“All the demigods and their exalted qualities, such as religion, knowledge and renunciation, become manifest in the body of one who has developed unalloyed devotion for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vasudeva. On the other hand, a person devoid of devotional service and engaged in material activities has no good qualities. Even if he is adept at the practice of mystic yoga or the honest endeavor of maintaining his family and relatives, he must be driven by his own mental speculations and must engage in the service of the Lord’s external energy. How can there be any good qualities in such a man?” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 5.18.12)
यस्यास्ति भक्तिर् भगवत्य् अकिञ्चना
सर्वैर् गुणैस् तत्र समासते सुराः
हराव् अभक्तस्य कुतो महद्-गुणा
मनोरथेनासति धावतो बहिः
yasyāsti bhaktir bhagavaty akiñcanā
sarvair guṇais tatra samāsate surāḥ
harāv abhaktasya kuto mahad-guṇā
manorathenāsati dhāvato bahiḥ
Friend1: One of the common themes within the teachings of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is the lack of a need for worshiping what he refers to as “demigods.”
Friend2: Devas. Devatas. Suras. There are different Sanskrit words to describe the same entities. These are something like saints of other spiritual traditions. The “demigod” word is not exclusively used by Prabhupada. You’ll find a reference by Thomas Jefferson during the Revolutionary War period in America.
Friend1: Some people think it is derogatory to refer to people like Shiva and Brahma as demigods.
Friend2: Demigod implies inferiority to the object or person referenced. In Vedic literature the usage is in the reverse. There is the word for god, deva, and then to juxtapose with the Supreme Lord a prefix is added. Bhagavan is deva vara, as Shabari describes in the Ramayana.
अद्य मे सफलं जन्म स्वर्गश्चैव भविष्यति ।
त्वयि देववरे राम पूजिते पुरुषर्षभ ।।
adya me saphalaṃ janma svargaścaiva bhaviṣyati
tvayi devavare rāma pūjite puruṣarṣabha
“O best of men, today, by worshiping You – Rama who is the greatest of all the gods – my religious practices have become fruitful and my ascension to the heavenly realm will surely take place.” (Shabari speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 74.12)
Arjuna offers similar praise. He describes Krishna is param dhama, or the supreme resting place. The idea is to compare what we would consider ordinary to the extraordinary.
Friend1: Okay, but demigods are not ordinary. They live in the heavenly realm. They have enhanced abilities. They are administrators of different departments of the material creation.
Friend2: That is what makes the comparison more significant. You can take an individual who lives in the heavenly region, svarga-loka, and understand that they are still not the supreme. The benefactor has a benefactor, as I like to say.
Friend1: And so the wise choice is to approach their benefactor instead.
Friend2: Sure, that is one reason.
Friend1: I’ve also heard it said that a devotee automatically acquires the qualities of the demigods. This is through connection with Bhagavan in yoga. They don’t need to separately endeavor for or request attributes such as kindness, compassion, forbearance, equanimity, steadiness, peacefulness and the like.
Friend2: The best example is Prahlada Maharaja. He had every good quality and didn’t have to worship a single deva. The good qualities emerged in a totally unexpected situation. Parents can try their best to influence the future of their offspring, but there is always a chance that completely the opposite of what is desired emerges.
Friend1: Yes, Prahlada was born in a Daitya family. These are considered demons, asuras. They go against the demigods. Here is my main question for today. How did Hiranyakashipu acquire the qualities of the demigods, then?
Friend2: What do you mean?
Friend1: Prahlada’s father was king of the universe, essentially. He performed heavy austerities for pleasing Lord Brahma, the creator. The result was a list of boons that no person would believe possible to receive. Hiranyakashipu took full advantage by then usurping the position of the devas. They all lived in fear of him, in fact.
Friend2: Right, so what is the confusion?
Friend1: He didn’t worship Bhagavan. In fact, he was a total enemy. He put the devas into a fearful condition. How did he get their qualities?
Friend2: Hiranyakashipu didn’t. Just because he was in their position doesn’t mean that he had their gunas.
Friend1: He was in their position, though. He didn’t have to act in the mode of goodness, sattva-guna. He was king of the world and he was supposedly the worst character imaginable.
Friend2: That doesn’t equate to the qualities of the demigods. Position is one thing. I can break into a shop in the middle of the night by throwing a brick through the window. I take some stuff for myself, but first I enter the office in the back and take a seat at the desk of the owner. Does that make me the proprietor?
Friend1: No, because eventually the police will arrive. Hiranyakashipu didn’t have to worry about this, though.
Friend2: The police most certainly did arrive. He was not safe in his position, though he seemed to be more secure than the thief illegally entering a store. This is all the illusion created by maya. The devotees acquire good qualities for real, in a lasting manner that will provide a long-term benefit, shreyas. Just see where Prahlada ended up and what happened to his father, who succumbed to the transcendental nails of Narasimhadeva.
Though their position to take,
With qualities not to mistake.
To demigods not the same,
Though in high post title name.
Hiranyakashipu something like thief,
Eventually Narasimha for relief.
Prahlada with qualities for real,
Easily without direct appeal.