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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, I had 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.

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. Being sick makes me crave for certain comfort things - like rasam and rice, like a good book and a warm comforter, like a hot cup of tea, and of course, a good moral story.

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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7 Comments:

At 3:32 AM, Blogger mnamma said...

Hugs Sheela. This is one of my favorite stories as well and the meaning of closing lines of Vishnu Sahasranama is so profound. Like you said it yourself, this phase will soon pass. Until then, hang on there.

 
At 10:54 AM, Blogger Charu said...

Hi sheela,

How are you feeling?. Every single day I think of you. How you are managing everything on your own , lugging kids in and out to school,hospital, entertaining them cooking a hearty meal finding time to read and do projects . I get motivation and energy knowing that I am just doing 1/4 of what you are doing everyday but still it is hard some days.

Raising kids with everything we want for them is really challenging specially when we are sick.

The only wise words I quote is "It's good thing YOU are YOU" : )from a book NR is so fond of - "It's good thing you are not octopus" I love the book too since that's my mantra in life which carries me thru all challenges both personal and professional . When I feel down or have no energy , I see the blessings I have in my life.

Anna and oggie are given to you knowing that you are doing a heck of best job as mom , wife and as person as whole. Anna , oggie are blessed to have a wonderful mother like you .I don't see many people who are so nice like you sheela and I am happy to have known you.

Take care and just sign off from your regular duties for some time.
Every other thing can wait .

 
At 7:47 PM, Blogger IBH said...

Hi Sheela, second time commenting on your blog..I am very fond of this stories as well and also for the fact that I find solace or comfort in such moral stories when am sick!

hope you get better soon...

 
At 6:21 AM, Blogger Subhashree said...

My favorite story this one is. Thanks for typing it down. Can I link this story in my blog?

How are the kids and you now? Better. Get well, soon.

 
At 9:56 AM, Blogger Sheela said...

Thanks manamma... you are so right- the closing lines of Vishnu Sahasranamam is profound indeed...

I always remember the verses from Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2 Verses 62, 63, 64, 65 and 66 - actually, that was my motivation behind my last words in the post "Detached Attachment", as well as the need to ponder on the Infinite once in a while...

 
At 9:58 AM, Blogger Sheela said...

HI Charu, you are so kind, as always! What I am doing is nothing - it is what mothers are created to do, and I just feel terrible for not doing it effortlessly and cheerfully as I should.

Take Care... am sure you are getting ready for your trip - I certainly want to see NR before you go - maybe just me - I will leave the kids at home and try to visit you soon.

 
At 10:01 AM, Blogger Sheela said...

Thanks, IBH, always glad to hear from you here.

Thanks Subhashree - it seems like we have a few days of clear nose and "normal" health and then something else hits hard... "growing pains" as my mom says - that's how kids develop immunity I guess...

And sure, feel free to link to the story, no worries...

 

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