This is the story of Narada, an ancient Vedic sage, musician and storyteller. Narada was a master of the Vedas and the six auxiliary disciplines known as Vedanga which include pronunciation, grammar, prosody, terms, religious rites and astronomy. All celestial beings worshipped Narada for his knowledge. He is versed in all occurrences in every time cycle. He is conversant with logic and moral science. He can swiftly interpret contraries through his brilliant powers of discrimination. His Gyan is strong and bright. He is eloquent, resolute, intelligent and has a powerful memory. He is skilled in drawing inference from evidence and competent in judging complex syllogistic statements, able to arrive at definite conclusions about religion, wealth, pleasure and salvation. He possesses knowledge of this whole universe and everything surrounding it. He is a master of the Sankhya and Yoga systems of philosophy. He is a thorough master of every branch of learning. He is fond of war and music, and incapable of being repulsed by any science or any course of action. A true master. A true sage.
To be of such high and mighty mind and position may belie Narada’s humanity at first glance, but he was no angel, no immortal. He was a human being like you or I, God born. An innocent child of Nature.
It happens that once upon a time Narada became possessed of a question that nagged at him so hard, he was beside himself to find an answer and it burned him to his core. The question was simply this: what is the nature of illusion? And so it transpired that Narada, through his powers of acute meditation, traveled at the speed of mind directly to Vaikuntha, the dwelling place of Lord Vishnu, to put this question to his Lord.
And the sage bowed down humbly and asked his benevolent progenitor: “My Lord if you please. My mind is troubled. I am burning up. I feel that there is something I am yet to understand concerning the veils of illusion pulled so tightly over mortal eyes. How is it that I might reconcile this quandary risen up in me? Me, your most loyal devotee on whom you have showered so much grace. Me, whom you have risen to such status, given all the knowledge of the entire universe, made to be leader and teacher of men. Me, to whom the sages and rishis come for answers — this one answer I cannot give. Please, My Lord. Tell me definitively so that I may finally have some peace. What, at last, is the nature of illusion?
Vishnu smiled at His beloved son and spoke to him in comforting tones. “Well spoken, Narada muni.” The Lord said, using the title bestowed upon Narada by Brahma when the sage was thus granted the boon of creation. “What you ask is pertinent indeed and you should know the whole truth. I will tell you everything in this regard, but first, would you please do me the favor of fetching for me a bucket of water from yonder lake.”
And the Lord pointed into the distance beyond His court taking Narada’s gaze thither.
“Bring some water and let us make tea. I would speak of this grave matter at length. You should understand the most salient details of your inquiry and your heart must be made to rest easy so that you may continue to do your job as support of the entire universe. Now go and hurry back.”
So Narada left the presence of his Lord to set about the task of fetching water for their tea all the while allowing his mind the freedom to ponder on the problem that so perplexed him. And as he walked he considered to no end, until at last he came upon the shores of the lake to which he’d been directed, and where kneeling to collect his charge he came face to face with his own reflection in the crystal clear waters and he halted momentarily mesmerized by the vision of Self that stared back at him.
In that vision of Self he beheld the entire truth of life and the cosmos and everything therein. He knew the answers to every mystery and smiled inwardly, at peace. He lifted his gaze to behold the vast beauty of his surroundings; after all, he was quite literally at this moment gathering nectar in Heaven and it was all very, very good. His eye traveled the landscape as far as he could see and in due course came to rest on the outskirts of a tiny hamlet where children played and the community was engaged in its daily affairs. And at the lake’s shores before that hamlet, he noticed a young lady there in similar position as he, gathering up some water to her purpose and he stopped and watched her for a moment.
Her hair flowed black as the night and longer still, her eyes the deepest wells of promise. And when those eyes looked back at him, the fairest eyes he’d ever known, calling out to him like a Siren, or worse, a Juliet! Well, tie a man to his mission like Odysseus and a Siren’s charms hold nary sway. Alas Love! Now that is a vision to dampen any man’s integrity, and Narada muni dropped that bucket where he lay.
Twelve years passed in bliss, since he dropped that bucket nigh. His children danced upon it when they found it where it lie. Narada’s wife, that vixen, held him fast to breast and thigh. His wits abandoned, he was a shipwrecked Captain Bligh!
Then one day he was recalled, like a Roman ventured too far into Arthurian mists. Trumpets sounded regally and he read the crest upon their unfurled banners — Vaikuntha awaits! Narada fairly wept as he recalled that fateful day when he burned and the Lord unburdened him. Quickly he took hold of the bucket and raced back to the Lord who greeted him casually as if naught but the briefest of moments had passed.
“Do you see now, Narada? Do you still burn? Such is Her Nature and power to calm the temper of even the harshest storm — an illusion to make a man forget even his own self, or his job, or his Lord. He forgets anything at all! Now come, let us share some tea together before you go back to enjoy your life which I have given you and not to make any more nuisance by doubting this and that.”
And they all lived happily ever after.
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