—by Satsvarupa das Adhikari
If you have read or heard even a small sampling of the vast Vedic literature, you have come upon the name of Narada, who is depicted on the back cover of this issue of Back to Godhead. He is a great bhakta (devotee) of the Supreme Lord Narayana, or Krsna. Etymologically analyzed, nara means of Narayana or the Lord (Krsna), and da means deliverer. Narada is the deliverer of the Lord and the Lord’s message. Of course there are countless preachers, gurus, evangelists, mendicants and religious representatives traveling all throughout this planet, but Narada Muni is eminently distinguished. His pupils include the greatest devotees. Also, he is not restricted to one planet, but has the facility to travel to any part of the universe without the aid of a spaceship. Most importantly, Narada teaches the topmost process of God realization—bhakti, devotion to God—and he is coming in the unbroken line of disciplic succession originating with the Supreme Lord Himself. These qualifications of the sage Narada are described in Vedic literatures such as Srimad-Bhagavatam, Ramayana, etc., where Narada is called the eternal spaceman.
Long ago, as will be described here, Narada attained the spiritual perfection of liberation from the round of birth and death in the material world. He is thus eternally unconditioned, existing in his eternal, spiritual body. In this way, he is almost as good as the Supreme Lord Himself. Narada is the deliverer of the Hare Krsna mantra, called the mahamantra or Great Chanting for Deliverance. He is described: Narada Muni bajaya vina radhika ramana name. “Narada Muni plays the vina chanting Hare Krsna.” The Hare Krsna mantra—Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare—is the potent benediction for the present spiritually deprived age, Kali Yuga, in which other spiritual processes are not possible. The Srimad-Bhagavatam, First Canto, Chapter 6, text 34, states: “It is personally experienced by Narada Muni that for persons who are always full with cares and anxieties on account of desiring contact of the senses with sense objects, constant chanting of the transcendental activities of the Personality of Godhead is just the suitable boat for crossing the ocean of nescience.”
Most people in this age are not very serious about spiritual advancement and cannot undertake rigorous, austere disciplines, but anyone can chant Hare Krsna or simply hear about Krsna. Not only can Narada travel wherever the Lord desires him to go, carrying the first-class spiritual process, bhakti (devotional service), but he is an especially empowered authority who can convince the most fallen. In Teachings of Lord Caitanya, Caitanya Mahaprabhu reveals Narada Muni as an avatara of the saktyavesa category. Narada is not considered the Personality of Godhead Himself, but he is directly empowered with an opulence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in order to carry out the Lord’s will. Narada, then, is technically a saktyavesa avatara potent with the opulence of devotion. The basis of his teaching is expressed in Narada-bhakti-sutras and Narada-pancaratra. Narada explains that nobody can check the thinking, feeling and willing activities of the individual. Therefore, if someone is desirous of getting out of the frustrating, death-bound life of material consciousness, he must change the subject matter of his activities, which is not to say he must renounce them. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, as spiritual master in disciplic succession from Narada, writes: “Instead of talking in politics of a dying man, one may discuss the politics administered by the Lord Himself; instead of relishing the movie actors he may turn his attention to the activities of the Lord with His eternal associates, the gopis.” Narada recommends bhakti, or activities of the purified senses, as the process by which one can cross the ocean of birth and death, the source of all miseries, and be promoted to the transcendental position. We are already thinking, feeling and willing; if we simply begin to think, feel and will on behalf of Krsna, under the guidance of a spiritual master, then we will at once feel transcendental ecstasy and reject the material platform of life. He assures us from his own experience that devotional service activities will be successful. It is advised that we can experience the same success as Narada if we begin to follow the path of bhakti in the footsteps of this great sage, who is the dearmost devotee of the Lord.
In the First Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Narada Muni relates to his pupil Vyasadeva the incidences of his previous birth, before he became the immortal sage we all know as Narada: “O Muni [Vyasadeva], in my past life, during the last millennium, I was born as the son of a certain maidservant engaged in the service of brahmanas who were following the principle of Vedanta. When they were living together during the four months of the rainy season I was engaged in their personal service.” In his previous life, then, Narada was engaged in devotional service at the earliest age. Lord Krsna says that to do service for His servants is more valuable than direct service to Himself. Narada’s parentage was insignificant as his mother was just a maidservant. Narada was automatically given the most rare opportunity of rendering personal service to devotees of the Lord. Because some holy brahmanas were used to staying at the place where his mother was a servant, Narada, at less than five years of age, was in contact with them, and thus his door to liberation was opened. He states that the devotee brahmanas blessed him with their causeless mercy. They found this poor boy to be without any attachment to sporting habits; he was not naughty, nor did he speak more than required. Thus, although the devotees are impartial by nature, they were able to shower their full downpour of mercy in the form of transcendental knowledge and devotional service onto this uneducated young boy.
