Renunciation In Royal Dress

By Bhurijana Dasa - 17.10 2018

From Back to Godhead

Duty calls a prince to leave his spiritual practices in the
mountains and set an example of real renunciation as a king.

Perhaps you’ve heard a tale of some wealthy person who renounced this world for the service of God. The Fifth Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam relates another kind of story: that of an adept renunciant who becomes a king on the order of the Supreme Lord. Can he resist the pleasures of palace life? Can he spiritually survive? What can today’s man of the world learn from Priyavrata a royal renunciant at the dawn of civilization?

Because Priyavrata was interested in spiritual truth far beyond regality, treasures, and intrigues he had allowed his younger brother. Uttanapada, to become king. After Uttanapada’s death, Svayambhuva Manu, the father of Priyavrata and Uttanapada, ascended Gandhamadana Hill to persuade Priyavrata to renounce renunciation and rule the kingdom.

As father and son met, Priyavrata’s teacher, the sage Narada Muni, listened attentively. Around them were grassy slopes dotted with blossoms of red, purple, and blue. The clear water in a nearby lake rippled as waterfalls spilled from mountain peaks. Other peaks stretched back in the distance. Soft, pleasant breezes were blowing.

Manu spoke first: “Rule the kingdom. Take charge. The scriptures reveal this as your duty. You have a grave responsibility to uphold, and none but you can do it.”

As a dutiful son, Priyavrata was inclined to accept his father’s order. Yet he was fearful. He knew of material life. Despite its promise of grandeur and thrills, it’s doomed. So, why get involved? Why become attached? Priyavrata fully understood the folly of material attachment, yet he still feared pitting the strength of his realization against maya, the potent mystical force that rivets one to the temporary. even against one’s better judgment.

Priyavrata felt himself fortunate to be in training under Narada Muni, a pure devotee of Krsna. Residing peacefully with Narada on Gandhamadana Hill, Priyavrata did not welcome exchanging his wealth of Krsna consciousness for an insignificant kingship within a doomed world. He thus thought it wise to remain aloof, fixed in renunciation. Priyavrata, therefore, conscientiously inquired from Manu, “I foresee my spiritual life deteriorating by accepting such a great earthly responsibility. If I take up the kingship as you are requesting, might it not divert me from my devotional service to Krsna?”

When Manu heard Priyavrata’s reply practically a refusal he felt hopeless. Who else could rule the kingdom? Would he, in his old age, have to reoccupy the imperial throne to protect the welfare of the citizens?

As Manu sat perplexed. Lord Brahma, a pre-eminent spiritual authority and the father of Narada and Manu. arrived on Gandhamadana Hill. Startled, Narada, Manu, and Priyavrata at once stood up, spontaneously joining their palms in reverence. They intoned the appropriate Vedic hymns and offered gifts. Thus, according to the facilities available on Gandhamadana Hill, they affectionately welcomed Brahma.

Brahma glanced benignly at Narada and Manu to show his appreciation for their hospitality and then turned to the renunciant prince and smiled compassionately. “My dear Priyavrata, please listen carefully. I come carrying Lord Krsna’s order. For your true welfare, accept the Lord’s desire as your own. You, as well as all others, are His eternal servant. Even I must carry out the orders of the Supreme Lord, as must Manu and Narada.”

How different is Brahma from modern leaders! Instead of carrying forward injunctions of God. today’s leaders hold proudly to their independent skepticism, which measures progress in skyscrapers, superconductors, and bombs. And we followers blindly submit! If we continue to heed those whose promises feed our whimsical albeit cherished fantasies, our lives, wasted, will end in emptiness and despair. On the other hand, if we break from contemporary conditioning and act according to the authority and desires of Krsna. our path to perfection will be set.

But today, are trustworthy spiritual authorities available? Or should each of us fathom God’s desire by obeying the subtle voices within? Quite a dangerous proposition, as, after all, much disturbance and downright evil has been perpetrated upon the world by misanthropes convinced that they carry the will of the Lord. Brahma suggests nothing so impractical to Priyavrata, as he continues to enlighten him:

“As a blind man travels best when led by a person with perfect vision or as a yoked bull pulls most effectively when commanded by his driver, one achieves the foremost benefit from life by accepting the authority of Krsna’s desire, as it is revealed through the Vedic scriptures, such as the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam, and through the words of pure spiritual masters.”

