Transcendental Teachings of Prahlada Maharaja
by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Table of Contents
What follows is based on a series of talks Srila Prabhupada gave in 1968 on the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 7, Chapter 6.
1. The Dearmost Person
Today I shall speak to you of the history of a boy devotee named Prahlada Maharaja. He was born in a family that was stubbornly atheistic. There are two kinds of men in this world: the demons and the demigods. What is the difference between them? The main difference is that the demigods, or godly persons, are devoted to the Supreme Lord, whereas the demons are atheistic. They do not believe in God because they are materialists. These two classes of men always exist in this world. At the present moment, due to the Age of Kali (Age of Quarrel), the number of demons has increased, but the classification has existed since the beginning of creation. The incident I am narrating to you occurred very, very long ago, a few million years after the time of creation.
Prahlada Maharaja was the son of the most atheistic person and the most materially powerful as well. Because the society was materialistic, this boy had no opportunity to glorify the Supreme Lord. The characteristic of a great soul is that he is very eager to broadcast glorification of the Supreme Lord. Lord Jesus Christ, for example, was very eager to broadcast the glorification of God, but demoniac people misunderstood him and crucified him.
When Prahlada Maharaja was a five-year-old boy, he was sent to school. As soon as there was a recreation period, when the teacher was away, he would say to his friends, “My dear friends, come on. We shall speak about Krsna consciousness.” This scene is related in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Seventh Canto, Sixth Chapter. The devotee Prahlada says, “My dear friends, this is the time, in this young age, to prosecute Krsna consciousness.”
His little friends reply, “Oh, we shall now play. Why take up Krsna consciousness?”
In answer to this, Prahlada Maharaja says, “If you are intelligent, then you must begin bhagavata-dharma from childhood.”
The Srimad-Bhagavatam offers bhagavata-dharma, or the process leading to scientific knowledge about God. Bhagavata means “the Supreme Personality of Godhead,” and dharma means “regulative principles.” This human form of life is very rare. It is a great opportunity. Therefore Prahlada says, “My dear friends, you are born as civilized human beings, so although your human body is temporary, it is the greatest opportunity.” No one knows the length of his life. It is calculated that in this age the human body may live up to a hundred years. But as the Age of Kali advances, duration of life, memory, mercy, religiousness, and all other such assets decrease. So no one has any assurance of long life in this age.
Still, although the human form is temporary, you can achieve the highest perfection of life while in this human form. What is that perfection? To understand the all-pervading Supreme Lord. For other life forms this is not possible. By the gradual evolutionary process we come to this human form, so it is a rare opportunity. By nature’s law, a human body is ultimately given to you so that you can promote yourself in spiritual life and go back home, back to Godhead.
The ultimate goal of life is Visnu, or Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In a later verse Prahlada Maharaja will say, “People in this material world who are enamored with the material energy do not know what the goal of human life is. Why? Because they have been enchanted by the Lord’s glaring external energy. They have forgotten that life is an opportunity to understand the ultimate goal of perfection, Visnu.” Why should we be very anxious to know Visnu, or God? Prahlada Maharaja gives a reason: “Visnu is the dearmost person. That we have forgotten.” We all seek some dear friend—everyone searches in this way. A man searches for dear friendship with a woman, and a woman searches for dear friendship with a man. Or else a man searches out a man, and a woman searches out a woman. Everyone searches after some dear friend, some sweet friend. Why? We want the cooperation of a dear friend who will help us. This is part of the struggle for existence, and this is natural. But we do not know that our dearest friend is Visnu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Those who have read the Bhagavad-gita will find this nice verse in the Fifth Chapter: “If you want peace, then you must understand perfectly that everything in this world and other worlds is the property of Krsna, that He is the enjoyer of everything, and that He is the supreme friend of everyone.” Why perform austerity? Why perform religious rituals? Why give in charity? All these activities are meant for pleasing the Supreme Lord, and nothing more. And when the Supreme Lord is pleased, you will get the result. Whether you want to gain higher material happiness or spiritual happiness, whether
you want to live a better life on this planet or on other planets—whatever you want you will get if you please the Supreme Lord. Therefore He is the most sincere friend. Whatever you want from Him, you can get. But the intelligent man does not want anything that is materially contaminated.
In the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says that by pious activities one can elevate oneself to the highest material planet, known as Brahmaloka, where the duration of life is millions and millions of years. You cannot figure the duration of life there; your arithmetic will be ineffective. The statement in the Bhagavad-gita is that the life of Brahma is so long that 4,320,000,000 of our years are only twelve hours to him. Krsna says, “Whatever position you want, beginning from the ant right up to Brahma, you can have. But the repetition of birth and death will be there. However, if by practicing Krsna consciousness you come to Me, then you don’t have to come back to this miserable material condition.”
