Five Things Hiranyakashipu Teaches Us About Praying For Stuff

[Hiranyakashipu performing austerities]“In spite of achieving the power to control in all directions and in spite of enjoying all types of dear sense gratification as much as possible, Hiranyakashipu was dissatisfied because instead of controlling his senses he remained their servant.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.4.19)

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sa itthaṁ nirjita-kakub
eka-rāḍ viṣayān priyān
yathopajoṣaṁ bhuñjāno
nātṛpyad ajitendriyaḥ

Ajitendriya. This Sanskrit word befits some of the greatest materialists in history. There is the famous one from the Ramayana. Known as Ravana for his terrifying scream, he had more wealth than anyone can imagine. Take the modern day billionaire and put him up against Ravana and there is no competition. The king of Lanka had gold everywhere. It was in his buildings. Jewels were built into the floors. He had more meat and wine than any person can consume. He had so many wives, each of whom had pageant-winner beauty. The entire world feared him. Yet there was that one flaw lurking in the background. The elephant in the room was known as ajitendriya.

“O Ravana, inevitably all of the Rakshasas will be completely destroyed, for they have a person like you, who is stupid, lustful, and unable to control his senses, for their king.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 48.22)

Years prior to that, the king named Hiranyakashipu was in a similar situation. He had everything as well, but the senses were not controlled. Ajita is the negation of jita, which means “victory” or “able to conquer.” Indriya refers to the senses. Ajitendriya or ajita-indriya means that a person is unable to conquer their senses. The stomach controls them instead of the other way around. Matter, or prakriti, is dominant over them, even though spirit is what animates matter. Hiranyakashipu’s path to world domination and unimaginable material enjoyment makes a person think twice about what to seek in life.

1. You just might get what you ask for

Hiranyakashipu didn’t become world leader on his own. He liked to think that he did, after the fact, but first there was the minor issue of praying to the heavens. Vedic culture acknowledges a single supreme deity, but that superior person is helped by many deputies. Those deputies are in charge of things that aren’t as important. The less intelligent don’t see this, so they sometimes approach the deputies, while ignoring the head.

antavat tu phalaṁ teṣāṁ

tad bhavaty alpa-medhasām

devān deva-yajo yānti

mad-bhaktā yānti mām api


“Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.23)

Hiranyakashipu didn’t approach the Supreme Lord Vishnu. He instead went through austerities, essentially torturing himself, to win the favor of Lord Brahma. This enabled him to ask for amazing boons. Brahma gave Hiranyakashipu everything that was asked for, up to the point of immortality. This means that with worship of the deputies, who are known as demigods, you may actually get what you want. Whether what you want is beneficial to you is another issue.

2. Understand that the benefactor has a benefactor

Hiranyakashipu’s example shows us that there is someone superior to Brahma and Shiva. That someone, who is often called by the name Vishnu, has innumerable names due to His limitless qualities and inexhaustible attributes. Just consider space. There is no end to it. Infinity is a concept that even the amazing human brain cannot fathom. As Vishnu is all-pervading, He is everywhere in the infinite space. His reach is unimaginable.

[Narasimha killing Hiranyakashipu]Brahma couldn’t give immortality because he himself doesn’t have it. Hiranyakashipu didn’t stop to consider from where Brahma gets his power. It was Hiranyakashipu’s destiny to die at the hands of Vishnu, who showed his superiority in the amazing form of a half-man/half-lion known as Narasimha.

3. Despite being drunk with power, you’ll still be unsatisfied

The Shrimad Bhagavatam gives us the true story of Hiranyakashipu’s rise and fall through a conversation between King Yudhishthira and Narada Muni. In one verse we find that Hiranyakashipu was still not satisfied, even though he had full sense enjoyment available to him. More than just a potential, the king engaged the sense urges every time they called.

We can think of it like running through a toy store and picking out whatever we want. If we’re not sure what car to purchase, just get them all. At the outset this looks harmless, almost a way to increase happiness, but for the human being the path to bliss is tapa, which is austerity. Brahma himself was expert in austerity. Even Hiranyakashipu had to undergo austerities in order to win the favor of Brahma. The king’s example is replicated in the general dissatisfaction of the wealthy in modern society, but the king showed how even in the extreme there is the same limitation.

4. Lust should be conquered, not the other way around

Sense gratification is known as kama in Sanskrit. Another translation for this word is “lust.” When lust goes uncontrolled, it leads to things like frustration, anger, loss of intelligence, and then rebirth. The wise person seeks to escape rebirth, since at the time of death the slate gets wiped clean. You can have every car ever made sitting in your garage, but after you leave your body those objects don’t come with you. You have to start over in the next life.

Hiranyakashipu was controlled by kama, and therefore he couldn’t tolerate something as harmless as his five year old son and his worship of Vishnu. This is a sign of weakness. A person who gets easily provoked is not steady in mind. Despite having everything, the king was agitated over something that should have brought him great joy.

5. You can lose everything anyway; defeated by a helpless boy

The king was so powerful that getting rid of his Vishnu-loving son should have been a piece of cake. It wasn’t. The boy should have been scared away by the palace guards and their weapons. He wasn’t. Prahlada should have been killed when bitten by poisonous snakes or when thrown off the edge of a mountain. He wasn’t.

[Hiranyakashipu]Hiranyakashipu, who had everything a materialist could ever ask for, lost everything anyway. All that austerity went to waste. All that enjoyment did nothing for his overall satisfaction. Since he thwarted the devotional efforts of his innocent son, the Supreme Lord finally arrived on the scene to personally provide protection. From that wonderful historical incident, we see that the easier and more fruitful path is the one followed by Prahlada Maharaja: bhakti-yoga. Pure devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

In Closing:

Despite every opulence to see,

Still unsatisfied was he.

Hiranyakashipu, to Brahma praying,

Blessed with boons, save immortality saying.

Since over senses victory not gained,

Precious contentment never attained.

Offensive when attack on son forced upon,

Through Narasimha instantly everything gone.

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