Life is not an easy journey on a smooth highway. Every calamity is a preparation for the final examination of death
Vacations turning into disasters are becoming a frequent phenomenon in current times. 2011 had many such instances to its credit. To give just a brief outline, around the world there were no less than 45 earthquakes, around 60 instances of hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, and floods, not to mention wildfires, volcanic eruptions, and many more natural calamities of all sorts. 
Doesn’t all this indicate something? That Mother Nature is hitting back, retaliating for the atrocities being committed against her. Mother Earth is being depleted of its reserves by the greedy who exploit her for oil, minerals, lumber, and other natural resources, who indiscriminately kill animals (especially cows) for food or for sport, and the result is there for all to see. We have to realize that the Lord has given us so many essential things, like air, water, plants, trees, sunlight, and innumerable other natural blessings. But instead of preserving this natural wealth, man has for centuries ruthlessly plundered it. The repeated calamities we are experiencing are a reaction to this. This is the law of karma in action. 
The Story of Gajendra
The Eighth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam describes the story of Gajendra, who was the king of elephants in one of the celestial planets. He lived in the valley near a mountain named Trikuta. This mountain had three peaks, which were made of gold, silver, and iron. Its lesser peaks were rich with jewels, minerals, beautiful trees, creepers, and shrubs. It had many lakes and rivers with crystal clear water. Many heavenly damsels bathed in that water, and their fragrance was borne aloft on the breeze.
Within the valley of this mountain was a garden called rtumat. Beautiful flowers and fruits grew there in all seasons. In that garden was a very large lake known as Kumuda, filled with shining golden lotuses and other flowers and crowded with swans, cranes, and many other birds. Its banks were abundantly adorned with a variety of flowering and fruit-bearing trees, thereby gloriously decorating the entire mountain.
Gajendra, along with his female elephants and other friends, went towards the lake, crushing many plants, creepers, trees, and shrubs along the way and taking no notice of the piercing thorns. The mere scent of Gajendra and the other elephants forced many wild animals to flee in fear. The mighty elephant was perspiring, and drops of liquor fell from his mouth. He was so intoxicated his vision blurred. Gajendra rushed toward the lake, and Trikuta Mountain trembled with the rumbling of his heavy steps. He rushed into the lake, where he bathed and drank the cold water. Finally, Gajendra drew water from the lake with his trunk and sprayed it all over his wives and other relatives. 
Enjoyment at Others’ Cost
When Gajendra entered the holiday spot, he trampled tress and shrubs on the way and even the animals ran away in fear. While doing so, Gajendra paid no mind to the thorns pricking him. Similarly, a person enjoying sense gratification does not mind any amount of pain. Indeed, such a person follows the maxim “no pain, no gain.” Pain in material life may lead to temporary gain, but it always ends in pain again. Whereas pain endured in spiritual life leads to eternal benefit.
Like Gajendra, almost all our enjoyment comes at the cost of others. Some people drink or gamble and create havoc at home, spoiling the lives of their family members. Our enjoyment should not cause suffering to our family and friends. An intelligent person realizes this. One’s personal enjoyment should not come at the cost of others’ suffering, nor should it damage the environment. If we do not seriously consider this fact, individual persons and even the ecology will be affected so badly that we shall endanger the lives of everyone. 
Gajendra in Crisis
As Gajendra was enjoying himself in the lake, an angry crocodile attacked, catching hold of Gajendra’s leg with his strong jaws. Gajendra was very proud of his strength. He thought he could kill the crocodile easily. But the crocodile would not let go of Gajendra’s leg. The conflict was so intense that the two adversaries fought for one thousand years! 
Gajendra had thought the lake was very beautiful, calm, and scenic. But he never knew that danger in the form of a crocodile was lurking there. We have to realize that in life there is danger at every step. Padam padam yat vipadam: the dangerous crocodile, who comes in many forms, is waiting to rear its ugly head. We may sometimes feel that things are going fine, but that is illusion. We should realize that we are in the jaws of illusion all the timesometimes those jaws are a bit loose and sometimes a bit tight, but they are nevertheless always wrapped around us. 
