We all know the story – Gajendra was playing in the water with his family, crocodile grabbed him by the leg, Gajendra tried to free himself but in the water the crocodile had the advantage. Exhausted, Gajendra prayed to the Lord who then appeared to save him. Gajendra went to Vaikuṇṭha, crocodile was restored as a gandharva, end of story. Main lesson is that we should fight crocodile of māyā in the most favorable, strengthened position. Also that when things go very very wrong it’s perfectly fine to take shelter of the Lord. What more can be said?
Well, the plight of Gajendra and his turning attention to the Lord is relishable by itself, but there’s one more interesting point in this līlā – Gajendra didn’t actually called for the Lord by name. Technically, lots of personalities could have helped him – Indra, Brahmā, or Śiva, and Srīla Prabhupāda comments that demigods felt somewhat disrespected that Gajendra didn’t turn to them. But Gajendra didn’t call for Lord Nārāyaṇa either – he didn’t use any names of the Lord whatsoever. And yet the Lord came. Why?
Because in his prayers Gajendra described the qualities of the Supreme Lord. Identified by qualities, demigods ruled themselves out as not fitting the description but the Lord, hearing that Gajendra is talking about Him, came immediately. That’s an important lesson for us. We know Lord’s name, we call Him by His name day and night, and yet He doesn’t come. Because we are not serious and the name means nothing to us. Nothing special, that is – just a couple of syllables. Gajendra approached it differently.
Whenever we need something, we need to solve a particular problem. There’s context to our every request and desire, and all our problems are of material kind requiring material solutions. We want material elements and objects to rearrange themselves and start acting in a different way. Why would the Lord come to do that? This has nothing to do with Him or His role in the running of the universe. Gajendra saw it deeper (though he remembered a prayer from his previous human life). He went for the heart of the matter, pun intended. In his description of the Lord he stressed Lord’s fully independent position, Lord’s full control over material energy, Lord’s detachment from it, Lord’s unmanifested form etc etc. That was the entity he begged help from. He didn’t call 911, nor animal control, nor asked for a crowbar to stick in crocodile’s mouth – he didn’t ask for any material solutions. He asked for the source of everything and for the ultimate friend of everyone. In this situation the Lord couldn’t ignore his plea, which brings us to another point.
The Lord and His name are non-different, we know that, but from this līlā we can also learn that the Lord and His qualities are non-different and inseparable, too. Once we realize that, realize who the Lord really is in relation to matter and to our suffering, then we can call Him by this realization, by the qualities we see in this realization, and it will be the same as calling Him by His pure name. Or, if we put it differently – the name we usually call for Him does not appear because we don’t understand who He really is.
Chanting is mainly abhidheya, it’s the practice, but understanding I’m talking about here is sambandha, which precedes abhidheya. Therefore no matter how much we chant, we first need to get proper sambandha, proper understanding of our situation, of who the Lord is, of what He can do for us, and of what we can do for Him. Then chanting, abhidheya, will bring fruit – prayojana. If our sambandha is corrupted by presence of material desires and anarthas then abhidheya will not lead us where we want to go.
Unfortunately, this point was mentioned by Śukadeva Gosvāmī and elaborated by Śrīla Prabhupada after Gajendra’s prayers (ŚB 8.3.30) so I just read through them without realizing how important his description of the Lord really was. It was suitable exactly for his situation, too – because Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana did not think Gajendra meant Him and saving elephants isn’t Kṛṣṇa’s job anyway, not His kind of rasa. Speaking for myself, I think I can say more about that Kṛṣṇa than about the form of the Lord which deals with pour distressed souls in this world. Now I can list maybe two or three qualities that Gajendra mentioned and feel like I have to reread the whole chapter again.
It’s not a bad idea, but my mind is a sieve these days, I’m not sure how much I can retain and repeat, let alone remember for the next life like Gajendra did. We don’t carry words from one life to another, we carry concepts and desires, so it’s not just the verses and translations that has to be remembered, but their very essence, their deepest meaning. And it’s also not a random collection but they need to be organized in a proper way, how one quality follows from another or how they form hierarchical structure, which ones need to be put first, which ones need to come later etc. I’m not sure I’m up to it, but I’d ask for readers blessings anyway – without Vaiṣṇavas mercy, what chances of success are there?