Citraketu, Parikshit and Pastoral Abuse

By editor - 25.11 2022

King Parīkṣit inquired from Śukadeva Gosvāmī:

O learned brāhmaṇa, demons are generally sinful, being obsessed with the modes of passion and ignorance. How, then, could Vṛtrāsura have attained such exalted love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Nārāyaṇa? (6.14.1)

Parikshit had heard a number of amazing things from Sukadeva regarding Indra’s cycle of follies that culminated in a battle between the king of heaven and the indomitable Vrtrasura.

But what stood out to Parikshit more than any other detail in that awesome narrative was the unexpectedly exalted devotional position of Vritrasura himself, who by all accounts was otherwise a demon in the strictest sense of the term.

To explain this enigmatic dynamic and thus answer Pariksit’s question; Sri Suka narrates the story of Citraketu.

Citraketu was a pious king who had it all – except a son.

10,000,000 beautiful wives – but not a single heir to his throne.

Having developed the venerable habit of approaching sadhus – he entreated Angira muni to bless him with a son.

Of course the son comes, and so does the concomitant difficulty of material connection.

Being envious of the one wife who now has a child – Citraketu’s many other wives poison the young boy and plunged Citraketu into a pit of sorrow.

At this most crushing and critical of moments who would appear but the sage of sages – Sri Narada Muni, along with Citraketus original benefactor Angira Muni.

They console Citraketu, help him recognize the futility of his material aspirations – and after a few ‘far out’ exchanges – Citraketu sobers himself and the Lord Himself appears in the form of Anantadeva to speak what proves to be an ominous, if not auspicious, benediction.

“O King, if you accept this conclusion of Mine, being unattached to material enjoyment, adhering to Me with great faith and thus becoming proficient and fully aware of knowledge and its practical application in life, you will achieve the highest perfection by attaining Me.” (6.16.64)

We come to find out this qualifier – this ‘if’ and ‘condition’ – the Lord connotes will be manifest in the form of a most intense circumstance brought on by an apparently unjust reversal in the life of the saintly king Citraketu.

While out and about one day in the heavenly regions, Citraketu happens across Lord Siva and an assembly of sages. To his surprise, Mother Parvati is also present in this gathering, and she is seated on the lap of her consort Mahadeva.

Considering the appearance of such a situation and how common people might think offensively of the great persons gathered, Maharaja Citraketu chided the couple in hopes of maintaining their own good reputation.

Lord Siva and all the assembled sages appreciated the intention of Citraketu, and thus took no offense. But Mother Parvati felt different:

“O impudent one, my dear son, now take birth in a low, sinful family of demons so that you will not commit such an offense again toward exalted, saintly persons in this world.” (6.17.15)

So as not to misconstrue Parvati Devi as a petty, vindictive conditioned soul for levying this apparently excessive curse on the well meaning Citraketu – Srila Prabhupada explains for us:

“Therefore mother Pārvatī spoke to Citraketu exactly like a mother who says to her naughty child, “My dear child, I am punishing you so that you won’t do anything like this again.” (6.17.15 purport)

And indeed; like the good child he is, Citraketu accepted the adjustment as Srila Prabhupada also explains:

“Since Citraketu was a devotee of the Lord, he was not at all disturbed by the curse of mother Pārvatī. He knew very well that one suffers or enjoys the results of one’s past deeds as ordained by daiva-netra – superior authority, or the agents of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He knew that he had not committed any offense at the lotus feet of Lord Śiva or the goddess Pārvatī, yet he had been punished, and this means that the punishment had been ordained. Thus the King did not mind it. A devotee is naturally so humble and meek that he accepts any condition of life as a blessing from the Lord.” (6.17.17 purport)

In his commentary Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur reminds us of the exalted position of Citraketu – and also of the counterintuitive way Krsna often uses to increase the love of His devotees for Himself –

“However her curse did not affect Citraketu. Rather being born as Vṛtrāsura increased his prema, since the devotees at the level of prema do not consider any difference between obtaining a body of a devotee or demon.”
(6.17.17 commentary)

Srila Prabhupada confirms what Parikshit and ourselves should now understand about the paradoxically devotional nature of Vritrasura’s position –

“This punishment was a boon to Citraketu because after taking birth as the demon Vṛtrāsura, he was promoted directly to Vaikuṇṭha.”

