I was born the son of a poor servant woman. My father had passed away when I was still very young and I don’t remember him at all. The only memories I have are those of my mother. After my father’s death, mother began to perform daily chores at the house of a Brahmin. I grew up in this house.
My mother had to work all day. Washing the clothes, cleaning utensils etc were all part of her daily duties. I used to wander behind her in the house and help her with these tasks. This pleased my mother no end. She was extremely fond of me and used to tenderly shower me with affection. Being her only child she had high hopes from me. She believed that her son would grow up, get a suitable job and then marry. The daughter in law would provide her with all the happiness she required.
One day a group of sadhus came wandering into our village. The people requested them to stay for a few months and give them the benefit of their holy company. The villagers made preparations for their stay. The Brahmin in whose house I was living took me to the sadhus and said to them: "He is the son of a poor widow. Kindly let him remain in your service. He will be useful for collecting flowers, Tulsi leaves etc for your worship. He will do whatever you say."
In this manner did I start serving saints. Indeed it is rare to have darshan of true saints. Rarer still is to get a chance to serve them. Even if we do get a chance to serve them, it is difficult to develop full faith in them. Actually, the one who stays 24 hours with saints is bound to observe their failings also. Only God is perfect. The one who lives in this dirty body, however great a saint he may be, is bound to have some failings. But a perfect saint cannot do anything. His perfection would not let him live separate from God, who, by definition, is neutral. In such a scenario, how can the benevolent saints bestow on us the grace of their compassion (since their own ‘neutrality' would make them unable to act). Therefore, only the one who has supreme faith in saints can reap the rich rewards of their company.
I had developed two favourable qualities since childhood. The first was getting up early before the sun rose. This auspicious moment is known as ‘Brahma Muhurta’ and corresponds roughly to 3:30 AM. My guru, who was the head of the sadhus, used to get up at 4’0 clock. I would bow to him as soon as he got up. This pleased him immensely. Saints like those who get up early. My second quality was that I spoke very little. This too is endearing to saints, who do not appreciate talkativeness. I used to stand before my guru with folded hands. Humility is a necessary characteristic for obtaining the grace of saints. Actually this is poverty’s greatest merit. It brings with itself meekness and submissiveness. "I don’t have a single penny. I am illiterate. What should I feel proud for?" These emotions accompanying poverty destroy our pride. Money on the other hand inevitably strengthens our pride.
My guru used to give discourses regularly to the villagers. In the morning he used to speak on the Upanishads and in the evenings he narrated the sweet stories of Lord Krishna, who was his Ishta-Devata. He had immense affection for Krishna’s baby form. Whenever he used to recall the Lord, tears welled up in his eyes choking his throat. He had an extreme affection for stories of Krishna and narrated them in a manner which immensely affected the listeners. I too deeply enjoyed these stories, particularly the ones about Krishna’s cowherd friends, who, like me, were not educated nor had any wealth, but were still Krishna’s favorites.
Such was my guru’s vivid description of Krishna. I was a child but was very much affected by these stories. God loves children, who get immediate entry into His inner chambers. The one whose heart is pure like a child’s, is the one who is favoured by God.
One day my guru bestowed exceptional grace upon me. It was some festival and there was celebration all around. I was in his service since morning. In the afternoon, after the saints had had lunch, I went inside to pick up their plates. My guru was seated there. Actually, it is only a saint’s affection which is pure. The love given by this world is selfish. For the one who has obtained to God, there is nothing left to be gained and he has no other interest other than God. Only the one who has experienced God in this manner can love totally selflessly. A true saint’s eyes are always glistening with the moisture of love.
Seeing me guruji asked: "Son! Have you had food?" I was very hungry and tired. Who was going to give a poor child like me food so soon? Seeing my guru’s love drowned me in a surge of affection. Tears welled up in my eyes. "How much does he care for me! So much is his love for me!" Folding my hands I said: "I still have some service to saints pending; after that I will take their prasad." Guruji realised that no one had given food to me till now: "This boy is the first to get up. Serves saints the whole day. Listens to discourses everyday. Surely God will bless this child. May he be blessed with the boon of bhakti." Guruji was overcome with compassion. He said to me: "Son!, there is still some food leftover in my plate. You go and eat that." Thus he blessed me with the ultimate prasad.
