One day Durvasa Muni was walking along the pathway of the road and he happened to see Indra passing by on his mighty elephant. Durvasa Muni was walking barefoot and Indra was riding on his elephant. But that’s proper, because one is the king and one is the sadhu. But still the sadhu has a more dignified position. So he had a beautiful garland, Durvasa Muni, that was around his own neck. He took it off, and out of mercy he handed it to Indra who was on top of his elephant. Indra accepted that garland, but due to his false ego he didn’t really appreciate it properly. So instead of honoring it properly he put it on the trunk of his elephant. Srila Prabhupada explains: “Elephants don’t understand the value of maha-maha-prasad.” So the elephant, just with his trunk threw the garland between his two gigantic legs and by the rubbing of his legs crushed the garland.
Now Durvasa Muni, he understood the disease of Indra’s false ego. You see, great personalities, they could take one little thing and see so much in it. One may think: “What kind of little thing he… Just a garland! So much trouble to create to Indra and his whole race because of a garland!” It’s not just the garland, it’s the mentality. Just like we have often cited Srila Prabhupada’s saying: “Krishna doesn’t see what we do, he sees the purpose in which everything is offered.” And that means everything is positive or negative. If you have a purpose of real love, devotion, and genuine humility, when we offer something to the Lord, the Lord takes great pleasure in that even if it’s a leaf or a flower or fruit or a little water. Krishna will consider in his own supremely gracious way that he can’t repay his devotee for their love when he is even offered a leaf or a little water. However, if we have egoistic motives, if you have ill motives, Krishna also sees that purpose.
So thus Durvasa Muni, he saw this little incident of garland; he saw a disease in Indra’s heart – ahankar. He was so proud! What happens when you become proud? You become insensitive to the importance of giving respect to others. This is the very basis of the Vedic culture, and for that matter, the Vaishnava culture. It is honor and respect to others. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu emphasized – amaanina maanadena.
“We must offer all respect to others and expect none in return. This is culture. Without this consciousness a society really has no substantial culture at all.” – Radhanath Swami
Etiquette is about respect, and respect is about humility. So Durvasa Muni saw this disease and gave him a good remedy – he cursed him. “You, so much fame and prestige, so much wealth, so much property! I curse you to go into poverty.”
That’s all it took: just offending a Vaishnava. Durvasa Muni is also a Vaishnava. Indra is a Vaishnava. What it is? Two Vaishnavas meeting on the road and look what happened. Just two Vaishnavas walking down the street; one is on an elephant, one is walking, and look what happened. The demigods lost everything. Not only Indra, but what a leader does the whole other followers also have to share the reactions. So Indra and all the demigods lost everything.
Radhanath Swami narrates the Appearance of Lord Vamana
“Bali Maharaj, very intelligent personality. He was the son of Virochana, grandson of Prahlad, great grandson of Hiranyakashipu, great grand-nephew of Hiranyaksha. A very mixed up type of family heritage!” – Radhanath Swami.
So he performed yajna to please his guru Shukracharya, and his guru-maharaj was very pleased with him. In fact he arranged for the descendents of Bhrigu Muni to come to perform this yajna. And his disposition, his good qualities, was so pleasing to everyone that the descendents of Bhrigu showered blessings upon him, his guru Shukra showered blessings upon him. And by the performance of this particular sacrifice, performed by such great personalities, he received such blessings that he became undefeatable in his power. His body was radiating with light, with energy.
He gathered his army together and marched to Indrapur. And when Indra saw Bali Maharaj with his associates surrounding his abode, he was overcome with fear – “What can I do?” Just Bali Maharaj’s effulgence alone manifested such power that he could single-handedly destroy everyone, what to speak of his magnificent armies. So Indra approached his guru Brihaspati and asked: “What to do? I don’t see any hope of fighting against Bali Maharaj; look at his powers!” Brihaspati said: “He has pleased his guru; he has satisfied his guru and the brahmins; what to speak of the descendents of Bhrigu. Therefore time is on his side. There is no use trying to fight him: you will be crushed. The best thing to do is become invisible: evacuate. Evacuate your kingdom and hide.”
