“Hiranyakashipu, the father of Prahlada Maharaja, was simply interested in gold and sense enjoyment. The word hiranya means ‘gold,’ and kashipu refers to soft cushions and bedding on which people enjoy sense gratification. The word prahlada, however, refers to one who is always joyful in understanding Brahman (brahma-bhutah prasannatma [Bg. 18.54]). Prahlada means prasannatma, always joyful.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.18 Purport)
Friend1: I will never forget the first time I learned the meaning of the name of Hiranyakashipu.
Friend2: Aside from the character itself?
Friend1: The story is amazing. Yes, I understand that it is a historical account. Do not mistake me for the cheater who ill-advisedly teaches others that the Vedas are meant to be understood only symbolically.
Friend2: They get that from mental speculation. If they were to acknowledge the factual nature of the events, they would have to surrender unto the Supreme Lord, as advised directly by Shri Krishna.
Friend1: That is the last thing they want to do.
Friend2: Speaking of last, the “it’s all symbolism” explanation is part of the last snare of material existence known as maya.
Friend1: The first trap is thinking that I am this body, that I can be everything through acquiring possessions, rising to power, dominating others, and prolonging life.
Friend2: Once I see the futility in that pursuit, I am prone to consider myself to be equal with God.
“I am God and I achieved the post through renunciation and knowledge, vairagya and jnana.”
Friend1: Not noticing the glaring flaw that no one can become God. You are either always the origin of everything, anadi, or you are not.
Friend2: In a Dohavali verse, Tulsidas refers to that character as Kanakakashipu.
राम नाम नर केसरी कनककसिपु कलिकाल |
जापक जन प्रहलाद जिमि पालिहि दलि सुरसाल ||
rāma nāma nara kesarī kanakakasipu kalikāla |
jāpaka jana prahalāda jimi pālihi dali surasāla ||
“Shri Rama’s holy name is like Narasimhadeva to the Hiranyakashipu-like Kali Yuga. For those who chant the holy name, the Lord offers them all protections and crushes their tormentors, just as He did for Prahlada Maharaja.“ (Dohavali, 26)
The name has the same meaning, though. Kanaka and hiranya are identical.
Friend1: The combination of gold and soft cushion. There is wonderful symbolism to that given name. Hiranyakashipu embodies the materialistic attitude; defiant of a higher authority and feverishly after world domination for the purpose of enjoyment.
Friend2: There is also the juxtaposition to the son, Prahlada. His name means something entirely different. “Always joyful.” There is a reason, too. It is not like there is bliss due to ignorance. Prahlada is in a joyful position because he understands Brahman.
Friend1: The spiritual equality of all beings. The thread that runs through the creation. The many pearls strung on a thread, as Krishna explains.
Friend2: The first person is always agitated. Gold and soft cushions are not enough. The other side has nothing to his name except heredity. He is always at peace, despite enduring attacks from the crown.
Friend1: Many lessons to take away, with one of them relating to the dangers of gold.
Friend2: Yes, the concept is illustrated in so many places. There is the Syamantaka Jewel story in the Shrimad Bhagavatam. A king was living in the very presence of Bhagavan, in the city surrounded by walls, Dvaraka. He had the benediction of receiving almost endless amounts of gold and because of that he forgot about Krishna.
Friend1: That jewel became something like a hot potato. Every person who touched it seemed to get into trouble.
Friend2: Then there is the story of Maharaja Parikshit telling Kali Yuga personified to live in a place where there is gold. The idea is that sinful life could not survive anywhere under the king’s reign, so he had to find places moving forward.
पुनश् च याचमानाय
जात-रूपम् अदात् प्रभुः
ततो ऽनृतं मदं कामं
रजो वैरं च पञ्चमम्
punaś ca yācamānāya
jāta-rūpam adāt prabhuḥ
tato ‘nṛtaṁ madaṁ kāmaṁ
rajo vairaṁ ca pañcamam
“The personality of Kali asked for something more, and because of his begging, the King gave him permission to live where there is gold because wherever there is gold there is also falsity, intoxication, lust, envy and enmity.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.17.39)
Friend1: It makes sense to me. You have too much money and all sorts of problems arise. Here is my question. If a person dedicated to the spiritual path should come across either, is it a problem for them?
Friend2: Gold and soft cushions?
Friend1: Yes. Suppose they are successful in business. Their net worth increases as a result. Maybe they have one of those expensive mattresses in the home. Are they automatically doomed?
Friend2: Well, what do you think?
Friend1: I mean it is Kali-yuga, after all. This is the age of quarrel and hypocrisy. I can’t see any friends being happy for the person who earns so much. The cushions will encourage sleep, which is in the mode of ignorance.
Friend2: That is true.
Friend1: So the wealth should be given away in charity? Sleep on the floor instead?
Friend2: Not necessarily. The idea is that gold and soft cushions should not be taken as the ultimate aim of life. Prahlada eventually succeeded Hiranyakashipu on the throne. He did not renounce the comforts accompanying regal life simply because it would be considered material. The idea is to assess how a particular situation impacts the consciousness. Can I use gold for a higher purpose? Can I use it to please the Supreme Lord? If the soft cushion enables me to get sufficient rest for chanting the holy names and travelling to different places to spread the word of the Divine, then the object should be considered spiritual. It is true that a devotee is usually satisfied in any situation. They can sleep on the grass underneath a tree if they have to.
Not required a house to keep,
Underneath a tree can sleep.
Not necessary for gold,
Aware of dangers to hold.
But devotee not outright rejecting,
Effect on consciousness detecting.
Like Prahlada taking over the throne,
Renunciation in opulence shown.