Question 187-88: How does one attain knowledge?

PrahladThe young Rama asks the sage about King Bali and how he attained knowledge. His father King Virochan replies speaking about the “king” and the “minister”, the Atma and the mind. King Bali asks his preceptor, Lord Sukra. Sukra replies that everthing is an aspect of the one consciousness. Thereafter, we learn about Prahlad, his devotion from birth to Lord Vishnu, and the story of the Narasimha avatara. Of course, Prahlad was lost in atmananda for 5000 years. He had to be called out of atmananda with the conch sound of Vishnu to rule.

purushartha: the repository of spiritual knowledge acquired by endeavour in pursuance of the precepts obtained from sages and scriptures

turiya: the fourth state of deep sleep. This is a state of complete ineffable Bliss in which the Universal Consciousness alone is experienced. It is beyond description.

chitta: individual consciousness

samadhi: Samadhi is a state of profound and utterly absorptive contemplation of the Absolute that is undisturbed by desire, anger, or any other ego-generated thought or emotion. It is a state of joyful calm, or even of rapture and beatitude, in which one maintains one’s full mental alertness and acuity.

anatma: unreal; opposite of Atma


Question 187: Sir, how did King Bali attain knowledge? Kindly explain this to me for my benefit.

Answer: Ramji, underneath the earth is netherworld (patala loka) which is very beautiful and enchanting like a milky ocean. There are seven netherworlds and each one is charming. King Bali, son of King Virochan, ruled over these planes. He was very powerful and had conquered demons and gods, including God Indra. He had a long life. After prolonged enjoyment, he developed distaste for the world and retired to the hills. There he began reflecting on the nature of the self and the world, and wondered what he had achieved as a great king. He thought, “The pleasures are stereotyped and come time and again. In spite of prolonged indulgence, I have not attained quiescence. The pleasures are transitory. Although I have been repeating the same functions and actions again and again, peace does not come to me. It is a disgrace that I cherish the pleasures that do not bring satiation. Desire is the cause of repeated and continuous indulgence and also of sins. I must henceforth strive for that state which is gracious and immortal.”

Thinking so, he approached his father, King Virochan – who was a wise one – and asked him, “Father, what is that state where all joys and sorrows and all illusions vanish and with the attainment of which all attachments and desires disappear and one becomes free from love and hate and attains peace and becomes desireless?”

Virochan replied, “In a country, called Vipal, there rules a king who is advait (non-dual) and is established in the Self, and is all-pervasive. He has a minister by name sankalpa (ideation) with such amazing powers that he can do even the things unthinkable, in an instant. Though the minister is not a wise one, yet acting with the powers of the king, he performs everything for the king.” On this, Bali asked, “Sir, what is the state which is free from physical and mental sufferings and is illumined? How is it reached? Has anyone attained to that state? Who are the minister and the great king whom I have failed to vanquish? Kindly explain fully and remove my doubts.”

Virochan replied, “My son, this minister has not been vanquished even by gods and demons of very long life of many ages; Indra, too, has failed to conquer him. He governs the three planes and maintains his supremacy with the weapon of ignorance. He is not manifest and is without attributes. Lust, anger, greed, attachment and ego are his creations. Creation and destruction of everything is his sport. When you conquer the king, the minister will easily come under your sway. There is no other way to control the minister. The king sometimes remains in the palace and sometimes he remains outside. The king can control anybody any time according to his will. All the three planes are illumined by him only. If you have capacity to conquer the king, do that and earn great merit. You will be considered a person of immense fortitude, if you are able to conquer him with detachment and fixed concentration. If you can achieve this, nothing in the world will be beyond your reach. If you want infinite happiness, try to win the immortal and everlasting.”

“Sir, how to conquer such a powerful king and his minister?” asked Bali.

Virochan answered, “My son, the minister can be vanquished only by a definite method. When you have achieved this, you will come face to face with the king and then you will attain to the supreme state. The king and the minister are interrelated, so you must strive hard to conquer both. Without discipline and purushartha (the repository of spiritual knowledge acquired by endeavour in pursuance of the precepts obtained from sages and scriptures), you cannot achieve anything and will miss the goal. Atma is the king, mind is its minister and moksha (liberation) is the supreme state. It is with the power of Atma that the mind creating the expanse and the flux, has assumed the state of the universe. Just as a lump of clay undergoing transformation assumes the shape of a jar, and in reality there is no jar except the clay assuming the shape of a jar, so the mind (minister) assumes the form of the universe. It is very difficult to control the mind, but it can be done methodically, and I shall now explain it to you.

