“Demons think of everyone as a friend or enemy, but Vaishnavas say that since everyone is a servant of the Lord, everyone is on the same platform. Therefore a Vaishnava treats other living entities neither as friends nor as enemies, but instead tries to spread Krishna consciousness, teaching everyone that we are all one as servants of the Supreme Lord but are uselessly wasting our valuable lives by creating nations, communities and other groups of friends and enemies.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.12 Purport)
Friend1: I know there is the teaching from Prahlada Maharaja about not drawing distinctions between friends and enemies.
Friend2: Found in the Shrimad Bhagavatam?
Friend2: Do you know the context?
Friend1: I know the story in general. Prahlada is one of four sons to the king named Hiranyakashipu. The father gets upset when he sees devotion to Vishnu in Prahlada. The boy is not afraid to speak his mind.
Friend2: Yes, that is the basic story. The teachings about friends and enemies is in response to a question from the two teachers, Shanda and Amarka. They want to know from where Prahlada has learned the science of self-realization. None of the other children in school spoke that way. No one else was around who would openly declare allegiance to a being higher than the king.
Friend1: There must have been a spy. Prahlada should turn state’s evidence.
Friend2: Like a promise for immunity. They will go easy on him; just finger the culprit.
Friend1: It is an interesting principle, for sure. The entire existence is based on drawing this distinction. Friend and enemy, like and dislike, association and avoidance.
Friend2: To make a friend is easy. Just find someone who has a common interest. If they treat you nicely, you will like them. The enemy is the opposite. If someone is in competition with you over something, like a job, naturally they are your foe.
Friend1: In truth, we are all servants of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan. Some may be lagging behind, so to speak. They are forgetful of their nature as servant, which is their dharma, or essential characteristic.
Friend2: Such as with Hiranyakashipu and the teachers he sent to work in the school. They should have been pleased upon hearing Prahlada’s words. To reach such a mature understanding is not easy, and neither is it guaranteed from a human birth alone.
Friend1: Here is the question I have. The Vaishnava tends to think this way, right?
Friend2: Which way?
Friend1: About seeing everyone as equal on the platform of service to Bhagavan.
Friend1: And Arjuna of the Pandavas would be considered a Vaishnava?
Friend1: Then why did he carry on in the Bharata War? If the Vaishnava does not consider anyone to be an enemy, how could there be such a massive military conflict, with each side taking targeted aim?
Friend2: Well, the Bhagavad-gita as a book is there precisely because Arjuna did not consider others to be his enemy. He was hesitant to fight because he had no enmity with anyone, despite he and his family being the victims to envy and unnecessary competition for many years.
Friend1: I understand that. I know that Arjuna was not really into the fight. Yet the truth is the truth. He went on to victory. He released many amazing arrows to defeat his opponents. The other side, led by Duryodhana, certainly did draw distinctions.
Friend2: Yes, they had the mentality of the asura, who always thinks in terms of friend and enemy.
Friend1: Then what is the difference? Both Arjuna and Duryodhana fought. How can you say that one was better?
Friend2: Just because I understand the spiritual equality of all beings doesn’t mean that I will treat everyone the same.
Friend1: Please explain.
Friend2: I know that a tiger is a spirit soul on the inside, yet I will not behave friendly with it. That would be a grave folly on my part. The reality of the situation is that the pure spirit soul temporarily resides in a covering that creates confusion and illusion. The wise person draws distinctions, vishesha, when executing prescribed duties, but they don’t maintain any lasting enmity.
Friend1: You have to carry out your work anyway, even though you know better.
Friend2: Do your duty, but don’t be attached to the results. Make everything an offering to Shri Krishna.
यत् करोषि यद् अश्नासि
यज् जुहोषि ददासि यत्
यत् तपस्यसि कौन्तेय
तत् कुरुष्व मद्-अर्पणम्
yat karoṣi yad aśnāsi
yaj juhoṣi dadāsi yat
yat tapasyasi kaunteya
tat kuruṣva mad-arpaṇam
“O son of Kunti, all that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.27)
Prahlada did not use the spiritual vision as an excuse to avoid responsibility. The Vaishnava and the asura can assume identical roles, but the result of the actions is entirely different. The asura becomes further entangled, remaining far away from liberation. The Vaishnava is already liberated, jivan-mukta, and so they simultaneously maintain society while staying above in consciousness.
From spiritual equality to realize,
Vaishnava not for distinctions tries.
Like Prahlada treating as one,
Considering an enemy none.
Then Arjuna why into battlefield came?
With amazing arrows taking aim.
Idea that friend and enemy for duty’s sake,
But in spirit qualifications to forsake.