“Ahaituky apratihata: unconditional devotional service cannot be checked by any material condition. This means that one does not have to be very rich to serve the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Even the poorest man can equally serve the Supreme Personality of Godhead if he has pure devotion. If there is no ulterior motive, devotional service cannot be checked by any material condition.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 1.161 Purport)
As material life is full of temporary situations, how exactly do we define victory? A triumph today is a forgotten memory tomorrow. That which is sought after today is the reward taken for granted after it is attained later on. Conditions constantly change, as is guaranteed to happen based on the cycle of life. One person dies while another is born. One person matures into adulthood while another turns the corner into old age. Life is constantly replaced, with the spirit soul travelling to different bodies, bringing along its consciousness like the air carrying aromas. Studying this temporary nature, however, and really understanding it help to properly define victory. The ultimate triumph would have to be that which never exhausts in strength. In addition, once I attain it, it should never cease to bring me happiness. These are precisely the conditions met by bhakti-yoga, or divine love, and oddly enough, it can be acquired in just one second.
“I’m so sick of this. I put so much time and effort into this election. The country is hanging on the edge, ready to go off the cliff. I wanted my side to win so bad. I gave money to candidates, I volunteered to get out the vote, and I anxiously awaited the returns on election night. I invested so much time and energy and emotion, and for what? My side lost. Nothing will change. The issues I care about so much will go unaddressed for at least the foreseeable future. Now I want to take a long break. I don’t want to hear about the issues. I don’t want to invest any time. I’m done with all of this for now. I’m removing myself from the media bubble.”
This lament sounds familiar to pretty much anyone who’s ever cared about an issue. Elections occur regularly, and the same party doesn’t win all the time. And yet the issues get new champions, new people entering the mix who are interested in seeing a specific condition met. To get an idea of how many people are interested in the issues, think of the thing you are most passionate about and which you think has the most number of supporters. Now understand that there are still people who oppose your viewpoint. They may not be large in number, but they still exist. Every issue has two sides, which means that someone is bound to be disappointed when their activism doesn’t yield the desired result.
Not only is there the frustration of failure, but victory doesn’t bring much relief either. I may win a political or social issue today, but in the future things could change. I may ride the tide of public opinion today, but due to uncertain circumstances, opinions could shift in the other direction. I will therefore have to constantly remain diligent in the fight for my specific cause. Thus there is no peace before, during, or after the pursuit. I’m always chasing after a condition that can never be met to my satisfaction.
Another flaw with activism related to a temporary realm is that I’m dependent on others for my satisfaction. If, for instance, my cause is the environment, I need to rally others in order to get what I want. If others don’t want to follow, I’m essentially a failure. My goal in this instance is not only to be environmentally conscious myself, but to get others to be as well. To think of it another way, as dedicated as I may be to my cause, someone else who is not dedicated at all can cancel out my efforts. Just by going to the ballot box they can erase all the progress that I have made.
Such are the ways of the material nature, but thankfully there is one cause whose success is not dependent on the will of the majority. Sure, it would be nice if many others joined this cause as well, but it is not necessary for success at the individual level. We can look to the famous example of Prahlada Maharaja to see how this works. A long, long time ago Prahlada was born the son of a powerful king named Hiranyakashipu. Prahlada was to follow in his father’s footsteps. A good king was someone who could protect, and in order to protect you had to be able to deal with any enemy. Sometimes brute force isn’t the best option, so one should know how to employ other methods of diplomacy, such as pacification, giving gifts, and sowing dissension within the enemy ranks.
Prahlada Maharaja learned all of these things while in school when he was very young, but he had no interest in the subject matter. He wasn’t concerned with succeeding as a king because he knew that the aim of the human form of life is to become God conscious; particularly maintaining that connection to the Divine at the time of death. More than just a way to ensure a fruitful end to life, thinking of God all the time is the source of the highest pleasure. This thinking is something that anyone can do, under any circumstance. If you don’t believe, just look at what Prahlada was able to accomplish.
While he was still in the womb of his mother, Prahlada heard instruction on the meaning of life and how to attain it through the words of the saint Narada. Narada did this on purpose, as the celestials needed a way to thwart the influence of the nefarious Hiranyakashipu, who was not God conscious at all. Worse, the king wanted to root out all devotion to God from the world. By instructing Prahlada’s mother while she was pregnant, Narada allowed the son to be born with the divine consciousness, which he later showed through his behavior in school.
During lunch breaks, Prahlada would lecture the other students about matter and spirit and how there is nothing to be gained from a material existence. This information was not taught to the students by the teachers, though it should have been. The teachers were following the orders of Hiranyakashipu, so they adapted their instruction to fit the needs of those born into royal families. Prahlada loved talking about devotion to God, and he was so excited about it that he would share the information with his young friends.
At this point, we may be tempted to think that Prahlada was similar to a modern-day activist, trying to further an agenda. That is the point to speaking openly, no? He could have just remained silent and lied about what he was thinking inside. Actually, whether others listened or not did not matter to the boy. He spoke from the heart because that is what pleased him. If you love someone, you will enjoy talking about them. When you talk about them you will derive further pleasure by describing how great they are. Since God is unlimitedly great, Prahlada never ran out of good things to say.
It would have been one thing if the other children just ignored Prahlada. It would also have been fine if the teachers just let it slide. Prahlada would have been worshiping God by describing Him, and thus his work would have been successful, even if the other children didn’t follow him. Bhakti-yoga, however, can be practiced in any circumstance, even if someone purposefully tries to stop it. Hiranyakashipu heard about what Prahlada was doing from his son’s mouth. The father affectionately placed the son on his lap and asked him what he had learned in school. He was then appalled to hear Prahlada speak of devotional service.
“Prahlada Maharaja said: Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia and pastimes of Lord Vishnu, 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)…” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.23)
Prahlada was previously safe in worshiping by himself, and now in telling his father he jeopardized that worship, or so it seemed. Hiranyakashipu first blamed the teachers, and then he tried to understand from Prahlada where he learned this information about Vishnu, which is one name for God. Prahlada wouldn’t stop talking about Vishnu, though, so the father grew so enraged that he tried to have the boy killed in so many ways. Only one slight problem; the boy couldn’t be killed. He was a pure devotee, which meant that he didn’t worship Vishnu for any reason other than love. He didn’t ask for anything from God, since he already believed he had everything in the ability to worship.
Vishnu protected Prahlada because of the boy’s desire to serve. He saved the boy during each attack, finally appearing on the scene in a ferocious form to do away with the boy’s father. As Narasimhadeva, Vishnu tore Hiranyakashipu apart and confirmed that anyone can follow devotion, regardless of their age or circumstance. It is always successful when tried in earnest, and the attempt is the goal itself. This means that once you get love for God, or Krishna-prema, your efforts aren’t done. You derive even more pleasure afterwards. Ahaituki-apratihata, unmotivated and uninterrupted, is devotional service. The practice in earnest, which is exercised through such things as chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” is the victory itself.
To effect change dollars to candidates sent,
Resulting failure shows to waste all efforts went.
Gathering supporters storming to ballot box,
But others to nullify your vote, reality in populi vox.
For material conditions peace there is never,
To maintain situation keep working forever.
Devotional service on conditions not reliant,
Hiranyakashipu not to stop son’s worship defiant.
In trouble and peace of Vishnu Prahlada thought,
Protection to helpless child Narasimhadeva brought.