To renounce objects of sound, touch, form, taste and smell – to realise them as ephemeral and unreal – is the grand way to control the mind. It can be acquired after a hard discipline. Those who have pure mind can achieve it quickly with practice. So long as a person does not develop distaste for material gratifications, he will wander and suffer in the jungle of the universe. It is possible to achieve everything with purushartha. Purushartha succeeds always. You must spend six hours a day in practice and reflection on the scriptures, and pass the remaining time in the service of the preceptor, in leisure and in mundane affairs. By following this, you will gradually attain to the Atmic state. To remain even in all states with the help of intellect and contemplation, to see Atma in everything, and to be free from desires knowing them as illusory, is the unique method for the realisation of Atma.”

After listening to his father, Bali meditated upon his guru Sukra, who, being pleased with him, appeared before him in a vision. After paying obeisance to Lord Sukra, Bali asked him, “My Lord, what is immortal in the cosmos? What is That? What is I (or ego)? Who am I? Who are you and what is this universe?”

Lord Sukra replied, “The vast expanse being experienced is an aspect of consciousness, and you are an aspect of consciousness; I, too, am an aspect of consciousness, and the universe also is an aspect of consciousness. This is the answer to your questions. If you practise firmly with this faith you will realise Atma and attain bliss.”

Following what Lord Sukra told him, Bali tried to practise cognition of Atma in everything, and gradually he experienced that nothing but Atma exists. Body, joy, sorrow, etc that are cognised are the result of an illusion. They appear real because of ideation. In reality, nothing exists but Atma. Everything is just ideational.

Practising like this for a long time, he came to realise that I am Atma. He crossed the triple state of subject (thinker), thinking and object (of thinking) and was then established in the turiya state. He continued to rule for a long time without the feelings of joy and sorrow.

Ramji, you, too, must realise the true self and attain bliss just like King Bali who, having become desireless, was engaged in practice with firm faith in Atma, and thus attained liberation.

As soon as your mind is directed to material objects, withdraw it and fix your concentration in Atma so that you may attain the immortal state. The realisation of Atma is impossible without contemplation (on Atma) and renunciation of material desires. Ramji, I shall now narrate to you, for the sake of your spiritual progress, the story of the asura (demon) Prahlad. Emulating his example, you too will attain the immortal bliss. Once upon a time, there ruled over the netherworld a demon named Hiranyakashipu, who was very powerful and who had vanquished King Indra. No one could vanquish Hiranyakashipu. He had a large family. Intoxicated with power, he became very wicked in due course and started wars against gods. The gods sought the protection of Lord Vishnu, who assured them that for the sake of Prahlad, the son of Hiranyakashipu, he would kill Hiranyakashipu. When Prahlad grew up, Hiranyakashipu tried to train him in the traditions of the family, but Prahlad would pay little attention to the commands of his father. Instead, he would worship Lord Vishnu. The enraged king tried to threaten and punish his son in various ways, but it had no effect on Prahlad.

One day Hiranyakashipu, displaying his sword, asked Prahlad to show him Lord Vishnu or else worship him (Hiranyakashipu). If Prahlad failed to do so, Hiranyakashipu threatened that he would chop off his (Prah1ad’s) head. Prahlad pleaded with his father that God is omnipresent. This further enraged his father and he commanded, “If your God is everywhere, show that to me in the iron pillar in front, or else you will be beheaded.” Lord Vishnu who is omniscient and omnipotent could not bear the plight of his devotee Prahlad and incarnating himself as Narasimha (half man and half lion) burst out of the pillar. Roaring ferociously he caught hold of Hiranyakashipu and tore him into pieces with his claws. The other demons fled away in fright. Lord Vishnu then disappeared.

The demons were unhappy without a king. On this, Prahlad pleaded with them and said,”Lord Vishnu is supreme and He is the caretaker of all. Let us surrender ourselves unto Him and worship Him and that will ensure welfare to all. Let us not forget Him for even a moment. All objects — even you and I – are His manifestation. He is Atma pervading all. Those who worship Him with a spirit of duality gain nothing; but those who meditate upon Him cognising their own selves as Vishnu achieve the supreme goal. Let us, therefore, realise ourselves as Vishnu and be established in That.” In this manner, Prahlad developed within himself all the qualities of Lord Vishnu and meditating upon Vishnu, entered into samadhi. Following Prahlad, other demons also started worshipping Lord Vishnu. Thus in the city of Prahlad, all of the demons became virtuous and devotees of Lord Vishnu. As soon as it became known to the gods that the demons had given up opposition to Lord Vishnu and had become His devotees, they were scared and wondered how the demons could earn devotion to Lord Vishnu.