They became poverty stricken. They had nothing. They were just wandering around like fugitive, refugees; hiding from the demons. Very embarrassing situation. And there was nothing they could do. Their mother Aditi was feeling great distress to see her children in such a suffering condition. But what could she do? Her husband Kasyapa Muni was in his hermitage in the jungle performing tapasya, meditating on the Supreme Personality of Godhead; great devotee. Aditi, for a long time, many years, was suffering. She couldn’t even communicate with her children, seeing them deprived of everything. Finally after so many years of waiting Kasyapa Muni came out of his meditation. And he saw that his good wife was lamenting, so he asked her: “Is there some problem in our ashram? How is everything?” She said: “The ashram is fine but everywhere else there is problem. Our children: Indra, Varuna, Vayu; our children, they have been conquered by the demons. They are homeless, hiding like beggars, refugees. What to do? I can’t tolerate; this is causing too much pain to my heart.”
“This is a mother’s love. A mother’s love is selfless. Aditi cared nothing for herself; she couldn’t tolerate seeing the pains of her children.” – Radhanath Swami
She knew her children’s shortcomings and defects; she knew the mistakes they made, but still, for a mother that is not important. “My children, I love them, I can’t tolerate to see them suffer.” She had such determination to help. So Kasyapa Muni saw his wife’s heart and told her: “The only possibility of bringing back the happiness to your children under this condition is that you must worship Lord Vasudev.” So she asked: “How this should be done?” He instructed her in the process of the Payovrata sacrifice. Payovrata sacrifice is a very, very detailed act of devotional service. A fasting, worshiping the guru, worshiping the Lord, chanting mantras, keeping very, very clean and very perfectly situated in your consciousness for twelve days. And the whole purpose of the Payovrata sacrifice is to please the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
“So she performed it exactly according to her husband’s direction. After twelve days the Supreme Personality of Godhead appeared to her, Lord Narayana; he was carrying the conch-shell, the sudarshan chakra, the gada, the club, and lotus flower. He had beautiful golden crown, Kaustubha mani, a celestial jewel, and brilliant yellow dhoti.” – Radhanath Swami
Aditi fell at his lotus feet. She rose with folded palms. She was in so much ecstasy seeing the Lord that tears were flowing from her eyes; she was so choked up, she couldn’t even speak. But finally with great effort she offered her obeisances and her surrender to the Lord.
Lord Narayana told Aditi: “I know exactly why you have approached me. I know your problem. And yes, I will bring back the wealth of your children. I will personally do it by becoming your son. You should worship your husband. I will manifest myself within your husband’s body and if you worship your husband properly then I will enter into your womb and appear as your own son.”
The Lord disappeared, and appeared within the heart of Kasyapa Muni. Aditi served her husband with great faithfulness, chastity and devotion.
Srila Prabhupada explains: “Just like in the forest, when two pieces of wood are pushed together by the wind, fire is created. Now, fire is not wood, and fire is not wind. So how is it that wind and wood create fire? It’s another element that is caused by the interaction. So Srila Prabhupada explains: “On the transcendental platform Aditi and Kasyapa came together and from their union the Supreme Personality of Godhead manifested.” The Supreme Personality of Godhead entered into the womb of Aditi. And on this day, the dwadashi, on the month of Shravan, Supreme Personality of Godhead appeared from the womb of Aditi. Therefore, this day is known as Vijaya, the day of victory. He appeared in his four-armed form as Narayana, from Vaikuntha. They worshipped him with great love, and then right in front of their eyes that four-armed form of Narayana transformed into a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful little brahman boy. He had a golden complexion and golden hair. He was a dwarf: therefore his name – Vamanadev. When the Lord transformed into this form he wasn’t just a little baby, he was a little dwarf. Soon all the demigods and the sages and the rishis came to celebrate the incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They gave him various gifts. He was given a deer-skin; he was given rudraksha beads. Lord Brahma gave him kamandalu, a water pot, and goddess Parvati gave him the first alms when he went out to beg. He had a little stick and an umbrella. Little Vamanadev performed the yajna.
