“Grant me that I not die within any residence or outside any residence, during the daytime or at night, nor on the ground or in the sky. Grant me that my death not be brought by any being other than those created by you, nor by any weapon, nor by any human being or animal.” (Hiranyakashipu speaking to Lord Brahma, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.3.36)
nāntar bahir divā naktam
anyasmād api cāyudhaiḥ
na bhūmau nāmbare mṛtyur
na narair na mṛgair api
“Give me liberty or give me death” are the famous words of Patrick Henry, one of the rebels in the Revolutionary War, which led to the founding of the United States of America. His were words of sacrifice, indicating detachment from the present life. Typically, the desire is the opposite: give me as much as possible so that I will stay alive.
For instance, we ask for good health.
“If I eat well, from now on I won’t have any problems. My cholesterol will be lowered. My blood sugar will be okay. Exercise is important in this. By maintaining good habits I will be able to live for a long time.”
We also ask for a good financial situation.
“If I have a job, I know that I’ll be able to survive. I don’t need much money, but a steady income is required. Then I can purchase a car, a home, furniture, clothes and other things necessary to carry life on.”
When we have so many things, we ask for protection.
“I need insurance for my smartphone. The same for my car, but that is required by law. My house is so expensive. What if something happens to it by accident? I need homeowner’s insurance. I need an alarm system. I’d like to extend the warranty on my television set.”
A king a long time ago asked for it all. After enduring tremendous austerities voluntarily, he asked for the boon of immortality. Unfortunately, the benefactor didn’t have that boon for himself. It wasn’t available to give away. Though Lord Brahma lives for billions of years, eventually that time passes. As an example, at this very moment so many billions of years have passed. Though that is a very long time, right now it is meaningless. Whatever is destined to happen right now will occur; the past experience is just that, the past.
This king was named Hiranyakashipu. This is a compound Sanskrit word, consisting of the terms “gold” and “soft cushion.” You get some nice gold and a good place to rest and you think you are set. There is nothing more to do. Hiranyakashipu wanted to live forever in comfort, but Brahma denied him. The king then thought he could outsmart the very nature under which he lived.
Hiranyakashipu asked for boons that would seemingly give him immortality. He wanted immunity from man and animals. He wanted that no weapon could kill him. He desired to be safe from death during both day and night. He wanted it so that he couldn’t be killed outside or in. He thought he had all the bases covered. In fact, he pretty much did. He was 99 percent safe.
Ah, but God needs just one percent to overpower 99 percent. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada says that the material world, despite all its opulence, is filled with only zeroes. If you have one zero or one hundred, the value is the same: nothing. But as soon as you add a one digit to the beginning, the zeroes become valuable. Then the more zeroes you have, the more valuable your number. The association of the Supreme Lord is the one digit in this scenario. Prabhupada’s view is also supported by Goswami Tulsidas.
nāma rāma ko amka hai saba sādhana haim sūna |
amka ga_em kachu hātha nahim amka rahem dasa gūna ||
“Shri Rama’s holy name is like a numeral, and all religious practices are like zero. When the numeral is not there, zero means nothing. But when it is present, the resultant value increases tenfold.” (Dohavali, 10)
Despite 99 percent protection, Hiranyakashipu had zero. This was because he lacked devotion to God the person. More so than just lacking it, he was adamantly against it. He saw that devotion in his son Prahlada and could not tolerate it. Therefore despite Prahlada being so small and helpless, Hiranyakashipu tried to kill him. Nothing worked, since Prahlada had the one percent with him.
On the king’s last attempt, the one percent showed its face to the king in just the way that he deserved. It was death personified, in the fierce form of a half-man/half-lion. Hiranyakashipu indeed got killed, despite his immunity from so many different situations. This form of God, known as Narasimha, did not violate any of the boons given by Brahma. The king was killed at dusk, on the lap of the Lord, who used His nails. Narasimhadeva is neither a man nor an animal. The nails are not a weapon. The king was killed on Narasimhadeva’s lap, which is neither the air nor the land. The 99 percent protection proved useless, as it always does when it is lacking the “one” thing that matters: devotion to God.
Zeroes you can have so many,
But without other digit value not any.
To Hiranyakashipu’s boons compared,
Who thought that from death would be spared.
But the one in Supreme Lord coming,
And king’s protection nothing becoming.
Prahlada the son with devotion believing,
And so the Divine favor receiving.
Categories: mode of passion