“You crossed over the ocean of one hundred yojanas wide, the reservoir of sharks and alligators, as if it were a small puddle.” (Sita Devi speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 36.8)
śata yojana vistīrṇaḥ sāgaro makara ālayaḥ |
vikrama ślāghanīyena kramatā goṣpadī kṛtaḥ ||
Looks can be deceiving. Things aren’t always as they seem. The great ones make it look easy, but it’s not. They are skilled at what they do. They have extraordinary ability. They may even give the warning beforehand:
“Don’t try this at home, folks. You will get hurt, and that is not our intention. Please enjoy the show.”
In devotional service, bhakti-yoga, there is both a stated and implied promise of success. The stated version comes from the Bhagavad-gita, where the object of service, Shri Krishna, asks Arjuna, the disciple, to boldly declare that the devotees never perish; even the ones that may have made a terrible mistake.
“He quickly becomes righteous and attains lasting peace. O son of Kunti, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.31)
The implied promise derives from the uniqueness of the path. Material life is limiting. The ocean looks like it is unlimited, but eventually if you get enough drops of ocean water you have the entire ocean. Similarly, there is only so much wealth available in this world.
Spiritual life is about the unlimited. Krishna, or God, is known by such terms as aprameya and Adhokshaja. He is beyond measure. You cannot get an accurate reading on His attributes using instruments. His being itself is achintya, or inconceivable.
Anything is possible in the path of devotion, and indeed many exalted figures have done amazing things. Still, a word of caution: do not imitate. The standard bearers are known as mahajanas. They have been chosen by the Supreme Lord to inspire others. The word “impossible” has no meaning when applied to God, but this does not mean that every devotee will be able to exhibit the exact same ability.
1. Difficult to survive fire like Prahlada
A five year old boy teaching his classmates about the spiritual science during recess. The son not backing down in the face of intense opposition from his demoniac father, King Hiranyakashipu. The child not fearing for his life even when under the threat of grave danger.
The example of Prahlada shows that real yoga is amazing. It is so powerful that it can negate the influence of the material elements. Prahlada survived so many attacks because of meditating on the lotus feet of Vishnu, which is another name for God.
But for the average person it is next to impossible to withstand things like sitting in a fire pit. Prahlada was a special case, and if others try to imitate they are not guaranteed success. Neither is everyone meant to endure the same situations. That special boy is there to inspire everyone to believe that the greatest odds can be overcome. He shows that opposition to bhakti can come from something so near as the home, but that there is the highest reward in persevering.
2. Difficult to cross an ocean like Hanuman
This incident involved an army of servants. They were all dear to Shri Rama, an incarnation of Krishna appearing on earth during the Treta Yuga. Bhakti-yoga isn’t exclusively about meditating, chanting, or reading. You can be on a search mission and still be fully linked in consciousness to the Divine.
These servants were in monkey-like bodies. They searched long and hard for Rama’s missing wife Sita Devi. It looked like they were on the verge of success after receiving valuable intelligence information. One thing then stood in their way, and it was quite formidable.
It was a vast ocean. Thankfully, Shri Hanuman was in the group. After being reminded of his possession of mystic powers, the siddhis of yoga, Hanuman expanded his size and then leapt over the ocean of one hundred yojanas. He made it look like the size of a puddle left by a cow.
If any of the other Vanaras would have tried this, they wouldn’t have come close. They would have fallen in the ocean near to the shore from which they started. Hanuman was the chosen one, and he inspired his fellow warriors. He continues to inspire people to this day with his unflinching devotion to Sita and Rama.
3. Difficult to battle against warriors like Arjuna
The Bhagavad-gita was spoken to a member of the kshatriya occupation. These are warriors/administrators. Though Arjuna was a kshatriya by birth, the more important qualification was by ability and training. He had the qualities necessary to protect others from injury.
“Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity, and leadership are the qualities of work for the kshatriyas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.43)
If someone lacking those qualities were to enter conflict, they likely wouldn’t succeed. Nor would that be the path assigned to them by the higher powers. Arjuna is an inspiration in so many ways, particularly through his unflinching faith in the words of Shri Krishna. Arjuna acted as the ideal disciple, as well. He brought his doubts forward, and he inquired submissively from the original spiritual master of the world.
4. Difficult to swallow poison like Shiva
The suras and the asuras have been in conflict since the beginning of time. This is true both symbolically and literally. Good always clashes with evil. You could say that is the struggle of an existence. In the literal sense the suras are the demigods, who are the embodiment of goodness. The asuras are in ignorance. Their very name is a negation of the name used for the good guys. The asuras are like demons.
One time the demigods and the demons worked together to churn an ocean. The objective was to get nectar, or amrita. The literal meaning to amrita is “without mrita,” or death. In the churning process many things emerged, with one of them being poison. The demigods asked Lord Shiva to help them. The great god consumed the poison. Since he kept it in his throat, he became known as Nilakantha.
If an ordinary person were to try this, they wouldn’t survive. Just because someone is serving the Supreme Lord doesn’t mean that they are guaranteed to have the exact same amazing ability. The promise in the Bhagavad-gita is that the devotion of the devotee will never perish. The material elements continue to operate. Karma is seemingly there; action and reaction. But the future life in the material world is prevented. Bhagavan places the devoted soul in the best situations going forward. And those devoted souls get inspiration from the amazing mahajanas who came before them.
Exalted devotees meant to inspire,
Like Prahlada withstanding fire.
But caution that not to be imitated,
The same for others then immolated.
Hanuman crossing over sharks ready to eat,
And Shiva for demigods poison to keep.
Promise that devotion itself never to perish,
Help from mahajanas with memory to cherish.