“Since it was almost night, and all the inhabitants of Vrindavana, including the cows and calves, were very tired, they decided to take their rest on the river bank. In the middle of the night, while they were taking rest, there was suddenly a great forest fire, and it quickly appeared that the fire would soon devour all the inhabitants of Vrindavana. As soon as they felt the warmth of the fire, they immediately took shelter of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, although He was playing just like their child.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 17)
Despite what the perception may be of the influence of the material elements, the spirit soul is always above. It belongs to a different energy. It is the superior one emanating from the source of all energies, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan.
अहं सर्वस्य प्रभवो
मत्तः सर्वं प्रवर्तते
इति मत्वा भजन्ते मां
ahaṁ sarvasya prabhavo
mattaḥ sarvaṁ pravartate
iti matvā bhajante māṁ
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.8)
Because of illusion, I think otherwise. When the body gets destroyed, I lament. The tragic accident affecting those people I know. The sudden loss of a loved one or family member. The inevitable nature of death, how a countdown clock is lurking in the background. Who wouldn’t be saddened at realizing such a state of affairs?
The self-realized soul is not bewildered. They are dhira because they understand the distinction between body and spirit. The body is always changing. At every moment, but especially noted at the two significant events of birth and death. These are actually acceptance and dismissal.
देहिनो ऽस्मिन् यथा देहे
कौमारं यौवनं जरा
धीरस् तत्र न मुह्यति
dehino ‘smin yathā dehe
kaumāraṁ yauvanaṁ jarā
dhīras tatra na muhyati
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)
To help us understand the difference, the Supreme Lord sometimes puts on amazing displays. These events seem to defy the laws of nature, but if we actually understand the source of the energies, we wouldn’t be so amazed.
One example is the forest fire in the town of Vrindavana. This is a documented moment from Krishna’s lila. These are the pastimes of God in the transcendental visual of Shri Krishna, the all-attractive youth who enchants everyone He meets in that place full of devotees.
The fire appears suddenly. Moments prior, everyone is taking rest, after surviving a harrowing incident involving a poisonous serpent in the Yamuna River. They are not prepared and they have no time to devise an escape plan. Their only recourse is to take shelter of Krishna, who is with them.
The remedy is straightforward. Krishna devours the forest fire. Not a magic act that is based on illusion. Not a trick of the eyes based on hallucination. The actual material element of fire enters Krishna’s mouth, and there are no negative consequences.
Krishna can do this because God retains full potency in every situation. In whatever visual He displays, He has full control over His energies. He can lift a mountain with His pinky finger. He can rescue a planet submerged in an ocean and raise it to safety. He can battle a fierce whirlwind. He can change the nature of any material element.
On the occasion of Holi, we celebrate the extension of this amazing ability to the dedicated servants. The boy named Prahlada once survived a bout with intense heat. He was brought into a raging fire by an elder, who is normally supposed to be a guardian. Sadly, this time the elder was acting at the direction of the king, Hiranyakashipu.
Prahlada happened to be Hiranyakashipu’s son. It was the aunt taking Prahlada into the fire, but through meditation on Krishna there was no harm. Hiranyakashipu’s sister is the one who perished, and she left behind colored ashes. These are the colors happily thrown about on the annual occasion celebrating the incident.
This is not to say that from devotional service a person will automatically be able to transcend any element of nature, but the incident supports the truth that a person’s devotional life will always be protected. Krishna makes sure of it, so that many more Holi celebrations can take place in the future, either in this lifetime or the next.
Many more celebrations to take place,
Time never devotional efforts to erase.
Proven by forest fire to devour,
Krishna always with this power.
By devotees also earned,
Where Prahlada not burned.
But Holika the one to perish,
The timeless incident to cherish.