The Vedic literatures give us knowledge that
can clear our minds and steady our course toward life’s ultimate goal.
by His Divine Grace Ac. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
During a strife-filled era in ancient India Queen Kunti and her sons had to undergo many hardships. Their enemies drove them out of their kingdom, tried to poison them and trapped them in a burning house Yet Lord Krsna always saved them, and Queen Kunti’s devotion to Him grew stronger and stronger.
vipadah santu tah sasvat
tatra tatra jagad-guro
bhavato darsanam yat syad
Queen Kunti said: “I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.” [Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.25]
This material world is certified by the Lord in the Bhagavad-gita as a dangerous place full of calamities. Less intelligent persons prepare plans to adjust to those calamities not knowing that the nature of this place is to be full of calamities. They have no information of the abode of the Lord, which is full of bliss and without trace of calamity.
The duty of the sane person, therefore, is to be undisturbed by worldly calamities, which are sure to happen in all circumstances. Suffering all sorts of unavoidable misfortunes, one should make progress in spiritual realization, because that is the mission of human life.
Sea of Danger
The spirit soul is transcendental to all material calamities; therefore, the so-called calamities are called false. A man may see a tiger swallowing him in a dream, and he may cry for this calamity.
Actually there is no tiger and there is no suffering; it is simply a case of dreams. In the same way, all calamities of life are said to be dreams. If someone is lucky enough to get in contact with the Lord by devotional service, it is all gain. Contact with the Lord by any one of the nine devotional services is always a forward step on the path going back to Godhead.
In this very interesting verse, it is described that vipadah—calamities or dangers-are very good if such dangers and calamities remind us of Krsna. There must be dangers, because this material world is full of dangers. But foolish people who do not know this try to avoid the dangers. Thus they struggle for existence. Everyone is trying to become happy and avoid danger. This is our material business. Everyone is trying for atyantika-sukha, ultimate happiness. A working man thinks, “Let me work very hard now and put money in the bank, so that when I get old I shall enjoy life without working.” This is the inner intention of everyone. No one wants to work; as soon as one gets some money, he wants to retire from work and become happy. But that is not possible. One cannot become happy in that way.
Here Kuntidevi speaks of apunar bhava-darsanam. The prefix a means “not,” and punar bhava means “repetition of birth and death.” The real danger is the repetition of birth and death. That must be stopped.
The material world is full of dangers (padam padam yad vipadam). For example, if one is on the ocean one may have a very strong ship, but that ship can never be safe; because one is at sea, at any time there may be dangers. The Titanic was safe, but on its first voyage it sank, and many important men lost their lives. So danger there must be, because we are in a dangerous position. This material world itself is dangerous.
Therefore, our business now should be to cross over this sea of danger as soon as possible. As long as we are at sea, we are in a dangerous position, however strong our ship may be. That’s a fact. But we should not be disturbed by the sea waves; instead, we should just try to cross over the sea and get to the other side. That should be our business.
As long as we are in this material world there must be calamities, because this is the place of calamity. But even with calamities our business should be to develop our Krsna consciousness, so that after giving up this body we may go back home, back to Krsna.
A Pleasant Prescription
On the Battlefield of Kuruksetra, Arjuna said to Krsna, “Whatever You are saying is all right. I am not this body. I am a soul, and this is also true of everyone else. So when the body is annihilated, the soul will continue to exist. But when I see that my son is dying or my grandfather is dying and that I am killing, how can I be solaced simply by knowing that they are not dying, but that only their bodies are changing? I am accustomed to thinking of them with affection in terms of the body, and so there must be grief and suffering.”
Krsna did not deny what Arjuna said. “Yes,” He replied. “That’s a fact. Because you are in the bodily concept of life, there must be suffering. So you must tolerate it, that’s all. There is no other remedy.” As mentioned in Bhagavad-gita[2.14], Lord Krsna told Arjuna:
matra-sparsas tu kaunteya
tams titiksasva bharata
“O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of heat and cold, happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.”
In America it may sometimes be very chilly in the morning, and that may make taking one’s morning bath a little difficult. But does that mean that those who are devotees will stop taking their prescribed morning bath? No. Even if it is chilly, they must take this regular bath. The duty must be done, even if there is a little suffering involved. That is called tapasya, or austerity. Tapasya means that we must proceed with our business of Krsna consciousness despite all the dangers and calamities of this world. This is called tapasya, or voluntary acceptance of the difficulties of life.
Sometimes those who have undertaken strict vows of tapasya will ignite a ring of fire all around themselves, and in the scorching heat of the sun in the hot summer they will sit down in the midst of that fire and meditate. Similarly, in the chilly cold of winter they will immerse themselves in water up to the neck and meditate. Such vows are prescribed in strict systems of tapasya.
But Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu does not give us such a prescription. Instead, He gives us a very nice program: chant, dance, and take prasada, food offered to Lord Krsna. But still we are unwilling. We are so fallen that we cannot accept even this tapasya. Although this kind of tapasya is very easy to perform and very pleasant (susukham kartum avyayam), still we are not agreeable. We may even prefer to rot in the street. Some people prefer to drink and have sex and live in the street. So what can be done?
The Farthest and the Nearest
The Krsna consciousness movement is giving all facilities so that people may come here, chant, dance, live very peacefully, take krsna-prasada, and be happy—but people will not accept it. That is called misfortune. Caitanya Mahaprabhu, portraying the people of this age, therefore said, “I am so unfortunate that I have no attachment for chanting Hare Krsna.” He also prayed:
Krsna, the transcendental holy name of God, has all potencies, Lord Caitanya said. Krsna has unlimited potencies, and similarly in the holy name of Krsna there are unlimited potencies. Krsna has thousands and thousands of names, of which the name Krsna is the chief, and there are no hard and fast rules for chanting. It is not that one must chant at a certain time. No. At any time one may chant. Furthermore, Krsna’s name is identical with Krsna Himself. Therefore the holy name of Krsna is Krsna.
We should not think that Krsna is living in His abode, Goloka Vrndavana, and that His name is different from Him. Of course, in the material world, in the material conception, a name is different from the fact it represents. But in the absolute world there are no such differences. The name is as potent as Krsna is. We have a tongue, and if we use this tongue to chant Hare Krsna, we will immediately come directly in touch with Krsna, because the name Krsna and the person Krsna are not different. We may think that Krsna is far, far away, but in fact Krsna is within us. He is far away, but at the same time He is the nearest. But even if we think that Krsna is far, far away, His name is present. We can chant Hare Krsna, and Krsna will immediately become available. Krsna is available in this easy way, for which there are no hard and fast rules. We can chant at any time and immediately get Krsna. Just see the mercy of Krsna!
Therefore Caitanya Mahaprabhu says, etadrsi tava krpa bhagavan mamapi durdaivam idrsam ihajani nanuragah: “My dear Lord, You have given me such generous facilities by which to contact You, but I am so unfortunate that I have no attachment for these things. I have attachment for so many other things, but I have no attachment for chanting Hare Krsna. This is my misfortune.” Krsna is so magnanimous that He is present before us by the transcendental vibration of His name, which has all the potencies of Krsna Himself, and if we remain in contact with that name, we will get all the benefits of Krsna’s benedictions. But still we are not inclined to chant the Hare Krsna mantra. This is our misfortune.
A devotee, however, is never disturbed by dangers, reverses, or calamities. Rather, he welcomes them. Because he is a surrendered soul, he knows that both dangers and festivals are but different demonstrations of Krsna, who is absolute. In the sastra, the Vedic literature, it is said that religion and irreligion, which are complete opposites, are merely the front portion and the bad portion of God. But is there any difference between God’s front and God back? God is absolute, and therefore devotee, either in opulence or in danger is undisturbed, knowing that both of these are Krsna.
When a devotee is in danger, he thinks, “Now Krsna has appeared before me as danger.” In His form a Nrsimhadeva, the Lord was dangerous. to the demon Hiranyakasipu, but the same Nrsimhadeva was the supreme friend to the devoted Prahlada Maharaja. God is never dangerous to the devotee, and the devotee is never afraid of dangers, because he is confident that the danger is but another feature of God “Why should I be afraid?” the devotee thinks. “I am surrendered to Him.”
So Kuntidevi says, vipadah santu: “Let there be calamities.” Vipadah santu tah sasvat “Let all those calamities happen again and again.” Because she know’ how to remember Krsna at times of danger, she is welcoming danger. “My dear Lord,” she says, “I welcome dangers, because when dangers come I can remember You.” When Prahlada Maharaja’s father was putting him into dangerous predicaments, Prahlada was always thinking of Krsna.
So if we are put into a dangerous position and that danger gives us an impetus. to remember Krsna, that is welcome: “Oh, I am getting this opportunity to remember Krsna.” Why is this welcome? It is welcome because seeing Krsna or remembering Krsna means advancing in spiritual life, so that we will not have to suffer any more of the dangers. Tyaktva deham punar janma naiti mam eti so ‘rjuna. If onebecome advanced in Krsna consciousness, the result will be that after giving up the body (tyaktva deham) one will not have to take birth again in this material world (punar janma naiti). This is to be desired.
Suppose I am very comfortable at the present moment. My body may be comfortable, but there will be death, and then another birth. After giving up my present body, if I get the body of a cat or a dog, what is the meaning of my comfortable position? Death is sure, and after death one must surely accept another body. We may not know what kind of body we will get, but we can know from the sastra, the Vedic literature. The sastra says that according to our particular mentality, we will get a particular kind of body. Although I may le in a comfortable position, if I keep myself in the mentality of a dog, I shall get my next life as a dog.