Seeing Gajendra’s pathetic condition, his wives started crying, but neither they nor the other elephants could come to his rescue. After fighting for a very long time, Gajendra realized that none of his family members or friends could save him. It appeared that his end would come very soon.
The question arises: How was Gajendra defeated even though he was very strong?
Because Gajendra was in the water, which is not his natural habitat, his strength gradually diminished, whereas the crocodile, being in its normal environs, became stronger. Our position in this material world is like Gajendra’s. We are trying to enjoy in a place not meant for us, and therefore all we get is misery. The sooner we realize that this material world is not meant to be our permanent residence, the better off we will be.
Gajendra Surrenders to the Supreme Lord
Slowly Gajendra realized that he was not able to escape from the crocodile and started panicking. Eventually he knew that nothing could save him, and as a last resort he prayed intensely and helplessly to the Lord to save him. Now, we may wonder how an elephant (who is normally considered a dumb creature) come to the conclusion that only the Supreme Lord can save him. The story goes that in his previous life Gajendra was a king named Indradyumna. He was a pious king and had memorized many prayers to the Supreme Lord, but he was also cursed by a sage to become an elephant in his next life. Fortunately, he remembered the prayers from his previous life and prayed to the Supreme Lord to release him from the jaws of death. It was that desperate plea that inspired the Lord to come to his rescue. 
Much like Gajendra was caught in the jaws of death, we are all caught by the crocodile of eternal time (kala) and may be killed at any moment. So we all must desperately pray, calling out to the Supreme Personality of Godhead to protect us so that we may be saved from the struggle for existence in this material world where we repeatedly take birth and die. Actually, it is a blessing if we are miserable, as suffering and pain are very good at making us remember the Lord and pray for His protection. Many of us find it much easier to humbly surrender to the Lord when we are in deep trouble or undergoing intense pain. The Bhagavad-gita (7.16) mentions that experience of distress is one of the four causes why someone seeks shelter of the Supreme Lord.
Finally, when Gajendra realized that he had no hope, he surrendered to the Lord by crying out for help and offering the Lord a flower. He did it with complete faith. He was not thinking that maybe the Lord would hear him; he was convinced of the Lord’s protection. We should also develop complete confidence that Lord listens to our prayers and that He is the only one who can truly save us from troubles, pain, miseries, and suffering. Those who are intelligent realize that it is only the Supreme Personality of Godhead who is the ultimate shelter for everyone. Hopefully there will come a time when we realize that we cannot save ourselves unless we take shelter of the Supreme Lord. He is our only savior, and it is only He who can help us in all circumstances. 
Our Only Shelter The Supreme Lord
This does not mean that if we are devotees of the Supreme Lord we will never have any problems or miseries in life. When difficulties come we should PUSH-Pray Until Something Happens. This can lead to two things: either we will be relieved of our miseries, or the Lord will give us the strength to overcome whatever suffering we are meant to endure. We have to have faith that the Supreme Lord Krishna is always present and accepting whatever service we are doing for Him in the proper consciousness. Draupadi was in a similar situation when she was being disrobed by Duhshasana in the presence of her husbands and seniors in the Kuru assembly. She tried her best to protect herself, but when she realized that she could not do anything more to save herself, she raised both her hands and called out helplessly to the Lord. It was only after this desperate plea that the Lord came to her rescue.
Since we have to live in this material world, we should live in it but not think ourselves to be of it. We should keep away from the allurements of the material world by being connected to God. This can be achieved through the process of Krishna Consciousness. We have to keep fighting like Gajendra, but we will not be successful unless we take shelter of the Supreme Lord Krishna. 
Life is a Preparation, Death is the Examination
Ultimately, if we can remember the Lord at the time of death, our lives will be perfect. To successfully bring this understanding into action is the ultimate goal of life. But to be able to do that, we should constantly remember the Lord by chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. By the holy name alone can we be liberated from the jaws of the crocodile of the material energy. And the holy name alone can take us back home to the eternal world of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. 
Kalpana Kulkarni has been practicing Krishna consciousness for the past ten years and loves to participate in sankirtana. She works as the All-India Training Coordinator for Trade Wings Institute of Management Ltd. She has written several study books for the Institute on travel, tourism, and hospitality.