“Grant me that I not die within any residence or outside any residence, during the daytime or at night, nor on the ground or in the sky. Grant me that my death not be brought by any being other than those created by you, nor by any weapon, nor by any human being or animal.” (Hiranyakashipu praying to Lord Brahma, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.3.36)Download this episode (right click and save)
He took his time; that’s for sure. It wasn’t easy. More strenuous than going on a three day juice cleanse, Hiranyakashipu underwent austerities to the point of extreme that he caught the attention of the self-create, Lord Brahma. Also known as Svayambhu, Brahma actually emerged from the lotus stem that grew out of the lotus-like navel of Lord Vishnu, who is also known as Padmanabha. Since this birth lacks the typical mother and father combination, Brahma is known as the one who is born from the self.
Hiranyakashipu wanted more than just a meeting. There was an interest to be met. Svartha is interest, or profit, of this world. More specifically, it relates to the present body, which corresponds with a single lifetime. Paramartha is profit in the future, the afterlife.
To show just how not interested in paramartha he was, Hiranyakashipu asked for immortality. Better to just avoid the afterlife altogether. Realizing that Brahma himself is not immune from death, Hiranyakashipu tried to get around the issue. He asked for immunity from death in so many situations. Pleased by the king’s austerities, Brahma granted those wishes.
Of course just one percent vulnerability is enough for kala, or time, to strike. Hiranyakashipu got the even better benediction of having time personified arrive in a ghastly form. Fortunately, the paramartha was liberation, and the boons of protection offered by Brahma were not violated. In many ways we try the same approach as Hiranyakashipu, thinking that the inevitable afterlife will never arrive if we take certain precautions.
1. I think money will keep me safe
Things don’t look good at the company I work for. They just lost their two biggest clients. In a few months revenue will run out. I’ve been through this before, and I’m not looking forward to it. Dust off the old resume, update it, and then hit the job market. I hate it. I don’t want to do it anymore.
Let me try my hand at stock trading. This way I can work from home. I will make my own hours. No boss to answer to. If I make enough money, then everything will be fine. I won’t have to deal with anymore problems. Indeed, material amenities, and specifically the lack of them, is the main concern for practically everyone in a material existence.
2. I think marriage will keep me safe
Why me? Why am I the only one who can’t find love and the happiness it supposedly brings? I’d like to get married, just once. If things don’t work out, that’s okay. But right now I am a social outcaste. In every circle I enter, the questions inevitably arise:
“When are you getting married? What are you waiting for? Get out there and make it happen. Yes, good things come to those who wait, but success here isn’t just going to fall into your lap.”
Of course lost in this outlook is that so many people are married already. They still have problems. They are not immune to worry, angst, and fear. The threefold miseries of life still strike them. Even a happy marriage doesn’t mean that distress will vanish forever.
3. I think healthy habits will keep me safe
I am going to eat healthy from now on. No more pizza every day. No more ice cream. Regular exercise, and forced restriction on diet. Then so many diseases will stay away. I will do some meditational yoga as well. Keep the body fit.
Again, kala can strike at any time. Hiranyakashipu was incredibly powerful. The entire world feared him. Yet at the opportune moment, when the Supreme Lord decided it was time to show the greatest materialist the force of the Divine, the king lost everything. His fit body became the target for the fingernails of Narasimhadeva, the half-man/half-lion incarnation.
4. I think anything except devotion, bhakti, will keep me safe
The fuel of the engine of the vehicle of samsara is the avoidance of bhakti-yoga. Any desire that is not service in love to God keeps reincarnation going. Reincarnation means changing bodies. Changing bodies means birth and death. Birth means that death is inevitable.
“For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.27)
Bhakti will keep me safe in the sense that the devotion will never perish. There was a corresponding actor in the real life drama starring Hiranyakashipu. The five-year old son, Prahlada, did not make any similar pleas to Lord Brahma. Prahlada knew better, despite being so young. He saw the futility in material life. He took to devotion instead, and from that he became so powerful that even the empowered atheistic father couldn’t stop him.
By Lord Brahma empowered,
Blessings on him showered.
Though looking immortality to find,
At last losing to Narasimha as time.
That Hiranyakashipu imitated by me,
That in other ways safe too I’ll be.
But from bhakti alone protection to know,
Otherwise forced in reincarnation to go.