“My dear King, the order carriers of Vishnu, the Vishnudutas, immediately arrived when they heard the holy name of their master from the mouth of the dying Ajamila, who had certainly chanted without offense because he had chanted in complete anxiety.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 6.1.30)
In the initial stages of a serious study of bhakti-yoga, there are certainly many philosophical points that seem odd or even controversial. One of them is that friends, family, relatives and the like are bound to us through a specific interest. And once that interest is no longer served, the relationship severs. We don’t think of our friends and family in this way, but based on common interactions we see that the knowers of bhakti-yoga are indeed correct in their assertion. The point is made not to blaspheme the value of friendship, but rather to reinforce the ultimate truth of the Supreme Personality of Godhead’s unique position as the best friend of every living entity.
Think of any argument you’ve ever had with a friend. Did they offend you? Did they say something negative about your other friends? Did they lie to you? If so, then what is the big deal? Why should one or a few mistakes cause an end to the friendship? If the relationship can fracture so easily then it must be held together by something. When that something is gone, or missing at least one time, then the relationship ceases to be. This explains why divorce is so common. The couple struggling to keep the marriage alive doesn’t remember all the good things about the relationship. They don’t remember all the good deeds, kind acts, and sweet gestures. Just the latest transgressions are considered, for they are fresh in the memory.
The saying of “what have you done for me lately” arose because of the ease with which man forgets past good acts. If one of our friends asks us to do something and we do it for them, they are thankful. If we do it one more time, they are again pleased. But the one time that we say that we don’t want to do it, they will be upset. “Well, you never had a problem before. What’s the big deal now? I can’t believe you’re being so selfish.” And then we respond with: “I’m being selfish? Are you crazy? I only did those things for you because I thought you were in genuine need of help. I didn’t realize that you were taking advantage of me, trying to exploit our friendship for your personal gain. Now that I refuse one time, you’re getting so angry. This confirms my suspicion. You’re the one who is selfish.”
The tendency to forget past good deeds is only natural, as the material world is enveloped in illusion. Illusion goes hand in hand with forgetfulness. The drunkard heading out to the bar to get “hammered” doesn’t remember the past damage they did to themselves through drinking. If they did remember, they would think twice about doing it again. Without forgetfulness, so many bad things would be avoided.
The original forgetfulness is of God. He should be the easiest person to remember, as His influence is everywhere. Not a blade of grass moves without His sanction. The sun rises and sets at regular intervals. The onset of the seasons is predictable. The movement of the sun is so nonrandom that we base our time measurements off of it. We take for granted the concept of a day, but this is completely based on the movement of the sun with respect to the earth. What if the earth stopped rotating? What if the sun were to stay in the same post in the sky all day? How would we count the days then? How would we count the years?
While we easily forget, the Supreme Lord does not. The Vedas back up this claim with historical examples. In the Shrimad Bhagavatam is found the story of Ajamila. He was a brahmana by birth and also by behavior in his earlier years. A brahmana is a member of the priestly class. They worship God for a living. As such, they are simple, well-behaved, non-envious, and very wise. You have to be wise in order to take up devotion to God as your life’s primary business.
Real devotion, where there are no tinges of desire for fruitive gain, esoteric knowledge or mystic opulence, is like having a friendship with God. As mentioned before, all of our friendships are based on the meeting of some common interest. When that interest is no longer served, the friendship can quickly dissolve. With the Supreme Lord, any kind act is remembered forever. He forgives all the subsequent bad behavior because He knows it is due to ignorance. The good behavior, however, if done in the proper mood, is forever rewarded, for it indicates a desire for association. That is the only desire worth having, as it is fulfilled directly by the original order supplier, the person who can create millions of universes without having to get up from His resting position.
Later on in life Ajamila took a turn for the worse. He fell prey to the illusion of a woman. When the female is viewed the wrong way she can lead a man astray. In the incorrect viewpoint her external features are used to identify her, and if those features are attractive, the man is lured in to desire conjugal relations. Ah, but those relations come with a price, and a hefty one at that. To satisfy this lust, one must forget their devotion to God. The two cannot go hand in hand. And so Ajamila fell victim to the lust, forgetting his previous life as a brahmana.
In old age when on the verge of death, he happened to say the name of his son, Narayana. This name also happens to describe God. In one definition it means the source of all “naras,” or men. Narayana is a very powerful holy name, and one who recites it at the time of death escapes the clutches of karma. Ajamila was saved by the messengers of Narayana when they heard him say this name. Those messengers, known as Vishnuduttas, were working directly for the Supreme Lord.
The Supreme Lord Narayana remembered the previous good deeds of his friend Ajamila. Despite Ajamila’s voluntary turn for the worse, Narayana did not forget Him. When it came time to determine Ajamila’s fate, Narayana personally intervened. He does not do this for everyone. When we take shelter of karma, or fruitive activity, we are bound by the results to our work. If we did good work, we move upwards in the next life. If we did bad work, we move backwards. Good and bad are relative, as they have no relation to association with the Supreme Lord.
In His incarnation as Lord Rama, the Supreme Lord rewarded the kind acts of His friends Sugriva, Vibhishana, Shabari, Jatayu, Hanuman and others. Sugriva sent out a massive army to look for Rama’s missing wife Sita. Vibhishana joined sides with Rama to defeat the evil king of Lanka, Ravana, who had taken Sita. Vibhishana was Ravana’s younger brother, so his friendship towards Rama was formed against all odds. Shabari offered nice fruits to eat to Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. She did this while she had no means, as she was an ascetic who lived in the wilderness. Jatayu heroically tried to stop Ravana in his path back to Lanka after he had taken Sita. Jatayu sacrificed his life in this noble attempt. Hanuman risked his life in trying to find Sita.
Rama remembered each one of these kind acts. He gave His friends rewards specific to their desires and circumstances. Some of these friends did only one or two kind acts. They hadn’t been friends with Rama forever either. None of this matters to the Supreme Lord. He never forgets His friends, so why should we forget Him? Through chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” we find the best friend worth having, a friend for life.
With friendship walk a fine line,
Can break with argument just one time.
No matter how many things you did,
Your one mistake they won’t forgive.
With Supreme Lord not the case,
Not one deed ever considered a waste.
Past devotion of Ajamila to repay,
When on his deathbed Narayana did say.
Sugriva, Vibhishana and Jatayu to uplift,
Taking their friendship as precious gift.