Hedgehogs and Hare Krishna

A friend quipped, “You Hare Krishna s are amazing — you guys are always happy. I guess that’s because you are a hedgehog!”

I recalled Isaiah Berlin’s popular essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox” and soon realized how intelligent devotees learn from the hedgehog and face reversals thrown by the material energy with poise and dignity.

Hedgehog is like a porcupine or a wild rat that has sharp, shooting spines pointing outwards. When a fox attacks the hedgehog, it rolls up into a tight ball and the sharp spines force the fox to retreat. The fox however is determined; it goes back, calls a meeting, makes better plans, learns more techniques, and then attacks again. Seeing the advancing predator, the hedgehog smiles wryly, “When will he ever learn?” Soon it rolls up into a ball. The fox is exasperated at yet another failure, and withdraws dejected. The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

Hare Krishna devotees are like hedgehogs — they know the “one big thing” and that is to chant Hare Krishna .

In all situations, whether acute distress or extreme happiness, they lovingly remember Krishna and become sober and peaceful. The world throws up strange surprises, some pleasant and many nasty ones. One look at the daily news, you realize the nature of this material world: murder, rape, terrorism . . . the list is endless. And even in our personal lives, things go topsy-turvy: relationships strain, people betray, and life gets bizarre at any moment. In such times, we feel the need to remain grounded. We are desperate to feel at peace, despite the intense passion all around.

The hedgehog teaches us how. Put your hand inside the bead bag, let your index finger pop out of the bag like the sharp spine of the rat, then close your eyes and meditate on the divine syllables of Hare Krishna . Soon the nasty predator of the mind calms down. It retreats and waits for another day. That’s why Srila Prabhupada would often say, “Chant Hare Krishna and be happy.”

This is not to say that one should ignore pressing issues on the career or domestic front. While doing the needful on the external front, a devotee internally “rolls up” and chants Hare Krishna . It is pertinent to remind ourselves that unlike a hedgehog that escapes the fox, we wouldn’t escape the pain by merely picking up our bead bag and mechanically vibrating the holy names of Krishna . We need to chant attentively. A prayerful and mindful japa is what helps the spears shoot out to the problems. Only when we invest our consciousness into our japa does the avalanche of problems subside, and withdraw for another day.

But when that day comes, you know your “one big thing”: just roll up and chant Hare Krishna !

Vraja Bihari Dasa holds a post-graduate degree in International Finance and an MBA from Mumbai University. He is a resident monk at ISKCON Chowpatty and an active teacher of bhakti-yoga. Visit his website: www.yogaformodernage.com