Honoring our Gurus: Learning from the life accounts of Rishis – VI
In the previous article, we looked into life accounts of the Rishis: Nachiketa and Yajnavalkya and of Rishikas: Gargi and Maitreyi. Let us now look into some delightful accounts from the life of Devarshi Nārada.
Rishi Nārada is a very interesting character in Hindu scriptures. He constantly travelled from one place to another, carrying news with him. Some people accused him of gossiping a lot. Therefore, in the Hindu society, when we come across a person, who is in the habit of carrying tales, we refer to them as ‘Nārada Muni’. The word Muni means a Sage.
But, a careful study of his life reveals that Nārada was no gossip-monger in the ordinary sense of the word. Instead, he acted as a carrier of news and gossip from one place to another, so as to achieve two noble ends: One, to disrupt the devious and harmful plans of Adharmic (unrighteous) people; Two, to impart valuable life lessons to common masses.
The name ‘Nārada’ has two meanings:
- He who gives the knowledge of Nara-Nārāyaṇa.
- He who takes away our ignorance.
Nārada was also a great musician. In his journeys, he constantly sang the praises of Bhagavān Vishnu and played the instrument Veeṇā, which is regarded as the oldest stringed musical instrument in the world. But, he did not become a great musician within a day.
The first story below describes how he became the best musician only after he overcame his jealousy for Tumburu, who was the best musician of his times. Nārada’s book on music is studied even today by scholars.
Jealousy made Rishi Nārada an inferior musician
Gandharva Tumburu and Rishi Nārada were both great devotees of Vishnu. Once, they both went to Vaikuntha, where Tumburu sang a melodious hymn in praise of Krishna. Pleased with his song, Krishna presented him many divine jewels and clothes. Nārada became jealous of Tumburu. He decided to please Bhagavān Shiva to learn music from Him and become the best musician. Shiva was pleased, but Krishna still did not feel impressed enough with his music to give jewels and clothes to Nārada as gifts.
Nārada then practiced music for several years in the hope that he would outdo Tumburu. But even that was not sufficient. Finally, Nārada decided to give up his jealousy and hatred towards Tumburu and requested him to teach music. Tumburu agreed, and taught Nārada all that he knew. Thereafter, Nārada went to Dwārakā and sang a song for Krishna who said, “Now your music is indeed wonderful, because it is not mixed with jealousy.” Saying this, Krishna then gave some divine gifts to Nārada in appreciation.
To whom does Bhagavān Vishnu grant Moksha?
Once, Sage Nārada was on his way to Vaikuntha, the abode of Bhagavān Vishnu when he encountered two Yogis meditating on Vishnu. One of them was a leather-worker (cobbler), who meditated under a tree. The other was a learned Brahmana, who also meditated close by and performed all the ceremonies daily. They both asked Nārada to check with Vishnu as to how many more lives they would have to live through and meditate before they could see Vishnu.
Sage Nārada did, as requested. On his way back from Vaikuntha, he told the first Yogi (who was the cobbler), “Bhagavān Vishnu said that you will be reborn as many times as there are leaves on the tree under which you are meditating. So continue meditating for that number of lives, and then your Atman will merge with that of Vishnu.” The Yogi replied, “Blessed I am that Bhagavān Vishnu has put a limit to the number of my rebirths. I will now continue to meditate with even greater enthusiasm, because I see light at the end of the tunnel. I am just happy with the fact that Vishnu is pleased with me.”
The moment the cobbler uttered this, Bhagavān Vishnu appeared and said, “My child! I will grant you Moksha (i.e. Liberation from the cycle of birth and death) here and now, because you meditated not for any selfish motive, but for My pleasure, out of pure devotion to me. You have all the qualities of a good Bhakta, and therefore, you do not have to be reborn even once anymore.”
Then, Nārada went further and encountered the second Yogi to whom he said, “You have earned the favor of Vishnu. The Lord of the Universe said that you need to be reborn only 5 more lives now.” The second Yogi, upon hearing this, fumed and fretted. He exclaimed, “I cannot believe that all my effort has so far been a waste. I spent my entire life meditating on Vishnu to get Moksha, and all I get is this! I think I deserved better. I do not have the patience to meditate for more time, forget about five more lives.”
He rolled his meditation mat and gave up his faith in Vishnu. As a result, he became distracted from the path of Moksha. In fact, he never had selfless faith in Vishnu because he was meditating only with the fruit of Moksha in mind.
Nārada learns that work is worship, when it is done for Bhagavān
Nārada Muni travelled continuously from one realm of existence to the other, chanting praises to Bhagavān Vishnu. Sometime later, pride entered his heart and he came to think of himself as the greatest Bhakta of Vishnu. To confirm that his self-impression was true, he went to Krishna and asked Him, “Bhagavān, who do You consider to be Your best devotee in the universe?”