Narasimha emerges from the pillar
They ran up to the Lord to ask how the wicked demons could earn devotion. Reassuring the gods, the Lord said, ” There is nothing to grieve about. Prahlad is My devotee and this is his last birth. The virtuous ought not to abandon their qualities. If the demons were wicked hitherto, that is not of much importance. Meditating upon Me, they have now taken to the right path and have, therefore, acquired virtues in place of vices. No harm will come to you because of this attitude of Prahlad.” Thereafter the gods returned to their respective places and abandoned their opposition to Prahlad. The demons were so much absorbed in their devotion that all traces of wickedness disappeared within them; they developed the attitude of renunciation and started enjoying bliss.

After some time, Lord Vishnu, being pleased with the devotion of Prahlad, appeared before him again and invited him to ask for any boon for obtaining liberation. Prahlad submitted,”My Lord, grant me that which is the most rare.” And the Lord thus spoke to him, “My son, you will be blessed with spiritual discrimination that brings relief from ideation and leads one to the realisation of the Absolute.” Saying so, the Lord disappeared.

Thereafter, Prahlad, fixing himself in a proper posture started methodical study of spiritual texts. Inspired by the boon of the Lord that he would develop discrimination, Prahlad tried to think for his liberation. He thought,”Who am I speaking and interacting in this world? I am not the universe because that is unreal. I am not the body because this would be devoured by death in due course. I am not the ears, the skin, and so on. All these exist with the power of Atma, and I am that. Quiescence is my nature. I am pure consciousness, without individual consciousness and ideation; I illumine everything, I am all pervading, I am free from intentions, unstained and quiescent. I sustain everything in all the three planes and destroy everything at the end of the universe. Being in all, I manifest everything. Nothing exists outside me. There is nothing besides me. I am the fragrance in flowers, the beauty in petals and the experience in men. I am the heat in fire and the cold in ice. My will prevails everywhere all the time.” Reflecting like this, Prahlad became firm in this spirit.

Ramji, when one practises equanimity, one attains the bliss (ananda). He who attains all the comforts and grandeur of the world, but not the bliss of evenness, attains no joy or greatness. But he who attains nothing of the world, and has the joy of evenness, achieves everything. Only such persons who are full with nectar and are immersed in the infinite joy of Atma are the embodiments of bliss. Practising like this, Prahlad continued to be in samadhi. He who is engaged in ideations and desires is always in bondage.

Being thrown into the den of desire, he undergoes great sufferings and does not attain liberation. This is the state of the ignorant. Reflecting in this manner Prahlad was established in the supreme bliss. He continued in the spiritual discipline and was firm like a rock in samadhi. When he was fixed in samadhi for a considerable time, his people tried to revive him, but it was all in vain. He continued in samadhi for five thousand years and yet his physique was fresh. In the meantime there was chaos and failure of law in the capital due to the absence of the king. Seizing this opportunity the gods invaded the country and killed many demons.

Then Lord Vishnu realised that for the maintenance of the rule, Prahlad must be woken from his samadhi. He appeared before Prahlad and blew his grand conch, and Prahlad slowly gained consciousness. Then the Lord pulled down the prana force that was fixed at the tenth opening, and directed it down in the body where-after Prahlad fully gained consciousness. He worshipped Lord Vishnu according to the rites. Then the Lord spoke to Prahlad,

“O sage, destiny demands that there is still some association with this body for you. Why this premature desire to drop the body? You have attained to the state of Brahman. You are not concerned with the being or the non-being, hence you should get up and act according to destiny. You have to rule for a long time and then only you have to resolve back into Atma. Those who have body-ego and suffer from ego-attachments, deserve to die. Those who are consumed with desire, and are debilitated due to the ideas of the world in their minds, deserve to die. Those whose fields (minds) are covered with the creepers of desire bearing flowers of joy and sorrow, deserve to die. The giving up of bodies by persons who are afflicted with prejudices and who have serpents of anger and desire living at their roots, whose body-like trees are hollow and dry and whose minds are fickle, is called death.

