A prince who wanted the greatest kingdom gets it, but finds satisfaction elsewhere.
ONE OF THE most touching histories in the Shrimad-Bhagavatam comes in the Fourth Canto. It concerns the little prince Dhruva and his great adventure, and it contains many lessons about love.
Reprinted from Back to Godhead Magazine Volume 33 Number 04,1999 © BBT International; all rights reserved.
Dhruva was five years old when he left home for the forest in search of God. Some people he met on the way tried to persuade him to go back.
“It’s certainly glorious to search for God,” they said, “but aren’t you too young for such a serious undertaking? And isn’t God everywhere anyway? Why do you have to go to the wild jungle full of ferocious animals?”
Dhruva was not sure why. But he had heard that great sages who wished to find the Supreme Lord would leave home and go to the forest. Apparently, that was the thing to do. If God was really there, Dhruva would surely find Him.
What does God look like? The little prince didn’t know that exactly either. One thing he knew: God was the only person who could fulfill his secret desire. For this Dhruva had the word of his mother. She prayed to God every day, so she certainly knew what she was talking about.
Dhruva’s story has a happy ending. He meets Narada Muni, a spiritual teacher, who tells him how to reach God through devotion. All alone in the jungle, the boy undergoes spiritual disciplines with determination that truly gives justice to the meaning of his name: “persevering.” Tigers and jackals spare Dhruva. And not only does he survive, but he meets Krishna’s expansion Lord Vishnu face to face and ultimately becomes famous as one of the greatest devotees of his time. He gets his secret desire fulfilled, too. That’s the story’s glorious ending. But the beginning is sad.
A Stepmother’s Cruel Words
Dhruva’s father, King Uttanapada, had two wives, Suniti and Suruchi. Suniti was Dhruva’s mother, and Suruci was Uttama’s. The boys played together, and they equally had their father’s heart, unlike their mothers. The king neglected Suniti, not even allowing her near him, while Suruci was his favorite—maybe because of her beauty. She was beautiful. But she was jealous too.
Once, the king was sitting on the throne with Uttama on his lap, patting him affectionately. Dhruva too wanted to get on his father’s lap, but Suruchi didn’t like the idea.
“No, you can’t sit on the king’s seat,” she said. “You may be the king’s son, but that’s not enough. You would have to be my son as well. And this, my dear boy, you can achieve only by worshiping the Supreme Lord. If He is pleased with you, He may grant you the precious boon of taking your next birth from my womb.”
She had said, “My dear boy,” but her words hit Dhruva like a stick. She wished him to die! His body stiffened. Breathless, he turned to his father. But the king looked away, at Suruchi, his beautiful queen. Dhruva turned around and ran to his mother.
What could Suniti do, other than cry with her little son?
“Your stepmother is right,” Suniti said. “Your father does not consider me his wife anymore. She is right, too, in telling you to worship the Supreme Lord. If you wish to sit on the same throne as your stepbrother Uttama, don’t be envious of him. Just turn to the Supreme Lord. By worshiping Him you can achieve things never dreamed of by those who put their faith in demigods. My son, just worship the Lord. I do not find anyone else who can ease your distress.”
Dhruva made up his mind. He would go to the forest, find God, and tell Him, “My dear God, I am the king’s son, but I will not be the heir to the throne. Please make me a king greater than my father. I want to have a kingdom like no one ever had. If You are satisfied with my worship, please grant me this desire.”
Vision in the Forest
Dhruva knew finding God would be difficult, but he was determined. Alone in the forest, he practiced yoga for concentration, chanted a mantra he received from Narada, and meditated on the Lord dwelling in the heart.
Six months passed. One day, as Dhruva entered meditation and fixed his inner vision on Lord Vishnu, the image he had already grown accustomed to contemplating disappeared suddenly. Dhruva’s concentration broke. He opened his eyes and saw Lord Vishnu standing before him. The Lord looked exactly like the form Narada had described to him. Dhruva had so often contemplated that form in his heart—majestic, four-armed, adorned with all the insignia of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, His whole form brilliant like lightning.
This time, however, Dhruva’s eyes were wide open, and before him was not an image in the mind but a living person, smiling at Dhruva. Overwhelmed, the boy fell to Lord Vishnu’s feet. Even while lying flat on the ground, he could not take his eyes off the Lord.
Pleased with Dhruva, the Lord asked whether he had any wish to fulfill. Everything was going as Dhruva had hoped. His impossible goal was now within reach.
Before we hear Dhruva’s reply, let’s go back to the scene with Dhruva’s being forbidden to join Uttama on the king’s lap. Both the story and the conflict are classical. On one side: the father, the stepmother, and the “good son”; on the other: the unwanted son, excluded from the love and happiness these three are sharing.
But are King Uttanapada, Suruchi, and Uttama really sharing love and happiness? No. None of them is really happy, and all three have reasons to feel insecure.
Suruchi will feel safe in the king’s devotion only as long as she has the youthful charm of her body. She fears she’ll suffer Suniti’s fate and lose the king’s affections.
The king, although fond of both his sons, can’t risk losing Suruchi’s favor. He may rule everyone in the kingdom, but in Suruchi’s hands he’s a pet. She denied her favor to Dhruva and didn’t care about crushing the boy’s heart. The king might be thinking, “Suruci, my tender one, would you be able to do this to me?”