Krishna replied, “This question is really difficult to answer. But let me take you to the home of a farmer in Hemakūta. I think of him as My greatest devotee.” Krishna and Nārada changed their appearance and arrived at the farmer’s doorstep. The sun was setting, and the farmer’s wife had just served her husband and their two kids some food. Seeing strangers at his doorstep, the tired and exhausted farmer invited them inside and asked them if they needed anything. The visitors asked for some food.
The only food available was what the farmer’s wife had cooked. So the farmer gave his food to the stranger. The wife, seeing that their two visitors were still hungry, gave her food to them as well. The visitors further said that they were tired and wanted to sleep after dinner. As the farmer’s hut was very small, the couple and their kids went outside the hut to sleep and kindly gave their small hut to the visitors to sleep.
Next morning, the farmer and his wife prepared some more food and served breakfast to the visitors. Krishna (in disguise) then said that he wanted to go to the farmer’s field. So the farmer asked them to accompany him. There in the field, the farmer set to tilling the land laboriously with his bullock, explaining to Krishna and Nārada (in disguise) the tiring work of agriculture. After a few hours, when it was time for rest, Krishna asked the farmer, “You keep so busy all the time. You work in the fields all day. Then you go home, feed your buffalo. Your wife prepares meager food from the very little income you have. You eat it with your family, play a bit with your kids, ask about their school and then go to bed – completely exhausted. Do you ever get time to remember Bhagavān?”
The farmer replied, “I am a humble poor farmer, who must work and work to feed my family and my buffalo. But three times in the day, I get a chance to remember Bhagavān. When I leave home and walk towards the field in the morning, when I walk back towards my home at sunset, and just when I am about to sleep in the night.”
Nārada snickered when he heard that and thought to himself, “Ahh, he remembers Bhagavān only thrice. I remember Him thousands of times throughout the day. Perhaps Krishna has now understood that I am his greatest devotee, not this farmer.”
When the two visitors were about to leave, the poor farmer gave them a pitcher of oil as a gift, saying, “This oil is extracted from the mustard seeds that I cultivate. I’d be grateful if you’d accept it as a gift.” The visitors were charmed by the poor farmer’s generosity and left.
After they had gone some distance, Krishna suddenly said, “Nārada, I want you to place this pitcher of oil on your head, and walk carefully so that not a single drop spills out.” Nārada agreed. It was really tough for him, and he was nervous all the time. After an hour, Krishna asked him, “So, how many times did you remember me, Nārada, while you carried that oil pitcher on your head?” Nārada replied, “I was so nervous about spilling it that I did not dare to remember you even once.”
Krishna smiled and said, “Look at that humble farmer Nārada. His life is so hard. He works the entire day for a meager income. He has the heavy responsibility of his family on his head, heavier than this oil pitcher. Yet, he continues to work day after day. And what is so praiseworthy is that he has no pride in his heart, and he takes my name with devotion three times in the day. Do you think your life is tougher than him? Do you think he becomes inferior to you just because he does not remember me thousands of times in the day like you – you who are a wandering Rishi, who does not have any responsibilities in life?”
Sage Nārada was humbled. He realized that the farmer performed his duties with devotion and without getting annoyed with his tough life. And yet, even though, he remembered Bhagavān only three times in the entire day, the fact was that every action of that farmer was actually an act of worship. The triple prayer of the farmer was merely a formality to dedicate his day’s entire worth of good Karma to Vishnu! And nothing is more precious to Vishnu than the hard work, we have put in and dedicated to Him completely, including the results of such hard work.
Nārada learns how to love the Lord selflessly
Once Sage Nārada went to Krishna and complained, “You always keep praising the love and devotion of the illiterate milkmaids (Gopīs) of Vrindāvana. Your wives are very upset because you seem to like the Gopīs more than them. What is so special about the devotion of the Gopīs?”
Krishna said he will answer this question later because he had a headache. When Nārada offered to get some medicine to cure the headache, Krishna refused, saying, “Only the dust from the feet of my devotee can cure my headache.”
Nārada went to Krishna’s wives, friends and relatives one by one, but they all refused to give the dust from their feet, saying, “If we give the dust of our feet to our Lord for his head, we will go to hell. How can we be so disrespectful towards our Lord?”
Nārada went to every place in the universe and asked every devotee, if they could give the dust of their feet to apply to the forehead of the Lord. But they all refused for the same reason that they cannot insult Krishna and go to hell. Disappointed, Nārada returned to Krishna and told him that no one in the universe wanted to give the dust of his or her feet to cure Krishna’s headache. Krishna asked, “But Nārada, did you go and ask the Gopīs of Vrindāvana for the dust of their feet?”
