Śukadeva Gosvāmī continued: Being thus addressed by the messengers of Yamarāja, the servants of Vāsudeva smiled and spoke the following words in voices as deep as the sound of rumbling clouds: “If you are actually servants of Yamarāja, you must explain to us the meaning of religious principles and the symptoms of irreligion. What is the process of punishing others? Who are the actual candidates for punishment? Are all persons engaged in fruitive activities punishable, or only some of them?” (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 6.1.37–39)
What the Representatives of Dharma Should Know
The Yamadūtas protested to the Viṣṇudūtas, “You are so exalted that it is not very good for you to interfere with our business.” The Yamadūtas were surprised to see that the Viṣṇudūtas, although exalted souls, were hindering the rule of Yamarāja. Similarly, the Viṣṇudūtas were also surprised that the Yamadūtas, although claiming to be servants of Yamarāja, the supreme judge of religious principles, were unaware of the principles of religion. Thus the Viṣṇudūtas smiled, thinking, “What is this nonsense they are speaking? If they are actually servants of Yamarāja, they should know that Ajāmila is not a suitable candidate for them to carry off.”
The Viṣṇudūtas began to speak in grave voices: “You claim to be the representatives of Dharmarāja [Yamarāja], the superintendent of death and the maintainer of religion, and you accuse us of interfering in your business, which he has entrusted to you. Therefore would you kindly explain what is dharma, or religion, and what is adharma, or irreligion? If you are actually representatives of Yamarāja, then you can answer this question.”
This inquiry put by the Viṣṇudūtas to the Yamadūtas is most important. A servant must know the instructions of his master. The servants of Yamarāja claimed to be carrying out his orders, and therefore the Viṣṇudūtas very intelligently asked them to explain religious and irreligious principles. A Vaiṣṇava knows these principles perfectly well because he is well acquainted with the instructions of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Supreme Lord says, sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja: “Give up all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me.” Therefore surrender unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the actual principle of religion. Those who have surrendered to the demands of material nature instead of to Kṛṣṇa are all impious, regardless of their material position. Unaware of the principles of religion, they do not surrender to Kṛṣṇa, and therefore they are considered sinful rascals, the lowest of men, and fools bereft of all knowledge. As Kṛṣṇa says in the Bhagavad-gītā (7.15):
āsuraṁ bhāvam āśritāḥ
“Those miscreants who are grossly foolish, who are the lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons do not surrender unto Me.”
The question posed by the Viṣṇudūtas was very suitable. One who represents someone else must fully know that person’s mission. The devotees in the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement must therefore be fully aware of the mission of Kṛṣṇa and Lord Caitanya and the philosophy of Kṛṣṇa consciousness; otherwise they will be considered foolish.
Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu has said, yei kṛṣṇa-tattva-vettā, sei ‘guru’ haya: “One must know Kṛṣṇa – then he can become a guru.” Not just anyone can become a guru. Thus the Viṣṇudūtas challenged the Yamadūtas: “If you are truly representatives of Dharmarāja, then you must explain what is religion and what is irreligion.” That should be the criterion for determining who is actually a representative of religion. It is not that everyone should be accepted as religious or as a guru. Widespread ignorance has given rise to many persons calling themselves God, representing so much nonsense in the name of dharma. When someone says, “I am God,” or “I have become God by mystic yoga,” one should challenge him. In America a man claimed, “I am God, everyone is God,” and thus gathered disciples. One day he was suffering from a toothache, and I asked him, “What kind of God are you that you are suffering so much from a toothache?” Only a lunatic or a cheater claims, “I am God.”
