A short history of one of the most famous saints of the Vedic tradition.
THE ANGRY SNAKE LAY coiled in the grass, waiting to spring at the oncoming feet.
The feet belonged to Narada's mother, who couldn't see the agitated viper. Not only was it too dark, but her mind was centered on getting to the cowshed. There, she would milk a cow and then bring the milk back to the house.
The snake saw the feet coming closer closer. Then, just as one foot was about to trample it, the serpent lunged and sank its deadly fangs into the foot, venom squirting rapidly into its victim's bloodstream.
Narada's mother screamed and gazed down fearfully. Seeing the snake attached to her foot, she grabbed it by the neck, pulled it off, and flung it as far away as she could.
As she hastily continued toward the barn, she suddenly felt a weakness, a limpness, come over her. She halted, rubbing the side of her head where it had begun to throb. Then, no longer able to stand, she helplessly collapsed to the ground. Her breath came in tense, painful gasps. She tried to cry for help, but her weakened voice failed her. Feeling alone, distressed, and helpless, she knew she would soon be dead.
When her five-year-old son, Narada, learned that she had passed away, he could not help thinking about her. She had been a maidservant at a brahmana's house while trying to raise him. He recalled the last rainy season when it had just begun. Several itinerant devotees of Lord Visnu had asked for and received shelter at the house. The master had assigned Narada's mother to cater to their needs during the four months they would be there. Gladly serving them, she delegated some of her duties to her son. Narada would, for example, deliver their food to them and clean their quarters.
As a result of serving the holy men and receiving their blessings Narada suddenly became very spiritually inclined. He was self-controlled and uninterested in childish sports. Never ill behaved, he spoke only that which was necessary.
The Power Of Prasadam
One day, while he was taking away the renunciants' leftovers prasadam, or eatables that had been offered to and blessed by God he asked if he could eat them. Understanding his purpose, they gladly consented, and Narada consumed and relished all their remnants.
Just from this holy contact, all the karmic punishments that Narada would normally have received from the sins he had committed in his past lives were instantly eradicated. Thus, his heart became purified and he became strongly attracted to transcendental living. He therefore eagerly listened to the sages describing the attractive activities of Lord Krsna. And with each telling, he became increasingly enrapt so much so that his taste for knowing about Krsna's divine exploits escalated daily. This resulted in his realizing that he was not his material body or mind but an eternal, spiritual soul.
As Narada continued serving the sages, he developed strong faith in them. They, in turn, instructed him in confidential, spiritual knowledge. He learned where souls originally come from, why they are in this world, what causes them to suffer, and how they may become free from all misery. He also discovered that he had an eternal relationship with God and even though it had become dormant, he could revive it by the process of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service to Him. He further learned that he could eventually enter the divine world where God dwells and acts and personally meet and serve Him there. To Narada, there was no higher goal than this.
At the end of the rainy and autumn seasons, the holy men bid Narada goodbye and wandered off to other places.
Now that Narada's mother was dead, what would he do? Who would attend to him? Considering this, he felt quite helpless. Though he was sad from being separated from his mother, he knew that she had merely gone to another realm and that the Lord would take good care of her. He also understood that her leaving him while he was so young was God's special mercy, for now he would have to depend solely on the Lord to guide and help him. Since he had full faith in God, he left the brahmana'shouse and walked onto the road. Completely alone and determined to be an itinerant devotee just like the sages who had initiated him he now headed north.
Seeing The Lord In The Heart
Narada passed through many thriving cities, towns, villages, valleys, vegetable and animal farms, flower and nursery gardens, and natural forests. He saw hills and mountains full of gold, silver, and copper, as well as land tracts with water reservoirs filled with attractive lotus flowers fit for the residents of the heavenly planets. He ventured through numerous forests, bamboo reeds, sharp grasses, weeds, and caves, which were difficult for him to forge through alone. And he saw dark and dangerous forests that were the playgrounds of snakes, owls, and jackals.
After a while, he felt not only physical and mental exhaustion, but also intense hunger and thirst. But he soon came upon a lake, and after bathing in it and drinking its water, he felt relieved and refreshed.
Continuing on, Narada discovered an uninhabited forest, where he sat down under the shade of a banyan tree and began to meditate. Then, as the sages had taught him, he focused his attention on the Supersoul in his heart. As he gazed resolutely at the Lord's lotuslike feet, his heart became filled with transcendental love, and tears flowed from his eyes.
Narada instantly saw Lord Krsna in his heart, and this vision filled him with indescribable happiness. Every part of his body became thrilled and enlivened with ecstasy. In fact, Narada became so blissful that he could no longer see the Lord. And yet he wanted to continue seeing Him, for the vision gave him total satisfaction. Perturbed by the loss, Narada concentrated firmly on his heart and tried again and again to see that divine form. But hard as he tried, he could not succeed. This greatly frustrated and distressed him.
Noting the child's grief, the Lord within suddenly but gravely said to him, "Narada, I'm sorry to say that you will not see Me for the rest of your life."
"What!" Narada was taken aback.
"Because you're still incomplete in devotional service."
"Yes. But the more service you perform, the purer your heart will become."
"But why did You let me see You today?"
"To increase your desire for Me."
"Yes. The more you remember Me and hanker after Me, the more you'll be freed from your worldly desires."
"And when I'm free from them, will I be able to see you then?"
"Yes, always and everywhere."
Narada became hopeful.
"By My mercy, you will never forget Me."
When the Lord stopped speaking, Narada felt relieved and grateful. He therefore offered Him his obeisances.
From that time on, Narada remembered and chanted the Lord's name and glories regularly, for he knew how immensely beneficial those practices are. Thus, he continued traveling all over the world, fully satisfied, humble, and content. At the end of his life, he was free from all materialistic desires and karma. The Lord then awarded him a transcendental body, which is eternally knowledgeable and blissful, and which enables one to see the Supreme Lord always.
Many years later, when Lord Brahma's day ended (after 4.32 billion years), the world was destroyed. At that time Narada, along with Brahma, entered the Supreme Lord's body and remained there in divine consciousness. At the end of Lord Brahma's night (4.32 billion years), when Brahma awoke he once more created the world. Then Narada appeared from Brahma's body in the same transcendental form he had when he had previously entered God's body. Since then, by the grace of Lord Visnu, Narada travels everywhere without restriction, both in the material and spiritual worlds, performing devotional service for Him.
Wherever Narada travels, he always sings God's glories and plays devotional music on his vina. This stringed instrument is charged with transcendental sound and was given to him by Lord Krsna Himself. As soon as Narada sings about the Lord's holy activities and plays a devotional melody, Lord Krsna, as if summoned, instantly appears in Narada's heart.
Narada's message to everyone is "You can cross over the rough ocean of materialistic desires, anxieties, and miseries with the boat of constant conversation about the transcendental activities of the Supreme Lord. This gives you pure love of God and complete delight and fulfillment. Possessing these, you need nothing else."
Thus, Narada not only achieved his spiritual goal of being able to see God always but by his expert teaching and perfect example, he continues to instruct many other souls on how to do the same.
Amala Bhakta Dasa, well-known for his audio recordings of Krsna conscious books, is the author of The Life of Tulasi Devi, Mystical Stories from the Mahabharata, and Mystical Stories from the Srimad-Bhagavatam.