Nārada laughed and said, “Surely you must be joking Bhagavān! What can the dust from the feet of those illiterate and uncouth rural women tending cattle do to rid you of your headache? But, if you insist, let me go there too.”
At Vrindāvana, the Gopīs welcomed the sage and eagerly asked him, if he had met Krishna, and how He was doing. Nārada told them that Krishna was doing fine, except that he had an excruciating headache. The Gopīs became sad, and asked, “Don’t you have good physicians in Dwārakā for prescribing some medicine to cure the headache?” Nārada said, “Nothing will work. Krishna thinks that only the dust from the feet of his devotees will be able to cure his headache.”
As soon as the Gopīs heard this, one of them placed her most expensive shawl on the ground. All of them started stomping their feet on the clay on the ground and then they dusted off their feet on the shawl. The Gopīs then tied the shawl filled with dust into a bundle and presented it to Nārada.
Nārada was aghast. He scolded the Gopīs and said, “How ill-mannered and disrespectful can you be towards Krishna! You claim to be His servants, His devotees, and yet you do not think twice before throwing the dust of your feet on his head! Don’t you know that you will invite His anger with your actions? You will all go to hell for disrespecting Krishna!”
The Gopīs said, “We do not mind going to hell, nor do we mind facing his anger. All we want is that Krishna’s headache should go away and that He feels fine again. So, please do not wait here. Hurry! Take this dust to our Lord immediately. For His comfort, we do not mind suffering endlessly.”
Nārada was overwhelmed with the reply of Gopīs. Now, he understood why Krishna constantly praised their devotion. The love and devotion of Gopīs, unlike that of others, was completely unselfish and un-demanding. The Gopīs did not care for their own welfare. All they wanted was that their Lord should be happy, even if it meant great pain to themselves.
The Nature of Māyā – the Enchanting World [As Narrated by Swami Ramakrishna Paramahamsa]
“Once Nārada besought the Lord of the universe, “Lord, show me that Maya of Thine, which can make the impossible possible.” The Lord nodded assent. Subsequently, the Lord one day set out on a travel with Nārada. After going some distance, He felt very thirsty and fatigued. So He sat down and told Nārada, “Nārada, I feel very much thirsty; please get me a little water from somewhere.” Nārada at once ran in search of water.
Finding no water nearby, he went far away from the place and saw a river at a great distance. When he approached the river, he saw a most charming young lady sitting there, and was at once captivated by her beauty. As soon as Nārada went near her, she began to address him in sweet words, and before long, both fell in love with each other. Nārada then married her, and settled down as a householder. In the course of time, he had a number of children by her. And while he was thus living happily with his wife and children, there came a pestilence in the country. Death began to collect its toll from every place.
Then, Nārada proposed to abandon the place and go somewhere else. His wife acceded to it, and they both came out of their house leading their children by the hand. But, no sooner did they come to the bridge to cross the river than there came a terrible flood, and in the rush of water, all their children were swept away one after another, and at last, the wife too was drowned. Overwhelmed with grief at his bereavement, Nārada sat down on the bank and began to weep piteously. Just then the Lord appeared before him, saying, “O Nārada, where is the water? And why are you weeping?” The sight of the Lord startled the sage, and then he understood everything. He exclaimed, “Lord, my salutations to You, and my salutations also to Your wonderful Maya.”
The teaching of the story is that no matter how learned, wise and detached we are, the spell of this enchanting world is very powerful and difficult to overcome. Even Rishis are caught off-guard at times, and can get entrapped in it despite their past spiritual attainments. We all forget that all our experiences, relationships, and all the persons or objects that we come into contact with are temporary and perishable, but we get deluded into believing that they are meant to be everlasting.
(From Tales and Parables of Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna Math. Mylapore: Madras, pp. 49-51)
Nārada learns the value of Japa – Chanting the Name of the Lord
One day, Rishi Nārada went to Vishnu and asked, “Why does everyone say that chanting ‘Om Namo Nārāyaṇāya’ is beneficial?” Vishnu replied, “Chant the mantra in the ears of any creature and you will see the effect. Then, let us discuss what you saw.”
Accordingly, Devarshi Nārada chanted the mantra, when he saw a worm. Immediately, the worm died.
Rishi Nārada went to Bhagavan Vishnu and gave him the bad news. But, Vishnu asked him to do chant the mantra again. Next, Nārada saw a butterfly and chanted the mantra. But alas, the butterfly immediately fell dead on the ground.