Officers of Law Enforcement
One who has the power to punish others should not punish everyone. There are innumerable living entities, most of whom are in the spiritual world and are nitya-mukta, everlastingly liberated. There is no question of judging these liberated living beings. Only a small fraction of the living entities, perhaps one fourth, are in the material world. And the major portion of the living entities in the material world – 8,000,000 of the 8,400,000 forms of life – are lower than human beings. They are not punishable, for under the laws of material nature they are automatically evolving. Human beings, who are advanced in consciousness, are responsible for their actions, but not all humans are punishable. Those engaged in advanced pious activities are beyond punishment. Only those who engage in sinful activities are punishable. Therefore the Viṣṇudūtas particularly inquired about the criteria Yamarāja uses to determine who is punishable and who is not. How is one to be judged? What is the basic principle of authority? These are the questions raised by the Viṣṇudūtas.
The Yamadūtas felt that they were faultless because they were following the orders of Yamarāja, who himself is faultless. Just because a magistrate has to direct the punishment of those who transgress the law does not mean the magistrate is a criminal. He is a representative of the government. Similarly, although Yamarāja has jurisdiction over the regions of hell and deals with all sinful persons, he is a pure representative of Kṛṣṇa and simply executes the order of his master.
A police constable is supposed to know the law and whom to arrest for breaking the law. If he arrests anyone and everyone, then he himself is a criminal. He may not arrest the law-abiding citizens. Similarly, the Yamadūtas cannot take away just anyone and everyone to the court of Yamarāja. They can take only the nondevotees to be punished for their sinful acts. Yamarāja has especially cautioned the Yamadūtas not to approach Vaiṣṇavas.
However, because Ajāmila had been very sinful, the Yamadūtas could not understand why he should not be considered a criminal and be brought to Yamarāja for punishment.
Devotees and Demons
There are two classes of people in this material world: those who are servants of God, called devas or suras, and those who are servants of māyā (illusion), called asuras.
In the spiritual world, however, there is only one class, because the inhabitants are all servants of God. Therefore the spiritual world is called absolute. There is no disagreement in the spiritual world, as the center is Kṛṣṇa, or God, and everyone there is engaged in His service out of love, not as a paid servant. A paid servant will serve in proportion to the money he receives, but in Vaikuṇṭha there is no question of being a paid servant. Everyone is liberated, and everyone is as opulent as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but everyone is still a servant. In the material world people serve out of need, but in the spiritual world everyone serves out of love. There is no need for anything, because everything there is complete. The Brahma-saṁhitā says that in the spiritual world there are kalpa-vṛkṣa, or desire trees, from which one can get anything he desires.
In the material world, service is forced upon everyone. If someone does not render service, he will starve. Even a king has to work, what to speak of the poor man. Under the direction of the Supreme Lord, the material energy makes everyone into a dancing dog. The master says, “Please dance,” and the dog dances, because he knows that unless he performs, he will starve.
Whether in the material world or the spiritual world, everyone is a servant, but here people are under the impression that they are masters. The head of the family thinks, “I am the master of my wife and children.” But in fact he is serving each and every member of his family. The state executive officer thinks, “I am the king” or “I am the president,” but actually he is the servant of the citizens. Servitude is his position, and unless he serves the citizens according to their expectations, he will be deposed or fail to win reelection.
In the material world everyone is trying to become master of all he surveys, and thus there is competition on every level – between self-acclaimed “Gods,” between heads of state, even between friends and family members. In this illusory competition to be master, everyone fails. Mahatma Gandhi was respected as the father of India, but after all he was just a servant, and when one man didn’t like his service, Gandhi was killed. Similarly, President Kennedy was a very popular president, but somebody saw some discrepancy in his service, and he was also killed. No one is really the master here. Everyone is either a servant of māyā (illusion) or a servant of God.
Everyone has to obey the government laws. Under the spell of illusion, however, the criminal thinks, “I do not accept the government laws.” Yet when he is caught he is forced to obey the government laws in the prison house. He has no choice. Similarly, we are all servants of God, but the demoniac class of men (asuras) do not care about God and God’s laws. These rascals think that there is no God, or that everyone is God, or that they themselves are God. But such “Gods” must also follow the laws of God in the form of birth, death, disease, and old age.