Although Priyavrata readily accepted the wisdom of Brahma’s instruction to dutifully work under the authority of Krsna as it descends through scriptures and spiritual masters, he nevertheless remained puzzled. Which authority should he follow? His guru, Narada, had previously advised him to remain renounced, free from material affairs, and now Brahma, the teacher of Narada, was hinting that he acquire an entire kingdom with its accompanying entourage of queens, princes, and palaces.

Krsna unravels the seemingly inherent contradiction between spiritual life and interaction with the material world in the Bhagavad-gita (18.66). The Lord explains to Arjuna:

sarva-dharman parityajya
mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo
moksayisyami ma sucah

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender to Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.” Thus the test of whether an activity is spiritual or material, contaminating or purifying, fit to discard or worthy to continue, is simply whether that activity is congruous with Krsna’s desire. If it is, then the work is spiritual, purifying, and will draw one closer to perfection. If not, that activity, even if appearing glorious, is contaminating and will weave one tighter within the cloth of material existence.

The solution to Priyavrata’s dilemma? Neglect neither authority. Narada had taught Priyavrata to remain renounced; Brahma instructed Priyavrata to become king. Staying renounced while interacting with the material world as a king requires spiritual intelligence. Sri Rupa Gosvami, a great teacher in the disciplic line from Brahma, has defined intelligence as the ability to use matter in the service of Krsna. Since when we die we leave behind all possessions, nothing really belongs to us. A true renunciant, therefore, does not “renounce” what he doesn’t possess, but rather applies all to the service of Krsna, the universal proprietor.

“Do not use your position as king for your own pleasures.” Brahma continued, “or you’ll achieve another material body and thus remain trapped within the web of material suffering. Become king, but as Krsna’s servant. Fix your mind upon pleasing Him. Become distracted neither by the kingdom’s delights nor by its griefs. Tolerate their comings and goings as they appear and depart of their own course. View both the pleasures and miseries as if they were last night’s dream. Remain steady in Krsna’s service.”

“Beware, however,” Brahma warned Priyavrata, “of the mind and senses. If uncontrolled, they’ll arouse you to explore the temporary, entice you to squander your life, and drag you from your goal. Thus, fear not the kingship, but fear the real enemies: an uncontrolled mind and senses. Even if one renounces and travels from one secluded forest to the next, such enemies will cause great danger. On the other hand, even if married, a man who controls his mind and senses will be as secure as a king safely protected within mighty fortress walls. Even a life with wife and children will not harm a self-satisfied, learned soul.”

Controlling one’s mind and senses, as well as true renunciation, is automatically accomplished if one follows the rules and regulations of spiritual life and uses everything in Krsna’s service. “Therefore,” Brahma explained, “one can attain real shelter only by fixing one’s consciousness with devotion at the lotus feet of Krsna.”

But can a king. or even a contemporary man surrounded by earthly pleasures. neglect his selfish and sensuous desires and fix his consciousness with devotion on Krsna? Can he really use everything in Krsna’s service? Yes. if he strictly accepts the practice of chanting Krsna’s names. The key to success love of Krsna will naturally develop within his heart.

harer nama harer nama
harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva
nasty eva gatir anyatha

“In this age of quarrel, there is no other way to attain spiritual perfection than chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name. chanting the holy name of the Lord.” As a plant grows when watered, our affectionate relationship with Krsna flourishes the more we chant His names. Thus our inclination to serve Him increases, whether we, by our fate, are sitting on a royal throne, on a mendicant’s woven mat, or behind a modern desk. We can thus act in pure consciousness, thinking, “I’ve been placed here by Krsna. How can I please the Lord through this work?”

With the help of Krsna. who lives within everyone’s heart, all impediments to this pure consciousness will be overcome. If we are eager to hear about Krsna, well learn from the scriptures how to recognize His existence everywhere. While drinking water we’ll reflect that He’s the taste that quenches our thirst. If we gaze upon a flock of birds in graceful flight well appreciate Krsna’s artistic sense. Well see ability as His gift, wisdom as a particle of His knowledge, and death as His unavoidable representative. All that is glorious within this world we will see as a minute fragment of Krsna’s energy, as we understand that the entire universe is sustained by His potencies.

