By Akshay Gupta
Two histories among many from the Vedic literature that show the material and spiritual benefits of bhakti.
The Vedic literature presents many stories meant to enlighten us with transcendental knowledge and help us proceed along our spiritual path. One such story deals with a five-year-old boy named Dhruva.
Dhruva’s father, King Uttanapada, had two wives, Suniti and Suruci. Dhruva was the son of Suniti, but his father preferred Suruci. One day, Dhruva wanted to sit on his father’s lap, but Suruci forbade him, claiming that only her son – Dhruva’s stepbrother, Uttama – could sit on the king’s lap. Suruci said that if Dhruva wanted to sit on the throne, he would have to worship God and take his next birth from her womb. When Dhruva heard this, he breathed heavily out of anger, and when he saw that his father was silent, he ran to his mother and told her what had happened.
Greatly aggrieved, but not knowing a remedy for the situation, Suniti said, “My dear son, don’t wish for anything inauspicious for others. Anyone who inflicts pains upon others suffers himself from that pain.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.8.17)
This is a valuable lesson we can all learn. Even if people offend or anger us, we still shouldn’t wish anything inauspicious for them. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, the spiritual master of Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, said, “Let me not wish anything but the highest good for my worst enemy.” Thus, regardless of the situations we find ourselves in, we should strive to have a compassionate spirit and wish the best for others. Besides, according to the laws of karma, whenever we harm someone, we are liable to experience that same harm so that we can learn to treat others more respectfully.
Off to the Forest
After some deliberation, Suniti confirmed what Suruci had told Dhruva: if he wanted to sit on the same throne as Uttama, he had to worship God. Hearing this, Dhruva set out for the forest with great determination to worship God and acquire a kingdom even greater than his father’s. Along the way, Dhruva encountered the sage Narada, who gave him valuable instructions and spiritual guidance. Narada initially tested Dhruva’s determination by urging him to tolerate his distress:
“One should try to keep himself satisfied in any condition of life – whether distress or happiness – which is offered by the supreme will. A person who endures in this way is able to cross over the darkness of nescience very easily.” (Bhag. 4.8.33) Srila Prabhupada comments: “Instead of being attached to the circumstantial happiness and distress resulting from pious or impious activities, if we want to get out of the clutches of this nescience, then whatever position we are put in by the will of the Lord we should accept. Thus if we simply surrender unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we shall get out of the clutches of this material existence.”
Despite Narada’s instruction to tolerate his condition, Dhruva insisted on pursuing his plan to worship God in the forest. Narada told Dhruva that he should indeed take to the process of devotional service to the Lord, for by doing so one can fulfill all one’s desires. Narada then described the beautiful form of the Lord and gave Dhruva the mantra om namo bhagavate vasudevaya to meditate on, along with other instructions on devotional service.
Narada then visited King Uttanapada, who was aggrieved because of his neglect of his own son. But Narada assured him that Dhruva would be taken care of in the forest while executing devotional service.
Meanwhile, Dhruva was undergoing austerities so intense that they made the world shake, and the Lord Himself descended to stop Dhruva’s austerities. He appeared before Dhruva and broke his meditation. Upon seeing the Lord in front of him, Dhruva was overwhelmed with ecstasy so great that it made all forms of material happiness seem completely insignificant. He lamented having approached the Lord for material gain, and said that he had wanted a few pieces of broken glass but instead had come upon a diamond.
Even though Dhruva originally approached the Lord for the material opulence of having a kingdom greater his father’s, he ultimately became disgusted with that desire. We can approach God to fulfill our material desires, but if we approach Him out of pure love, then we can experience an even greater sense of happiness and love. Moreover, the Lord is so merciful that even if we initially approach Him with a material desire, He will purify us, and we will come to the stage of being able to approach Him out of pure love.
Even though Dhruva no longer cared about his previous material desires, the Lord fulfilled them nonetheless. He told Dhruva that he would receive not only his father’s kingdom but an entire planet. The Lord then returned to His abode, and Dhruva returned home, where his family members embraced him in great joy. As the Lord had promised, Dhruva came to inherit the throne of his father, who set out for the forest for spiritual life.
Satisfying Our Material Needs
Dhruva’s story shows that by taking to devotional service, we don’t miss out on having our material needs taken care of. There are also examples in history of saints who approached the Lord not, like Dhruva, for material gain, but out of pure love, yet by the Lord’s mercy they also received ample material facilities.
One such story deals with another boy, named Prahlada, who was very devoted to Lord Krishna. Unlike Dhruva’s father, Prahlada’s father, Hiranyakashipu, was not a pious man. He terrorized the world and abused his own child. Hiranyakashipu was so strongly opposed to Prahlada’s worshiping the Lord that he tried to kill him in many ways, including having his assistants stab Prahlada with sharp weapons, throw him from a cliff, and poison him. But the Lord always protected Prahlada, and finally, in His form as Nrisimhadeva – His half-man, half-lion incarnation – He killed Hiranyakashipu.
The Lord then requested Prahlada to ask for a benediction. Prahlada was a pure devotee of the Lord, however, so he didn’t ask for any material benediction. He instead asked that his father be excused for his sins. The Lord fulfilled this desire, and He also gave Prahlada his father’s vast kingdom to rule for the rest of his life.
From this story we can see that God will ensure that our material needs are met if we simply try to love Him. We can also learn that even though we may be going though difficulties or trials, God is always our friend and well-wisher. Krishna tells His devotee Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita (9.31), kaunteya pratijanihi na me bhaktah pranashyati:“O son of Kunti, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes.” Thus, a devotee of the Lord has nothing to fear even in the midst of dangers or obstacles, because Krishna assures His devotees that He will ensure that they never perish.
We can also learn from Prahlada’s example how to practice tolerance and forgiveness. Even if someone harms us or acts maliciously toward us, we can learn to tolerate these wrongdoings and wish the best for the perpetrator.
Success Through Bhakti
From the examples of these great saints who exemplify bhakti-yoga, or linking oneself with God through love and devotion, we can glimpse how bright our future can be if we take to the practice of bhakti-yoga. We will get all our material necessities taken care of by the grace of the Lord and begin to relish the spiritual happiness that comes from an exchange of love with Him.
This spiritual happiness grows gradually. First, one has some initial faith in the process of bhakti-yoga and in God, and one starts to associate with those on the path. Then one seeks spiritual guidance from someone who is spiritually advanced, just as one goes to the university to learn from experts in various subjects. One begins to feel internal purification from the practice of bhakti-yoga and becomes cleansed of unwanted things in the heart. One becomes steady on the path of bhakti-yoga and relishes performing devotional activities. Soon after, one becomes attached to the Lord and experiences great ecstasy by serving Him. Ultimately, one feels such intense bliss that it is like swimming in an ocean of ecstasy.
We can easily practice bhakti-yoga; we don’t have to enter the forest like Dhruva. The most basic element of bhakti-yoga is to chant the holy names of God, especially the Hare Krishna maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. One can chant anywhere at anytime. By chanting we “cleanse the mirror of the mind” so that the pure happiness that lies within us can shine through. When a mirror is covered by dirt, it no longer shines, but when the mirror is cleaned, it regains its clarity. Similarly, our mind may be covered with different desires, fears, and misconceptions, but when we chant the maha-mantra those impurities are cleansed and our originally pure consciousness is revived.
We can learn a lot from the stories of great bhakti-yogis like Dhruva and Prahlada. The most important lesson is that we should not neglect to take care of our souls. While caring for the body is important, only nourishing the needs of the soul will make us truly happy. Through bhakti-yoga our material needs will be met and we can develop the endless love for God that lies within us, and thus become eternally happy.