“When Indra understood that the sacrifice offered by the cowherd men in Vrindavana was stopped by Krishna, he became angry, and he vented his anger upon the inhabitants of Vrindavana, who were headed by Nanda Maharaja, although Indra knew perfectly well that Krishna was personally protecting them.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 25)Download this episode (right click and save)
You live in a free country. The freedom of expression, to say what you want without causing or inciting physical harm, is enshrined in the nation’s founding documents. Yet your experience over the last few months says otherwise. You put up a sign in your yard in support of a particular candidate for president. Several times that sign has been vandalized. You haven’t wished harm on anyone. You simply stated your preference. Apparently that choice cannot be tolerated by others.
This is just in the realm of politics, but the same resistance, if not greater, is there when you take up devotional service, bhakti-yoga. It is at the soul’s core. Sanatana-dharma is about the essential characteristic of the essence of identity. You and I are spirit at the core. So are the animals. The truth applies to everything that is living.
There is opposition because the world which we inhabit at present has conditions suited for adharma. The basis of its creation is antagonism towards God. Therefore it is only natural to get resistance when following dharma, when trying to escape from the material realm. Some might be surprised to learn just how wide the range of possible sources of opposition is.
Obviously, anything is possible in the material world. That is the byproduct of freedom. We know that we shouldn’t put our hand in fire. We know that drinking and driving is a bad combination. We know that politicians tend to lie, and so investing full faith in them will likely lead to disappointment. Yet these things happen anyway, and the cause is freedom.
This means that in theory any person is a candidate to raise opposition to our bhakti. Fortunately, we have historical examples to review as well. Your own father can turn against you. That’s what happened to Prahlada Maharaja. Usually the play of children is not taken too seriously. Let them enjoy. They will grow out of whatever they are interested in anyway.
Prahlada liked bhakti-yoga. He liked it so much that he taught it to his classmates during recess. Though the son of a king, Prahlada was not interested in learning about how to preside over a kingdom. He did not want to go through life dividing people as friends and enemies. He knew that the love for God rests within everyone.
The father did not approve. Hiranyakashipu not only objected to Prahlada’s devotion, but he tried to stop it with physical force. More than just prevention, the father tried to kill the boy outright. Imagine your own father turning on you that way. Prahlada was so merciful that he did not hold a grudge. After the Supreme Lord Himself arrived as Narasimhadeva and did away with Hiranyakashipu, Prahlada still asked for clemency for his demoniac father.
One of the more interesting characters of the epic Sanskrit poem known as the Ramayana is Vibhishana. At first glance, he is a turncoat. He is the original Benedict Arnold. He turned against his own brother, Ravana, in favor of the opposition, which was led by Shri Rama. Rama is the same Narasimhadeva, God the person who has been worshiped by saintly characters like Prahlada since the beginning of time.
Yet it was actually Ravana who turned against Vibhishana. The two lived in Lanka. Though they were both Rakshasas, which is an ogre-like species, Vibhishana was pious and Ravana not. Ravana committed the horrible sin of taking another man’s wife without putting up a fair fight. Vibhishana could not tolerate this act. It was the brother who went against Vibhishana; not the other way around.
3. People of other religions
Sure, if you take up bhakti-yoga and chant the holy names while living in a certain country, it may not be that big a deal. People are used to hearing the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. They are familiar with the concept of God being a person, though they may be swayed in a different direction by the many cheating gurus and fake saints appearing on television.
But if you are from a different spiritual tradition by birth, when you take up bhakti-yoga those from other faiths might come against you.
“Why are you worshiping some idol? You are the greatest sinner. Don’t be fooled by this other religion. Repent now and be saved from eternal damnation.”
Of course none of these arguments are logical. You follow the Bhagavad-gita, which describes the difference between matter and spirit. It explains the travels of the conditioned soul, and it reveals with great clarity the afterlife. There is no sectarianism mentioned. What is wrong with worshiping someone that other religions profess to believe in? Why should people have a problem with you giving up eating meat, gambling, drinking, and illicit sex? Shouldn’t they be happy that you are on the virtuous path?
4. The king of heaven
The suras and the asuras. Good against evil. The struggle has been going on since the beginning of time. If you take up bhakti-yoga, you are on the side of good. That means others who are on the same side should be supportive, no? Ah, but the suras in body-type still have some material qualities. This means they are susceptible to jealousy, spite, and rage.
Case in point the first Govardhana Puja. The people of Vrindavana skipped the annual worship of Indra in favor of the hill. This was done at the insistence of Krishna. The king of heaven became so angry that he sent a torrential downpour to the area. He basically became an attempted mass murderer. The same king of heaven who received so much worship in the past turned into the greatest enemy of the innocent people.
One of Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s favorite stories relates to Sakshi-Gopala, a particular deity worshiped in India. This is God as the witness, in His cowherd form. The short version of the story is that an elderly brahmana was on a tour of India, visiting various temples. A younger brahmana, or priestly man, was helping him. The elder was so pleased that he promised to give away his daughter in marriage to the younger brahmana. The younger brahmana asked that the promise be made in front of Gopala, the deity in the temple. And so the deal was done.
On returning home, the elder brahmana’s son learned about the promise. He didn’t like it. He advised the father to simply say that he didn’t remember making such a promise. This is the way of lying without actually getting caught. It is a trick known to lawyers and politicians. If they have done something wrong and get asked about it later on, they simply say, “I do not recall.” They have no shame in using this response to question after question.
The son in this case was a great obstacle to the father’s devotional service. The Gopala deity ended up coming to the rescue. He travelled with the younger brahmana and bore witness to the original pact.
In each case bhakti triumphed. The road to the spiritual kingdom is not easy. There are many obstacles along the way, some coming from unexpected sources. But as Krishna told Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita, there is no reason to fear. He will give full protection.
In bhakti practice’s course,
Opposition from unlikely a source.
With Vibhishana a Rakshasa brother,
For Prahlada a father like no other.
Sakshi-gopala saving from the son,
Loyalty discount from Indra none.
In each case outcome as expected,
Devotees by Krishna protected.