Radhanath Swami elaborates on the meeting of Vamanadev with Bali Maharaj
Bali Maharaj performed a hundred Aswamedha yajnas when he was ruling very powerfully. So little Vamanadev, just by himself, walked with his bare feet and came upon the arena of the sacrifice on the banks of Narmada River. When Bali Maharaj saw him, this little dwarf – he was so effulgent, so beautiful, he radiated such purity and compassion – Bali Maharaj’s heart filled with joy. He stood up, and all the brahmins who were performing the yajna with him, they all stood up to offer honor and welcome to Lord Vamanadev. Bali Maharaj bowed to him and with deep affection he gave him a very, very honorable seat.
“And then Bali Maharaj, according to proper etiquette, washed the feet of Vamana-avatar. Those same feet that later became the source of the Ganges, that same feet which Lord Shiva wants to keep, that water always on his head, was drunk by Bali Maharaj with great feeling. Then Bali Maharaj offered Vamanadev whatever gift he so desired.”– Radhanath Swami.
He said: “You have come; you have blessed us. Such a blessing you have given by your presence! You have sanctified my life. You have sanctified the whole yajna-shala. Please take whatever charity you wish. I can give you cows, I can give you property, I can give you homes, I can give you an island; whatever your desire; jewels. Ask for anything you desire.” Vamanadev replied: “If you wish to give me something then please give me three steps of land.”
“At that point Shukracharya, he understood exactly what was going on. Very intelligent!” – Radhanath Swami
And he spoke very strongly to his disciple. He said: “Don’t give him anything. Don’t give him these three steps of land, because you don’t know: he is the friend of your enemy. He is Vishnu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He has come to cheat you. With his three steps of land he will cover everything you own. You will be bereft of everything. He has come to cheat you. He has come to take everything away from you.”
Bali Maharaj said: “But I have already promised. I have given him what he wants.” Shukracharya, he knew the scriptures quite thoroughly. And the nature of this world is if a scholar knows the scriptures you can take whatever you need from the scriptures to justify whatever you want to do or say. That is the problem. So Shukracharya was quoting from scriptures: “Yes, you have given your promise but there are times and circumstances where the scriptures sanction breaking your promise.” And he gave a whole list of reasons: when there is an emergency situation… And he gave all shastric evidence along with a very, very harsh prominent order: “You must break your promise and not give him anything.”
Bali Maharaj was very thoughtful. He paused and began to meditate: “There is nothing more sacred than one’s truthfulness. Even if you lose everything, if you are truthful you have something substantial; you have honor. What is the use if you have so much material opulences but you lose your honor?” In fact, it describes in this beautiful chapter that mother earth can tolerate any type of burden, but she can’t tolerate the burden of one liar that’s stepping upon her. In fact in this age of Kali it’s the last living leg of religiosity that’s wobbling but still existing – truthfulness.
“Truthfulness is one of the most important of all religious principles. In fact it is one of the four legs of dharma. And amongst civilized people who have some spiritual culture, they will not tell a lie, never for their own purposes.”- Radhanath Swami.
Yudhisthir was an example of this. He was always truthful. Only when Krishna directly specifically told him to tell a lie… even then he hesitated.
maam ekam sharanam vraja
You can abandon all varieties of dharma and surrender to Krishna, but devotees can’t misuse this principle. Sometimes there is transcendental trickery in an emergency situation. An emergency situation, Prabhupada explains: If a child is sick and dying and he won’t take medicine, the mother would say: “This is a sweet, please eat it; laddu.” And the child asks if there medicine in it. The mother says: “No, it’s just laddu.” But there is medicine in it. So is she a liar? Because her purpose is selfless; there is absolutely no selfish motivation. She is simply doing it out of a crisis, emergency, to save the life of her child. Sometimes, for this reason we may have to adulterate the truth to save a person’s life.
“However, if it isn’t for that crisis reason and isn’t done in a totally selfless spirit then if you tell any lie you incriminate yourself in horrible karma.”- Radhanath Swami
But in this age of Kali prajalpa, gramya-katha is so prominent. We just don’t take these things seriously. jéve phele viñaya-sägore. The tongue is the most difficult of all the senses to control. The tongue can bring us back home, back to Godhead, if it vibrates the holy names, and the tongue can plumb us down to hellish conditions by speaking disrespectfully or by lying. So yes, we have to take this seriously. Prabhupada took this very seriously. Truthfulness is all important.
