“When something is arranged by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one should not be disturbed by it, even if it appears to be a reverse according to one’s calculations. For example, sometimes we see that a powerful preacher is killed, or sometimes he is put into difficulty, just as Haridasa Thakura was. He was a great devotee who came into this material world to execute the will of the Lord by preaching the Lord’s glories. But Haridasa was punished at the hands of the Kazi by being beaten in twenty-two marketplaces.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.16.37)
Though it happens all the time, people are still surprised. On paper, it is no contest. One team had vastly dominated their opposition during the season. It wasn’t close. The other team is lucky to be in the final. They had to squeak by in their last game. The odds-makers, who try to be as fair as possible in order to earn a profit, predict that the game will be a blowout. The favored team should win by a lot.
But sometimes the upset happens. The underdog comes through. That success gives hope to others who are in a similar situation. Transitioning to the realm of spiritual life, there have been many instances of people in tough situations overcoming odds. The source of their strength is the link in consciousness to the Divine. This link is known as yoga and it is more powerful than anyone can imagine.
1. Haridasa Thakura
The different ones always stand out. It’s just the way of the world. If everyone in class wants to eat pizza and you have an allergy to dairy products, it’s not something you can really hide. People will find out. Then you will have to deal with being different.
Food preference is one thing, but what about chanting Sanskrit words day and night; especially when such a practice is forbidden for people residing in that area? The saint Haridasa Thakura got the name namacharya by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. This means “the person who leads by example on the chanting of the holy names.”
The problem was that Haridasa came from a Muslim background. You weren’t supposed to go chanting just any names. Indeed, those names are identical to the person they represent, and that person has a spiritual form. That is another prohibition. Don’t you dare consider that the Almighty has a spiritual form, for then you might actually benefit from your worship.
Haridasa was more than just an outcaste in the community. There was physical force applied to get him to stop chanting the holy names. He was physically beaten in public; made a spectacle of in order to dissuade others. He survived due to the link to the Divine. One of the greatest underdogs, he had the special benediction of quitting his body in the arms of Lord Chaitanya, the golden avatara.
2. Prahlada Maharaja
The most powerful king in the world against his five-year old son. In such a conflict, the boy might stand a chance if the father was lenient. After all, a natural bond is there. The father should be affectionate, especially if the child is innocent. Prahlada’s crime was loving the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He was so dedicated in bhakti that he would talk about devotion and Vishnu to his friends at school during recess.
Prahlada faced a fire pit. He faced a herd of elephants. He was thrown off a cliff. He was attacked with deadly weapons. He survived the attacks for the same reason that Haridasa did. The link in yoga was too strong. Eventually the wicked father was the one who succumbed, defeated at the hands of God Himself in the form of Narasimhadeva.
A vast ocean separating land from an island. A few wicked characters obstructing his aerial journey. A city filled with man-eating ogres who were ready to pounce at the first sighting of an emissary of the Supreme Lord Rama. A distressed princess who would have trouble trusting anyone around her. The time constraints set by the leader of the Vanaras, Sugriva.
Hanuman faced all these obstacles in his bhakti. Towards the end of the mission assigned to him, it was a one man show. There was literally no one there to help him. And his foe was quite formidable. Their leader had taken away the princess Sita in secret. Ravana was too afraid to fight Rama one on one in battle; therefore he resorted to trickery.
Hanuman succeeded. He found Sita, which was extremely difficult. Then he was able to convince her of the authenticity of his cause. He proved to her that he was a representative of her husband. Then Hanuman set fire to Ravana’s city on the way out. He was successful since he had guidance from within; Shri Rama helped him.
4. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
A seventy year old man leaving for the United States for the first time, on a cargo boat no less. No money, barely any contacts, the unpleasant surprise of the brutal winter awaiting him. Shrila Prabhupada was following through on the order given by his guru to spread the teachings of the Vedas and devotional service to the English speaking world.
Who would listen to his message of hope and light coming from the East? Who would agree to give up bad habits like eating meat, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex? Who would agree to chant the holy names each day for a fixed number of rounds? Who would be inspired to chant those holy names congregationally, in what is known as sankirtana?
Proof once again arrived that the Supreme Lord offers direct help for those who are sincere in their bhakti. Material life offers no such assurances. The most powerful can fall and the most fallen can rise. The tides shift like the changing of seasons. The only guarantee is that if one surrenders to the Supreme Lord, abandoning all varieties of dharma, they will be saved from any potential sinful reaction. More importantly, they will get to continue to live the blissful life of devotion.
Small against stature of enormous size,
Sometimes underdog known to rise.
In bhakti also the powerful defeated,
Against humble in yoga trance seated.
Like Haridasa Thakura to market taken,
Prahlada by wicked father forsaken.
Prabhupada to unknown land going,
For seeds of bhakti plant sowing.
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