Understanding Hiranyakashipu’s Rise To Power

[Lord Vishnu]“In one who has unflinching devotional faith in Krishna, all the good qualities of Krishna and the demigods are consistently manifest.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 5.18.12)

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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

How could such a bad person rise to power? It is said in Shrimad Bhagavatam that a person who has unflinching faith in the Supreme Lord, the personal God, automatically acquires the qualities of the demigods. Typically, the requirement is to first behave in the mode of goodness, sattva-guna. Something like the, “If you’re good you go to heaven,” model, there are delineated acts of charity, sacrifice, and austerity that accumulate pious credits, like in a bank account, to be redeemed at a later date.

Hiranyakashipu fell into neither category. He wasn’t a devotee of the Supreme Lord. Just the opposite. He had such hostility that his mind was always focused on Vishnu, the person he considered to be the greatest enemy. The drive for world domination was an attempt to hopefully thwart any future competition from the person everyone else worshiped.

The leader of the Daityas engaged in austerity, but it wasn’t in the mode of goodness. The purpose of supplicating the creator, Lord Brahma, was for receiving boons in order to increase strength. It is something like a salesperson flattering a potential customer. Once the sale is made, there is no need for further communication. The nice words were kind of a ruse, a ploy to gain a favor.

Does Hiranyakashipu’s ascent to the heavenly realm, his forced entry into the kingdom of the leaders of the suras, Indra, indicate a flaw in the system? Is pious behavior really not worth it? Maybe every person’s lot in life is randomly determined?

A fictional account of a real-world scenario helps to provide some clarity. Suppose that a person illegally enters a store. They do so in the middle of the night, when no one is there. This is an intelligent strike. The thief has visited the store previously, gathering valuable intelligence. They know that at this moment the proprietor is away on vacation for a few weeks.

They sit themselves behind the desk in the office of the owner. When the next business day rolls around, the employees are surprised to see the new person. “Don’t worry,” the thief says. “I am the brother of such and such. He left me in charge for a while. I will be overseeing the operation.”

The employees didn’t know that the owner had a brother. They are skeptical, but they go along. They provide the sensitive information of the business to the thief. The veritable goldmine of the bank account numbers and the accounts receivable – the goal is to take everything from the owner.

In this situation has the thief really become the owner? Have they risen to power? Have they taken what doesn’t belong to them? Perhaps for a while, but eventually something will go wrong. The original owner will return from vacation. If interference measures go into place, then one of the employees is likely to find out. If not, then the authorities will likely notice the forgeries. The idea is that something in the system will break down.

[Lord Vishnu]With Hiranyakashipu it looked like nothing would work. All aspects were covered, or at least the king thought. He didn’t count on Vishnu’s intelligence to directly interfere in the matter. Hiranyakashipu would be done in by one of his sons, of all people. That boy had the unflinching devotion mentioned previously. Right from the time of birth, Prahlada lived a life of bhakti, connected in yoga to the Supreme Lord. The situation was corrected, dispelling the temporary illusion of the worst character in the world somehow succeeding in his sinful ways.

In Closing:

To status of demigods to rise,

By one in sattva-guna tries.

Easier when in bhakti-yoga applying,

Saints always Bhagavan glorifying.

But in neither Hiranya effort making,

And post of Indra taking.

Just temporary, not that time froze,

Son Prahlada eventually to expose.

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Categories: sacrifice

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