The boy Narada’s association with the pure devotees was consummated the moment he took up the remnants of their foodstuff. By so doing, all his sins were at once eliminated. As servant, the boy was cleaning up for the devotees, and noticing some remnants of food on their plates he asked their permission to take, and they of course encouraged him. As pure devotees, these bhakti-vedantas (knowers of Vedanta through devotional service) ate only prasadam, or foodstuffs which are first offered to the Supreme Lord with prayers. It is understood that prasadam is not ordinary food, but once accepted by the Lord it becomes as good as the Lord Himself, by His mercy. So the boy took this mercy of the bhakti-vedantas and became infected with their qualities of purity. Having associated with them, and having once eaten the remnants of their food, Narada advanced into transcendental life.
He then began to hear from them about the absolute truth. This is the way in which Narada gained eternal life, unlimited knowledge and unfathomed bliss, with facility to travel anywhere in the material worlds. Simply by hearing attentively authentic information about the Personality of Godhead from a bona fide authority, all his past sins were cleaned off and he was liberated from mundane association. Narada relates to his pupil Vyasadeva: “O Vyasadeva, in that association and by the mercy of the great Vedantists describing the attractive activities of Lord Krsna, I purified my aural reception. Thus hearing attentively, step by step my taste for hearing of the Personality of Godhead became manifest.”
Our spiritual master has told us many times that love of God is natural, original with us; however, due to our false attraction to the perishable material world and illusion of the body as our self and material things as our possessions, this consciousness is now dormant. So the wonderful change that occurs by chanting Hare Krsna or hearing about Krsna’s activities is not an artificial imposition on the mind, but is the natural return to our original consciousness. We may not be able to completely realize this at first, but very quickly the consciousness of the sincere chanter changes, and his material anxieties and desires fade away. Narada described how he developed definite realization of the Personality of Godhead as the absolute reality and how his attention became uninterrupted in hearing about the Lord. By hearing about the absolute, one becomes associated with the supreme light which dissipates all ignorance. The bhakti-vedantas were never speaking mundane topics of politics or sensuous affairs before Narada; nor were they teaching him negative concepts of reality, such as speculations on the concept of void or the impersonal aspect of the absolute truth. They were constantly engaged in chanting about the pastimes of the Personality of Godhead, who possesses inconceivable potencies; and by submissively hearing, the son of the maidservant felt his ignorance being removed.
Our spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, writes: “By ignorance only the conditioned soul wrongly thinks that he is a product of the material nature and that the Personality of Godhead is also a product of matter. But in fact, the Personality of Godhead and the living being are transcendental and have nothing to do with the material nature When nescience is removed, then it is perfectly realized that there is nothing existing without the Personality of Godhead. As the gross and subtle bodies are emanations from the Personality of Godhead, the revival of transcendental knowledge permits one to engage both of them in the service of the Lord.” The gross body can be engaged in rendering service, cleaning the temple, distributing Krsna conscious literature and bowing down in the temple, and the subtle mind can hear and think of the transcendental pastimes of the Lord. The realization by which one can change his activities into transcendental activities develops without apprehension in execution of the bhakti path. Narada grasped this at once by his superior attraction for the Supreme Personality of Godhead—through the most effective method of hearing from pure souls. As Narada tells it, “The flow of my devotional service began.” Devotional service is natural to everyone, but it is choked up and suspended due to our being covered by modes of passion and ignorance. In Narada’s case, the pure sound vibration of unadulterated devotees speaking the glories of the Supreme Lord at once removed the material coverings and his devotional service thus began. Or in other words, the eternal being who was residing in the body of the maidservant’s son woke up, and the ultimate goal—love of God—became manifest in his heart. Narada’s position before his teachers is a model for the disciple who wishes to attain success even within one lifetime: “I was very much attached to the bhakti-vedantas. I was gentle in behavior, and all my sins became eradicated in my heart. I had strong faith in them; I had subjugated the senses and was strictly following the bhakti-vedantas with body and mind.”
