Bhakti Prahlada

Prahlada’s Practice of Ahamgrahopasana (Identification with Brahman)

Question: The stuti of Prahlāda Mahārāja for Bhagavān appears in Śrī Viṣṇu Purāṇa 1.19.85–86. In the last part of the stuti, we read about him performing ahaṁgrahopāsana. Here Prahlāda Mahārāja says things like:

1.)   Bhagavān is situated as Prahlāda Mahārāja’s form.

2.)   I (Prahlāda) am the paramātmā, and this entire creation emanates from me.

3.)   I (Prahlāda) am the Param Puruṣa.

By quoting the above stuti, Advaitavādīs claim that it is actually the one nondual ātmā which manifested as Viṣṇu and Prahlāda (due to upādhīs). Prahlāda Mahārāja identified him as Viṣṇu/Paramātmā because he is speaking from the perspective of the ātmā.

How do Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas explain this in terms of acintya-bhedābheda? After reading various works of Vaiṣṇavacāryas like Madhvācārya, Rāmānujācārya, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī, etc., the seemingly Advaitic verses from the Vedic scriptures are often just prima facie interpretations. However, if we correlate them with other scriptural statements, it can be understood that these verses do not promote nondualism. 

Answer: Śāstra describes that the Tattva, Absolute Reality, manifests as Brahman, Paramātmā and Bhagavān. Out of these three manifestations, Brahman is the goal of Advaitavāda and their process is called jñāna or jñāna-yoga. Paramātmā being the regulator of material creation is not the ultimate destination. Those who meditate on Paramātmā either end up in Brahman or the abode of Bhagavān, depending upon their concept of Tattva and the intention behind their practice.

Bhagavān is the goal of the bhaktas. There are various types of bhaktas. Just as the practitioners of jñāna-yoga identify with Brahman, there is a class of bhaktas who identify with Bhagavān. Their worship is called ahaṁgrahopāsanā, as rightly mentioned by you. The description of Prahlāda’s meditation in Viṣṇū Purāṇa is ahaṁgrahopāsanā. It serves two purposes. From the points of view of śāstra, it describes what is ahaṁgrahopāsanā. If such a thing exists, then there must also be some explanation of it. However, that was not the purpose of Prahlāda. Then why did he meditate like this? The reason is that his father was trying to kill him. To defy his father, Prahalāda identified with Bhagavān, so that his father would not be able to kill him. Through ahaṁgrahopāsanā, Bhagavān’s śakti manifested in Prahlāda and nothing could harm him. Prahalāda wanted to disprove his father. This was his purpose. It is not that he actually wanted to achieve the goal of ahaṁgrahopāsanā. 

The problem is that we think that in śāstra, there should be only statements of the difference between the jīva and Bhagavān. There should not be any statement of their oneness because then it supports Advaitavāda. If this were true, then why do we call our darśanaacintya-bhedābheda?”

If both bheda and abheda are part of our darśana, then there must be statements for both in the śāstra. But, on the other hand, if there are only statements of bheda, how will we support the abheda part in acintya-bhedābheda?

Śāstra has both types of statements—oneness as well as difference. They need to be reconciled. Therefore, do not become disturbed by the abheda statements. If you understand that we are the śakti of Bhagavān and that śakti is one as well as different from Bhagavān, then there must be statements to that effect in śāstra. Kṛṣṇa says in the Gītā that everything is Vāsudeva, so Prahlāda is repeating that.

This description can also be seen in the light of Vedānta. This is one way of teaching that “I am not the physical body.” This is called the “Vamadeva technique.” So, the statement of Prahlāda can be seen in the light of Vedanta Sūtra 1.1.30, śāstra-dṛṣṭyā tūpadeśo vāmadevavat. 

To understand the intent of śāstra, we need to study the complete context of a particular verse/verses or a story. The difficulty comes when we try to study an individual verse or a particular description independent of its context.

We also need to keep in mind that śāstra is not describing only uttamā bhakti. It describes all types of bhaktis, such as tāmasi bhakti, rājasi bhakti and sāttvikī bhakti. Nonetheless, śāstra recommends only uttamā bhakti, and makes an effort to explain it. The description of other types of bhaktis is done with two intentions. The first is that people who may not be attracted to uttamā bhakti can take to these lower types of bhaktis and gradually come to accept uttamā bhakti. Otherwise, they would remain materialists. The second and the ultimate purpose of these descriptions is to explain uttamā bhakti by contrast 

2 thoughts on “Prahlada’s Practice of Ahamgrahopasana (Identification with Brahman)”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful insight. Can you advise if there are other passages relating to Prahlada where he also accepts bheda between himself and Lord Vishnu. i.e is there anything else to indicate that his performance of ahaṁgrahopāsana was purely contextual and not his final realisation? Also, is it known where Prahalada goes after the end of his life?

    1. Please read chapters 4 to 9 of the seventh Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam. That will answer your questions.

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