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From Back to Godhead
By Rasa Purusa Dasa
Why ISKCON is creating devotees of devotees. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (9.4.63) the Supreme Personality of Godhead says the following to Durvasa Muni, who had committed an offense against Maharaja Ambarisha:
hy asvatantra iva dvija
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead said to the brahmana: I am completely under the control of My devotees. Indeed, I am not at all independent. Because My devotees are completely devoid of material desires, I sit only within the cores of their hearts. What to speak of My devotee, even those who are devotees of My devotee are very dear to Me.” I will discuss three points from this verse.
The first point is that Krishna says that He is under the control of His devotees. The story of Maharaja Ambarisha, the emperor of the entire world, is a good illustration of this. Maharaja Ambarisha was a celebrated pure devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna. He considered all material opulence transitory and always engaged his senses and mind in the loving transcendental services of the Lord.
The episode of Maharaja Ambarisha’s life I will cite involves Durvasa Muni, a great mystic yogi who indulged in strict austerities and discipline. By virtue of his mystic power he could travel in space throughout the material and spiritual worlds and could prophesy that Kunti, adopted daughter of Kuntibhoja, would face a problem in conception. He therefore blessed her with the power to call any demigod of her choice. (As a result, Karna and three of the five Pandavas were born.) Though a powerful mystic, Durvasa Muni was not a devotee of Lord Krishna.
Once, following Vaishnava tradition, Maharaja Ambarisha observed the vow of fasting completely, even from water, on every Ekadasi for one year. Ekadasi is the eleventh day of the waxing and waning moon and therefore occurs twice in every lunar month. It is known as hari-vasara, or Hari’s day. Hari is Krishna, so Ekadasi is especially dear to His devotees. The observance of the Ekadasi vow requires that one break the fast during a specified time period the next day, known as Dvadasi. On a Dvadasi in the auspicious month of Karttika, Maharaja Ambarisha, after worshiping Supreme Personality of Godhead Krishna in the Madhuvan forest of Vrindavan, was just on the verge of breaking his fast when Durvasa Muni appeared on the scene.
Because Durvasa was now Maharaja Ambarisha’s guest, Vedic etiquette required that the king feed the sage before he himself ate. Prior to accepting the meal, Durvasa Muni went to bathe in the Yamuna River. He delayed his return, however, and the time for the king to break his fast was quickly passing away. Therefore, under the advice of learned brahman as, Maharaja Ambarisha drank a little water just to formally break the fast. He then waited for the return of Durvasa Muni.
By virtue of his mystic power, Durvasa could understand that King Ambarisha had drunk water without his permission. On his return, Durvasa, in a fit of rage, plucked a bunch of hair from his head and created a fiery demon to attack Maharaja Ambarisha. Lord Krishna, who always protects His devotees, immediately sent His disc, the Sudarsana chakra, which vanquished the demon. The disc was then directed to Durvasa, who ran in all directions to save his life. He went to Brahmaloka, Shiva-Loka, and other higher planets. But when Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva expressed their inability to protect him from the wrath of the Sudarsana chakra, he went to the spiritual world and surrendered to Krishna in His form as Lord Narayana. Lord Narayana then spoke the verse above, the relevant lines here being “I am completely under the control of My devotees. Indeed, I am not at all independent.” The Lord advised Durvasa to go to Maharaja Ambarisha without a moment’s delay. Thus, to save his life, the great mystic Durvasa Muni had to surrender to Maharaja Ambarisha, a pure devotee. The Lord cannot tolerate an offense committed against His devotees.
Another Example of the Lord’s Willing Subordination
The story of Ambarisha Maharaja is not a solitary incident of the Lord’s placing His devotee in a position above Himself. For example, Lord Krishna voluntarily came under the control of the Pandavas and their common wife, Draupadi.
