“Anyone can become a fully qualified brahmana under the direction of a spiritual master. Prahlada Maharaja provided a vivid example of how to think of the spiritual master and accept his directions calmly.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.4.33 Purport)
Prahlada already offered the comparison. In what the father took to be a compliment, the son said that amongst all the asuras in the world, Hiranyakashipu was the best. Something like taking the worst of a particular species or characteristic, the ruler of the world at the time had agitated the innocent more than anyone could previously imagine.
Family history does not mean everything. Prahlada was the exception to prove the principle. Though he was born in a line of Daityas, he was nothing like them. Daityas were identified as such based on their ancestral link to a woman named Diti. The bad guys, the demons, the ones against religious principles, appeared from her womb. They passed on the bad qualities to future generations.
1. Not agitated in dangerous conditions
A person doesn’t necessarily have to be an asura to qualify. Who isn’t a little agitated when a dangerous condition arises? There could be the threat of lethal harm. An oncoming storm threatens to wash away the town. The aircraft has hit a rough patch flying through clouds. The car on the road starts to skid after going over ice.
The asuras tend to be more agitated during danger due to the strong attachment to the body. By the very definition of the word, we see that they are against dharma. Sura is a saintly person. They are also a demigod or god-like. Asura is the negation of sura.
A less intelligent person stays attached to the temporary body. In the back of their minds, deep down they understand that life will end at some point. They are unaware of the future after that, so when danger arrives there is the increased chance that death has come knocking on the door.
From a variety of situations Prahlada proved to be different. Due to the boy’s saintly character, Hiranyakashipu tried to have him killed. Despite seeing the most atrocious crimes committed against him, Prahlada was not agitated. He remained connected in yoga to Vishnu, the Supreme Lord.
2. Lacked desire in sense gratification described by the Vedas
Vedic knowledge is something like a tree with many branches. It is an inverted tree, with the roots at the top, where the Supreme Lord stands. The branches descend outward and downward, and so material life is accurately represented.
If a person is not interested in God, in connecting with Him again, in reclaiming the dharma that belongs to them eternally, they can find ample information in Vedic teachings for enjoying the senses. The ultimate purpose is always to satisfy the enjoyer of all sacrifices, Yajneshvara, but the route is longer.
Hiranyakashipu had a hint of respect for the Vedas through keeping a spiritual master and engaging in tapasya, austerities. Yet the purpose was sense gratification, which Prahlada was never interested in. A child could be excused for wanting to play the day away, but Hiranyakashipu’s saintly son was enlightened from birth.
3. Control over the senses and life air
The Sanskrit word is jitendriya. This is one of the highest compliments a person can receive. If I sleep for long periods of time, eat more than anyone can imagine, maintain several partners for amorous affairs, and visit casino after casino during the nighttime hours, the lifestyle doesn’t reflect too well on my character.
In every situation that a person receives legitimate praise, there is some control over the senses involved. Prahlada had full control, whereas asuras tend to be just the opposite. Hiranyakashipu had control over the entire world, but there was no peace on the inside. He was constantly agitated due to the senses controlling him.
4. Of steady intelligence and determination
One could make the argument that Hiranyakashipu exhibited steady determination in the extreme austerities he performed for pleasing Lord Brahma. If it was so easy, then everyone would be doing the same. He received the favor of the creator precisely because of how difficult the tapasya was.
Yet the intelligence was not steady. This is because he asked for boons relating to immortality, which is not possible. Even one percent vulnerability means that kala [death] can successfully attack at any moment. All of that work for nothing. Such a huge sacrifice made for a paltry reward.
Prahlada showed actual intelligence, and his determination was unflinching. Even after meeting Vishnu face to face in the form of Narasimhadeva, Prahlada’s determination remained. He embodied the spirit of unmotivated and uninterrupted, which characterizes pure devotion, shuddha-bhakti.
5. Subdued kama
The asuras are driven by kama. Lust controls them instead of the other way around. To subdue kama is not easy. For this reason Mahadeva, Lord Shiva, is celebrated. He is the conqueror of kama in the form of a demigod. He uses that achievement to advance his devotion to Vishnu.
Prahlada did the same. Instructed by Narada Muni while in the womb of his mother, Prahlada won the battle against lust at an early age. It was a battle the father was still fighting. The asura-like father lost against the sura-like saint due to unnecessary harassment.
Not asura qualities to detect,
Showing Narada’s work effect.
That Prahlada never in fear,
From father’s attacks made clear.
Control over the senses holding,
Not concerned over future unfolding.
Of intelligence and determination steady,
To carry out Bhagavan’s desires ready.