Three Devotees Whose Character Was Not Tainted By Material Opulence

[Sudama visiting Krishna]“Seeing the wonderful conversion of his native place, the brahmana began to think to himself, ‘How am I seeing all these changes? Does this place belong to me, or to someone else? If it is the same place where I used to live, then how has it so wonderfully changed?’” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 26)

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They say that money changes people. How can it not? One day you are eating canned food and the next you have a live-in chef cooking every meal. Previously, you were renting an apartment in a community filled with people and now you have an estate that is several acres in size, with no neighbors in sight.

Material wellbeing shouldn’t change who a person is on the inside, since everything is destined for destruction. But the power of maya is so strong that a person forgets. That which is not gets mistaken for what is, and negative consequences result.

There have been instances of this illusion taking hold while even in the presence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Sugriva became the king of Vanaras in Kishkindha through the help of the avatara named Rama. There was no doubt about this; everyone knew, including Sugriva.

There was a future responsibility that required attention. Rama helps His devotees, but they also agree to behave a certain way. Sugriva had yet to hold up his end of the bargain, but Rama did not force. God does not compel anyone to follow devotional service. Through the help of the minister Hanuman and Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana, Sugriva awoke from his slumber of forgetfulness and resumed in the service that made him happiest.

King Satrajit was living in the same city as the Supreme Lord in the form of Krishna. Bhagavan was the king of the beautiful city known as Dvaraka. Satrajit got this gift from the sun-god called the Syamantaka jewel. It could produce endless amounts of gold each day, when worshiped properly.

Satrajit made sure not to miss the opportunity, and so he became proud. He thought he was more opulent than Krishna. When the jewel went missing sometime later, there was even a rumor going around that Krishna had stolen it. The person who owns the entire world resorting to trickery to take some meaningless jewel? That is the power of the illusory energy known as maya, which gets to work using emotions like wrath, greed and envy.

Fortunately, there have been many cases of devotees not changing at all in character. Whether high or low they were the same. Sometimes they became more renounced after receiving substantial benedictions. This is the true measure of devotion, of how much a person has linked to the Supreme Lord. When His association is fully taken advantage of, nothing can shake the character of the person serving Him.

1. Prahlada

He had the misfortune of being born in a Daitya family. This is the race of demons, the asuras, tracing their lineage back to the woman named Diti. Prahlada was to continue in the family business. His father, Hiranyakashipu, happened to be the most feared ruler in the world.

Since he heard from Narada Muni while in the womb, Prahlada was born a devotee. He is so great that he gets mention in the Bhagavad-gita, where Krishna associates with the beautiful son, who is the best of the Daityas.

“Among the Daitya demons I am the devoted Prahlada; among subduers I am time; among the beasts I am the lion, and among birds I am Garuda, the feathered carrier of Vishnu.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.30)

Hiranyakashipu couldn’t tolerate the devotion of his son. He tried to have Prahlada killed, multiple times. The efforts failed and eventually the king found death directly at the hands of Krishna, in the amazing form of Narasimha. Prahlada went on to become king, even though he didn’t ask any benedictions from Narasimhadeva. The child who was a devotee remained one in adulthood.

2. Dhruva

Another story with a small child, but this time there was a material desire; at first, anyways. Dhruva was insulted by the step-mother, who told him that he had no right to sit on the lap of the king. He would have to take birth through her womb in order to gain that privilege.

After talking to his mother, Dhruva went to the forest to meditate. He wanted a meeting with God, to get revenge. He was so determined that the meeting eventually became a reality. A funny thing happened, though. Once his meditation was broken by Bhagavan in the form of Narayana, the initial desire vanished. He didn’t want revenge anymore.

“The Supreme Personality of Godhead continued: My dear Dhruva, I shall award you the glowing planet known as the polestar, which will continue to exist even after the dissolution at the end of the millennium. No one has ever ruled this planet, which is surrounded by all the solar systems, planets and stars. All the luminaries in the sky circumambulate this planet, just as bulls tread around a central pole for the purpose of crushing grains. Keeping the polestar to their right, all the stars inhabited by the great sages like Dharma, Agni, Kashyapa and Shukra circumambulate this planet, which continues to exist even after the dissolution of all others.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.9.20-21)

[Vishnu and Dhruva]Dhruva got the benediction of becoming the planet known as the polestar. Still, he remained a pure devotee. In the future he would become the king, and again the character was not changed in the least.

3. Sudama

This was a brahmana who happened to be a childhood friend of Krishna’s during the Lord’s time on earth. They were students at the same time at the school of the guru known as Sandipani. As is not surprising for a brahmana, Sudama remained in poverty in adulthood. The highest occupational division in varnashrama is not meant for accumulating money and material power. They live simply so that they can think highly. In that renounced position they are well-situated to teach others.

Sudama’s wife was on his case, though. She knew that her husband was friends with Krishna, who was now the king of Dvaraka. She persisted so much that Sudama eventually agreed to pay his old friend a visit. Sudama brought some chipped rice as an offering, but in the end was too embarrassed to reveal it.

[Sudama visiting Krishna]Krishna welcomed Sudama as if the most important personality in the world had appeared at His door. The hospitality was so heartwarming that Sudama couldn’t bring himself to ask for anything. Since God is antaryami, He witnesses everything from within. He already knew the purpose of the visit, and so when Sudama returned home the brahmana found that his old shack of a house had been transformed into a palace. This was due to Rukmini Devi, Krishna’s principal queen, who is also the goddess of fortune. Sudama became wealthy in an instant, but the change in fortune did not change his character. If anything, his devotion to Krishna increased.

In Closing:

For interest a friend today,

But tomorrow a different way.

Like Sugriva the future forgetting,

Or Satrajit with valuable jewel setting.

But others for steadiness known,

Like Dhruva the polestar to own.

Sudama’s house into a palace turned,

From pure devotion to Krishna earned.

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