As we hear about Krsna. we’ll also learn that as the supremely powerful controller. He has full capacity to perfectly please, maintain, and serve all His devotees. Thus we will clearly see the folly of limiting our love to the faulty relationships cramped within our workaday purview. And naturally our yearning to uncover our forgotten personal relationship with Krsna will increase.

To further enhance our yearning. Krsna tells us in the Bhagavad-gita (18.68-69),

ya idam paramam guhyam
mad-bhaktesv abhidhasyati
bhaktim mayi param krtva
mam evaisyaty asamsayah

na ca tasman manusyesu
kascin me priya-krttamah
bhavita na ca me tasmad
anyah priyataro bhuvi

“For one who explains this supreme secret [Krsna consciousness] to the devotees, pure devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me. There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.”

Caitanya Mahaprabhu similarly implored. “Instruct whomever you meet to follow the orders of Lord Sri Krsna as they are given in the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam. In this way become a guruand liberate everyone within your land. Follow this precept, and your life at home shall not obstruct your spiritual advancement.” Any sincere person who preaches according to this order of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu will achieve the Lord’s blessings and become unaffected by the material influences.

We can preach by speaking about Krsna, or we can incorporate our intelligence, money, ability, or time into preaching Krsna consciousness. If one is a scholar, scientist, philosopher, or poet, he can study the energy of the Lord and employ his learning to glorify the Lord’s supremacy. If one is an administrator or politician, he can establish the Lord’s supremacy through statesmanship. If one is a businessman, industrialist, or agriculturalist, he can spend his money for the cause of the Lord, thinking of money as Krsna’s and meant for His service.

Brahma then summarized his instructions to Priyavrata: “Seek the shelter of Krsna through carrying out His order. Thus you will always be protected by the Lord, just as a bee caught within the closed petals of a lotus flower is guarded from the blazing summer sun.”

Priyavrata’s brow wrinkled as he pondered Brahma’s words. As the seconds passed, the chirps and squawks of birds suddenly seemed prominent. No one moved. At last Priyavrata raised his head, and a deep smile spread across his noble face as he bowed to Brahma in dutiful submission. Priyavrata would be king. He had accepted Brahma’s order.

Manu first felt relief, then joy, and finally deep gratitude, as he began to worship Brahma. Narada and Priyavrata, satisfied and free from resentment, stood to watch Brahma as he departed.

Surrendered to the desire of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna, Priyavrata left the solitude and peace of Gandhamadana Hill and began governing his kingdom. He ruled according to religious principles and protected the citizens as his own begotten children. Knowing his determination, thieves and rogues fled. His piety’ brought abundant rain and ample grains and fruits. No excessive taxes disturbed the citizens.

Priyavrata married, begot ten children with his wife. Barhismati, and trained them in pure devotional service. Externally he appeared like an exceptional, powerful king, enraptured by the beauty of Barhismati and entangled within the unlimited complexities, opulences, and powers of royalty, Internally. Priyavrata remained fixed in renunciation, his consciousness lovingly fastened to the lotus feet of Krsna.

After many years of ruling. Priyavrata, to teach us to avoid the fate of materialists who die thinking of wealth, wife, and home, lamented: “Alas, how condemned I have become! I have fallen into material enchantment My plight is as hopeless as that of a wanderer who has tumbled into a deep, forgotten well hidden within a farmer’s unplowed acres. I have been reduced to a dancing monkey in the hands of my wife. But it is finished. I have had enough!”

Thus, toward the end of his life. Priyavrata abdicated his throne. He rejected royalty and divided his opulent kingdom among his obedient sons. Freed from material aspirations and absorbed in heartfelt Krsna consciousness, he returned to the sanctified, simple life of a renunciant Priyavrata had triumphed. He had remained renounced and pure despite his royal position all because he understood the essence of the ancient art of work and dedicated his work completely to the lotus feet of Krsna.