Narasimha: Part Man - Part Lion Incarnation of Vishnu-Narayana, The Supreme Lord"Only our ego becomes frightened of Narasimha but for the part of us that is love, that part that loves God, a great attraction is felt and gratitude is felt for His strength and protection.”
Narasimha was the fourth incarnation of Vishnu, an incarnation in some ways quite distinct from the other incarnations. Usually Vishnu incarnates for all of mankind to set right some dharmic imbalance, when righteousness is on the decline and ignorance and violence have taken over. In the case of Narasimha the main reason for his manifestation, was out of love for the sweet child devotee Prahlad. That God came for one sincere devotee is the unique aspect of Narasimha’s incarnation.
Narasimha’s story is told in the Srimad Bhagavatam, Sri Vishnu Purana, Padma Purana, and the Narasimha Upapurana. Once the four great sages, Sanandana and his brothers, went to Vishnu’s abode in Vaikuntha to pay their respect to him. The four were the first sons of Brahma, who had created them so they could be the progenitors of all mankind, but the boys refused and sat only in meditation, because of which they remained ever young and like young boys.
Due to their youthful appearance the gatekeepers of Vaikuntha – Jaya and Vijaya, did not recognize them and refused to let them in. The sages cursed them that they should lose their place in heaven forever and be sent to earth. The gatekeepers were so upset they ran to Vishnu and asked him to remove the curse. Vishnu said he could not do that, but he would give them a choice, they could be reborn one hundred times as good devotees of his, or they could be reborn three times as asuras who hated him and he would descend to earth personally to destroy them.
The gatekeepers immediately chose the latter option because they would return more quickly, with the added bonus of being killed by God himself, which would ensure liberation. Their first births were as Hiranyaaksha and Hiranyakasipu, whom Narasimha killed, in the next birth they were Ravana and Kumbhakarna, whom Rama killed, and the last birth they were born as Sisupaala and Dantavaktra, whom Krishna killed.
Hiranyaaksha and Hiranyakasipu were born as powerful asuras. At one point Hiranyaaksha took Mother Earth herself and pulled her down under the ocean. To free Mother Earth Vishnu took the form of a boar, Varaha, his third incarnation, and killed the demon, finally holding Mother Earth above water on his tusks. From then on Hiranyakasipu nursed a great hatred for Vishnu, because he had slain his brother. In order to obtain great siddhis he performed severe austerities and meditated for 25,000 years. The earth and heavens were being scorched by his penance and Brahma came to see Hiranyakasipu and told him to ask for whatever boon he wanted.
Hiranyakasipu asked that he should not be killed by any of God's created beings, nor be killed in the air or on the ground, nor slain at night or day, by man or beast or by any weapons. His boon was granted, and from that day Hiranyakasipu set out to put heaven and earth under his dominion. He threw out the Gods from heaven and sat on Indra’s throne. On earth he ordered that people doing spiritual practices should be killed and established that all negative acts be rewarded and all good acts be punished. However, to this great embodiment of asuric qualities was born a son named Prahlad. From his very birth Prahlad was a great devotee of God, he would sit as if dumb, with his eyes half closed while tears streamed down his face while thinking of God.
Hiranyakasipu thought that he should be sent to the gurus of the asuric race to learn the good demon ways. But, every time that Prahlad came back and was asked by his father what he had learned he would say things like, “I learned that all beings who suffer under the false ego of “I” and “mine” should go to the woods and meditate on Vishnu, the Supreme”. Hiranyakasipu was furious and scolded his son saying, “how can you say that Vishnu is supreme, I am the greatest, I am the most powerful. All the three worlds are under my control”. Hiranyakasipu sent Prahlad back several times to learn the proper ways of the asuras, but it never worked.
Finally, enraged, Hiranyakasipu ordered his guards to kill his own son. They tried to kill him in many ways, by fire, by poisoning, by drowning, by weapons, but every time he came out unscathed. Hiranyakasipu then confronted his son himself. He drew his sword and was coming to cut his son’s head off while saying “Why do you say your God is all powerful and everywhere? If he is everywhere, is he in this pillar”? As he said this he struck a stone pillar.
At that moment a huge sound split the air and out of the pillar emerged Narasimha, with the body of a man and the head of a lion. Narasimha, in a furious, unstoppable rage grabbed Hiranyakasipu, pulled him to his lap, tore open Hiranyakasipu’s body with his claws and garlanded his own neck with the asura’s intestines. It was all over in a few seconds. Narasimha, who was neither man nor beast, killed Hiranyakasipu on his lap, which was neither on the ground nor in the air. He came out of an inanimate pillar and the time was during twilight, neither night nor day, and he killed him with his claws, not a weapon. Thus, the demon’s boon was circumvented.
Everybody was scared, no one dared approach Narasimha, so fierce was his form. But his great devotee prostrated at Narasimha’s feet. The Lord lovingly picked up Prahlad and at Narasimha’s touch Prahlad had all sense of remaining egotism erased and attained self-knowledge. Narasimha then installed Prahlad as king and returned to Vaikuntha. His appearance on earth very short, but intense.
So who is Hiranyakasipu? He is only the ignorant ego. The ego that thinks it can do anything it wants, it thinks it is all powerful, it thinks that it is God, or even greater than God. Surely we are all God, but the ego is not. The ego tries to take that for itself. The ego even goes to the extent of trying to crush that which is good and pure, Prahlad symbolises love, devotion, surrender and all good qualities. The part of us that knows the highest truth and wants to serve that and become that.
But how does that small part of us grow? We are constantly being harassed by the demon ego, Hiranyakasipu. Moved by compassion, God himself comes and destroys that thing that has caused us so many problems – the ego!
The word asura is usually translated into English as demon. However in Sanskrit “sura” means intelligent or learned, “a” means not. So, asura means ignorant. In fact, many of the asuras were very accomplished. Ravana was a master of the veena, and Hiranyakasipu was capable of intense meditation. Also the brothers were the gatekeepers of Vishnu in Vaikuntha, and they voluntarily chose to be enemies of Vishnu so they would return in three births instead of one hundred. These are not qualities usually associated with demons as we think of them in the West.
Some people’s reaction to Narasimha is that he is violent and terrifying, but if you see him as your protector, as a destroyer of hostile forces trying to harm you, how could you feel that way? If you identify yourself as Hiranyakasipu, then you will feel fear. However, if you identify with Prahlad you will only feel God’s compassion everywhere and in everything. Narasimha’s action was really a burst of compassion, not of violence. Only our ego becomes frightened of Narasimha but for the part of us that is love, that loves God, a great attraction is felt and gratitude is felt for his strength and protection.”
Note: This version of the Narasimha story was sent to us by one of Gurudev's Polish devotees. It was published on the Polish Blog around the time Swami was in Poland last week.