Vishnu said, “Look there, mother deer has just given bith to a baby. Chant the mantra in the baby deer’s ears.” When Nārada did that, the fawn (baby deer) too died. Nārada was getting more and more impatient and also feeling guilty. But, Vishnu said, “A cow has just given birth to a calf. I want you to chant that mantra in the calf’s ears.” As expected, the mantra had the effect of killing the calf.
Now Nārada lost his patience. He said, “Everyone will now call me the murderer of a calf. Why have you done this to me?” But Bhagavan Vishnu smiled and said, “Why do you lose faith in me so soon? The King of Varanasi has just become a father. Go and meet with the baby boy and chant the mantra in his ears as well.”
Nārada refused and said, “I do not want to be the killer of a human baby.” But Vishnu persuaded him, “Do it for one last time.”
Nārada reached Varanasi and the King welcomed him with due honors. The King requested, “Respected Rishi, it is our good fortune that you have arrived at the birth of my son. Please be kind to bless him, and whisper a mantra in my child’s ears.”
With great hesitation, Nārada went to near the child, and whispered gently in his ears, “Om Namo Nārāyaṇāya’. Surprisingly, the baby woke up, and smiled. He looked at Nārada and spoke like an adult, “Rishi, I must thank you for uttering the great mantra in my previous lives. As a result of that, I progressively took rebirth in higher and higher life forms, and finally got this human body. Now in this body, I can devote myself to the worship of Bhagavan Vishnu and attain Moksha.”
Nārada was surprised to hear this, and he learned two things – First, chanting the name of the Lord with devotion and understanding was not futile, and brings great rewards both to the chanter and to the listener; Second, what we see with our eyes are not necessarily the entire truth, or even truth at all. What appears sorrowful to us at any moment might be merely a stepping stone to great joy and vice versa. Our limited understanding, knowledge and vision often make us believe in a distorted picture of the whole reality.
Nārada realizes that Bhagavān is more than what people imagine Him to be
Once, Indra approached Krishna for help. Indra said that Narakāsura, the king of a part of eastern India, had been troubling everyone, especially women. In fact, he had captured 16,000 women and had kept them in jail. There, his soldiers and friends kept on abusing and troubling the women. Therefore, Krishna invaded the kingdom of Narakāsura with his wife Satyabhāmā, and killed him. He released all the women from the jails, and they all wished to marry Krishna because they had nowhere else to go. Therefore, Krishna married all of them and took them with him to Dwaraka.
Sometime later, Sage Nārada decided to check as to how Krishna was doing after the battle with Narakāsura and his subsequent marriage to 16,000 women. So, he reached Dwaraka, and was surprised to see thousands of palaces in that beautiful city.
He entered one of the palaces and saw Krishna talking with one of the 16,000 wives. So, Nārada thought that perhaps Krishna spends a day with one wife, the next day with another and the third day with his third wife and so on. He then went to the next palace and was surprised to see Krishna again there. Krishna was playing with his children from the second wife. When Nārada went to the palace of the third queen, he found Krishna talking to the queen about making arrangements for a wedding. Nārada went to several other palaces, but to his shock, he found Krishna in all of them, doing different things in each palace independently of the other forms. Each queen thought that Krishna was with her, but in reality, Krishna had multiplied himself 16,000 times and was able to take care of each queen lovingly and completely. Nārada realized that Krishna had infinite powers and could multiple Himself infinitely! Earlier, when Krishna was a child in Vrindavana, he would multiply himself into identical forms during the Rāsaleelā dance and each Gopi thought that Krishna was dancing with her alone.
All these instances show that Bhagavān can take care of trillions of living beings and billions of galaxies all by Himself without exhausting his powers. Unfortunately, we human beings, with our own finite vision, understanding and knowledge tend to impose our limitations on the infinite Divine, and tend to see him through our imperfect lens. But the fact is that the Supreme Being is much beyond what we can imagine Him to be, and we can never know or understand him completely and in totality. Through these stories, our Rishis are actually teaching us to not to be bigoted regarding any one conception of the Lord, which is by nature finite and limited. Instead, they are urging us to expand our horizons and move beyond out finite limitations towards indefiniteness of the Lord.
This acceptance of infiniteness is the recipe of harmony and universal acceptance. If only, some of the intolerant and exclusivist religions were to stop imposing their inadequate ‘One book, One Prophet, One Son, One teaching, One God’ worldview on others, and give up their monopolistic claims over the truth, and start appreciating the infiniteness of the Lord to manifest innumerable names and forms, then world will be a far better place with more peace, harmony, and acceptance. Let us not reduce the Infinite Divine to our finite mental formulations.