"Whom are you lamenting for when you yourself are pitiable? Why do you pity the poor when you yourself have now been made poor? While in this body that is like a bubble, how can anyone look at anyone else as being worthy of lamentation?" (Hanuman speaking to Tara, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 21.3)Download this episode (right click and save)
To change from the default condition of sense enjoyer to the eternal occupation of servant to the Supreme Personality of Godhead is not easy. After all, in the material world to find a self-realized soul is rare. It can take many lifetimes before a person understands the Divine in truth.
“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.19)
One of the meanings to the Sanskrit word sadhu is “one who cuts.” There is a thick knot of nescience that has a firm grip on the otherwise pure consciousness. To cut through, the strong words of the sadhu are necessary. The sadhu is not merely a wandering mendicant. They run on a line parallel to both shastra and guru, which are scripture and spiritual master respectively.
These three speak the same message: turn away from the material and go towards the spiritual. The message is often delivered strongly, as the persuasion is not done through empty words. The person who is devoted to the Supreme Lord, the bhakta, speaks with conviction, as seen from several notable examples in history.
1. Prahlada Maharaja
Children in school look forward to recess. They go to school likely at the insistence of the parents, which means that if it were up to them, they wouldn’t sit in a classroom all day and learn important things like reading and writing. When let out from the prison-like environment, it makes sense if they would choose to run around and play.
Prahlada Maharaja was different. He took advantage of the break from the teachers to offer his own instruction. This wasn’t merely about what type of game to play or what food to enjoy at home. He spoke the highest wisdom, highlighting the futility of seeking after material sense gratification, economic development, ordinary religion, and the release from the cycle of birth and death. He spoke with conviction of the need to make the most of the human form of life, to become conscious of the Divine, who is all-pervading.
Prahlada’s belief was so strong that not even his powerful father could stop him. The father sure did try, employing deadly force on several occasions. The five-year old boy accepted the speaking platform after having heard everything necessary from his own teacher, Narada Muni. Prahlada heard from the saint while in the womb of his mother, and he retained the knowledge after birth.
2. Shri Hanuman
The chief minister to the Vanara-king Sugriva impressed Shri Rama and Lakshmana during the very first meeting. Though ordered to descend Mount Rishyamukha and learn what the two brothers were doing in the forest of Kishkindha, Hanuman ended up praising Rama with wonderful Sanskrit verses, composed on the fly. The delivery, presentation and content were flawless, as assessed by Rama Himself.
“His words - which were succinct, beyond all suspicion, pleasant, and delivered in a mild tone - flowed easily from his throat and chest.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.31)
A friendship was then formed, and Hanuman went on to perform heroic acts in service of Rama, who is an incarnation of the Supreme Lord. Though being known for his deeds, Hanuman’s words are just as powerful. He follows the same devotion as Prahlada, and he is not shy to speak the truth when the situation calls for it. One instance was after the brother of Sugriva was killed. Named Vali, he lay on the ground after being shot by Rama’s arrow. Vali’s wife Tara then began to lament, to which Hanuman interjected with appropriate words of wisdom. He explained that the body of the living entity is like a bubble. This means that a person should not feel sorry for anyone else; death can come at any moment. The bubble is liable to burst without prior notice.
3. Shukadeva Gosvami
Due to a curse a pious king named Parikshit had only seven days to live. Parikshit had the special ability to either return a curse himself or find ways to extend his life. He chose instead to simply sit down and listen to the most important knowledge. What he received was the cream of Vedic wisdom, the Shrimad Bhagavatam.
This was delivered by Shukadeva Gosvami, the son of Vyasadeva. One of the twelve mahajanas, or authorities on devotional service mentioned by the god of justice, Shukadeva spoke with conviction, dedicating a considerable amount of time to explaining the Supreme, Ishvara, and how His different energies act. He also explained where the living entities fall into the picture.
Being the good listener he was, Parikshit continued to ask valuable questions. The wise teacher responded by answering satisfactorily. Shukadeva knows that even the joy of merging into the Absolute, brahmananda, is nothing compared to the feeling resulting from surrendering to the Supreme Lord in service. Just from hearing Shukadeva, Parikshit achieved perfection. The best was saved for last, as in the concluding sections of the talk Parikshit heard about the Supreme Lord’s pastimes in His original form of Shri Krishna, who is all-attractive.
Prahlada was five years old. Hanuman had the body of a monkey. Shukadeva had the head of a parrot. The wise souls who speak on Vedic wisdom can be found in any circumstance and any body type. Another example is Bhishmadeva. When he spoke with conviction on the highest subject matter, he was lying on the battlefield, his body filled with arrows. He was on the precipice of death, but he had a few things he wanted to say before leaving.
The Pandava brothers, who were on the victorious side, gathered around their grandfather to hear from him. Though Bhishmadeva fought for the other side, he was still a devoted soul. He was not against Krishna. Indeed, he spoke directly about so many important topics, including Krishna Himself, while just about to leave his body. He instructed the eldest of the Pandava brothers, Yudhishthira, on statesmanship and how to behave going forward, when the kingdom that was rightfully his would once again be under his control.
5. Shri Krishna
Sadhu-shastra-guru run on parallel lines since they all speak of the importance of the Supreme Lord. It makes sense, then, that God Himself would be the best teacher. He is the adi-guru, or original spiritual master. He has spoken the highest wisdom with conviction on many an occasion, as both He and His Vedas are timeless.
The most well-known instance of His offering instruction was on the same battlefield of Kurukshetra, just prior to the war’s commencement. His words were directed to Arjuna, the best fighter among the Pandava brothers. Like Shukadeva speaking to the disciple Parikshit, Krishna removed any doubts Arjuna may have had. On the pretense of doubt over moving forward with the conflict, Arjuna gave Krishna the opportunity to help countless future generations get through the difficult journey of life. Though the talk was short, Krishna covered every important topic. Time, karma, the living entity, the material nature, and the Supreme Himself were discussed. At the conclusion, Arjuna was no longer in doubt.
To wise men with conviction speaking,
Approach when highest wisdom seeking.
In any body type and age can be found,
Prahlada as child, Bhishma on the ground.
Message delivered always the same,
On importance of God and His holy name.
The Lord Himself their devotion to protect,
So no fear, with confidence to project.