Eventually the rainy season and the autumn passed, and the bhakti-vedantas left the place where Narada and his mother were living. But the confidential part of knowledge, devotional service unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, had been implanted in Narada’s heart. Knowledge of the absolute truth—permanent and blissful behind all temporary shows—is not a cheap or easily attainable thing. According to the Bhagavad-gita, out of millions of men one may know the absolute truth, the Personality of Godhead.
When the immortal sage Narada told these things to Vyasadeva, his disciple became anxious to know how the boy passed the duration of his previous life and how he finally quit his body and attained a spiritual body of sac-cid-ananda (eternal life, bliss and knowledge) as Narada Muni the eternal spaceman. Narada related that after his initiation by the bhakti-vedantas there was a tangible change in his life, but as he was only five years old and the only child of his mother, he was bound to her with the tie of affection. Instead of being dependent on the Supreme Lord who is the only independent controller, the boy was dependent on his mother’s care, and she looked after him as if she were his maintainer. But Narada relates: “Once upon a time the poor woman, my mother, while engaged in milking a cow at night, was fatally bitten on the leg by a serpent as influenced by the supreme time.” In this way, the sincere soul who was being looked after by his mother had her withdrawn from the world by the supreme will, and he was thus put completely at the mercy of the Lord. “I took it as the special mercy of the Lord, who always desires benediction for His devotees. Thinking in this way, I started for the northern side.” This may seem surprising: a five-year-old boy, suddenly left all alone in the world, takes it as an auspicious direction from God. We find that most people when they are put into natural frustration and loss bewail the cruelty of their plight and even presume to be critical of the absolute will. But the devotee sees in every step the special mercy of the Lord. Bewailing our material losses is due to our ignorance of the real purpose of human life.
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami has written on this point: “Mundane prosperity is a kind of material fever and by the grace of the Lord, the feverish material temperature of the devotee is gradually diminished and spiritual health is obtained step by step.” So the orphaned boy at once took the daring step of making God his only shelter and maintainer. He did not spend time trying to make some economic adjustment for his future comfortable living, but he took to traveling. “I passed through many flourishing metropolises, towns, villages, animal farms, mines, agricultural lands, valleys, gardens and forests. I passed alone through many forests full of pipe, bamboo, sharp grass, weeds and caves difficult to go through alone. I visited the dangerous, fearful forests deep and dark, the play-yards of snakes, owls, jackals.” The boy was not making a whimsical youth’s journey by these travels. It is the duty of a mendicant to have experience of all varieties of God’s creation. This is called parivrajakacarya, to travel alone through all forests, hills, towns, etc., to gain faith in God and strength of mind, as well as to enlighten the inhabitants with the message of God. In the present age this is not possible for the ordinary man, but it was possible for Narada, who was finishing his last lifetime before his liberation.
“After that, under the shadow of a banyan tree in a forest without any human habitation, I began to meditate upon the supersoul situated within myself, using my intelligence as I learned by hearing from liberated souls. With my mind transformed into transcendental love I began to meditate upon the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead. Tears rolled down from my eyes, and immediately the Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krsna, appeared on the lotus of my heart.” It is understood that Narada was not performing a concocted meditation, but he had received knowledge from authoritative sources on how to meditate on the supersoul who is dwelling within every living being. There are five stages of transcendental development leading to love of God described in the Narada-bhakti-sutra. The first is called sraddha, or an initial interest in or liking for the Supreme Lord. After that, one practices the prescribed rules and regulations of devotional service which clear away misgivings and personal deficiencies. Then one develops firmness, or standard faith in the reality of transcendental life; then comes attraction, and then bhava, the stage prior to unalloyed love of God. Narada Muni in his previous birth was able to attain the highest stage shortly after his departure from home. The tears from his eyes indicate his feelings of separation in transcendental love for the Personality of Godhead, after which he actually was able to perceive the actual presence of the Lord by his developed spiritual senses. A.C. Bhaktivedanta writes of spiritual ecstasy such as that perceived by Narada: “Spiritual feelings of happiness and intense ecstasy have no mundane comparison. Therefore it is very difficult to give expression to such feelings. We can just have a glimpse of such ecstasy in the words of the pure devotees.” “O, Vyasadeva, at that time, being exceedingly overpowered by feelings of happiness, every part of my body became lucid being absorbed in the ocean of ecstasy.”
