“Superficially it may be seen that a yogi is attacked by a deathblow, but by the grace of the Lord he can overcome many such attacks for the service of the Lord. As the Lord exists by His own independent prowess, by the grace of the Lord the devotees also exist for His service.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.18.15 Purport)
Hiranyakashipu thought that his son was an advanced yogi. Otherwise, what could explain his amazing ability to cheat death? Who has ever heard of a young child not dying after being thrown in a pit of snakes? What human being could survive being thrown off of a high mountaintop? What young child doesn’t succumb to death after ingesting poison? No, Prahlada must have been a yogi. There was no other way. Or perhaps he propitiated some higher power, who then granted him this ability. This is how the king thought, and since he couldn’t see the Supersoul within Prahlada or even himself, he thought wrong.
“Let me try yoga. I’ve tried lifting weights. It helps to continuously burn fat throughout the day, but I noticed that my flexibility decreases. For instance, the day after I do chest exercises, it is very difficult for me to put on my jacket. My arms lose something in the range of motion. Also, my body is constantly sore. I’ve heard that this is how the muscles grow. You work them to the point of exhaustion so that they get tired, and it is through atrophy that they become stronger.
“I’ve tried doing cardiovascular exercises, but I get other problems. For starters, it is kind of boring. I have to do the same thing for at least half an hour in order to feel an effect. Then I’m extremely tired afterwards. I feel weaker, not stronger. I become more prone to illness as a result. I want to try something different, and I’ve heard only good things about yoga. I’ve heard that it increases flexibility, helps with circulation, and brings an overall calmness to the body.”
Perhaps our view of yoga is like this in the modern time, but in the genuine version of it you get amazing abilities. Those abilities are known as siddhis, or perfections. Sort of like your savings bond hitting maturity after a certain amount of time, if you practice meditational yoga properly you achieve perfections. These siddhis are things most people wouldn’t believe, but they can actually occur. You can become light as a feather or heavy as a boulder. You can leave your body, travel around using only your essence, the soul, and then reenter that body. You can get anything simply by desiring it.
So it wasn’t surprising that Hiranyakashipu thought that his son was an advanced yogi. With the ability to move the soul outside of the body, one can dodge death. This comparison is used in the Shrimad Bhagavatam to describe how easily Varahadeva dodged the blow of a mace coming from His enemy. The mace is a very powerful weapon, and so to elude it is not an easy task. For the yogi it is, for the yogi can even get out of the way of death.
What Hiranyakashipu didn’t realize was that even the ability of the yogi comes from somewhere. His son Prahlada was a yogi, but not the kind the father was thinking of. Varahadeva is a beautiful incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Just as in His manifest pastimes the Lord can dodge a physical weapon like a mace, His devotees can cheat whatever deadly attacks come their way. This is due to God’s grace only. He has bigger plans for His surrendered souls.
Hiranyakashipu was trying to kill his son because of the son’s devotion to God. Prahlada was only five years old. He wasn’t bothering anyone. He wasn’t launching a conspiracy to overthrow the government. He wasn’t telling the palace guards to secretly attack the father while he slept at night. He wasn’t even constantly preaching to the father about the ways of devotional service. The boy simply spoke the truth when asked. He shared his preferences. It is seen that if one reveals their preferences in supporting sports teams, eating fine dishes, drinking adult beverages, vacationing, working, playing, etc., they will not meet much opposition. As soon as the topic turns towards worship of the origin of matter and spirit, of fulfilling the destiny of the enlightened living spirit within the auspicious human body, there is resistance on the other side.
Prahlada faced the most resistance this world can offer. His own father tried to kill him in so many ways, as he was so against worship of anyone except himself. Prahlada survived the attacks because the Supreme Lord gave him the ability to do so. Hiranyakashipu couldn’t understand this, though informed so directly by Prahlada. The king would eventually have to learn the hard way, as though he had many boons protecting him from death in many different ways, he had no way of escaping the claws of the Supreme Lord in His incarnation as Narasimhadeva.
If all abilities are originally sourced in the Supreme Lord, and with one of those abilities one can temporarily get out of the way of death, why wouldn’t everyone be devoted to Him? Why take chances with anything else? Prahlada was not given this amazing ability so he could continue a life in sense gratification. Indeed, he didn’t even specifically ask for this ability. He simply thought of his beloved Supreme Lord, who is originally with a spiritual form of all-attractive attributes. That thinking alone saved him.
The devotees exist for service to the Supreme Lord, and because of this they are protected by Him. The yogi may acquire the ability to avoid death after so much practice in meditation, but with one single moment of remembering God in a pure way, the same ability comes to the devotee without a problem. Moreover, after they avoid death they continue in their devotion, which is what makes every person happiest. The fortunate are those who realize this profound truth after hearing it from the bona fide spiritual master. Prahlada was that teacher for his father, but unfortunately the father did not listen.
Prahlada’s devotion is technically known as bhakti-yoga, which is the superior form of yoga. It is well above and beyond meditational yoga, which is light years advanced over yoga as an exercise routine. Avoiding death is a trivial reward for the devotee, for the spirit soul continues to live on regardless. Death is merely the changing of the bodies, and so whatever body the protected souls find themselves in, their devotion continues and flourishes. In the body of a five year old, Prahlada taught lessons to remain valuable for as long as man remains fallible.
For as long as man remains fallible,
Lessons from Prahlada to remain valuable.
With success from in meditation to stay,
Yogi can dodge oncoming death’s way.
Still, ability from God only to come,
Like with Prahlada against attacks done.
More important how with vitality to live,
For devoted soul protection Lord always to give.