Some episodes from the Srimad-Bhagavatam illustrate the danger of overreacting.
By Gauranga Darshana Dasa
Our guilty actions can have negative consequences not only for ourselves but for innocent people connected to us.

It’s natural to be angry with a person who hurts us. If the pain caused by someone’s actions is too severe, one might even consider punishing that person. But how appropriate is it to condemn or punish an entire community or family for one person’s mistake? Here are some examples from Srimad-Bhagavatam to explore this topic.

Overstepping While Avenging a Brother’s Death

Once, King Dhruva’s younger brother, Uttama, was killed by a powerful Yaksha in the Himalayas. Dhruva was a pure devotee who had attained the audience of Lord Vishnu at the age of five and was destined to go to the Lord’s abode after death. Still, Dhruva was overwhelmed with grief and lamentation when his brother died. His example shows that despite understanding the temporary nature of the material world and our relationships within it, devotees are not hardhearted; they have soft feelings and emotions. Another example of this is that when Abhimanyu died in the battle of Kurukshetra, his father, Arjuna, was overwhelmed with grief, although earlier he had heard and accepted the transcendental teachings of Bhagavad-gita from Krishna.

Being a responsible king, Dhruva wanted to punish the Yakshas for unceremoniously killing his brother. He went out to attack their city, Alakapuri, and a fierce battle took place. At one point the Yakshas fled from the battlefield, but soon returned to attack Dhruva with many bewildering illusions. Then great sages appeared and reminded Dhruva of the narayana weapon – a spiritual arrow created by Lord Narayana – in his possession. Thus, with the narayanastra Dhruva destroyed all the illusions created by the Yakshas. Bouncing back with full force, he began to indiscriminately kill the Yakshas, almost to the point of destroying their entire race.

Seeing his grandson Dhruva’s excessive spirit of punishment, Svayambhuva Manu approached him and said, “My dear Dhruva, enough! Excessive anger (atirosha) is the sinful path of ignorance. It doesn’t befit our dynasty, and especially you, who are destined to achieve the Lord’s abode. It has been proved that you are affectionate to your brother and are aggrieved about his death. But for the fault of one Yaksha, you are killing many. May I remind you, these Yakshas are not the killers of your brother, for the Supreme Lord is the ultimate cause of birth and death. Please note that your overreaction to one Yaksha’s mistake has been very disrespectful to Kuvera, the king of the Yaksha race. You should immediately pacify him.”

Svayambhuva Manu, the first progenitor of mankind, disapproved of Dhruva’s attitude and his act of punishing an entire race for one member’s mistake. Even great devotees may be subject to undue anger at times. The nature of anger is that if unchecked, it can keep increasing. But the greatness of devotees is that they gracefully receive the suggestions and guidance of mature devotees. And instead of justifying their mistakes, they admit and rectify them and humbly give up their circumstantial anger.

On the advice of Manu, Dhruva stopped fighting and apologized and pacified Kuvera. Being pleased with Dhruva, Kuvera granted him the benediction of unflinching faith in and remembrance of the Supreme Lord.

Defending the Master’s Honor

Once all the sages, demigods, and other leaders of the universe assembled to perform a thousand-year sacrifice. When Daksha Prajapati, an expert progenitor and their chief, entered that great assembly, everyone except Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva stood up in respect. Daksha offered obeisances to his father, Brahma. But seeing Shiva sitting without showing him respect, Daksha was enraged.

On the pretext of speaking about good manners and the culture of respect, Daksha criticized Lord Shiva.

“This Shiva is shameless and proud. He married my daughter and thus accepted himself as my subordinate. He is impure, unclean, mad, and the master of ghosts in ignorance.”

Due to his deep-rooted envy, Daksha cursed Shiva.

“May this Shiva not have a share in the sacrificial oblations.”

Daksha then angrily left the assembly in spite of the requests of the assembly leaders.

