नह्यच्युतं प्रीणयतो बह्वायासोऽसुरात्मजाः ।
आत्मत्वात् सर्वभूतानां सिद्धत्त्वादिह सर्वतः ।। श्रीमद्भागवतम् 7-6-19 ।।
nahyacyutaṃ prīṇayato bahvāyāso'surātmajāḥ ।
ātmatvāt sarvabhūtānāṃ siddhattvādiha sarvataḥ ।। śrīmadbhāgavatam 7-6-19 ।।
Before diving into the verse, a few words about the greatness of Bhagavatam are worth mentioning. श्रीमद्भागवतम् (śrīmadbhāgavatam) is one of the Puranas and stands out among them all in imparting भक्तिः (bhaktiḥ or devotion), ज्ञानम् (jñānam or knowledge) and वैराग्यम् (vairāgyam or dispassion), often times in a harsh tone. Verses from the Bhagavatam reverberate with the Truth spoken of in the Upanishads. For this very reason, a serious study of Bhagavatam can serve as a perfect complement to the study of Upanishads, Gita and Brahma Sutras.
The story of Prahlada from श्रीमद्भागवतम् (śrīmadbhāgavatam) is well known to many people. It revolves around the demon हिरण्यकशिपुः (hiraṇyakaśipuḥ), his hatred for his son Prahlada for being an ardent devotee of Sri Hari, his futile attempts to kill Prahlada and eventually Sri Hari's assumption of a horrific form to slay the demon. What is relatively less known is the teaching of Prahlada to the asura boys, and the abundance of Vedantic wisdom that it contains.
Prahlada can be categorized as a ज्ञानीभक्तः (jñānībhaktaḥ), i.e a devotee who worships the Lord as his own Self and seeks nothing in return for this devotion. Lord Krishna has classified different kinds of devotees in bhagavadgītā as
चतुर्विधा भजन्ते मां जनाः सुकृतिनोऽर्जुन ।
आर्तो जिज्ञासुरर्थार्थी ज्ञानी च भरतर्षभ ।। 7-16 ।।
caturvidhā bhajante māṃ janāḥ sukṛtino'rjuna ।
ārto jijñāsurarthārthī jñānī ca bharatarṣabha ।। 7-16 ।।
In this verse, Prahlada describes to his Asura classmates how one may go about finding अच्युतः (acyutaḥ or The Supreme Reality). The search for God or the Supreme entity is treated as the culmination of a spiritual aspirant's pursuit. People with a religious bent of mind also admit that finding God or obtaining communion with one such thing is what they seek. The question that confounds all such seekers is - how may one find God? Can He be located in a certain place (for e.g traveling a few miles from the current location)? Can he be obtained after the passage of a certain number of years from now? Or can he be experienced as another thing in this world (or another, if there exists one)? Is God a person just like a human being, albeit with supernatural powers or is he a formless reality that transcends all limitations imposed by space and time?
The Upanishads describe in great detail the highest truth about the non-difference between an Individual and Brahman. They refer to God as Brahman and essentially say that Brahman is void of all attributes. This is the reason behind employing the method of नेति नेति (neti neti meaning not this, not this) in the process of discovering Brahman. All the characteristics that describe Brahman are simultaneously also applicable to the Self. The Upanishads also use a few positive attributes (if they may be called so) to describe Brahman so that such terminology can provide more insight into understanding the nature of Brahman. One such set of characteristics is सत् (sat), चित्(cit) and आनन्दः(ānandaḥ). Prahlada refers to the सत् (sat) and चित्(cit) aspects of Brahman in this verse.
In the first line, Prahlada says a lot of exertion is not necessary for a person that wishes to discover God. One of the fundamental tenets of Vedanta is that Brahman is available for direct experience here and now. If one were to encapsulate Brahman in the realm of either space or time, then such a Brahman is not worthy of our pursuit. The inviolable laws of time and space devour everything, and thereby a Brahman constricted by such shackles lies at the risk of perishing. Other arguments about obtaining Brahman by कर्म (karma) or उपासना (upāsanā) are also rejected by the usage of the word बह्वायासः (bahvāyāsaḥ) since Brahman cannot be the result of an action कर्मफलम् (karmaphalam).
