“A devotee purified by devotional service is always in the transcendental position above the mundane qualities. Thus the difference between Prahlada Maharaja and Hiranyakashipu was that Hiranyakashipu wanted to keep Prahlada in mundane attachment whereas Prahlada was above the modes of material nature.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.51 Purport)
The relationship was doomed from the outset. The father wanted one thing and the son another. The requests weren’t outlandish or beyond the normal realm of interest, but to each side what the other desired was unacceptable. The conflicting paths would meet in the end, with the definition of dharma made crystal clear in the process.
1. Stay in mundane attachment
The Sanskrit word of relevance is grihamedhi. This refers to a person who is attached to family life. Upon hearing such a description there may be immediate objections raised:
“What is wrong with family life? How do you expect the world to go on? Not everyone can become a monk. If they did, there would be no hospitals or schools. The shelves in the stores would be empty. No one to protect against invaders. Foreigners of ill intent could enter without being checked, like they do at the southern border of a particular nation. In addition, the family is the central building block of society. Your characterization makes it sound like having affection for spouse and children is a bad thing.”
In this specific instance, the desire came from a person who was a king. Hiranyakashipu wielded significant power in his post. He wanted the son Prahlada to follow in the same line. Stay attached to the body and the enjoyment accompanying a material existence.
2. Stay above the modes of material nature
Prahlada wanted to stay above attachment. There are three modes of material nature and they combine to bind a person. The Sanskrit word is guna, and one definition is “rope.” This has the same effect as the other definition of “material quality.” The sense demands are the primary form of attachment, and they keep a person in the cycle of birth and death.
How to resolve the conflict? Hiranyakashipu tried a forced method of persuasion by having the royal teachers give instruction on the ways of dharma as it is typically understood. First student life, then married with children, and then maybe way down the road renunciation. There is enjoyment at each stage. Along the way the attachments increase.
Hiranyakashipu’s mentality is not out of the ordinary. Such a person does not know anything beyond what they see. Therefore, they worry how someone will survive in a life of renunciation, especially when it is accepted at such a young age. Prahlada was only five years old; he had the future ahead of him. Why would he concentrate on Vishnu now? Let genuine spiritual life be practiced later on, when there are no responsibilities.
Hiranyakashipu did not understand that real dharma is connecting with God in a mood of service, and that connection can take place at any point in life. It has the same effectiveness in any occupation. Prahlada would one day become king, but he operated with a different mentality. Whereas the father was completely miserable despite indulging every sense demand, Prahlada was always in bliss. They both lived in the same environment, but the difference in mentality was everything. The grihastha is spiritually inclined, and the rajarshi protects the citizens without becoming further entangled in the cycle of birth and death.
Relationship doomed from the start,
When son from father’s way to depart.
King the material life insisting,
Prahlada in devotion persisting.
Later on having same post,
But differences a host.
The Vaishnava above to stay,
Attachment not hindering way.