As riveting as this lila is for us to hear, all the more we can imagine the upliftment it brought our dear Parikshit Maharaja, who could no doubt sympathize with the apparent plight of the well meaning Citraketu.

In an emotional moment Pariksit too had mildly mistreated a great personality by placing a dead snake on the shoulder of a meditating sage.

And he too had been levied a severe curse by a constituent of that sage who had misunderstood his intentions; the infamous young brahmana boy Sringi.

Rather than deny the allegations of the young boy against him, counteract the curse, or even protest its severity – Srila Prabhupada explains that Parikshit sat down on the banks of the Yamuna and immersed himself in ‘the fire of repentance.’

We can easily take for granted Parikshit’s decision to be an obvious and faithful one.

But as we can understand from the below question of Saunika to Suta in the 1st Canto – the jury was still out on the virtue of Parikshits decision in the years just after his departure.

Those who are devoted to the cause of the Personality of Godhead live only for the welfare, development and happiness of others. They do not live for any selfish interest. So even though the Emperor [Parīkṣit] was free from all attachment to worldly possessions, how could he give up his mortal body, which was the shelter for others? (1.4.12)

Those with a strong understanding of dharma could easily make the case that Pariksit was being capricious and irresponsible to his citizenry by accepting the petty curse of Sringi the Brahmana boy.

How could he prematurely renounce his magisterial duties just because some punk kid felt insulted?

Why not reverse the curse (something we hear was in his power) and maintain his dharmic position for the sake of his vulnerable dependents?

How remarkable it is that the person who was protected from the most powerful weapon in creation by God Himself when he was only a fragile embryo in his mother’s womb was now the peerless monarch of the planet who would die by the curse of a 12 year old after a week’s time!

Because Parikshit chose the seemingly irresponsible, unfair, unjust course of accepting his death in those short 7 days – his citizenry may have lost their rightful protection in that era.

But the people of the world today and tomorrow still have the guardianship of emperor Parikshit – should they choose to accept it – in the form of the Srimad Bhagavatam.

Parikshits decision transcended the protections offered by mundane justice and religion; and in so doing he provides shelter for even us today.

To make clear the relationship of these descriptions from the Srimad Bhagavatam to the concerns over Pastoral Abuse that have addled our society for decades – let’s return to Indra for a moment.

Juxtaposed to the character of Vrtrasura/Citraketu in the detailed narration of Sukadeva is the behavior of the King of Heaven Indra – who commits folly after folly – one somehow worse than the next – with the sole hope of doing one thing – maintaining his position in the society.

Indra offends his guru. He kills a brahmana. He asks a brahmana to practically kill himself. He kills another brahmana!

He witnesses the most stunning display of surrendered, devoted detachment by Vritrasura – and still Indra never loses sight of his narrow minded goal. He never accepts the purport of all his missteps. He continues to insist and hope that somehow or other he can just stay on top.

The contemporary devotee society has been rocked by the irresponsible treatment of its dependents, most notably our women and children.

As painful as it is for the society to come to terms with those abuses; potentially more awkward and destructive longterm is the unwillingness of those caught in the crossfire of blame to gracefully bow their heads.

Most persons invested in the conversation around these abuses are fixated on blame – either ascription of or absolution from it.

So deep seeded and natural is this psychology that the Ksatriya’s are meant to govern based on this premise – doling out punishment and reward according to a person’s deeds and misdeeds. Healthy society depends on that kind of objective consequence in regards to an individual’s choices.

But for the realized; the blame game is ultimately a lose lose proposition.

It misses the point – Sri Krsna. His arrangements are often inconvenient and embarrassing, but always for the upliftment of everyone involved.

Citraketu, Parikshit – Prahlada, Srila Prabhupada – we glorify them because they see Krsna in their reversals.But this vision is rare – and indeed something wonderful to witness.

When Parikshit encounters dharma the bull being beaten and bloodied by the personality of Kali he is horrified. But he is just as shocked by the bull’s response when Parikshit asks him ‘Who is the perpetrator of these crimes against you?’

Though his abuser is still standing over him with bloodied sword in hand, dharma is unwilling to attribute blame to any individual before citing Providence. In response King Parikshit exclaims:

The King said: O you, who are in the form of a bull! You know the truth of religion, and you are speaking according to the principle that the destination intended for the perpetrator of irreligious acts is also intended for one who identifies the perpetrator. You are no other than the personality of religion. 1.17.22

Parikshit would never expect an ordinary person to react this way to such heinous abuse. It’s a superhuman realization indicative of the perfection and personification of religion.

