“Shanda and Amarka, the priests of the demons, were eager to know from Prahlada Maharaja who the Vaishnavas were that came to instruct him in Krishna consciousness. Their purpose was to discover the names of these Vaishnavas. In the beginning they did not threaten the boy because when threatened he might not identify the real culprits.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.8 Purport)
It was an innocent enough question. Prahlada was young, after all. Just starting school, the father inquired as to the interests of the boy. What subjects grabbed his attention? What did Prahlada consider to be the most valuable knowledge?
In his reply, the boy was thoroughly honest. Too innocent to try to intentionally arouse the hostilities in the father, Prahlada revealed what he considered to be the most important. His words were based on the science of self-realization. The son was revealing to the father that the most pertinent knowledge for any person in this world is to understand the difficulties associated with accepting a material body.
तत् साधु मन्ये ’सुर-वर्य देहिनां
सदा समुद्विग्न-धियाम् असद्-ग्रहात्
हित्वात्म-पातं गृहम् अन्ध-कूपं
वनं गतो यद् धरिम् आश्रयेत
tat sādhu manye ’sura-varya dehināṁ
sadā samudvigna-dhiyām asad-grahāt
hitvātma-pātaṁ gṛham andha-kūpaṁ
vanaṁ gato yad dharim āśrayeta
“Prahlada Maharaja replied: O best of the asuras, King of the demons, as far as I have learned from my spiritual master, any person who has accepted a temporary body and temporary household life is certainly embarrassed by anxiety because of having fallen in a dark well where there is no water but only suffering. One should give up this position and go to the forest [vana]. More clearly, one should go to Vrindavana, where only Krishna consciousness is prevalent, and should thus take shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.5)
Based on what happened next, we can review some of the possibilities on the other side. If a person should happen to openly discuss their preference for real jnana, that based in the Vedas, what exactly might the reception be? The occasion of Holi provides a vivid reminder of the extreme degree to which the negative consequences might fall.
1. Try to change your mind
The father was your atheist’s atheist. Prahlada described him as asura-varya, which essentially means “the chief of the bad guys.” Hiranyakashipu might have viewed it as an honorary title, but Prahlada was actually insulting him. The father had such bad qualities in him that even amongst the class of people dedicated to stealing, cheating, lying and going against principles in righteousness, he was unique.
Hiranyakashipu did not react too well to hearing that the son was on the side of the suras. That is what the words ultimately revealed. Godly principles are on the side of godly people. Suras are the good guys and asuras, being a negation of the original word, fall on the side of bad.
The good tend to be tolerant. Though they know better, they are not interested in interfering. This quality descends from the Supreme Lord Himself. So many jiva souls have wandered astray since time immemorial, but God the person does not interfere directly unless specifically called to do so. He allows for the exercise of free will in the direction away from Him.
Prahlada did not try to force the father to become a sura, but upon learning where his son stood, the father could not tolerate. The immediate solution was to try to change the boy’s mind. The two principal teachers, Shanda and Amarka, received orders to fix the situation. A modern practice of the same kind goes by the name “deprogramming.”
2. Try to find out who infiltrated the area
The “deprogramming” word implies that there was originally a programming effort. Someone must have gotten through to the boy for him to speak this way. No one in the kingdom was on the side of the suras. Everyone followed Hiranyakashipu, their leader.
Maybe someone infiltrated the area. Perhaps there was a spy. This has been one of the effective methods of statecraft employed since time immemorial. Heads of state are not always forthright in their dealings. Any information gathered presents an advantage, and so espionage is a timeless art meant to fortify the sovereign nation against enemy attack.
3. Use lethal force
Prahlada learned from within the womb. He heard from Narada Muni, who is more than a sura. He is a devotee of the personal God, and he is similarly fearless in speaking the principles of vishnu-tattva, or the truth relating to the personal side of the Divine and devotion to Him.
There was no point in going after Narada Muni now. The “programming” already took place. Prahlada could not be deprogrammed, either, as for some reason he held steadfast in his devotion to Vishnu, whom Hiranyakashipu viewed with the utmost contempt.
If you are open about your desire to practice devotion to God, it might get you killed. The state went after the heretic Prahlada, but somehow every attempt failed. Even taking him into a pit of fire failed to achieve the desired result. The woman who was supposed to be immune ended up burning to death, giving rise to the annual celebration known as Holi.
Prahlada simply would not die, and so the father wondered if the son received special powers through some practice in mysticism.
4. Change their ways
Hiranyakashipu was just as staunch in his opposition to Vishnu, and eventually the two forces collided. Though the king had previously received so many boons of protection, just a little vulnerability is enough for Vishnu to attack, who did so in the amazing form known as Narasimha.
Sometimes people do change their ways, however. That is the potency of hearing. Shabda-brahman, the Divine sound, can bring someone back to their original consciousness. The transformation is not easy, as qualification is necessary. If I enroll in a four year program at a university, there is the potential to earn a degree upon completion. Yet that is no guarantee of an achievement; not everyone who enrolls will find success.
In the same way, the sound vibrations of the Absolute Truth may not work if a person is too bound by desires in illusion. Hiranyakashipu actually saw God face to face and that still didn’t convince him. Nevertheless, Prahlada’s teachings did not go for naught. They carry forward infinitely in the time continuum, helping to rescue souls from the dreaded life of sense gratification, for generation after generation.
With honest response potential there,
That authority trying to scare.
First the culprit to be found,
Who imparted wisdom sound.
Maybe even lethal force to apply,
Like with Holika in fire to try.
But Prahlada not to be defeated,
Always in yoga connection seated.