Narada describes the form of the absolute truth as he saw Him: “The transcendental form of tht Lord, as it is, is perfectly apt to the desire of the mind.” Narada did not experience the Lord as formless, but His form is not like anything in this material world. It is described that all the differently cut and shaped forms that we are seeing all through our life do not banish all our mental disparity and dissatisfaction. But the special feature of the transcendental form of the Lord is that once it is seen, one is satisfied forever, and no material form holds any more attraction for the seer. So the Lord’s form is like nothing we see now in matter. Another great devotee, Maharaj Pariksit, was able to see the form of Krsna even while he was in his mother’s womb. On being born into the world, Pariksit (the word means “examiner”) was always looking this way and that way, his eyes bulging to see again the form of the Lord among all the unsatisfying forms and shapes of the material atmosphere.
Narada saw the form of God, he was completely satisfied in his being, and then the same form was no longer present to his vision. “Not seeing that form again, I suddenly got up, being perturbed in mind, as it happens when one loses that which is desirable.” Desiring more than anything to see again the form of the Lord, Narada tried to concentrate his mind on his heart, but he could not see Him anymore, and so became grief-stricken. Srila Prabhupada writes: “There is no mechanical process to see the form of the Lord. It completely depends on the causeless mercy of the Lord. Just as the surf rises out of its own accord, the Lord also is pleased to be present out of His causeless mercy. One should simply wait for the opportune moment and go on discharging the prescribed duty in devotional service of the Lord.”
Not at Narada’s command, but by that same causeless mercy, the transcendental Supreme Personality of Godhead, seeing Narada’s attempt in a lonely place, spoke unto him, just to mitigate his grief. “O Narada, I regret very much that during this lifetime, you will no longer be able to see Me. Those who are incomplete in service or still immature in being freed from all material dirt can hardly see Me. O virtuous one, you have only once seen My Person. This is just to increase your hankering for Me, because the more you desire Me, the more you will be freed from material desire. By service of the absolute truth even for a short time, a devotee’s intelligence becomes fixed firmly on Me. As a result he goes on to become My associate in the transcendental world after giving up the present deplorable material worlds. Intelligence engaged in My devotion can never be defeated at any time. Even at the time of creation, as well as at the time of annihilation, your remembrance will continue by My mercy.” How wonderful is the devotee Narada, that the Lord, the supreme authority personified by sound, unseen, spoke to him, seeing him so sad for lack of the Lord’s presence! Again, this is the special gift of Narada, and the ordinary devotee, what to speak of the non-devotee, should not claim to have access to the voice of the Supreme Lord. We are so puffed up and presumptuous in matters of the absolute truth, although it is the field of endeavor which, more than any other, requires us to give submissively and humbly aural reception to the bona fide authorities. For this age the authoritative Vedic literature recommends the sound vibration of the Lord’s holy name, Hare Krsna, which is as good as the personal presence of the Lord. If this were not so—that the Lord is present Himself when His name is uttered—then how could He be considered absolute? Absolute means that He is present in His name, His fame, and His devotee. If we wish to exchange transcendental love with the absolute truth we have to qualify ourselves by the purifying process of chanting His holy name. There is no difficulty on His part in coming to us when He wills. It may be very difficult for an ordinary subject to get an audience with the king; but if the king desires to see any citizen, what is the difficulty in his coming? As Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, spiritual master of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta, said, “Don’t ask to see God, rather act in such a way that God can see you.” Such elevated standard—the perfection of human life—is easily attained by constant chanting and associating with devotees and the first result of this process is the loss of misgivings. Misgivings means lamenting over something lost and hankering for something we don’t have. These vanish when the superior taste derived from executing spiritual devotional service begins under the authorized spiritual master.
Blessed all along and taking each occurrence as an opportunity to increase his hankering for the Lord, the servant boy who was to become Narada finished the days of his life in chanting and remembering the pastimes of Sri Krsna and in traveling for distributing the Lord’s message of back to Godhead, with no thought of material gain.
