New version available here: vedabase.io

SC 19: Erasing All Doubts

Who's in Charge?

Mahārāja Parīkṣit became astonished and asked Śukadeva Gosvāmī, "How is it possible for anyone to surpass the order of Yamarāja?" Nobody can supersede a warrant issued by the police magistrate. Similarly, Yamarāja is the chief of the universal "police," and he acts on behalf of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa. Yamarāja's business is to arrest all the criminal living entities and subject them to punishment in his region, Yamaloka. Sinful persons are taken there and put into various hellish conditions. The case of Ajāmila, however, is exceptional. The Yamadūtas were ordered to arrest him and bring him to the court of Yamarāja, but the Viṣṇudūtas released him from their grasp.

The Viṣṇudūtas' interference with the Yamadūtas was apparently unlawful, but just as Lord Viṣṇu can do anything, His messengers can likewise nullify any order in the material world. That is the power of the Supreme Lord. In the material world no one has the authority or power to check the orders of Yamarāja, but the Viṣṇudūtas acted under the higher authority of the Supreme Lord.

When the Yamadūtas returned to Yamaloka, they immediately went to Yamarāja and asked, "How is it that we were checked from carrying out our duty? My dear lord, how many controllers are there? Are you the only controller, or are there many other controllers?" Less intelligent men think that a particular demigod, such as Indra, Sūrya, or Candra, is supreme. This is like thinking the policeman on the street is all-powerful within the state. There are so many police constables controlling the crowd in the street, but only foolish persons do not understand that above the constables are many higher officers, all the way up to the police commissioner, the governor of the state, and the president. The Yamadūtas simply carried out the orders of Yamarāja, thinking him to be the supreme controller, and this was the first incident in which they were stopped from executing his orders.

Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura says that the Yamadūtas were so disappointed that it was almost with anger that they asked Yamarāja whether there were many masters other than him. Furthermore, because the Yamadūtas had been defeated and their master could not protect them, they were inclined to say that there was no need to serve such a master. If a servant cannot carry out the orders of his master without being defeated, what is the use of serving such a powerless master?

Because the Yamadūtas had been stopped, they doubted whether Yamarāja actually had the power to punish the sinful. Although they had gone to arrest Ajāmila, following Yamarāja's order, they found themselves unsuccessful because of the order of some higher authority. Therefore they were unsure of whether there were many authorities or only one. If there were many authorities who gave different judgments, which could be contradictory, a person might be wrongly punished or wrongly rewarded, or he might be neither punished nor rewarded. According to our experience in the material world, a person punished in one court may appeal to another. Thus the same man may be either punished or rewarded according to different judgments. However, in the law of nature or the court of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, there cannot be such contradictory judgments. The judges and their judgments must be perfect and free from contradictions.

Actually, the position of Yamarāja was very awkward in the case of Ajāmila because according to everything they had been taught by Yamarāja, the Yamadūtas were right in attempting to arrest Ajāmila, but the Viṣṇudūtas had baffled them. Although Yamarāja, under these circumstances, was accused by both the Viṣṇudūtas and the Yamadūtas, he is perfect in administering justice because he is empowered by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Therefore he will explain what his real position is and how everyone is controlled by the supreme controller, the Personality of Godhead.

In this world there must be measures for controlling the living entities. Śāstra, or scripture, is meant for controlling civilized men. From this word comes the word śiṣya, meaning disciple, or one who voluntarily accepts the control or guidance of the spiritual master. Those who are not gentle must be controlled by astra, or weapons. The police force needs guns and clubs to control the thieves and rogues of society.

The Yamadūtas inquired from their master whether there are different departments of justice for different types of men. In the material world a person is contaminated by some combination of the three qualities of nature—goodness, passion, and ignorance—and he conducts his activities accordingly. Symptoms of one chiefly under the influence of the mode of ignorance are laziness, excessive sleeping, and uncleanliness. The main symptom of one chiefly under the influence of the mode of passion is a strong desire to exploit material nature and other living entities for one's own sense enjoyment. And the chief symptom of one under the influence of the mode of goodness is knowing things as they are. To such a person, everything is revealed in its proper way.

The Yamadūtas suggested, "There may be many controllers of people in the different modes of nature, but who is the chief controller, and how are his actions carried out? As far as we know, you are the controller of everyone." In governmental management there may be departmental officials to give justice to different persons, but the law must be one, and that central law must control everyone. The Yamadūtas could not imagine that two judges would give two different verdicts in the same case, and therefore they wanted to know who the supreme judge is. The Yamadūtas were certain that Ajāmila was a most sinful man, but although Yamarāja wanted to punish him, the Viṣṇudūtas excused him. This was a puzzling situation that the Yamadūtas wanted Yamarāja to clarify. The Yamadūtas had thought that Yamarāja was the only person in charge of administering justice. They were fully confident that no one could counteract his judgments, but now, to their surprise, his order had been violated by the four wonderful persons from Siddhaloka. Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura suggests that the Yamadūtas may have said to Yamarāja, "We think that your absolute power of controlling is finished, because four very wonderful personalities checked us from executing our duty, which you gave us."

Viśvanātha Cakravartī also remarks that the Yamadūtas may have wanted to bring the Viṣṇudūtas before Yamarāja. If Yamarāja could then have punished the Viṣṇudūtas, the Yamadūtas would have been satisfied. Otherwise, they desired to commit suicide. Before pursuing either course, however, they wanted to know about the Viṣṇudūtas from Yamarāja, who is also omniscient.

Submissive Inquiry

The Yamadūtas said, "We wish to learn from you what are the actual facts regarding this incident. If you think that we shall be able to understand, please enlighten us." This is the way of inquiring submissively from superiors. Not challenging. We shall always find that Mahārāja Parīkṣit, Arjuna, and anyone else executing this process of spiritual enlightenment inquires with humble submission and a mood of service. Merely because we put a question to our superior does not mean that he is obliged to answer us. Sometimes he may refuse if we are not able to comprehend the answer. We cannot demand. Inquiry, submission, and service are the way to knowledge. Whenever Mahārāja Parīkṣit questioned Śukadeva Gosvāmī, he said very submissively, "If you think that I shall be able to understand, please answer this question."

Before Yamarāja replied to the Yamadūtas, he first remembered the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa. Just as the subordinate puts the question to his superior with a submissive attitude, similarly, the superior is not proud, boasting, "Yes, I can answer your question!" He remembers the lotus feet of the Lord and prays, "Whatever You help me to speak, I'll answer." As long as the teacher is not proud and the disciple is not disobedient, puffed up, or impudent, they can exchange spiritual questions and answers. One should not inquire in a challenging mood, and the one who answers should remember the lotus feet of the Lord so that the right answer will be given.

Yamarāja was very pleased with his servants because they had chanted the holy name of Nārāyaṇa in his dominion. Yamarāja has to deal with men who are all sinful and who can hardly understand Nārāyaṇa. Consequently, when his order-carriers uttered the name of Nārāyaṇa, he was extremely pleased, for he is also a Vaiṣṇava.