Out of pride and envy, people desire respect and worship for themselves but do not offer the same to others. Vaishnava culture teaches us to be humble and not to expect respect for oneself. 

Nandishvara, a devout servant of Lord Shiva, became angry due to Daksha’s behavior. He cursed Daksha and all his brahmana supporters who had tolerated his impudence.

Nandishvara angrily uttered, “Let Daksha soon have the head of a goat and his followers continue in samsara, the cycle of birth and death, remaining attached to material activities.”

Thus Nandishvara not only condemned Daksha for his offense, but extended his anger to the brahmanas as well for being on Daksha’s side.

Triggered by Nandishvara’s angry outburst against the brahmanas, the sage Bhrigu countercursed. He cursed not only Nandishvara but the entire clan of Lord Shiva’s followers.

“Let the followers of Lord Shiva become atheists, be diverted from scriptural injunctions, become addicted to wine and flesh, and take shelter of heretical views.”

Seeing the atmosphere surcharged with intense vibrations of anger, Lord Shiva became morose and left the place, hoping in that way to stop the cursing and countercursing. Pride, envy, and the resultant anger make one blaspheme and offend even exalted personalities. But great souls exemplify the quality of tolerance even in provoking situations.

Supporting and siding with a bad person is a mistake. But everyone who is circumstantially on the side of a bad person is not necessarily bad. Therefore one shouldn’t condemn an entire group for the mistake of one or a few persons in that group. For instance, Bhishmadeva circumstantially sided with evil Duryodhana and fought against the virtuous Pandavas and Lord Krishna. But Bhishma was a pure devotee of Krishna, and knowing this very well, Krishna gave Bhishma His audience at the time of Bhishma’s departure from this world.

Overlooking an Overreaction

Once King Parikshit was fatigued and thirsty while in the forest. In search of water, he entered the cottage of the sage Samika. Parikshit asked him for some drinking water, but the sage, absorbed in meditation, didn’t respond. The king felt unwelcomed and momentarily angry. With his bow, he placed a dead snake on the sage’s shoulder as a gesture of response to a cold welcome. He then left for his palace.

Shortly thereafter, Sringi, the sage’s son, came to know about these events. Being an immature boy, he blasphemed the kshatriyas, calling them crows and watchdogs. He arrogantly cursed Parikshit to die in seven days by the bite of a snake-bird. Short-sighted Sringi couldn’t understand the severity of his punishment and its grave implications. On finding out about his son’s thoughtless overreaction towards the sinless king, Samika ?shi regretted the curse. He prayed to the Supreme Lord to pardon his son’s impudence.

Anger and arrogance in people who possess power cause undue disturbances to others. Power without self-control turns out to be destructive.

Meanwhile in his palace, Parikshit contemplated his act and repented his misbehavior towards the sage, whom he now realized had been in trance. He condemned himself for offending a brahmana. He not only expected a punishment for his mistake, but also desired a punishment, so that he wouldn’t repeat such mistakes and his family members wouldn’t suffer due to his offenses.

The world can conveniently blame a wrongdoer’s innocent family or friends, holding them guilty by association. Thus those connected to the culprit are also sometimes condemned or doubted. Being sincere, Parikshit took full responsibility for his mistake. He didn’t want his family members or anyone else to suffer on account of his own slipup.*

As Parikshit was repenting thus, a student of Samika ?shi named Gauramukha arrived at the palace. He informed Parikshit with deep embarrassment that he was cursed to die in seven days. Hearing this, Parikshit didn’t become angry or impulsively countercurse Samika or Sringi. The punishment Parikshit received was inappropriate and highly disproportionate to the insignificant mistake he had made. But being a mature devotee, Parikshit happily welcomed the curse as a blessing in disguise. He considered it an opportunity to retire from royal life and dedicate himself fully to the lotus feet of Lord Krishna. Though one brahmana, Sringi, had cursed Parikshit severely, Parikshit didn’t condemn the entire brahmana class. Rather he took the association of many brahmanas on the bank of the sacred Ganges and accepted the brahmana Shukadeva Goswami as his guru, heard Srimad-Bhagavatam from him, and perfected his life.