Only persons who are totally illusioned refuse to serve God. Instead of voluntarily rendering service to God, they are the slaves of māyā, the illusory energy of God. A person who is haunted by ghosts speaks all kinds of nonsense. Similarly, when a living entity is haunted by māyā, or engrossed by the illusory effects of the material nature, he also talks foolish nonsense, and the most foolish talk is to claim that he is God.
Among the two classes of men – the divine (devas) and the demoniac (asuras) – there is an ongoing struggle. The asuras are always rebelling against God, and the devas are always surrendering to God. In the story of Prahlāda Mahārāja, we see that even among family members there are devas and asuras. Prahlāda Mahārāja’s father, Hiraṇyakaśipu, was an asura, whereas Prahlāda Mahārāja was a deva. Naturally a father is affectionate toward his child, but because Hiraṇyakaśipu was a demon, he became the enemy of his son. That is the nature of demons.
Of course, even a tiger has affection for her cubs, and so at first Hiraṇyakaśipu showed affection for Prahlāda Mahārāja, who was a very well mannered and attractive child at five years old. One day Hiraṇyakaśipu asked his son, “My dear boy, what is the best thing you have learned in school? Tell me.”
Prahlāda Mahārāja replied, “One should sacrifice everything to realize God. This human form of life is the best opportunity we have for making spiritual progress, and it must be utilized for realizing God.”
Hiraṇyakaśipu angrily inquired from his son’s teachers, “Why have you taught all this nonsense to my boy?”
They fearfully answered, “Sir, we did not teach these things to this boy. He is naturally inclined toward God, so what can we do? As soon as he gets the opportunity, he begins to teach God consciousness to the other boys in the class.” In the absence of his teachers, Prahlāda Mahārāja would immediately stand up on the bench and address his friends, “My dear boys, this life is not for enjoying sense gratification. It is for realizing God. Do not forget this.”
Similarly, we have taken up this preaching mission because people in general are interested only in immediate sense gratification, which is not good for them. In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.5.4) Lord Ṛṣabhadeva says, nūnaṁ pramattaḥ kurute vikarma yad indriya-prītaya āpṛnoti: “Simply for sense gratification people are committing so many sinful activities. They are just like madmen.” A madman does not know what he is doing. Materialistic persons are so much engrossed in their pursuit of sense gratification that they have become maddened and commit all kinds of sins.
Lord Ṛṣabhadeva says that the materialistic way of life is very risky. For those who indulge in sense gratification, Kṛṣṇa gives the facility, forcing them to take birth again in the material atmosphere. A monkey has very good facility for enjoying sex. In some ways a monkey is renounced: he lives naked in the forest, he eats only fruit. But his nature is that he must have at least three dozen wives for sex enjoyment. So-called renunciants who wear the cloth of a sādhu but secretly enjoy illicit sex with women are just like monkeys. This is demoniac.
Demons, or asuras, do not believe in God and act according to their own whims. In the Bhagavad-gītā (7.15), Kṛṣṇa describes them as follows:
āsuraṁ bhāvam āśritāḥ
“Those miscreants who are grossly foolish, who are lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons do not surrender unto Me.” Here Kṛṣṇa clearly states, āsuraṁ bhāvam āśritāh: because the demons have taken shelter of atheistic philosophy, they are the lowest of mankind despite their advancement of education, science, and politics. Someone might object, “How can you call an atheistic gentleman with a university degree a demon? He is so educated and highly qualified.” The verdict of the śāstra is that although he appears to be very learned, his actual knowledge has been stolen away by māyā on account of his being atheistic.
Scriptural injunctions may not be very palatable; nonetheless, they are authoritative, and we have to preach the truth. We cannot play hide and seek with the problems of life. We must know our real position, and we must know what is religion and what is irreligion. Religion means action according to the orders of God, and irreligion means action that goes against the orders of God.