Bali Maharaja has become the most famous among the demons and nonbelievers, for in spite of being bereft of all material opulences, he is fixed in his devotional service.” (SB 8.22.28)
Purport: In this verse, the words sidann api na muhyati are very important. A devotee is sometimes put into adversity while executing devotional service. In adversity, everyone laments and becomes aggrieved, but by the grace of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, a devotee, even in the worst condition, can understand that he is going through a severe examination by the Personality of Godhead. Bali Maharaja passed all such examinations, as explained in the following verses.
“Although bereft of his riches, fallen from his original position, defeated and arrested by his enemies, rebuked and deserted by his relatives and friends, although suffering the pain of being bound and although rebuked and cursed by his spiritual master, Bali Maharaja, being fixed in his vow, did not give up his truthfulness. It was certainly with pretention that I spoke about religious principles, but he did not give up religious principles, for he is true to his word.” (SB 8.22.29–30)
Purport: Bali Maharaja passed the severe test put before him by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is further proof of the Lord’s mercy toward His devotee. The Supreme Personality of Godhead sometimes puts a devotee to severe tests that are almost unbearable. One could hardly even live under the conditions forced upon Bali Maharaja. That Bali Maharaja endured all these severe tests and austerities is the mercy of the Supreme Lord. The Lord certainly appreciates the devotee’s forbearance, and it is recorded for the future glorification of the devotee. This was not an ordinary test. As described in this verse, hardly anyone could survive such a test, but for the future glorification of Bali Maharaja, one of the mahajanas, the Supreme Personality of Godhead not only tested him but also gave him the strength to tolerate such adversity. The Lord is so kind to His devotee that when severely testing him the Lord gives him the necessary strength to be tolerant and continue to remain a glorious devotee.
The present verses are spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Originally the Lord appeared as Vamanadeva before Bali Maharaja and asked three steps of land in charity. Bali Maharaja agreed. Vamanadeva expanded himself in size and with one step covered the planet Earth and all of space. With his second step He covered the rest of the universe. Then He arrested Bali Maharaja and said, “You have promised three steps, but you have given only two. You have broken your promise. Now I will arrest you and punish you.” Bali Maharaja accepted the Lord’s action. He did not protest. And ultimately he told the Lord, “Yes, with two steps You have covered the entire universe. Now kindly keep Your third step on my head. Thus I will fulfill my promise to You.” And so Bali Maharaja surrendered his life to Lord Krishna.
Vamanadeva was satisfied with Bali’s surrender, and after various devotees intervened on Bali’s behalf, the Lord had Bali Maharaja released from the ropes of Varuna and told him, “I am going to give you your own planet, Sutala-loka, and I will personally accompany you there and serve as your doorman.” Actually, the Lord never lives anywhere in the material world; He lives only in the spiritual world, Vaikuntha. By accompanying Bali Maharaja to Sutala-loka, the Lord was actually converting the place into Vaikuntha-loka, which is far more opulent, more beautiful, and more desirable than any planet of the material world or all the material worlds combined.
So, by surrendering to Vamanadeva, Bali Maharaja was not the loser; he was the gainer. One who surrenders unto the Lord never loses.
There is a story in the Krsna book about a fruit vendor who came to the house of Nanda Maharaja. As no one was tending to the vendor, baby Krishna thought He would take some grains of rice and exchange them for some fruit. (Previously the system of exchange was barter, not money.) But because baby Krishna’s hands were small and He was not used to holding things, what few grains of rice He kept in them had fallen out by the time he reached the vendor. But the vendor was so enchanted by Krishna’s beauty that she gave Him whatever fruits He could hold. And then, when she turned around, she saw in place of all the fruits she had given to Krishna, her basket was filled with the most valuable gold and jewels and gems. So, the purport is that one who gives to Krishna is not the loser, but the gainer by millions of times.
Srila Prabhupada made the same point about himself. When he was in India, he had five children. But when he surrendered to Krishna—left India and went to America to preach—Krishna gave him five hundred children. With his family in India, there were always so many problems, but in America, in Krishna’s service, there were five hundred children but no problems. As Srila Prabhupada said, “I love them and they love me. And there are no problems.”