Overreacting to a Father’s Death

After Parikshit heard the Bhagavatam for seven days, the infamous snake-bird Takshaka bit him. The body of the great, saintly, self-realized king Parikshit immediately burned to ashes by the fire of the snake’s poison. To everyone’s astonishment, a terrible cry echoed throughout the universe.

Janamejaya, the son of Parikshit, became extremely angry at his father’s death by the snakebite. He resolved to perform a mighty sacrifice to offer all the snakes in the world into the sacrificial fire. Because of one snake’s biting his father, Janamejaya wanted to destroy all the snakes in the world. As Janamejaya’s fire sacrifice began, many snakes were falling into that sacrificial fire. Takshaka, however, was not to be seen. Janamejaya asked the brahmanas the reason for this. They replied that Indra was protecting Takshaka because, out of fear, Takshaka had approached Lord Indra for shelter.

Unrelenting, Janamejaya then asked his priests to make Takshaka, along with his protector Indra, fall into the sacrificial fire. The powerful priests then chanted mantras for offering Takshaka together with Indra and the entire band of demigods as an oblation into the sacrificial fire. As a result, Indra, along with his airplane and Takshaka, were thrown from their positions, and Indra became very disturbed. Seeing Indra’s plight, Brihaspati, the guru of the demigods, came and spoke to King Janamejaya.

“This king of snakes has drunk the nectar of the immortal demigods. Consequently, he is not subject to the ordinary symptoms of old age and death. Please understand that life, death, and the afterlife are all caused by oneself through one’s own activities. No other agent is actually responsible for creating one’s happiness and distress. Anyone killed by snakes or thieves is just experiencing the reaction to past activities. Please stop this sacrifice intended to harm others. Many innocent snakes have already been burned to death.”

Janamejaya humbly honored Brihaspati’s words and desisted from performing the snake sacrifice. He was aggrieved due to his beloved father’s death and became angry, but upon receiving the suggestions and counsel of an exalted brahmana, he gave up his anger.

Even great souls might succumb to extreme emotions at times, but they are humble enough to admit their mistakes, rectify them, and not repeat them.

A Balanced Outlook

Drawing inspiration from the above cases, when we encounter people who commit mistakes we need to be careful not to label their communities or families as sinful or as partners in the crime, and not to overstep or overreact with our response. But we also need to understand that when we ourselves commit a mistake, our families or organizations could be condemned, lose reputation, or even be liable for punishment.

The Bhagavatam offers a number of examples of groups who suffered because of the action of one person. Indra once offended Durvasa by dishonoring the flower garland Durvasa offered him, and consequently all the demigods lost their positions in heaven. Ravana, the king of demons, kidnapped chaste Sita Devi and brought about the ruination of his family and race at the hands of Lord Rama and His monkey soldiers. When Indra once neglected to welcome his guru Brihaspati, all the demigods eventually lost their opulence. Duryodhana’s envy of the Pandavas and offense to chaste Draupadi caused the destruction of his ninety-nine brothers and many other family members and kings. So we should be careful not to cause difficulties or ill reputation for our community, family, or institution by inappropriate attitudes and behaviors. We need to conduct ourselves with integrity and responsibility and try to carefully avoid conduct that may be deemed inappropriate. Otherwise, one person’s mistake could turn out to be a black spot on an entire community and cause unnecessary problems for innocent bystanders or future generations.

*Parikshit’s unprecedented mistake was actually a part of the Supreme Lord Krishna’s plan. The proof was that Parikshit never disrespected brahmanas before or after this incident, nor had he ever been so overwhelmed by hunger or thirst. By putting such a devotee as Parikshit in awkward circumstances, the Lord descended in the form of Srimad-Bhagavatam and also revealed to us the glorious character of Parikshit, who exhibited tolerance and forgiveness in provoking situations.