“The best examples of atma-nivedanam are found in Bali Maharaja and Ambarisha Maharaja. Atma-nivedanam is also sometimes found in the behavior of Rukminidevi at Dvaraka.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.23-24 Purport)
Prahlada Maharaja gave a response to the father that can simultaneously serve as a guide for devotional activities leading to the ultimate perfection of liberation from the body. The achievement is not exclusively reserved for the afterlife, i.e. after death. The soul liberated while still living is known as jivan-mukta.
The father was something like jivan-baddha; bound to material life while living in the material world. He did not follow any of the nine principal outlets of devotion to God explained by the son. Any one of the activities qualifies as devotion, but some authorities have applied a sort of ranking system, considering a particular activity to be superior to another.
The first entry in the list is sufficient: shravanam. Just hear about God. Read a book, listen to a recorded lecture, or simply attend a genuine sadhu-sanga gathering. Not a place for aspiring artists to display their talents, but a meeting to popularize, prachara, the teachings of the Supreme Lord. The words spoken will automatically include His gunas, which are transcendental glories.
The last of the nine processes mentioned is atma-nivedanam. Giving up everything, in total surrender, to the interests of the Supreme Lord. This state of being can incorporate any of the other eight processes; it is the spirit of the service which counts. Some authorities consider devotion to the transcendental body of Vishnu to be atma-nivedanam. Though genuine saints can be found in any place and any time period, with their achievements not always publicly known, Vedic literature provides several examples of great souls who were surrendered in full.
1. Bali Maharaja
This was an interesting case because there was a lot at stake. It is much easier to surrender fully to the transcendental path when there isn’t much to hold on to. This is one of the reasons for the recommendation to take sannyasa, which is formal renounced life. Abandon anything that will hold you down. You could have all of the money in the world, but if you are constantly worried about this issue and that, there is no peace of mind. In the same way, if you are distracted by this responsibility and that, even with a genuine desire to succeed it will be difficult to focus on devotion to Vishnu.
As a king Bali was something like formally attached. He was not in the renounced order, but when a mendicant of small stature arrived in his kingdom begging alms, Bali did not hesitate to part with his possessions. The royal advisors cautioned against haste, correctly identifying that the beggar was actually the Supreme Lord ready to take everything from the kingdom. Bali did not mind, for in full surrender a devotee can live with many possessions or none at all.
Vamanadeva, the incarnation of Bhagavan as a dwarf-brahmana, asked for as much land as would cover three steps. Vishnu is not limited by the size of His externally-manifest body. Therefore, the first two steps easily covered the entire cosmos. The last was reserved for Bali’s head. This gesture symbolized total surrender, which the demon-like people in the royal administration could not understand.
2. Ambarisha Maharaja
Another king totally surrendered, he once unfortunately came in the path of the wrath of Durvasa Muni. Ambarisha was blameless, but anger sometimes gets the better of people. In this case he was directly protected by Lord Vishnu, who sent His sudarshana-chakra to chase Durvasa Muni far and wide. Finally giving up, Durvasa asked for help. Vishnu recommended seeking pardon directly from Ambarisha. The king was more than ready to forgive. A surrendered-soul he held no grudges.
3. Rukmini Devi in Dvaraka
An incarnation of the goddess of fortune, she had a most interesting marriage story. There was prior arrangement made by the brother to have a union with a person named Shishupala. He was of bad character, and more importantly Rukmini already had her heart set on Krishna, who lived in Dvaraka at the time. In a secret letter she gave Him hints on how to come take her away by force just prior to the marriage with Shishupala.
Everything went according to plan, and the queen lived happily with her husband in Dvaraka. Rukmini served her husband daily and surrendered to the point that she dreaded the sunrise each morning, as that time indicated the start of a new day, wherein Krishna would be taken away from the home to tend to daily affairs in the kingdom.
A person needn’t strive for atma-nivedanam directly. The property is mentioned as a way to praise other saintly people and accurately describe their position with respect to the Supreme Lord. Hearing is sufficient. One who has heard well can then pass on the information to others. This is known as kirtanam. Devotees are known to offer prayers and remember Vishnu. Some view Him as a friend, and others take Krishna to be a dependent requiring constant attention. There is worship of the deity and also the desire to carry out orders. Infinite variety exists in bhakti-marga, which means that true liberation is actually the beginning to eternal life.
Not actually the end,
In eternal time to spend.
Like Bali Maharaja so,
And Rukmini ready to go.
Ambarisha one ever forgiving,
Devotee in blissful mood living.
Such that automatically surrendered,
In any way service rendered.