“O Prahlad, the life of one whose cognition is always directed towards Atma and who is steadfast in that, is worthwhile. The life of one whose mind is free from love and hate and who cognises the world as a witness, is worthwhile. The life of one whose mind, as a result of wisdom, is free from disturbances and who is merged in consciousness, and who is free from ideations (sankalpa) and is fixed in Atma, is supreme. The life of one who treats alike the pleasant and the unpleasant objects of the world, and who is at peace in his mind and performs actions in the world like a sport and whose name and presence are blissful, is worthwhile.

“O Prahlad, the being of this body is called life. You have become a wise one, and, therefore, are free from both the states. For you there is neither life nor death; both these ideas are just illusions. Even while your body exists, you are videha (without bodily awareness) because you are free from desires and ideations. Your body is like akash (the sky, space). Though being in a body, you are untouched like akash. You are fixed in Atma and howsoever you might act with body, you are a non-doer. You understand yourself as the manifester and the cause of all actions.

To you the being or the non-being of a body are alike. The knowers of the Truth are unaffected even when they achieve all objects or when they lose everything; they are always established in the Self. He who believes firmly that I am the Atma in everybody and my illusion of the phenomenon (anatma) has vanished, is free from the false ideations of acceptance and rejection. Such a person is always a non-doer and non-indulgent and he desires nothing in the world. When the desire for actions and gratification in the world is lost, what is obtained thereafter is the supreme state of liberation. A person of such a state is Atmaswaroop (an embodiment of Atma only). When the ideas of acceptance and acceptor vanish from the mind, then only the state of liberation is attained. Such a person visualises nothing in the world but Atma; he is always awake in the Atmic state and is asleep vis-a-vis the world. You have now attained to the Atmic state.”

Thus teaching wisdom to Prahlad, the Lord applied the mark of coronation (raj tilak) on his forehead and then disappeared. Thereafter, living without desire and ideation, Prahlad ruled for a long time, looked after his subjects very well and was always established in Atmananda (bliss of the Atma).

Ramji, the story of Prahlad that I have narrated to you, promotes understanding and removes ignorance. He who reflects on it with an attitude of wisdom, soon attains the supreme state. This wisdom is attained only with an even mind. Do not lose sight of this idea.

Question 188: Sir, Prahlad’s mind had merged into the supreme bliss. How was he awakened by the conch sound made by Lord Vishnu ?

Answer: Ramji, liberation is of two kinds – sadeha (with body consciousness) and videha (without body consciousness). He whose mind is not fixed in body etc and who has no desire for acceptance or rejection and functions without ego, is sadehamukta (liberated with body consciousness). He who is not conscious of his body and is absorbed only in Atma, does not take a rebirth; he is videhamukta (liberated without body consciousness). Words fail to describe the videhamukta. Vasana is totally absent in a videhamukta.

Whereas in the case of a sadehamukta, his vasana is under his control, he is always absorbed in Atma and remains quietly in the world with an attitude of sushupti (deep-sleep) towards it. As pure vasana existed in his mind, Prahlad was awakened by the sound of the conch. Furthermore, Lord Vishnu is omnipotent and omniscient. When He willed that Prahlad should wake up, he woke up. Ramji, you too are infinite. Practice Atma resolutely and without interruption so that you may attain Atmananda.


The Vedas, the Sastras, and the messages of the Rishis, all have proclaimed uniformly and without any possibility of doubt, from that day to this, that Paramatma is Sarvaantharyaami (the indweller of all, in the heart), present and immanent in everything. So too questions like the relationship between ‘He who is served’, ‘he who serves’, and ‘the wherewithal of service’, viz., ‘Prakriti’, have also been the subject of endless discussion. Every God revering person has heard the Bhagavatha verse in which the great devotee Prahlada states out of his own experience that Paramatma, the Sarvaantharyaami, need not be searched far and wide and that He is very near the seeker himself.

‘He is here, He is not there, give up such doubts;
Listen, Oh! Leader of the Danavas!
Wherever you seek and wherever you see,
There… and there… He is!’ -Prema Vahini, p30


Hamsa Gayatri
Om Hamsaaya Vidmahe
Paramahamsaya Dheemahi
Tanno Hamsa Prachodayat

“May we realise Hamsa that is our own Self as the Swan. Let us meditate on that Paramahamsa, the Supreme Self. May Hamsa illumine us.”