“His valor thus frustrated, the great demon felt humiliated and was put out of countenance. He was reluctant to take back the mace when it was offered by the Personality of Godhead.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.19.12)
Though we may not like it when we are on the receiving end, embarrassment is sometimes the best thing. Reactions alter behavior. If I repeatedly taste a specific dish that gives me indigestion later on, if I have any brains I will eventually avoid that dish in the future. The reaction tells me to act a certain way; it guides me in a particular direction. The root cause of all negative conditions that we encounter in this present life is an ego that falsely identifies with the temporary body. Repeated humiliation that results from constantly misidentifying thus becomes a very good thing, provided one is able to decipher the pattern.
What are some examples of this humiliation? Let’s say that I think that the summit to an existence is to earn a lot of money. With this mindset let’s say that somehow or other I am able to succeed, but only temporarily. Then one day I lose everything. I thought that things were in my control. I assumed that I would be at the top of my field forever. Though I inherently understood that death would approach and thereby take everything away, since the same thing is slated for everyone else, my goal was to be at the top when life ends.
Another instance of humiliation is when I make an approach towards another person based on attraction to their physical features. I think that they will reciprocate the sentiment, but often times they don’t. If they reject me after having been with me for a while, after having seen me for who I am, the pain is quite acute. The other person is essentially saying that I am not good enough for them. This body that I thought was attractive is not appealing to everyone. Thus I am a loser in this scenario.
In the false identification with the body, I look to find opulences such as strength and fame, and I hope to possess them indefinitely. Coupled with the pursuit of these opulences is the drive to extend life. I hope to live as long as possible. I support exploration into new frontiers, such as outer space, in the hopes that a secret potion to extend life can be found. I support scientific studies to see what can be done to eradicate disease. There are still accidents that occur that can end life abruptly, so I try to play it safe by avoiding risky situations.
My false identification is nothing but a defect in vision. I fail to see that my misplaced ego leaves me destined for humiliation. In fact, my very birth is a kind of humiliation. It means that in the previous life I falsely identified as well. I’m not sure where that previous existence was. Perhaps it was in a heavenly realm, where there were increased material enjoyments. Perhaps it was in the company of the origin of matter and spirit, where there was no reason to have a faulty vision. Perhaps it was in circumstances that I would kill to have today, such as with a loving family.
Nevertheless, by taking birth in this body I was humiliated. Whatever ill-conceived hope I harbored previously was shattered with destruction at death. After death comes birth. This is the mysterious truth revealed to us in the Bhagavad-gita. It is also found in other Vedic works, and though it comes to us through a chain of disciplic succession of teachers, even as an assumption it is actually quite reasonable. After the death of a day, there is the birth of a new one. After the death of childhood, there is the birth of youth. And when youth dies, there is adulthood.
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)
Death as we know it is the complete change of bodies, where the subtle elements of mind, intelligence and ego travel with us to a new form. This granting of a new vessel is a kind of way for material nature to humiliate us, to check our false ego. We know this because there is nothing we can do to stop the change. It is an automatic transformation when the false ego is present. When we get the body, it’s as if the higher forces are saying: “You want another shot at being God? Here you go. Here’s another form to use to try to gain wealth, beauty, strength, fame, wisdom and renunciation to the highest degree. Perhaps you didn’t have enough time in the previous body. We’ll give you another crack at it. You can do better, don’t you think?”
A battle between a boar and a demon a long time back perfectly embodies this humiliation. The demon was named Hiranyaksha, and he was very powerful. The boar was named Varahadeva, as it was a divine incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Varahadeva is the object of attention in the pure ego. When suffering from the false ego, one doesn’t recognize the Supreme Lord at any time, even if He stands right in front of the direct line of sight.
Hiranyaksha suffered from the false ego, and so he tried to attack Varahadeva. The demon was very proud of his strength, and so he thought the fight wouldn’t be a problem. At one point he hurled his mace at Varahadeva. The Lord remained where He was and caught the mace with ease. The comparison is made to Garuda catching snakes. Garuda is the bird carrier of Lord Vishnu, the Personality of Godhead who has four-arms and is opulently adorned. The snakes have no chance against Garuda, who carries them away without effort. Garuda is also a godly personality, a devotee of the Supreme Lord. Therefore the reference to him is fitting in a discussion of the actions of Varahadeva.
To add insult to this already embarrassing defeat, Varahadeva then kindly offered the mace back to Hiranyaksha. The subtle gesture was a kind of taunt. “Here you go. You can try again. Your weapon is so great, so perhaps you erred when you first threw it. Try it again. I think this time you will have more success. I know that you think you will do better next time, so I am giving you that chance.”
Hiranyaksha was reluctant to take back the mace, embarrassed by the gesture. He continued to fight until he was eventually killed by Varahadeva. This is a very glorious death, as by seeing the Supreme Lord while quitting the body the cycle of birth and death ends. Thus Hiranyaksha was very fortunate to be humiliated by God Himself. Only someone who is always a devotee gets this benediction. Hiranyaksha actually lived in the spiritual world previously, and so his stint in the material world wasn’t technically a fall down in consciousness; it was an act in a play done to teach as well as to please the Supreme Lord.
Hiranyaksha’s actions are instructive. The atheist similarly tries to hurl maces at God by forgetting that He exists and transgressing His laws laid down to govern man’s behavior. Repeated births are a great humiliation, and one who sees them as such is very fortunate. They then take the impetus to make this birth the last one. By serving God in bhakti-yoga instead of challenging Him, the ego becomes pure again, and the humiliation of the present birth turns into a great benediction, one to cure all ailments.
Though beaming with potential is birth,
Know that in this land not the first.
Repeatedly, again and again to try,
To be undying, into eternity to fly.
From birth unsuccessful was last life know,
With false ego into further humiliation go.
Take bhakti and love God instead,
And no longer into embarrassment be led.