“Being worshiped by sacrifices offered with great gifts by those who strictly followed the principles of varna and ashrama, Hiranyakashipu, instead of offering shares of the oblations to the demigods, accepted them himself.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.4.15)
स एव वर्णाश्रमिभिः
अग्रहीत् स्वेन तेजसा
sa eva varṇāśramibhiḥ
agrahīt svena tejasā
In the past a television series called Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous depicted what it was like to possess a lot of money. At least externally, there was the evidence of advanced living, with palatial residences and servants to take care of every single need that could arise throughout the day.
Is such a lifestyle actually worth it? Some of the rich inherit the fortune from their ancestors, but others are described as “self-made.” What exactly goes into being powerful? What enjoyments should be present and what distresses should be absent?
Fortunately, the Vedas provide the best historical example in Hiranyakashipu. He was the genuine king of the world, extending beyond the earthly region. His life bore some similarities to today’s rich and famous, but there were striking differences, as well.
1. Everyone under your control
There is the saying, “Being king for a day.” The idea is that you get whatever you want. Not that you rely on anyone else’s sanction. No need to visit a government office for approval since you are yourself the government.
Many of the wealthy in modern times wield similar power. Even if they are not officially in the government, through donations they possess the same influence. The politicians are in their back pocket, so to speak, bought and paid for through legal bribery, though it may not go by that name. As an example, a wealthy business mogul has the most famous actors attend his child’s wedding, where they do menial work like serving food to the guests.
Hiranyakashipu’s authority went beyond what would be expected. He took over the heavenly region, residing in the best palace a person could think of. This was constructed by the architect of the demigods, Vishvakarma.
2. Limitless food and beverage consumption
There shouldn’t be an issue with the basic economic problem: food. A king shouldn’t be starving. If he wants to put down one hundred sandwiches in a sitting, the supply should be presented to him immediately. A king is the opposite of the beggar. They are in the position to offer charity to others.
Hiranyakashipu met this qualification and beyond. Enough liquor consumed that his coppery eyes were always rolling. Not the cheap stuff, either. Residents of the heavenly region drink Soma-rasa, which is supposed to be the most exquisite intoxicant, not experienced by man.
3. Capability to travel anywhere
The modern-day mogul has the private jet, which means less reliance on the crammed commercial travel system. There are still some inconveniences, but much less so than if there weren’t as much in the bank account.
Hiranyakashipu had a leg up since he could travel to different planets. The heavenly region is the reward for pious behavior, for following the mode of goodness, sattva-guna. The duration of residence is longer than it is on earth, but Hiranyakashipu took a short cut.
He forced his way into the place and took over upon the might of his boons granted by Lord Brahma, who is actually above the heavenly region. Everyone feared Hiranyakashipu except for the three principal gods of the creation: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
4. Supplanting the demigods
Can you become so rich that you control the air? Can you decide when and where it rains? Make it colder on a specific day and warmer on another? By supplanting the demigods, Hiranyakashipu essentially had this potency.
There are oblations offered for the pleasure of the devas, the gods in control of the material nature. Hiranyakashipu would accept these offerings himself and then not share them with anyone. He was the actual king of the world, with no one above.
Despite achieving the highest status in a material existence, he was not happy. He was always envious, specifically of Vishnu. He was not at peace, although everyone feared him. It would be a five year old boy, of all people, to take him down, and without any intentional force applied.
The obvious lesson is that being king of the world is not the highest achievement. If a sufficient rise in character does not accompany, then the shift in stature is merely another way to pass the time. The potency is in illusion, since everything is eventually crushed under the ruthless wheel of time, kala-chakra.
क्षिप्रं भवति धर्मात्मा
न मे भक्तः प्रणश्यति
kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā
na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati
“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 devotion of the devotee, however, can never be destroyed. The king’s own son had something much more valuable, and he did not have to work nearly as hard for it. It was an issue of consciousness, and the flawed material one would spell doom for Hiranyakashipu directly at Vishnu’s hands.
Genuine highest position to entail,
That never in desire to fail.
To any place easily can go,
Success when contemplated so.
Hiranyakashipu installed in this place,
But soon to fall from grace.
Whereas different Prahlada the son,
Same kingdom without effort won.