Finally, Uttama is too small to understand what’s going on. All he knows is that he was playing on his father’s lap and his brother Dhruva was punished for trying to do the same. Glad that he has been spared, and feeling special, he nevertheless fails to see Dhruva’s fault. “If neither of us did anything bad and he got punished this time, will I be the one next time? Daddy?”
None of these three persons is receiving real love, which is selfless, unconditional, and free-flowing. Fortunate are those who know love early in life and learn the joy of sharing it. Most people offer and receive things like sex, wealth, and power in the name of love. And along with that kind of “love” come lust, anger, greed, envy, illusion, and madness. The six enemies of the self, the Vedic teachers call them. And, in the background, there’s fear. For example, Suruci is fearful because of material attachments. As Dhruva climbs onto his father’s lap, she sees him not as an innocent child but as her son’s rival trying to seize the throne.
People who really love do not fear losing anything material. Nor do they feel wanting; they’re self-satisfied. They may be married or alone, beggars or kings, but they’re free. Sex, wealth, power, or anything material holds no sway over them.
What about Dhruva’s quest for love? In anger, he risks his life to gain a kingdom greater than his father’s. A whole planet to rule will surely be a fair compensation for a place on his father’s lap.
Like Dhruva’s family, in seeking love we hurt and push away one another. Sad are the ways of love in the world of matter.
Saddest of all is losing even the hope that real love exists. Our unfulfilled dreams for the perfect father, mother, lover, and friend make us think that God—the supreme perfect lover—can’t exist either.
Dhruva was lucky. The force of his frustration, channeled into spiritual practice by the advice of his mother and his spiritual teacher, Narada Muni, carried him beyond the world of fear. On meeting Lord Vishnu face to face, Dhruva found not only the love he had lost but his own capacity to give love in the same way. Loving is his nature, as it is for all of us. He had forgotten that, just as every living being does when turning away from God and His love. But Dhruva’s original nature had never changed. And that loving nature is the same in every living being. It seeks expression. It motivates one to search. It doesn’t allow one to feel satisfied with the ordinary, the temporary, the limited. Dhruva was satisfied only when he found the unlimited.
Throughout all the risks he took and austerities he performed, Dhruva believed his heart’s desire was to gain the kingdom. What could he be more sure of than his own heart? Yet Dhruva discovered he’d been wrong. When he finally got up from the ground, he addressed Lord Vishnu with a prayer. His words, coming from the heart, were different than those he had prepared. To this day, devotees of Lord Vishnu repeat Dhruva’s spontaneous prayer, which captures both his surprise with himself and his overwhelming joy.
“O my Lord,” said Dhruva, “I wanted to be a great king and was performing severe austerities so that You would grant me this desire. Now I have gotten You, who are very difficult even for the demigods, saints, and kings to attain. I was searching for a piece of broken glass, but instead I have found a most valuable jewel. I am completely satisfied, and I do not wish to ask You for anything.”
Love for God is not for God alone. It does not diminish the affection we feel for others. It deepens affection because we are able to love others not for external things like their body, not for anything they give us, and not only as long as they fulfill their part of the contract. A pure devotee, who has developed his loving relationship with God, can see beyond others’ material conditioning, beyond their pleasant and unpleasant features, even beyond their cruelty, and relate to everyone as a unique spiritual person, part of God. Pure devotees develop the kind of intuition we admire in stories of great saints and spiritual teachers. Since a pure devotee feels safe in his own personal exchange of love with God, he doesn’t crave others’ appreciation or feel hurt by their aggression. These qualities place him in a unique position to help others.
Suniti, Dhruva’s mother, could accept her fate without hating it and could convince her son to accept the valuable instruction in Suruci’s hateful words, without himself becoming a slave to hatred. Does that mean a devotee of the Lord should allow himself or herself to be trampled upon? No. Neither aggression nor meek submission in itself indicates spiritual advancement. What counts is one’s motive.
A devotee doesn’t seek selfish satisfaction either by oppressing others or by being oppressed and “enjoying” victim status. Whether a devotee chooses to be aggressive or meek, his motive is to serve God and help others find their path back to Godhead. He can assist others by instruction, example, or even mere presence. Those who have had the privilege to come in contact with someone endowed with genuine love of God, of any religious faith, know that the presence of such a person lifts others onto the same plane.
That’s what happened to Dhruva’s family members. Upon hearing the news of Dhruva’s return, King Uttanapada rushed out of the palace to meet him. Along with the king came Uttama, Suniti, and Suruchi. Without reservation, Dhruva honored both mothers by prostrating himself on the ground.
Suruci picked him up.
“My dear boy, long may you live!”
With tears of joy in her eyes she blessed him.
Suniti then affectionately embraced Dhruva, as did his brother Uttama.
An Honorable King
This history has a classical ending: Dhruva grew in a happy, caring family and ultimately became a great monarch, loved by everyone in his kingdom—a kingdom greater than any that had ever existed.
The narrator of Shrimad-Bhagavatam concludes: “Dhruva was not the same as before; he was completely sanctified due to having been touched by the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Unto one who has transcendental qualities due to friendship with the Supreme Lord, all living entities offer honor as naturally as a stream flows down from a mountain.”
One person with love and devotion for God can make a difference for many. Those of us who have little hope for finding God, who cannot seem to muster enough courage to approach Him, meditate on Him, or serve Him, may derive strength from knowing that others will gain from our love of God: our families, friends, and enemies; passersby in the street; every living being in the world.