of the holy name and the mercy of the holy name, not that Prabhupada was predicting that Krishna would take away our temples or any such thing.
Question: Can we determine whether someone is more Krishna conscious or less Krishna conscious by either the presence or the absence of material opulence?
Giriraj Swami: There is no absolute answer, because anyabhilasita-sunyam jnana-karmady-anavrtam: devotional service is beyond karma and jnana. So there is no material qualification or disqualification for devotional service. Some devotees are opulent by destiny or by the will of the Lord, and some are poor by destiny or by the will of the Lord. And all can be pure devotees. For example, Raghunatha dasa Gosvami was born in a very opulent position, but gradually he gave up more and more and more, until finally he had nothing—by the grace of the Lord. But Pundarika Vidyanidhi continued to be materially opulent. Once, Mukunda took Gadadhara Pandit to meet Pundarika Vidyanidhi, and Vidyanidhi was sitting like a prince, dressed in fine garments, amidst luxurious furniture and opulent paraphernalia, being fanned with long peacock feathers by two servants. Gadadhara Pandit doubted him: “He is supposed to be a devotee and he is living in such luxury?” Mukunda detected the doubt in Gadadhara Pandit’s mind, so he sang a beautiful verse from Srimad-Bhagavatam. When Pundarika Vidyanidhi heard the verse, he was overwhelmed with transcendental ecstasy. Tears flowed from his eyes, and his body began to tremble and manifest all the symptoms of ecstatic love for Krishna. Then Gadadhara realized that Pundarika was an exalted devotee and that he (Gadadhara Pandit) had committed an offense by questioning how he could be an exalted devotee when he was enjoying an extravagant life. To atone for his offense, Gadadhara Pandit resolved, “I should accept him as my spiritual master. I should become his disciple and take instruction and initiation from him.”
So, we cannot say definitely that if someone is poor he is more advanced or that if someone is rich he is more advanced. There is also markata-vairagya, the renunciation of monkeys. Srila Prabhupada says that monkeys appear to live like advanced babajis: they have no clothes, they have no house, and they eat only fruits and berries from trees. Yet each monkey has two dozen girlfriends. That is markata-vairagya, the renunciation of monkeys. So, we cannot conclude that just because someone is living without opulence he is Krishna conscious, but neither can we conclude that just because someone has been graced with opulence he is Krishna conscious. He may have opulence by virtue of past pious activities, but right now he could have a hellish mentality—and still be enjoying material opulence because of his karma. But pure devotional service is beyond karma (jnana-karmady-anavrtam). Good karma or bad karma, it does not matter. In any case, one can still serve Krishna.
Candramauli Swami: [inaudible]
Giriraj Swami: Candramauli Swami says that we can judge by how their material position affects their devotional service. In other words, if one is attached to Krishna, he won’t be attached to maya—to the extent that he is attached to Krishna. So, when someone who is poor and attached to Krishna gets opulence, he won’t be disturbed. He will continue to serve Krishna. And if someone is opulent and attached to Krishna and then loses his opulence, he also won’t be disturbed. He will continue in his service to Krishna. So, the real factor is service to Krishna in any condition.
Devakinandan dasa: [inaudible]
Giriraj Swami: Devakinandan Prabhu says that Lord Chaitanya instructed that one should not dress luxuriously or eat opulent food but that sometimes we see that devotees do dress opulently and eat delicious food and still they advance in love of Godhead.
There are some verses:
vairagi bhai gramya-katha na sunibe kane
gramya-varta na kahibe yabe milibe ane
bhala na khaibe ara bhala na paribe
hrdayete radha-krsna sarvada sevibe
“My dear brother, you are in the renounced order of life and should not listen to talk about ordinary worldly things, nor should you talk about worldly things when you meet with others. Do not eat luxurious dishes or dress in fine garments, but always remain humble and serve Their Lordships Sri Sri Radha-Krsna in your heart of hearts.” (Prema-vivarta, Chapter Seven)
These instructions were given for one in the renounced order of life. But then too, we have the example of Srila Prabhupada. He was in the renounced order of life, but he was also the acharya, the “world preacher of bhakti cult.” He didn’t indulge in different types of new fashion, but he did accept nice clothes and nice quarters and nice prasada. Not excessive, but nice. Sometimes in America he rode in a Rolls Royce, and sometimes in India he rode in a rickshaw, but he was the same. And that is the point: whether he was riding in the rickshaw or riding in the Rolls Royce, he was the same. He was detached and fully absorbed in devotional service, in Krishna consciousness.
Candramauli Swami: [inaudible]
Giriraj Swami: That’s nice. Candramauli Swami says that in Boston he heard that Srila Prabhupada had said that for himself he would like to go back to the Radha-Damodara temple and live in the simplicity of Vrindavan, but that for him to do so would be sense gratification. Yes, Krishna wanted Srila Prabhupada to spread Krishna consciousness all over the whole world, and to do something opposed to what Krishna wants is sense gratification.
Devakinandan dasa: [inaudible]
Giriraj Swami: Devakinandan Prabhu says that George Harrison at one stage wanted to give up everything—his career—just to serve Krishna. But Srila Prabhupada wanted him to stay in his position and serve Krishna from his position. Yes, I also heard that Srila Prabhupada said, “You remain as a Beatle and you write songs about Krishna.”
Srila Prabhupada ki jaya!
Sri Sri Kishora-Kishori ki jaya!
[A talk by Giriraj Swami on Vamana-dvadasi, August 15, 2000, Chicago]