Actually my guruji had a rule never to have even water without first offering it to Lord Krishna. Thus each of his meals was reduced to prasadam. What can I say! Eating the prasad that day transformed my life. The nectar of Krishna Katha was particularly sweet to me that day. I performed kirtan of the holy name of God dancing in ecstasy. Supreme love for God flowed in my veins. When love for God is kindled in one’s heart it destroys all our sins. No one can live without God. The mistake we make is that we love this world more than we love God. Guruji blessed me and ignited the spark of divine love in my bososm.
After four months the time came for my guru to leave. I felt very sad. Company of a worldly man and separation from a holy man - both lead to sadness. When my guru was resting in solitude I went and bowed before him. With folded hands I asked him: "Guruji! You gave me the knowledge of God. It is because of you that I now realise what real happiness means. Please don’t leave me. I will serve you always, please take me with you."
My guru, a jnani, replied: "Son! I have no problem in taking you with me; however, it will make your mother very sad. You are bound in debt to her. You are her only son. Serve her. Serving your mother is nothing but bhakti only. You should remain at home and do this bhakti."
I answered: "Guruji! You had once said that our soul is connected to God and our body to our parents or brother-sister etc. The soul is always to be preferred over the body. You had explained that when there is a conflict between the soul and the body, then we have to keep the body as secondary and give preference to the soul. The soul’s principal duty is to cultivate love for God. Actually the only true relationship is that of the soul with God. Our relationship with this world is false. The true guru is the one who prevents us from sinning and guides us on the path to bhakti. I love my mother very much. But she dissuades me from listening to your discourses. She feels that I am too young for this. She says that I should first study to clear my exams. When I will clear my exams I will get a job. After the job I will get a wife then there will be children. This is what enjoying life is all about!
"Guruji! My mother does not know the meaning of true happiness. Only you have explained to me where true happiness lies. You have shown me the light. My mother wants me to marry and have children. I don’t want to have anything to do with these worldly attachments. I don’t want to live with my mother. It is you have defined a true Vaishnava as one who keeps himself away from those who do not love Lord Krishna. Indeed, a Vaishnava is the one who does not have any hatred but shuns the company of those who do not have bhakti."
To this Guruji replied: "Son! The correct thing is to live here only. She is but your mother. She nurtured you in her stomach for 280 days. Never forget a mother’s love and favors. The son who serves his mother is the one who is dear to God. The body is given by the mother only. Yet it is also true that the mind has not been given by her. Hence do bhakti of God with your mind and serve your mother with your body. Your relations only want your body. They do not want your mind. God needs neither your body nor your money. He asks only that you give your mind to Him."
I asked: "How do I perform bhakti with my mind?"
Guruji replied: "From today, start believing that you are an ordinary servant in the house of Nanda Baba, Krishna’s father. Recall that Krishna, when following his cows, does not wear shoes. He walks barefooted. Your job is to walk in front of him and pick up the pebbles and stones lying in His path so that they do not hurt Him. When Krishna plays with His friends on the banks of river Yamuna, you take a bunch of grapes and slowly feed them to him one by one….
"Son! Remember, no one can understand the lila of God. Maybe your mother will change. Always live according to her wishes. Speak in the manner she likes. Respect her. Bow to her. Due to her blessings you will never experience any obstacles in your bhakti."
Then my guru gave me a mantra to chant which had Krishna’s name in it. Chanting of the divine name clears all our sins. He also instructed that I should first pull Krishna into my mind and then chant His name. All the time I should be should be requesting Krishna: "Dear Lord! my mind wanders aimlessly in this world. I cannot keep it under control on my own. You please make it attract towards you.
"Indeed, Krishna’s power of attraction is divine. Chant ‘Krishna Krishna!’ with love. Request Him lovingly. Slowly he will pull your mind towards Him. Our only duty is to call out to Him with love. The rest He will do Himself."
After giving this instruction, my guru left. I felt devastated at the separation. How much affection he had for me! Whenever someone pays respect to me I am reminded of him. My fame is a result of his grace only.
