“Prahlada Maharaja said: One who is sufficiently intelligent should use the human form of body from the very beginning of life—in other words, from the tender age of childhood—to practice the activities of devotional service, giving up all other engagements. The human body is most rarely achieved, and although temporary like other bodies, it is meaningful because in human life one can perform devotional service. Even a slight amount of sincere devotional service can give one complete perfection.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.6.1)Download this episode (right click and save)
If you’re a loving father, you expect it to eventually happen. After all, with your years of experience combined with what you’ve learned from teachers along the way, you can pass on important information. The child has a chance of gaining knowledge quickly, through the ascending process. This saves them from having to discover things on their own, especially that which brings the individual further away from enlightenment.
Still, you rarely expect it to happen so soon. A young child, just five years of age, was more intelligent than his father in so many ways. This was not your typical father. He was the king of the world, feared by everyone, from large to small. The smallest is the indragopa, which is like the germ, and the largest is Lord Brahma, the creator. Brahma aligns with the good guys, the suras. These are the celestials, and they were so afraid of the terror that was Hiranyakashipu that they assumed disguises in order to remain clandestine.
Hiranyakashipu was powerful from receiving boons from Brahma, and it was hoped that the son would be a miniature version, a king in waiting. Instead, the boy was nothing like the father. In so many ways he was already more intelligent, though only having been on earth for five years.
1. He wasn’t interested in sense enjoyment
It’s a tricky issue. The default mentality is to enjoy the senses. Birth means having a body, after all. Along with the body comes senses, which interact with different objects. With different objects come attachments, which then lead to negative things like lust, anger, wrath, and the loss of intelligence.
“While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.62)
If a person doesn’t know better, they will fall into this dangerous chain of events. Hiranyakashipu looked to be religious on the outside. He engaged in austerity, known as tapasya in Sanskrit. His tapasya was extreme, and at the foundation was sensory deprivation. Limited eating and sleeping.
But his austerity was neither proper nor prescribed. It was with ill intent, and so even though Brahma was pleased, Hiranyakashipu attained no peace of mind as a result. We can compare it to something like winning the lottery. The newfound financial windfall should bring security and peace of mind, but the end result is typically increased worry and distress.
This is because the issue of sense enjoyment has not been addressed. Prahlada, though only five years of age, had no interest in gratifying the senses. In this way he was already smarter than his father. That level of renunciation was rather amazing to be found in such a young boy. Children are typically interested in playing only. They have to be taught the concept of shreyas, which is long-term enjoyment, which is distinct from preyas, or immediate pleasure.
2. He was not afraid of death coming his way
As Shri Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, for one who has taken birth, death is certain. One who dies is reborn. This is the cycle of living in a material existence. Time, which is known as kala in Sanskrit, is undefeated. Even the staunchest atheist eventually sees God; they do so in the ferocious form known as all-devouring death.
Hiranyakashipu would see time in the most amazing form. But first he tried to get immunity from death. He had everything in the world, but he was still afraid. He was worried about losing what he had acquired. That is why he asked Brahma for safety from so many different situations, weapons, and living entities. Still, just one percent vulnerability is enough to qualify as mortal, which the king was.
Prahlada, on the other hand, was not afraid of death. He had to face deadly threats early on, coming from his father no less. Hiranyakashipu did not like the boy’s inclination towards bhakti, which is love and devotion. Hiranyakashipu viewed God as the greatest enemy. If Vishnu were to be accepted as God by the king, the Supreme Lord was an adversary.
Prahlada thought just the opposite. Since he knew the Divine mercy that is available to everyone, the boy was not afraid when attacked by the palace guards with deadly weapons. He did not fear death when being thrown off a cliff or taken into a pit of fire. Mature beyond his years, Prahlada was more fearless than his supposedly powerful father.
3. He heard from Narada Muni in the womb
Prahlada was not self-taught. It is not like he suddenly achieved enlightenment, out of nowhere. Still, the manner of his instruction is quite interesting. He heard from Narada Muni, the great teacher on bhakti, who travels the universe singing the praises of Vishnu.
Prahlada heard everything while within the womb. That’s all it took for him to be a great devotee. His story described in the Shrimad Bhagavatam is both inspirational and instructional. Parents can start the process of properly educating their children even before they are born. The mother simply has to hear Hari-katha, or discourses about the Supreme Lord.
Hiranyakashipu received no such instruction, so whatever knowledge he had about fighting and the like was practically useless. The son was smarter than the father, and this should have been a cause for rejoice. Unfortunately, it wasn’t, and eventually Vishnu Himself settled the dispute for everyone to see. By appearing as Narasimhadeva to kill Hiranyakashipu, Prahlada’s choice was vindicated, and so was his outlook towards material sense enjoyment.
At such young age with bhakti choice,
In home should have caused rejoice.
But demoniac father having none,
Worked hard over time to be won.
Knowledge from within womb hearing,
Father never the illusion clearing.
Hiranyakashipu hostilities instigated,
Prahlada by Narasimha vindicated.