In the course of time, while fully absorbed in thinking of Krsna, Narada reached that point, commonly called death, when the change of body suddenly occurs. Narada told his pupil: “Being freed from all material taints, I met with death just as lightning and illumination occur simultaneously.” It is told further that just as the illumination follows the lightning, the devotee changed his material body after death and evolved a spiritual body by the will of the supreme. The material body is a product of karma, earned by our accumulation of material desire, action and reaction. It is temporary and subject to miseries, and it is unenlightened. The spiritual body residing dormant within the material body, is eternal, blissful and in full knowledge. It is understood from authorized scriptures that even while in the material body, a pure devotee’s body becomes surcharged with spiritual energy by the constant engagement of his senses in the service of the transcendental eternal Lord. It is like an iron rod in contact with fire: after a while the iron rod acts not like iron, but like fire. The material body is afflicted with inebrieties and is taken on by the living entity as a result of his desires to enjoy temporary sense gratification, without understanding his real position—that he is eternal servant of the Lord and meant to please His senses. Therefore when the devotee’s body becomes engaged in devotional service he becomes surcharged with the transcendental qualities. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami writes on this important matter, so often misunderstood by neophytes: “Change of the body means stoppage of the reaction of the qualitative modes of material nature (goodness, passion and ignorance) upon the person of a pure devotee. There are many instances in the revealed scriptures where Dhruva and Prahlada and many other devotees were able to see the Personality of Godhead face to face apparently in the same body. This means the quality of a devotee’s body changes from material affinity to transcendence. By the mercy of Krsna the devotee becomes exempt from the karmic reactions of his work.” In order to understand how the body of a devotee becomes spiritualized, we have to understand that consciousness is the sign of life. The sensation you have when you are pinched means you have consciousness. This consciousness, which is spread all over the body, is eternal, though the body of flesh and blood is perishable. Consciousness is a symptom of the presence of the soul, which is located in the heart. This is confirmed in the Upanisads and Bhagavad-gita. If an ordinary conditioned human being meets a pure devotee and his consciousness is changed from the polluted desire to enjoy with the body, and he instead starts to use the body as a vehicle for service in Krsna consciousness, then his body becomes spiritualized. Any material object, a telephone, a typewriter, becomes spiritualized if used in the direct service of Krsna consciousness for propagating the Lord’s transcendental message. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami has written that, in the eye of the Supreme Lord Krsna, the body of the converted or reclaimed devotee who has changed his standard of consciousness from material to Krsna consciousness is as good as the eternal spiritual body of a jiva in the spiritual sky who has never fallen under the conditioned state. The example Srila Prabhupada has given is that of a gold box and a gold-plated box. The gold box is compared to those who have never fallen to the material world. But once a fallen soul takes a bona fide spiritual master and becomes one hundred percent engaged in devotional service, then he too becomes liberated, even while remaining in the present body and he is thus compared to a gold-plated box. The Lord accepts the gold-plated box as equal to and as good as the gold box.
Narada describes his position then to Vyasadeva: “At the end of the millenium, when the Personality of Godhead Lord Narayana lay down in the water of devastation, Brahma began to enter into Him along with all creative elements, and I also entered through His breathing. After expiration of a period of 4,300,000 x 1000 years when Brahma awoke to create again by the will of the Lord, all the rsis like Marici, Angira, and Atri were created from the transcendental body of the Lord, and I also appeared along with them.” Narada’s entrance into the body of the Lord at the time of annihilation and re-entrance into the material cosmos occur in the same transcendental body, which is described as being just like the Lord’s, without any difference between body and soul. Therefore when Narada appears in the universe as the son of Brahma, born from his heart, it is understood that this is not the forced birth of a conditioned entity, but a transcendental pastime of the devotee. Narada’s appearance and disappearance in the world are in the same category of transcendence as that of the Lord, who appeared on the earth as the son of Vasudeva.
Narada Muni is brahmacari, living the order of celibacy without the complication of family life. He is the greatest emblem of devotional service and therefore the most learned. And he is worshipable. Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita, “Among sages I am Narada.” His vina is charged with transcendental sound and was handed to him by Lord Sri Krsna, as stated in the Linga Purana. The vina is therefore identical with Krsna, and the glories of the absolute truth as chanted by Narada are also nondifferent from the Lord. Therefore the presence of Narada means Lord Krsna is present.
Narada is called the original spiritual master. His disciples, surrendered souls who first heard Krsna consciousness from his lips, include Vyasadeva, the compiler of all the Vedic scriptures, Valmiki, the author of the Ramayana, Dhruva Maharaj, Prahlada Maharaj, and many others.
“Thus I travel, constantly singing the glories of the Lord.” Narada is traveling, vibrating his instrument, the vina, by his own free will. He is not being forced. His devotional service is free; he offers it out of his free will and he is free to travel when he likes. By his surrender unto the Lord he has attained complete freedom of life. The illusion of persons in the material world is that they are free, whereas actually they are bound up by the stringent laws of nature. We can only try to imagine, at this point, the unlimited freedom of Narada, whose freedom is as good as the Lord’s.
Let us all help Narada Muni with his welfare work of the spirit. Encourage everyone you meet to chant Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. The mahamantra will enliven the planet, will bring us all a life of transcendental bliss, and help us to have a taste of the full nectar for which we have been anxious from time immemorial.