Following his instructions, I stayed at home for twelve more years. With my body I served my mother while my mind was always in Vrindavana. I performed bhakti towards Krishna by chanting the mantra given to me by my guru.
One day, early in the morning, my mother was going to milk the cows. In the dark she stepped on a snake who bit her. She died instantly. I believed this too be an expression of the grace of God and did not experience too much pain at the happening. I was bound by a single thread of attachment. God had now broken that too. Now I belonged only to God and realised that except God there was nobody who I could truly call mine. I started living drowned in the Ananda of this bhava.
Whatever I had at home I spent on the last rites of my mother. With only one piece of cloth I left the house. I had heard from my guru that God looks after even atheists. Then what did I have to worry who was one of His own. Animals and birds do not worry where they will get their next meal from. They do not store anything. They keep faith in God. The God who has given food today will do so tomorrow also. It is only human beings who fuss too much about their food.
My faith in the divine name was so intense that I chanted even as I walked. Even when I talked the constant flow of inner chanting continued. The person who becomes one with the name of God eventually obtains oneness with God too. This is possible for only those who constantly chant the divine name.
I wandered in various pilgrimages for many years. I remember clearly that I never once had to go and ask for my food. I never had to go hungry by the grace of God. Whenever I was hungry, God would inspire somebody to come and offer me food.
One day wandering about, I reached the shores of the river Ganga. I bowed before her and bathed in her sacred waters. Then I sat down under a tree on the riverbank and continued my chanting. My mind was now purified. In this pure mind took birth the desire to have a physical darshan of the Lord. I had already had His darshan mentally many times. I then saw before me a blue light. My vision was reduced to pure light. The chanting inside continued. Then I discerned the form of Lord Krishna formed out of the light. In front of me was the five-year old Krishna. I totally love this form of Krishna. That day mother Yashoda had adorned him with a beautiful yellow cloth. He had a waistband with bells. There were circular earrings in His ears and pearls in His nose. There was a tilaka on the forehead and His hair was silken. He had a peacock crown on His head and the flute in His tiny hand. A smile played on His lips and the eyes were filled with affection. The bliss of that darshan is inexpressible. Even Goddess Saraswati would be at a loss for words to describe that beautiful vision of Krishna.
Krishna was watching me intently with love. I wanted to run towards Him and take refuge in His feet. He is my master. I am just a mere servant of His. This feeling was strengthened. My master is extremely generous. He is filled with love. When I venerate His feet, He will place His hands on my head. I ran to touch His feet. Before I could reach Him, Krishna vanished.
The place where I had received darshan of God, I deemed as the ‘place of God’, and resolved to never leave that place. I stayed there only. I experienced the following benefit there: Just six months before my death I experienced that the body was different from the soul. I am not the body. The knot binding together the inanimate with the animate became undone. The body is inanimate and the soul animate. These two had been knotted together. Vedanta calls this knot ‘unreal’. Even though unreal, it causes a lot of distress for us all. This knot opens up only when we cultivate love for God. Bhakti is the only way of opening this knot. In the end, my experience was that I whatever bhakti I did, I received its fruit.
I did not experience any pain or suffering at the time of death. I left my body thinking of my beloved Krishna. The one whose mind is attached to the world experiences difficulty in giving up the body. He doesn’t want to give up his body, but the Yamadutas do not let him live there. They humiliatingly push him out of his body. After leaving my body I went to Brahmaloka, where I was reborn as Brahma Ji’s manas-putra (mental-born). There I was handed over my musical instrument, and now, free from everything, I wander around the three worlds, singing the glory of my beloved God Narayana.
This article is based on Bhagavata Purana, Canto 1. Chapters 5-6.
References & Further Reading:
- Dongre, Ji. Bhagavat Rahasya: Delhi.
- Raina, B.L. Legends and Teachings of the Greatest Hindu Divine Sage Narada: Mumbai, 1999.
- Sharma and Chaturvedi. Devrishi Narada: Gorakhpur, 2011.
- Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda (tr). Shrimad Bhagavata Purana (2 Volumes): Gorakhpur, 2004.