During another of Indra’s escapades the founder of our Sampradaya – Sri Brahma – explains the importance of this way of thinking to the imminently qualified Prthu maharaja as he tries to figure out what to do with the errant king of heaven, who has this time dressed up as a sanyasi only to sneak into an asvamedha yajna and steal items meant for sacrifice.

My dear King, do not be agitated and anxious because your sacrifices have not been properly executed due to providential impediments. Kindly take my words with great respect. We should always remember that if something happens by providential arrangement, we should not be very sorry. The more we try to rectify such reversals, the more we enter into the darkest region of materialistic thought. (4.19.34)

In the secular world there is a concept called transformational conflict. The idea is that a crisis is a veiled opportunity to redefine or reestablish a higher standard of relationship for all involved.

All of the turmoil wrought in the devotee community due to Pastoral Abuse does not have to be a defining handicap – it does not have to be an eternal indictment on senior leadership – it does not have to be an excuse for present and future generations to be languid and critical.

It can be a crucible that allows us all to burn off our impurities and come closer to Krsna.

But we are dependent on our senior leaders to generate this atmosphere. They must be the first to sit down in the fire of repentance.

yad yad acarati sresthas

It’s absurd and indeed a perpetuation of the original abuse to expect the general society of devotees to have the forgiving and tolerant character of Dharma the Bull or Prthu.

When even the slightest concern of impropriety was gossiped about amongst Sri Rama’s citizens over the standing of his wife, he immediately sent Sita to Valmiki’s asrama – removing her from public purview.

‘Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.’

Rama understood his personal sentiments, and even the objective truth, could not be the standard by which he expects his dependents to relate. They must be allowed to exist peacefully where they are, and as their benevolent monarch – maryada Purusottama – he was duty bound to remove his beloved from the palace for their peace of mind.

If this is the careful way Sri Rama treated the citizens of Ayodhya when dealing with the situation of Sita, how much more deference and care do the leaders of devotional societies owe their dependents when addressing the many overt abuses that have happened under their watch?

With hands on my heart, I ask all leaders and senior devotees to stop expecting common citizens to model the highest ideals of brahminical culture in their forgiveness of you or your colleagues. Such demands are another subtle but insidious form of violence even more corrosive to the faith and trust of people in general than overt acts of aggression and abuse.

Please, give us modern day examples of Citraketu and Parikshit. If Parikshit’s position was not so important that he couldn’t give it up, then neither is one any of us may hold.

And conversely, inappropriately maintaining a post once a person is compromised often only precipitates irreligion in its many forms.

Sri Brahma explains this about Indra’s behavior during Prthu’s yajna – such maneuvers bear out shockwaves of deviation and faithlessness for generations to come.

Just see how Indra, the King of heaven, was creating a disturbance in the midst of the sacrifice by stealing the sacrificial horse. These attractive sinful activities he has introduced will be carried out by the people in general. (4.19.36)

How many times have we heard glorification of Vasudeva Dhatta and how cherished he was by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu for his willingness to accept the aggregate sin of all living entities – an eternity of sinful reaction – for things he never did?

How eager we should each be then – at the very least – to accept due and dharmic repercussions for our own connection to abuse in the society of Mahaprabhu’s devotees.

It’s a foible of the modern institution that the role of guru is often made an administrative role. We’ve seen too many times this only makes the right thing to do that much harder in circumstances where a person should be removed from any formal position of leadership due to impropriety.

It’s flatly wrong for an institution to presume privilege in telling a disciple when they can and cannot follow their chosen guru.

But acknowledging present conceptions and circumstances; the idea of claiming a need for institutional approval to enter into this most sovereign of spiritual relationships is supposedly to safeguard against misdeeds and abuse!

It then becomes all the more important that the society be swift in removing any person in a formal role who has been found guilty of deliberate abuse.

To not do so is to subtly call into question the character of every other person in that community who serves as a leader.

Specious cries for protection of present follower’s faith ignores the uncountable loss of those who won’t follow; can’t follow – because of what they see as rank hypocrisy in the highest ranks of the devotional society.

Dharma always wins. Due to our present approach we are losing much goodwill and faith inside and outside our communities. The power of self effacement – not self preservation – is the example we need from our leadership. Please provide it for us.

For you,
Deva Madhava das
Community Director
ISKCON Ypsilanti USA – The Harmony Collective