Prahlada talks about God as the core of every being in the Universe. अच्युतः (acyutaḥ) is described as the very Self आत्मा (ātmā) of all beings. Now how can one God (or Brahman) be the quintessence of every being? The only way this is possible is for Brahman to shine as the ability to know. The essential nature of a human being and (every living being for that matter) is that of knowing. By "knowing", we are referring to the basic faculty of knowledge that doesn't need anything else to ascertain itself. This knowing aspect is referred to as चित् (cit) or चैतन्यम् caitanyam). It is a matter of daily experience for us to know various things around us and consequently to also be ignorant of certain things. For e.g a person who knows how to cultivate a garden may know nothing about designing cars. Likewise, a scholar in linguistics may be totally be in the dark about the workings of the stock market. Prahlada teaches here that acyutaḥ shines as the knowing faculty in every life form. This faculty shines incessantly as "I-am" and relies on nothing for its existence, i.e it is self-effulgent. We may compare this "knowingness" with the shining of the Sun. The Sun shines ceaselessly, making it possible for other objects to come to light. It does not depend on other stars or solar orbs for its illumination, i.eit is self-luminous. Whenever a person claims that he knows or doesn't know something, such a proclamation is possible due to the intrinsic characteristic of knowing only. For this very reason, a person who wakes up from sleep can say, without a shred of doubt, that he knew (or witnessed) his state of sleep, regardless of whether it was a sound deep sleep or one marked with dreams.
We may examine the aspect of "beingness" in everyday life. There is an experience of "is-ness" with regards to every object in the world. Objects such as a flower, pot etc. are cognized effortlessly by any individual. Likewise, the cognition of one's body, the inhalation and exhalation of air, the movement of mind and the play of senses are also cognized with similar ease. It may be noted that our cognition is conditioned or confined to the object at hand. As the focus of cognition moves from the boundaries of one object to another, our cognition of the older object ceases and that of a newer one begins. When we strip away the names and forms associated with all objects, the remnant is a sense of "being" or "is-ness" that pervades every object. It is the substratum based upon which cognition happens and is called sat (being). Brahman is indeed this सत् (sat) and the innate reality beneath the multitude of names and forms that appear to the mind.
Prahlada uses the word असुतरात्मजाः(asurātmajāḥ) to gain the attention of his asura classmates. This usage agrees with the story in Bhagavatam, but upon deeper examination, we can appreciate that Prahlada's message is intended for every one of us. The mind takes delight in remaining ignorant and is committed to sense pleasures (असुषु रमन्ते = असुराः asuṣu ramante = asurāḥ) Left on its own, the mind cannot extricate itself from the innate vasanas that afflict it. Catering to the whims of one's mind and fulfilling the desires that arise within it is not the recipe to gain fulfillment in life, let alone God realization. Most of the verses from Prahlada's teaching in this section are all geared towards preparing the mind for recognizing this Supreme reality. A lot of emphasis is laid in Upanishads and Gita about subduing the outward-looking mind and senses as preparation for God realization.
सन्नियम्येन्द्रियग्रामं सर्वत्र समबुद्धयः ।
ते प्राप्नुवन्ति मामेव सर्वभूतहिते रताः ।। भगवद्गीता 12-4 ।।
sanniyamyendriyagrāmaṃ sarvatra samabuddhayaḥ ।
te prāpnuvanti māmeva sarvabhūtahite ratāḥ ।। bhagavadgītā 12-4 ।।
If we are able purify the mind by discarding all its tendencies, then the reality named God will automatically be revealed to us. May the pious teaching of Prahlada enlighten us and take us forward in our attempt to discover God.