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Rarely There

A collection of discourses - myriad, profound, uplifting...
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Monday, November 24, 2008

'Twixt the Cosmic Minutiae

One day, Sage Narada was wandering the worlds as usual and decided to stop by Vaikunta to pay respects to Lord Vishnu. Knowing Sage Narada, Vishnu promptly asks, "What is it this time, Narada? What great question do you want me to answer now?"

To which Narada blushingly replies, "But, my Lord, I just came to humbly submit myself before Thee... but, since you are in the mood to answer, I do have a simple question".

Vishnu beams purposefully, divining what's to follow.

Narada asks, "My Lord Narayana, who in all the worlds is your favorite devotee? Who is it that you easily and gladly bestow your favors on?"

Now, Sage Narada in Hindu mythology is not restricted by the space-time and freely travels the different worlds/dimensions, meeting various beings, singing and chanting his favorite Lord's name: Narayana (a.k.a Vishnu). He established the Bhakti Yoga and is considered an ardent and foremost devotee of Lord Vishnu. He spends almost all his time singing Narayana's praises. So, he naturally assumed the answer to be obvious: himself! Of course! And, he was breathless to hear Vishnu pronounce Narada as his favorite devotee.

Little did he know...

As soon as Narada blurted out the question, Vishnu said, I will reveal the answer, but, until I do, come with me and do what I ask of you.

And so, Narada willingly went along with Vishnu to a little farm on Earth, where a poor farmer was tilling his field and sweating honest sweat trying to keep his family happy. When Narada and Vishnu arrived (invisible to the farmer, of course), the farmer's wife was calling him for lunch.

So, the farmer joined his wife and kids under a shady tree, smiled reassuringly and got ready for his meal. Right before his meal, he invoked Narayana's name, thanking him for his family, and the food, and dutifully ascribing all the fruits of his labor to Vishnu himself. Then, they ate in relative silence, enjoying every mouthful of the old rice and watered down buttermilk, feeling blessed to be able to quench their hunger thusly. Then, he bid adieu to his family, and went back to work, not thinking about Narayana except once while tilling the soil hard - dedicating the work to Narayana and asking him to help his crops flourish this planting season.

Narada was puzzled. "Could this be my Lord's favorite devotee? How can that be?I am the one singing his name all the time... this farmer barely thought of my Lord twice this day and that too briefly... there can be no greater devotee than me, can there?" he thought...

...and Vishnu, reading his thoughts, smiled benevolently and placed a terra cota pot full of water on Narada's head and said, "My dear Narada, do not worry yourself. Balance this pot on your head and walk around this farm once, taking care not to spill even one drop of water. I will wait here for you to finish the round and then all will be revealed."

So, Narada respectfully balanced the pot on his head and started his walk around the farm concentrating fiercely on not letting even one drop of water from the pot hit the ground. He took his own sweet time while Vishnu waited patiently.

Finally, when Narada came back and triumphantly declared, "My Lord, I completed the task you gave me - very carefully I walked around and you will notice that not even one drop spilled."

Vishnu simply said, "In your walk around the farm how many times did you think of me? How many times did you invoke my name and dedicate the task of not spilling the water to me?"

Narada was dumbfounded. "But, my Lord, I was focused on the task, how could I think of you and sing your praises then?"

Vishnu explained, "Narada, while performing a simple menial task you were unable to think of me, however, this farmer, bowed down by weight of woe, balancing several burdens on his shoulders each day, manages to think of me, even if briefly! To me, such heartfelt devotion, despite being careworn and fulfilling his life's duties of being a father, a husband and a provider, is far superior than any other."

"Now do you understand?", Vishnu added with a meaningful smile.

Narada prostrated and thanked the Lord for opening his eyes to his own foolish pride.


Pardon my lengthy narration, but I wanted to compile and present this story as I have it in my head...

I read this story (or a version of it) in Amar Chitra Katha when I was 10 years old and it made such an indelible impression that I remember it even today, decades later.

This story has layers and shades of meaning that comes out each time I think about it. It can be a simple story with a moral, or a profound spiritual teaser, depending on how one wants to look at it.

Some of the philosophical discussions I have had with my dad involve the underlying moral in this story: Live your life as best as you can, and in the process of living a good life, if you can think of a higher purpose, if you can dedicate all your toils and fruits to this higher purpose, it is a life well-lived.

One of the first few Sanskrit slokas my dad taught me simply states that whatever I do via body, speech, mind, senses, intellect, soul or other innate tendencies, I dedicate it all to Lord Narayana.

Kayena vaacha, manasendriyairva, budhyatmanavah, prakruteh swabhavath, karomi yadhyad sakalam parasmai, Narayanayethi samarpayami


Now, the tricky part that begs to be asked is how about criminals - can't they just do what nasty deed they do and dedicate it to Narayana? Well, sure... that's where karma comes in...

Why am I rambling on here? Well, I've been sick, Ana has strep throat, and Oggie is having another bad week of teething. While tending to the kids, praying for their well-being, seeking strength for me so that I can provide them the comfort they need, I seem to always gravitate towards pondering on the Infinite... I am sure it will pass... but for now, I am grateful that my ruminations are far less pedestrian than usual...

who am I am?, why am I here?, what purpose am I serving?, am I happy?, am I raising happy kids?, am I bringing happiness to anybody's life at all?, what is happiness anyway?, is it ok not to be happy?, what is equanimity? why is it not easy to practice detached-attachment? ...

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