“In this way, by Lord Narayana’s sweet words and by the expansion of His superior illusion, the demon became bewildered, and he actually forgot the power of Lord Shiva and his benediction. He was thus very easily persuaded to put his hand on his own head. As soon as the demon did that, his head cracked, as if struck by thunder, and he immediately died.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 33)
“We hear that brahmanas are very dear to Vishnu. There is that famous prayer which includes the Sanskrit words, namo brahmanya devaya. He is the deva of the brahmana community. A brahmana is someone who has realized the concept of Brahman, which is the final conclusion of all spiritual concepts.
“The brahmana designation is based on guna and karma. Qualities and actions. You could also say, character and deeds. One of those characteristics is honesty. This only makes sense. The entirety of the human experience has honesty at the foundation.
“We trust that the rules of grammar and mathematics taught to us in school are valid. We believe the weatherperson on television giving the five-day forecast. We believe the airline when they announce the destination for the flight upon which we have just boarded.
“Honesty aligns with dharma and dishonesty with adharma. If one person cheats another, they are breaking the social contract. This is because even the cheater expects honesty from others. If they are in the game together, in something like a mafia or gang, there is supposed to be honesty between the members. The modern vernacular of ‘ride-or-die’ applies.
“With that premise, how could Vishnu behave dishonestly when dealing with the character called Vrikasura? This incident is described in Bhagavata Purana. Vishnu took the form of a brahmana. This is already a kind of dishonesty, because it is a false form.
“Then, Vishnu as the brahmana pretended that Lord Shiva has no potency, that he must not be telling the truth when giving boons. I get it that we are in the middle of a difficult situation here, but you can’t ignore the dishonesty. Is not Vishnu setting a bad example?”
Within the Vaishnava tradition, we have the picture of the Almighty as a person. Man is made in His image. We are like Him in quality, but there is a difference to the quantitative limits of those qualities.
Rather than get into a more detailed analysis, we can accept the basic understanding that we are like God and God is like us. This means that for everything we experience, He is able to do the same. For every tendency we see, Vishnu is the root cause.
We tend to think of God as great. He is the strongest. He is the wealthiest. He is the most beautiful. He is honesty personified. He is the Absolute Truth, is He not?
But our experience within this world has duality. With the tendency towards honesty, there is the potential for the opposite. There are dishonest people, as well. There are cheaters. There are liars. There are deceivers.
We may have never thought of Him in this way, but God is the greatest deceiver. No one can be better than Him. He explains this concept in Bhagavad-gita, through the comparison to gambling.
द्यूतं छलयताम् अस्मि
तेजस् तेजस्विनाम् अहम्
जयो ऽस्मि व्यवसायो ऽस्मि
सत्त्वं सत्त्ववताम् अहम्
dyūtaṁ chalayatām asmi
tejas tejasvinām aham
jayo ‘smi vyavasāyo ‘smi
sattvaṁ sattvavatām aham
“I am also the gambling of cheats, and of the splendid I am the splendor. I am victory, I am adventure, and I am the strength of the strong.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.36)
In addition, from the incident with Vrikasura we see just how miserly the demon class is. Lord Shiva was kind enough to provide a benediction. After intense austerity, Vrikasura received a direct meeting with Mahadeva.
The demon wanted the ability to kill someone by touching their head. Lord Shiva agreed. He passed that ability on to Vrikasura. A decent, kind-hearted, and grateful person would have eternal appreciation, as a result. They would remember Lord Shiva fondly. They might even spend some time in contemplation, in wondering how an individual could be that nice.
Was that the case with Vrikasura? Nope. He immediately began chasing the benefactor. He wanted to kill Mahadeva and then take Parvati Devi for his wife. There is that famous saying, no good deed goes unpunished.
“There are many kinds of cheaters all over the universe. Of all cheating processes, gambling stands supreme and therefore represents Krishna. As the Supreme, Krishna can be more deceitful than any mere man. If Krishna chooses to deceive a person, no one can surpass Him in His deceit. His greatness is not simply one-sided—it is all-sided.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 10.36 Purport)
Vishnu provided the appropriate punishment. He outsmarted the demon, who thought he had outsmarted Lord Shiva. As His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains, no one can surpass the Supreme Lord in deceit.
None surpassing in deceit,
When as brahmana to meet.
With Vrikasura who chasing,
Mahadeva on boon basing.
Never consider God limited so,
Greatness from all sides to know.
Tricking that demon in clever way,
Vishnu’s cheating on display.