One of the many illuminating stories in Srimad-Bhagavatam is the history of Ajamila, which begins in the first chapter of the Sixth Canto. Shukadeva Goswami has just finished telling King Parikshit about the horrible suffering in the hellish planets that results from sinful acts committed in human life. As a pure devotee of Lord Krishna, Parikshit naturally feels compassion for the suffering of others, and he asks, “Now kindly tell me how human beings may be saved from having to enter hellish conditions in which they suffer terrible pains.” (Bhagavatam 6.1.6).

Shukadeva replies that human beings must atone for their sins by performing pious acts that counteract them. Parikshit is not satisfied with that answer, however, and points out that because ritual atonement doesn’t purify the heart, people go on committing the same sins again and again.

Pleased by Parikshit’s understanding, Shukadeva then presents the actual solution: human beings must purify their hearts by devotional service to the Lord. To illustrate this point, he tells of “a very old historical incident.” Ajamila was a brahmana who abandoned his religious training and led a life of sin. On his deathbed, he is about to be dragged away to the hellish planets by the Yamadutas, the agents of Yamaraja, who oversees the punishment of the sinful.

In extreme terror at the sight of these angry, grotesque beings, Ajamila calls out to his youngest son, whose name is Narayana, a name of Lord Vishnu. Four Vishnudutas, servants of Lord Vishnu, hear the heartfelt utterance of their master’s name, arrive on the scene, and rescue Ajamila from the Yamadutas. Now given another chance, Ajamila resolves to reform. He retires to a holy place and by intense spiritual practices attains perfection and promotion to the spiritual world.

The main lesson in Ajamila’s story is the power of the Lord’s holy name to deliver us from the reactions to countless sins. That’s because Krishna and His name are identical; the person Krishna is fully present in the sound Krishna, provided it is uttered without offense.

Another important lesson is that any of us can change our sinful ways, take up the practices of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service to Krishna, and attain the perfection of human life, namely pure love for Him, the requirement for gaining His company in the spiritual world.

Ajamila said, “I am such a sinful person, but since I have now gotten this opportunity, I must completely control my mind, life and senses and always engage in devotional service so that I may not fall again into the deep darkness and ignorance of material life.” Srila Prabhupada comments, “Every one of us should have this determination. We have been elevated to an exalted position by the mercy of Krishna and the spiritual master, and if we remember that this is a great opportunity and pray to Krishna that we will not fall again, our lives will be successful.” (Bhagavatam 6.2.35)

Ajamila’s rescue by the Vishnudutas was a dramatic event, but my own story may be similar. By the way I was living, I was destined for an appointment with the Yamudutas. But Srila Prabhupada, an agent of Lord Krishna, rescued me from inestimable suffering.

Following the example of Prahlada Maharaja in acknowledging his eternal debt to his guru, I must say, “My duty is to serve Srila Prabhupada. How could I leave his service?”

– Nagaraja Dasa