Sometimes, because of material attachment, devotees are afraid to surrender something to Krishna, and Krishna, to show special favor to the devotee, will take away the thing to which the devotee is attached. So the devotee ultimately comes to the point of full surrender to the Lord. And here Bali Maharaja is an example. He had conquered the entire universe and was occupying the throne of Indra, the king of heaven. He certainly was not in the mood to give up what he had worked so hard to get, but Lord Vishnu, in the form of Vamanadeva, cheated him. He cheated Bali Maharaja in the sense that when He asked for the three steps, He was very small. Thus Bali Maharaja was surprised: “I could give You a whole planet. Why are You asking only three steps?” But Vamanadeva replied that if He could not be satisfied with three steps, He would not be satisfied with a whole planet, with the three worlds. (Srila Prabhupada said the same thing, especially for brahmacharis—that a brahmachari is satisfied just with three steps of land: a place to lie down at night, a little prasada, and some service.) On the other hand, if someone is greedy and wants more and more, he can never be satisfied, however much he gets. So Vamanadeva’s instruction is very appropriate.
Then, after Bali Maharaja agreed to give the three steps, Vamanadeva expanded Himself and became so huge that with just two steps he encompassed the whole universe. Thus He took everything from Bali Maharaja.
Bali Maharaja’s spiritual master had advised him, “Don’t agree. The little boy is actually Vishnu and He has come to cheat you. He will take everything from you. Don’t do it.” But Bali Maharaja remained true to his word, fixed in his religious principles.
Here Vamanadeva says that when He was giving speeches about religious principles, as if He were instructing Bali Maharaja to be charitable and truthful, He was speaking duplicitously. He knew that Bali Maharaja was completely truthful, but He was pretending that Bali was a criminal, an offender who broke his promise, and therefore He was lecturing to him about the value of religious principles. But now Lord Vishnu discloses His heart: He knew that Bali Maharaja was fully surrendered and completely truthful. He was speaking for some other purpose, not for Bali Maharaja.
So, the Lord is very merciful. We are weak. Every living entity, by nature, by constitution, is weak and does not have the strength to pass the tests that the Lord may place before us. We can pass the test only by the Lord’s mercy. And the Lord gave so much mercy to Bali Maharaja that Bali Maharaja was able to pass the most severe test described in the verse.
We too may face various tests. The Lord may take something from us, but we are not alone in our test. The Lord is there to give us sufficient strength and intelligence. But He wants to see our surrender, and when we surrender, the Lord reciprocates and gives us strength. He gives us sufficient strength to bear all trials and tribulations. So the test is for our benefit, to encourage us to surrender.
And the Lord will never give us a test we are not able to pass. He gives us a test He knows we can pass—provided that we surrender. And when we surrender, He gives us the necessary strength and intelligence.
Once we’ve passed the test, the Lord accepts us as His very own, just as Lord Vishnu accepted Bali Maharaja. He actually gave Himself to Bali Maharaja. When Bali Maharaja gave himself and everything he possessed to the Lord, the Lord reciprocated and gave Himself, along with all sorts of material opulence, to Bali Maharaja. And He undertook to reinstate Bali Maharaja as the king of heaven in the future. So although the Lord’s dealings may appear difficult or hard, actually He is merciful and He Himself helps us pass the test He places before us to help us surrender.
As Srila Prabhupada mentions, ordinary persons lament and become aggrieved when they lose something. And as conditioned souls, we all have the tendency to lament and grieve over losses. But Bali Maharaja set the example for all time of how to accept the test of the Lord, how to accept being bereft of position and opulence and all the other things he lost. He set the example for us so we can learn to tolerate externally and internally remain cheerful, fixed in our service to Lord Krishna.
Srimad-Bhagavatam tells us that when Bali Maharaja was arrested and humiliated, he was smiling, cheerful, because he was fixed in his devotional service. Devotees, in the course of serving, preaching, may face many difficulties, and even though externally they may appear to be suffering, internally they are feeling pleasure. Why are they feeling pleasure? Because they know that the Lord is pleased. Their struggle and effort and surrender please the Lord.