“Sometimes for a higher truth we will adulterate relative truth, but is it really for higher truth? It’s not according to what our mind says. It’s according to Krishna’s perception. If we tell a lie for any personal selfish interest then we are incriminating ourselves in karmas. And if we lie to a devotee, if we lie to God, how much we are going to have to pay the consequences of that?!” –Radhanath Swami
So a person who has actual spiritual and religious principles, he is willing to risk and sacrifice many cheap things of this temporary world to sustain the higher principle of truthfulness. And that was Bali Maharaj. His honor of being truthful was more precious than all of his kingdom, than his life itself, because mother earth can’t tolerate the burden of a liar. And he was thinking: “My guru was supposed to teach me to surrender to Vishnu. So my guru is telling me this is Vishnu and he is telling me not to surrender. Therefore, he is not bona fide guru.” So he turned to Vamanadev, and said: “Yes, I will grant your request. You may take three steps of land.” Shukrachayra was really offended. Now this is a difficult situation. Not everything is always easy in this world.
Radhanath Swami elaborates on the surrender of King Bali
Sometimes you have no choice but to offend somebody. Yes? Can you imagine Bali Maharaj’s dilemma? He is in a predicament; he could have committed suicide. But outside of that alternative he had to either offend Vishnu by lying to him, or his guru by disobeying his instruction. Very difficult situation to be in!
His guru was outraged. Shukracharya said: “If you defy my order then I curse you ‘you will lose everything.’” Everything lost. Very upset!
“But Bali Maharaj, his heart was in bliss. He had no fear because he knew that he was truthful. He knew that he was doing the right thing. Therefore, he had no fear of any consequences. This is called integrity.” – Radhanath Swami
Bali Maharaj was a man of exemplary integrity. Therefore he is a mahajan. To be honest, to do the right thing. Sometimes we are at risk of losing so much. But this was Bali Maharaj’s integrity. He had no fear; he was willing to lose everything. He was willing to accept any reaction to do what was right and speak what was right. This is a Vaishnava.
“Yes, take your three steps.”
Actually before this, when Vamanadev first asked for three steps, Bali Maharaj was amazed. “Why only three steps? I am the king of the universe, I can give you anything. You are only a dwarf; your three steps are so tiny.” The amount of land for three steps will hardly be one step for Bali Maharaj. “I can give you islands. I can give you tremendous wealth; I can give you much property. I can give you anything you want. Why only three steps? Ask for more.” Little Vamanadev told: “Actually you have conquered the whole world, but in your mind you are not satisfied. I have nothing. I am just a little dwarf with nothing. But I am satisfied. Happiness is within. If you are not happy in your heart, you can’t be happy if you gain the whole universe. And if you are happy within then whether you have or don’t have you will be happy. Happiness is within the heart. I already have that. I don’t need what you give me. Just give me three steps.”
“Yes, take your three steps.”
“He expanded Himself into a universal form. He was so big. And he manifested a beautiful golden helmet and his body just covered all directions. He took one step and stepped from the lowest part of the universe all the way to middle planetary system. And then he took another step and walked right up to the border of the universe. His foot went right by Swargaloka, Janaloka, Maharloka, Tapaloka up to Brahmaloka and beyond.” – Radhanath Swami.
Meanwhile, Lord Brahma was worshiping his lotus foot, And Jambavan was doing pujas and circumambulating his lotus foot. It was an incredible scene. And his second step went so high that it actually reached the very end of the universe, above Brahmaloka, and his toe pierced the covering of the universe. And a drop of water from the Causal Ocean came out of that crack that he created and fell on his feet. And then that water that fell on his feet came down. And it is described in the Bhagvatam that different demigods came with their flower-airplanes with pots to get that charanamrita. And they brought it to their heavenly planets. And this was the origin of Ganga-devi.
On the Karana Ocean, the ocean in which the Lord is laying, that water entered into this universe and washed the lotus feet of Lord Vamanadev. Therefore, it is charanamrita, it is eternally sanctified and pure. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu explained the power of Ganga: “Anyone who sees the Ganga, touches the water of the Ganga, tastes the water of Ganga, bathes in the water of the Ganga, or even if someone is touched by breeze that has come off the Ganga, those persons would become purified of sins and in due course of time love of Krishna will awaken in that person’s heart.” King Bhagirath, by his tremendous determination, I believe 60,000 years of tapasya he performed to bring Ganga-mata from the heavenly worlds to Gangotri in the Himalayas. And thus she flows to sanctify the earth planet.
