“Prahlada Maharaja replied: Because of their uncontrolled senses, persons too addicted to materialistic life make progress toward hellish conditions and repeatedly chew that which has already been chewed. Their inclinations toward Krishna are never aroused, either by the instructions of others, by their own efforts, or by a combination of both.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.30)
मतिर् न कृष्णे परतः स्वतो वा
मिथो ’भिपद्येत गृह-व्रतानाम्
अदान्त-गोभिर् विशतां तमिस्रं
पुनः पुनश् चर्वित-चर्वणानाम्
matir na kṛṣṇe parataḥ svato vā
mitho ’bhipadyeta gṛha-vratānām
adānta-gobhir viśatāṁ tamisraṁ
punaḥ punaś carvita-carvaṇānām
Prahlada Maharaja, the saintly son of Hiranyakashipu, in a fair assessment would have to be considered the most benevolent person. What he offered to others is unmatched and neither can a price tag be placed. His association alone purified the atmosphere, bringing auspiciousness for everyone connected to him.
At the same time, it is interesting to note exactly what the child was not able to offer. These are areas commonly associated with benevolence, in how it is defined in a material existence.
1. He could not offer money
Your friend down on his luck? Run into some poor people on the underground train system, begging for financial assistance? Charity starts at the personal level, so there is always the option to donate money. Give away enough so that you feel less guilty about the situation.
Prahlada was born into royalty, but at the same time he had nothing for himself. He was not yet the king. Therefore, offering financial assistance to others was out of the question. More importantly, the people he was helping didn’t necessarily need money.
2. He could not heal the sick
Another way to be benevolent is to offer medical assistance. Go to a place that is lacking treatment facilities and hospitals. Start with basic services like general checkups and exams for hearing and vision. Bring some over-the-counter medicines to deal with common illnesses. Though it doesn’t seem like a lot, just a little help in this direction goes a long way towards making an impact.
Prahlada was not specifically qualified in this area. He was neither a medical person nor one who could hire graduates from medical school. He was healing maladies, but the issues dealt more with consciousness and the way the world was viewed.
3. He could not give food
Sometimes the beggar is willing to accept food in lieu of currency. After all, food is one of the basic necessities. If sufficient money does happen to arrive, it is often exchanged for food, clothing and shelter.
Prahlada could be a hero by going to areas of destitution and offering food. In truth, his father had caused starvation amongst people who were previously the most well-off. The demigods residing in the heavenly planetary system eat the oblations offered in yajna, which is sacrifice. Hiranyakashipu took over their position by force and was not willing to share the deposits made in the bank account of sacrifice.
Prahlada’s benevolence had a much deeper impact. Food, money, medical assistance, shelter, material education and the like provide only temporary relief. The farthest the impact can reach is the present existence. After death the slate gets wiped clean.
Prahlada teaches that such a condition is certainly shameful. Being attached to the temporary is not the natural way. Allegiance and subsequent service to Shri Hari is what the soul is meant to do. It is the very definition of dharma.
The five-year old son to the king offers the instruction that enjoying the senses in the human form is something like chewing the chewed. It is trying to extract taste from something already eaten. There is very little left to enjoy, but in illusion the individual thinks otherwise.
Just as in our normal affairs a person may not be willing to accept assistance offered to them, the people in the Daitya kingdom did not really respond to Prahlada’s teachings. Nevertheless, the instruction was not a waste of time. At least Prahlada took joy in the process. There was subsequent documentation in Vedic literature, to help countless future generations avoid the depressing life of material attachment. The child’s devotion also triggered the descent of the amazing avatara known as Vishnu, who gave proof to the principles that Prahlada was firmly convinced of.
Prahlada the saintly son,
Through whom liberation won.
The most benevolent so,
Since with knowledge to go.
But limited in other ways,
Like in gifting hospital stays.
Or to the needy financial assistance,
But much more through royal resistance.
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