“When Prahlada Maharaja was asked by his father to say something from whatever he had learned, he considered that what he had learned from his spiritual master was the best of all teachings whereas what he had learned about diplomacy from his material teachers, Shanda and Amarka, was useless.” (Shrila Prabhupada, 7.5.23-24 Purport)
Friend1: In reading the story of Prahlada Maharaja, I found a clever play on words.
Friend2: Yeah? Where?
Friend1: When Hiranyakashipu, the father, took Prahlada on his lap. This was after the teachers assigned to deprogram the boy had finished the first stage of instruction.
Friend2: The father was affectionate at the time. Tears streamed from his eyes and he smelled the child’s head.
Friend1: The father asked what was taught by the teachers. The play on words is with the meaning of “guru.”
Friend2: That Sanskrit word can refer to a teacher, a spiritual guide, or even the parents. The reference is to a person who carries weight or authority.
Friend1: Prahlada replied with information gathered from the spiritual guide, Narada Muni. This was the name the child did not give up to the investigators. He was not about to rat someone out in the hopes of accepting leniency. In truth, Narada’s words would help anyone. They weren’t a threat, as the people in the kingdom incorrectly considered.
Friend2: Hiranyakashipu did not like this, for sure.
Friend1: Here’s the thing. Was the instruction from the other teachers, the official gurus, useless?
Friend2: In Prahlada’s estimation? Yes.
Friend1: Okay, I get that bhakti-yoga, the science of self-realization, Vedanta – those things are paramount in importance. We don’t get only one life, but in this particular lifetime there is only one moment of final exit, quitting the body.
Friend1: The goal should be to get the most accomplished prior to that time such that the fruits of the effort can carry forward.
Friend2: Like the air carrying aromas:
शरीरं यद् अवाप्नोति
यच् चाप्य् उत्क्रामतीश्वरः
वायुर् गन्धान् इवाशयात्
śarīraṁ yad avāpnoti
yac cāpy utkrāmatīśvaraḥ
vāyur gandhān ivāśayāt
“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.8)
Friend1: Consciousness. If you are self-realized, then the consciousness is focused on atma and Paramatma. The individual spirit and the Supreme Spirit. Otherwise, you have found a way to pass time only.
Friend2: That is why Prahlada did not consider the knowledge about ruling the kingdom to be worthwhile.
Friend1: Okay, that’s fine, but the knowledge is not worthless. That is like saying teaching the alphabet to children is without value. The instruction manual to operate the television can help so many people. Without general instruction on so many subjects, no one would know how to do anything.
Friend2: There is no denying that, but to someone who wants to get more out of life, who is seeking a higher reward, that information is not relevant. Take a situation where you are travelling on a boat.
Friend2: It is a long voyage, spanning many weeks. One day you happen to find a book in one of the closets in the living quarters.
Friend1: What is the book about?
Friend2: Computer programming. The best practices for developing a data warehouse.
Friend1: Star-schema, snowflake schema, surrogate keys and the like?
Friend2: There you go. Anyway, that book is important to someone working in the field. A database developer looking to get into adding business intelligence enhancements to their company would learn a lot. The thing is, you are on this boat. You don’t even have a computer. The information is completely useless. There are other goals to be concerned with.
Friend1: Okay, but you can’t just give up everything and take to bhakti life exclusively. There still has to be a king imposing law and order.
Friend2: Prahlada spoke what he considered to be the most important knowledge. That knowledge propels a person forward into the best kind of afterlife. The other stuff will sort it itself out. The devotee appreciates the effort people make in teaching concepts and principles rooted in duality, with varying levels of applicability and relevance, but devotion to the Supreme Lord is always the topmost concern. That rule will never change.
Principles for kingdom to rule,
Like called for aggression or keep your cool.
Of material advancement learning,
That not left for necessities yearning.
But to Vaishnava something different so,
More important atma-tattva to know.
Prahlada thus with honest telling,
Despite punishment foretelling.