Philosophy of Hedonism
Therefore, what is the value of this comfortable position? I may be in a comfortable position for twenty years, thirty years, fifty years, or at the utmost one hundred years. Yet if, when I give up this body, my mentality causes me to become a cat, a dog, or a mouse, what is the benefit of this comfortable position? But people do not consider this. They think, especially in the present age, “I am now in a comfortable position. I have enough money and a good estate. I have ample comforts and enough food. When this body is finished, I am not going to take birth again, so as long as I am living, let me enjoy life.” This is the modern philosophy of hedonism, but it does not correspond to the facts.
Kunti, however, is aware of birth and death, and she is anxious not to repeat this process. This is indicated by the words apunar bhava-darsanam. If one always sees Krsna, one is in Krsna consciousness, for Krsna consciousness means always thinking of Krsna. One’s consciousness should be absorbed in Krsna thought.
Therefore, the spiritual master gives different varieties of engagements to devotees in Krsna consciousness. For example, under the direction of the spiritual master the devotees may sell books in Krsna consciousness. But if the devotees think that the energy invested in selling books should be diverted into selling jewelry, that is not a very good idea. Then they would become nothing more than jewelers. We should be very careful not to be diverted from Krsna consciousness.
A Cut on the Finger
Even if there is danger or suffering in Krsna consciousness, we should tolerate it. We should even welcome such danger, and we should pray in appreciation to Krsna.
How should we pray? Tat te ‘nukampam susamiksamanah: “My dear Lord, it is Your great mercy that I have been put into this dangerous position.” That is the viewpoint of a devotee. He doesn’t regard danger as danger. Rather, he thinks, “It is Krsna’s mercy.” What kind of mercy? Bhunjana evatma-krtam vipakam: “Because of my past activities, I was meant to suffer very much. But You are mitigating that suffering and giving me only a little.” In other words, by the grace of Krsna a devotee may receive only token punishment.
In court, an important man is sometimes found to be a culprit, and the judge may be able to fine him a hundred thousand dollars and know that the man can pay it. But he may tell the man, “You just give one cent.” That is also punishment, but it is greatly minimized. Similarly, we have to suffer for our past deeds. That is a fact, and we cannot avoid it. But karmani nirdahati kintu ca bhakti-bhajam: the sufferings of those who engage in devotional service in Krsna consciousness are minimized.
For example, one may have been destined to be killed with a knife, but instead of being killed, he may instead get some little cut on his finger. In this way, for those who engage in devotional service, the reactions of past activities are minimized. Lord Krsna assures His devotees, aham tvam sarva-papebhyo moksayisyami: “I shall give you protection from the reactions of sinful life.” So even if a devotee has a history of very grievous criminal activities behind him, instead of being killed he may only get a little cut on his finger. Why, then, should a devotee fear danger?
We should simply depend on Krsna consciousness, because if we live Krsna consciously under all circumstances, we shall not return to this material world (apunar bhava-darsanam). If we repeatedly think of Krsna, see Krsna, read of Krsna, work for Krsna, and somehow or other remain in Krsna consciousness, we benefit in such a way that we shall be saved from taking birth again in the material world. That is true benefit.
But if we become a little comfortable because of other, materialistic engagements and we forget Krsna and have to take birth again, then what is our benefit? We should be very careful about this. We should act in such a way that our Krsna consciousness can under no circumstances be disturbed, even if there is heavy suffering. That is the instruction of Kuntidevi.
Before winning the Battle of Kuruksetra, the Pandavas were put into many dangers, as described in the previous verses. They were given poison, they were put into a house of lac that was later set afire, and they were even confronted with great man-eating demons. They lost their kingdom, they lost their wife, they lost their prestige, and they were exiled to the forest.
We Must Have Firm Faith
Therefore, when the Pandavas went to see their grandfather Bhismadeva on his deathbed, Bhismadeva began to cry. “These boys, my grandsons, are all very pious,” he said. “Maharaja Yudhisthira, the oldest of the brothers, is the most pious person. He is even called Dharmaraja, the king of religion. Bhima and Arjuna are both devotees, and they are such powerful heroes that they can kill thousands of men. Their wife, Draupadi, is directly the goddess of fortune, and it has been enjoined that wherever she is, there will be no scarcity of food. Thus they all form a wonderful combination, and moreover, Lord Krsna is always with them. But still they are suffering.” Thus he began to cry, saying, “I do not know what Krsna’s arrangement is, because such pious devotees are also suffering.”
Therefore, we shouldn’t think, “Because I have become a devotee, there will be no danger or suffering.” Prahlada Maharaja suffered greatly, and so did other devotees, like the Pandavas and Haridasa Thakura. But we should not be disturbed by such sufferings. We must have firm faith, firm conviction, and we must know, “Krsna is present, and He will give me protection.” Don’t try to take the benefit of any shelter other than Krsna. Always take to Krsna.