So he already covered the entire universe with two steps. But Bali Maharaj promised him three steps. Bali Maharaj was watching this whole thing in ecstasy. He was just in bliss. Because he understood, he understood the substance of the integrity of his grandfather, Prahlad Maharaj, and he was following in the footsteps of Prahlad. So at that point Garuda, understanding that Bali Maharaj was a liar, he was not keeping his promise… He promised three steps of land; two steps have already been taken. What he has? He has nothing else to give. Just imagine Bali Maharaj’s predicament. Just to be truthful he accepted the curse of Shukrachayra, he accepted the risk of losing everything just to maintain being truthful, and after all that the Lord made him so that he couldn’t be truthful. When Krishna wants to humble someone, he is thorough, totally thorough. yasyaaham anugrhanaami harishye tad-dhanam shanai.
“When Krishna wants to show his mercy to you he will give you what you like. But when he wants to show his supreme compassion he may take away everything; and even turn your loved ones against you. So you have nothing and no one to turn to except him. This is the mysterious nature of Krishna’s compassion.”- Radhanath Swami.
Yes, in the name of being truthful a devotee is willing to risk everything. But in the end he risked everything, he lost everything and the Lord made him all to be liar, because he couldn’t fulfill his promise of three steps. Therefore, Garuda tied him up with a serpentine rope, like a prisoner. When this happened the soldiers of Bali’s armies, they were outraged. They were really, really outraged. “Just see what Vishnu is doing. He is taking everything away.” If they take it away, they take it away from us. Don’t think that they were selflessly serving Bali Maharaj. Whatever Bali had is they had, whatever he didn’t have what was they lose. So the demons, they were mobilizing armies to attack Vamanadev. And Bali Maharaj said: “No, no, don’t attack. Don’t harm him.” But by that time they saw that he was powerless. Who was he? He was wrapped around with ropes. So they attacked Vishnu. And Vishnu, just his associates defeated all of the asuras. They just scattered in all directions and ran away.
And now Bali Maharaj is being treated as a criminal, made into a prisoner. And he is brought bound with ropes before Vamanadev who now has taken his original form as a dwarf. And when he was in that predicament, when he was in that situation, Vamanadev told him: “You have promised me three steps. Where should I put my third?” Bali Maharaj, this was a very suspenseful situation, please try to be there. What a suspenseful situation this is! He is tied up; he is a prisoner. Everyone is around; they are watching what will he do. Bali Maharaj, he was in bliss. Totally humiliated in front of everybody; his wife, Vindyavali. Usually men don’t like to be humiliated in front of their wife. I am a sannyasi, but this is what I have seen. This is very unbearable for a husband to be outdone or humiliated before the wife. And his wife was watching. And all of his armies and all of his relatives and everybody around is seeing how Bali, the great king of the universe, has become an insignificant beggar, imprisoned; nothing left.
“But he was happy. He was happy because he sustained his determination, his determination to maintain his truthfulness. And he was also very happy to surrender to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” – Radhanath Swami
With tears of love in his eyes, Bali Maharaj spoke, he said: “My Lord, you have already taken everything. You have taken all my land, all my property, all my wealth, all my influence and prestige.” He totally took his prestige away. He said: “You have taken everything. There is only one thing left I have: my life, my body and my life.” And Prabhupada explains in this regard that how it was his life that possessed all these other things. His life is actually more valuable than everything else. So the greatest gift: giving the Lord all the planets that I control, all the gold and jewels and all the money and all the prestige and all my followers, giving them all – that is a small thing. But real offering is to give my life – my body, mind, and words.
“So Bali Maharaj, with great determination and heart filled with pure devotion, he responded to the Lord with these words. ‘My Lord, you may place your third step on the top of my head. I surrender everything – my very life – to you.’” – Radhanath Swami
Prahlad Maharaj was so happy. He appeared and was praising the good qualities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead who is so merciful that he took everything away. Prahlad’s prayers are very important. He is praising: “The Lord is the most merciful, the most attractive, the ultimate friend of everyone, because he has taken everything away.”