Prahlada Maharaja says the same thing: We should search for our dearmost friend, Krsna, the Supreme Lord. Why is He our dearmost friend? By nature He is dear. Now, what do you consider the dearmost thing? Have you analyzed? You yourself are the dearmost thing. I am sitting here, but if there is a fire alarm I shall at once take care of myself: “How can I save myself?” We forget our friends and even our relatives: “Let me first of all save myself.” Self-preservation is the first law of nature.
In the grossest sense, the word atma—“self”—refers to the body. In the subtler sphere the mind or intelligence is the atma, and in the real sense atma means the soul. In the gross stage we are very fond of protecting and satisfying the body, and in a subtler stage we are very fond of satisfying the mind and intelligence. But above the mental and intellectual planes, where the atmosphere is spiritualized, we can understand, “I am not this mind, intellect, or body. Aham brahmasmi—I am spirit, part and parcel of the Supreme Lord.” That is the platform of real understanding.
Prahlada Maharaja says that of all living entities, Visnu is the supreme well-wisher. Therefore we are all searching for Him. When a child cries, what does he long for? His mother. But he has no language to express this. By nature he has his body, born of his mother’s body, so there is an intimate relationship with the mother’s body. The child won’t like any other woman. The child cries, but when the woman who is the child’s mother comes and picks him up, at once he is pacified. He has no language to express all this, but his relationship with his mother is a law of nature. Similarly, by nature we try to protect the body. This is self-preservation. It is a natural law of the living entity, just as eating is a natural law and sleeping is a natural law. Why do I protect the body? Because within the body is the soul.
What is this soul? The soul is a part of the Supreme Lord. As we want to protect the hand or the finger because it is a part of the whole body, similarly we try to save ourselves because this is the defending process of the Supreme. The Supreme does not need defense, but this is a manifestation of our love toward Him, which is now perverted. The finger and the hand are meant to act in the interests of the whole body; as soon as I want the hand to come here, it comes, and as soon as I want the finger to play on the drum, it plays. This is the natural position. Similarly, we are searching for God, to dovetail our energy in the service of the Supreme, but under the spell of the illusory energy we do not know it. That is our mistake. Now, in human life, we have an opportunity to understand our actual position. Only because you are human beings have you all come here to learn about Krsna consciousness, about the real goal of your life. I cannot invite cats and dogs to sit down here. That is the difference between human beings and cats and dogs. A human being can understand the necessity of pursuing the real goal of life. But if he loses the opportunity, it is a great catastrophe.
Prahlada Maharaja says, “God is the dearmost personality of all. We have to search for God.” Then what about the material necessities of life? Prahlada Maharaja replies, “You are after sense gratification, but sense gratification is automatically achieved by contact with this body.” Because a hog has a certain type of body, his sense gratification comes from eating stool, the very thing that is most obnoxious to you. At once, after evacuating, you leave to get free from the bad smell—but the hog is waiting. As soon as you evacuate, he will at once enjoy. So there are different types of sense gratification according to different types of body. Everyone who has a material body receives sense gratification. Don’t think that the hogs eating stool are unhappy. No, they are getting fat in that way. They are very happy.
Another example is the camel. The camel is very fond of thorny twigs. Why? Because when he eats thorny twigs, the twigs cut his tongue, blood oozes out, and he tastes his own blood. Then he thinks, “I am enjoying.” This is sense gratification. Sex life is also like that. We taste our own blood, and we think we are enjoying. This is our foolishness.
The living entity in this material world is a spiritual being, but because he has a tendency to enjoy, to exploit the material energy, he has contacted a body. There are 8,400,000 species of living entities, each with a different body, and according to the body, they have particular senses with which they enjoy a particular type of pleasure. Suppose you are given thorny twigs to eat: “Ladies and gentlemen, here is very nice food. It is certified by the camels. It is very good.” Would you like to take it? “No! What nonsense are you offering me?” Because you have a different body from the camel, you have no taste for thorny twigs. But if you offer them to a camel, he will think it is a very nice meal.
Now, if the hogs and camels can enjoy sense gratification without great struggle, why not we human beings? We can—but that is not our ultimate achievement. The facilities to enjoy sense gratification are offered by nature, whether one be a hog, a camel, or a human being. So why should you labor for facilities that you are destined to receive anyway, by nature’s law? In every form of life the bodily demands are satisfied by the arrangement of nature. This gratification is arranged, just as there is an arrangement for distress. Do you like fever? No. Why does it come? I do not know. But it does come, does it not? Yes. Did you try for it? No. So how does it come? By nature. That is the only answer. And if your misery comes by nature, your happiness will also come by nature. Don’t bother about it. That is the instruction of Prahlada Maharaja. If you receive the miseries of life without effort, you will similarly achieve happiness without effort.
Then what is the real purpose of the human form of life? Cultivating Krsna consciousness. Other things will be obtained by nature’s law, which is ultimately God’s law. Even if I don’t try, I will be supplied with whatever I am to achieve because of my past work and my particular type of body. Your real concern, therefore, should be to seek out the higher goal of human life.