The Bhagavatam gives the example that sometimes a man may go far from home to search for wealth for his family and while traveling encounter many difficulties. Sometimes he will travel through the jungle, sometimes through the mountains, but he does not mind. In the end, he knows he will return to his family with some treasure, and thinking of the happiness he will bring to his family, he feels happy. This is priti, affection. One takes pleasure in the happiness of the beloved. And even though one may undergo great difficulties in making the beloved happy, just the knowledge that the beloved is happy or will be happy is enough to make one feel happy oneself.
Srila Jiva Gosvami gives the example that even an ordinary person may undergo great personal difficulties for the sake of his family. He may be in the bodily concept of life, but for the sake of his family he will accept many austerities. For example, a man may leave his wife and children in the village and go to the city to earn for the family. In the big city he has nothing—no money, no place to stay, no food. He will search for some menial job and from whatever little pay he gets, he will take just enough to get some dry bread and chickpeas, some simple food. The rest of his earnings—95 percent—he will send home to his family. He will eat only dry chapatis, but he’s thinking, “Oh, my little boy is drinking milk and growing strong and healthy.” And just thinking of how nicely his son will be growing, he feels happy, although externally he is undergoing austere conditions.
Devotees have the same type of relationship with the Lord. They are ready to undergo any austerity for the sake of giving pleasure to the Lord. And the knowledge that the Lord is pleased is sufficient. They are happy just to know that He is pleased. Just as the traveler takes solace in knowing that he will soon be back with his family, the devotee knows that at the end of this life, after taking so much trouble to serve the mission of the Lord, he will be back with the Lord in the spiritual world. Thus he considers the troubles he endured on the way to be insignificant.
So devotees have no fear because whatever situation they are in, they know they can serve and please the Lord. And they know the situation is temporary. They know that in the end, simply by remaining fixed in devotional service and passing all tests, they will go back home, back to Godhead, and associate with Lord Krishna directly. So the Lord is very kind and merciful. Although He may appear hard and cruel because He is putting the devotee into some difficulty, actually He is kind and merciful. He will help the devotee pass the test. And when the devotee does, when he remains fixed in devotional service despite all difficulties, the Lord will call the devotee, “All right, now you have done enough. Come back home, back to Godhead.”
Srila Prabhupada is the perfect example. He sacrificed everything for the service of the Lord. Sometimes he faced strong opposition, but he fought to the end. He fought and always remained fixed in his service to Krishna and therefore, although externally he underwent great difficulties, he was always relishing loving exchanges with the Lord and his spiritual master.
We should accept whatever situation the Lord ordains for us, tolerate, and continue to serve the Lord with heart and soul. After all, we are in the material world, so what can we do? Tolerate, and go on with our service. The Lord will be pleased with us, and very soon He will take away our miseries and welcome us into His personal association.
As Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.3.22) states,
tatra bhagavatan dharman
tusyed atmatma-do harih
“Accepting the bona fide spiritual master as one’s life and soul and worshipable deity, the disciple should learn from him the process of pure devotional service. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Hari, the soul of all souls, is inclined to give Himself to His pure devotees. Therefore, the disciple should learn from the spiritual master to serve the Lord without duplicity and in such a faithful and favorable way that the Supreme Lord, being satisfied, will offer Himself to the faithful disciple.”
Purport: “According to Srila Sridhara Svami the Lord’s tendency to give Himself to His pure devotee is demonstrated in the case of Bali Maharaja, who sacrificed his universal kingdom for the pleasure of Lord Vamanadeva. Lord Vamana was so pleased by the selfless surrender of Bali Maharaja that the Lord became the doorman in the palace of Bali, who was reinstalled as a great leader in the universe. . . .
“Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura has further pointed out that when the Lord bestows His own self upon a pure devotee such a fortunate devotee can actually see the Lord, touch Him, and directly engage in His service.
“According to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, one should never consider one’s spiritual master to be mundane or on an equal level with one’s self. One should see the spiritual master as being always under the shelter of the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord. One should never try to engage the spiritual master in one’s personal service with the mentality of lording it over the spiritual master and attaining through him some material gain. One who is actually advancing will become more and more eager to serve the spiritual master, and thus such a disciple experiences the pleasure of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”
[A talk by Giriraj Swami on Srimad-Bhagavatam 8.22.28–30, Hare Krishna Land, Juhu, April 27, 1997]