Radhanath Swami explains how Bali Maharaj became a Mahajan
Bali Maharaj was thinking: “Actually the demigods think that the Lord is merciful to them. Not at all, the Lord is most merciful to the demons.” This was Bali Maharaj’s psychology – “The Lord is most merciful to us – demons.”
Do you understand this? Would you like to hear the psychology of Bali Maharaj? Because the demigods, the Lord protects them and gives them their abodes and protects their abodes and all their opulence, and they get caught up in all the sense gratification and caught up in all this false prestige. And the Lord just keeps giving it to them and giving it to them and protecting them. And even when the demons come and try to take it away, eventually the Lord gives it back to the demigods. So by giving them all these material things, the Lord is not really very merciful to them. But he is merciful to the demons because he takes everything away from us. He takes everything away from us – that is his mercy. He actually favors the demons.
tat te ’nukampaam susamiikshamaano bhunjaana evaatma-krtam vipaakam.
“Prabhupada quotes in this regard that when one is put into very, very difficult circumstance, a devotee is grateful. A devotee, even when the Lord is taking everything away, even when the Lord puts you in the terribly painful condition, that devotee, with folded palms, will thank God: “This is your mercy; this is your kindness. I don’t deserve your kindness. I surrender to you.” To that person alone is liberation a rightful claim. Bali Maharaj manifested this principle. He personified this virtue.”- Radhanath Swami
Bali Maharaj surrendered his life to the Lord. His own wife Vindyavali was praising his good qualities. Prahlad was praising like anything the good qualities and the good fortune of Bali Maharaj for surrendering and losing everything for the Lord. Bali Maharaj meditated on Prahlad. That was how he got his courage to surrender everything. He meditated on his grandfather, Prahlad, and he followed in his footsteps. mahaajano yena gatah sa panthaah.
“How did Bali Maharaj become mahajan? Because he followed in the footsteps of a mahajan, one of the greatest authorities, because he followed a previous mahajan, Prahlad.”- Radhanath Swami
Vamanadev Accepts the Role of Door-Keeper for Bali Maharaj
Bali Maharaj followed in the footsteps of Prahlad. He was determined to not deter from the integrity of his honesty, his truthfulness and his promise to the Lord.
So Lord Vamanadev was so happy. He was so happy by Bali Maharaj’s unconditional, unmotivated surrender. He was not hoping or expecting anything in return. He gave his everything. Atma-nivedanam. He surrendered everything unconditionally. But the Lord, he reciprocates with our surrender.
ye yathaa maam prapadyante
taams tathaiva bhajaamy aham
Therefore the lord gave Bali Maharaj a planet to rule over, Sutala, because he had nothing else. And Prahlad Maharaj wanted to be with him. He said: “I will also go to Sutala to live with my grandson.” Prahlad was so happy. He was so happy; he was so proud. How many grandfathers are proud of their son when they surrendered everything? Prahlad. And Vamanadev was so grateful. Vamanadev, by his own sweet will, accepted the role of the door-keeper for Bali Maharaj. Now that’s a very menial service. Is it not? A doorman, guarding the door for Bali Maharaj! Why did he accept that humble service?
“That same Lord who just manifested Upendra form, Trivikrama form, the Supreme Lord of all lords who with three steps covered the universe and conquered Bali, accepted the very humble position of the door keeper for Bali because he couldn’t give up the association of this devotee. He wanted to always give satisfaction to Bali Maharaj.”- Radhanath Swami
man-manaa bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yaaji maam namaskuru
maam evaishyasi satyam te
pratijaane priyo ‘si me
“Always think of me, become my devotee, worship me and offer your homage unto me. In this way you will come to me without fail. This is my promise my dear friend.”
Vamanadev was always there in the vision of Bali Maharaj. So he could always remember him with love.
“There are many glorious lessons to be learned by this story. But ultimately like so many other lilas of the Lord, the Lord really descends to this world to glorify his devotee. Narasingha dev appeared in this world to give glory to Prahlad. Krishna appeared in this world to give glory to the Vrajavasis, to the Yadus. And Vamanadev, in his own inconceivable extra-ordinary way, came to glorify Bali Maharaj forever-more as the personified example of one who attains the ultimate perfection of pure love of God by surrendering everything.” – Radhanath Swami