The five Pandavas brothers and their chaste wife Draupadi were unalloyed devotees of Lord Krishna, and in return Lord Krishna always remained at their beck and call. Lord Krishna virtually became the servitor of Yudhisthira, the eldest Pandava, when He took the role of a peace messenger in the Kuru court at Hastinapur. Lord Krishna became the charioteer of Arjuna, the third Pandava, taking upon Himself to drive the fabled bowman’s chariot, which flashed a banner depicting the legendary Hanuman. Krishna stood on the chariot with a whip in His right hand and a bridle rope in His left, eager to obey His devotee friend Arjuna. In response to a command from Arjuna, Krishna coaxed the heavenly horses and plunged the chariot in between the legions, enabling Arjuna to behold the war-minded.
Queen Draupadi was draped in a single cloth when at the insistence of Duryodhana, his rabid brother Duhshasana tried to disrobe her in the Kuru court. At that tense moment, Draupadi remembered Krishna, the Lord she adored and trusted, and immediately Krishna came, unseen by others, unfolding a miracle in the court. There was no end to the uncanny garment Krishna supplied relentlessly. Reams of cloth came away from Draupadi’s body in brilliant colors, and soon three piles of shimmering cloth lay next to the gasping Duhshasana, who gave up his heinous pursuit. Draupadi did not stand naked before the courtier’s hot gazes. She remained covered, her honor intact. Krishna had stood up for her when the men in the assembly had not.
Devoid of Material Desires
The second point in the verse above is that the Lord told Durvasa Muni that He sits in the core of the heart of His devotees because they are “completely devoid of material desires.” These words are very significant. A person in the conditioned state of material existence is full of desires to enjoy matter, whereas someone in the liberated state is full of desires to render devotional service to the Lord. The devotees of the Lord like Ambarisha, being completely devoid of material desires, are liberated and fully established in Krishna consciousness. Because of this transcendental qualification, the Supreme Lord is extremely favorable to the devotees, as confirmed by Srila Prabhupada in his purport to the verse under discussion. Lord Krishna’s visit to two devotees in Mithila further corroborates this point.
In the city of Mithila, capital of the kingdom of Videha, lived two great pure devotees of Lord Krishna. One was a poor brahmana householder named Srutadeva. Being satisfied with his lot, he endeavored only to earn enough to live. The other was a famous king named Bahulasva, who was as detached from material wealth as the brahmana and did not have any material ambition to extend his territories. Both the king and the brahmana were firmly fixed in Krishna consciousness. Both devotees had vowed to regularly and enthusiastically worship the deity of Lord Krishna in their respective homes, and hence they could not travel to Dwarka, the abode of Krishna.
Lord Krishna, sitting in the core of the hearts of His devotees, could very well appreciate their sentiments. To bless them, He responded favorably and visited the city of Mithila along with a dozen topmost sages, including Narada, Vyasa, and Vyasa’s son Sukadeva. At the outskirts of the city, a huge crowd afforded a splendid reception to the procession of Lord Krishna. The king and the brahmana stepped forward and respectfully requested Lord Krishna to visit their respective homes. Lord Krishna succumbed to their desire. Just to please both of them, by His opulence the Lord expanded Himself and the sages, and in duplicate forms they all entered the houses of Srutadeva and Bahulasva simultaneously. Thus each of them thought that Krishna and the sages were exclusively present in his house only. Lord Krishna can go to any extent to fulfill the desire of His devotees.
Devotees of Devotees
In the third and final part of this verse, the Lord tells Durvasa Muni, “What to speak of My devotee, even those who are devotees of My devotee are very dear to Me.” Pure devotees like Ambarisha Maharaja, being direct servants of Lord Krishna, are dear to Him. When a neophyte becomes a devotee of a pure devotee, he not only becomes a direct servant of that pure devotee, but also becomes a servant of Lord Krishna, indirectly.
Though Durvasa Muni was not a devotee of the Lord, the merciful Lord through this verse implies that the offender Durvasa should become a devotee of Ambarisha Maharaja. Then, in the capacity of a devotee of the Lord’s devotee, he would also become very dear to the Lord.
It is gratifying to see how the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) has captured the philosophy of this verse. With its team of dedicated spiritual masters who are initiating new disciples, ISKCON is creating devotees of devotees, and they are very dear to the Lord.