Sage Narada Muni – The Father of Devotional Service
One of the most prominent sages in the Vedic literature, he travels throughout the universe awakening love for the Lord.
Sage NARADA MUNI is exalted in Vedic texts as one of the twelve mahajanas, or great authorities on eternal truth. Details of his life and teachings are recounted in the Narada Purana, the Padma Purana, and throughout Srimad-Bhagavatam. So advanced is his level of spirituality that in these texts he is even sometimes called "Bhagavan," a term usually reserved for the Supreme Lord, and in the Bhagavad-gita (10.26) Lord Krishna Himself says, "Of the sages among the demigods, I am Sage Narada."
As a preeminent representative of God, Sage Narada Muni is often considered the original spiritual master. Srila Prabhupada states in his commentary to the Srimad-Bhagavatam (6.5.22), "The immediate spiritual master is the representative of Narada Muni; there is no difference between the instructions of Narada Muni and those of the present spiritual master." Prabhupada further refers to Narada as "the father of devotional service." (6.16.26)
Hindu devotees know Sage Narada Muni as "the eternal spiritual spaceman," because he is described throughout the Vedic literature as a transcendental mystic who received from Lord Krishna the ability to traverse the cosmos, delivering the Narayn Narayn maha-mantra to sincere souls and instigating advancement on the spiritual path.
"Instigating" may seem the wrong word to describe a celestial sage, but Sage Narada is famous for pushing people to the limit, forcing them to make decisions that enable them to advance in Lord Krishna consciousness.
Sage Narada also serves as an instigator in Lord Krsna's pastimes. One example occurs around the time of Krsna's birth. When the demon Kamsa hears a voice from the sky, telling him that Devaki's eighth child (Krsna) will kill him, it is Narada who instills Kamsa with fear that any of Devaki's children might be his enemy. Narada thereby persuades Kamsa to kill all of Devaki's children. Narada does this to accelerate Krsna's appearance and enhance Kamsa's reputation as a demon, causing Krsna to eventually kill him and establish righteousness in society. (This was all done under the Lord's mysterious internal potency. Later, Lord Krsna brought the children back to life.)
Another example of Narada's instigative powers is seen in his exchange with Princess Rukmini, to whom he elaborately describes Krsna's unsurpassed beauty and superlative qualities. Upon hearing Narada's description, Rukmini becomes infatuated with Krsna, giving her heart to Him in total surrender. She is thus unable to marry Sisupala, to whom she was promised. Narada's "meddling" leads to the unfolding of an important episode in Krsna's manifest pastimes: Sisupala is humbled, and Krsna kidnaps and marries Rukmini. In the fulfillment of her heart's desire, Rukmini serves Krsna as His loving wife in the spiritual realm.
In yet another important episode, Narada chides Vyasadeva for not getting at the essence of Vedic knowledge in compiling the Vedic literature. Narada tells Vyasadeva that the remedy is to describe in his writing the name, form, fame, and pastimes of Krsna. Vyasadeva does so, the result being the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the cream of ancient India's scriptural legacy.
The Three Lives of Narada
Just who is Narada Muni, and what did he go through to become one of the most respected saints in the Vedic tradition?
The Srimad-Bhagavatam describes how Narada attained the audience of God and thus became renowned in the Vedic tradition. The story begins with his previous two lifetimes. During the first, his name was Upabarhana, a Gandharva, or singer from a heavenly planet. Upabarhana's beautiful voice and handsome features made him attractive to women, and he became a playboy, losing his spiritual perspective and falling into materialistic life.
Once, Upabarhana attended a festival put on by the prajapatis, residents of higher planets responsible for populating the universe. While performing sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the holy names of the Lord, Upabarhana glorified the demigods. The devotees present took this action as a great offense, because sankirtana is meant for glorifying the Supreme Lord only. The devotees then cursed Upabarhana to be born in his next life as a sudra (laborer) devoid of beauty. Fortunately, whether a saint blesses or curses, the result is the same: the recipient of the saint's attention advances in God consciousness.
That's what eventually happened to Upabarhana (Narada). When he was born as the son of a maidservant, he was inclined to devotional service and managed to serve the pure devotees of the Lord.
Narada's pious mother had the good fortune to serve traveling mendicants, so five-year-old Narada had the same opportunity. Moreover, he was able to take the remnants of their meals (prasadam) and hear them speak on transcendental subjects. Primarily these two activities, says the Bhagavatam, enabled Narada to move forward in his spiritual life.
The traveling mendicants could not find any fault in the little boy. He seemed to be uninterested in playing like other boys; he was not naughty in any way, nor did he speak more than necessary. For all of these reasons, the sages showered their blessings upon him. Narada underwent a vital transformation and became intoxicated with God consciousness. He meditated day and night, then left home after his mother's death to become a wandering mendicant himself.
As Narada traveled, he learned to dedicate every moment to the pursuit of spiritual realization. One day, during Narada's meditation the Lord appeared within his heart he was able to see the form of God. Tears of love flowed from his eyes as he gazed upon the Lord's beautiful form.
And then the Lord disappeared from his vision.
The Bhagavatam describes Narada's grief-stricken condition and tells us that as much as he tried, he could not regain his vision of God. His realization: God is not at our beck and call. He appears before us by His sweet will, and if He desires to conceal Himself, no amount of meditation or prayer will force Him to show us His beautiful form. As Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Srila Prabhupada's spiritual master, has said, "Don't ask to see God, but rather act in such a way that God will want to see you."
Narada then heard the Lord's voice, telling him that it is not possible to see God if one is not completely pure. The Lord told Narada another thing: He had shown Narada His form out of kindness and to increase his longing for Him.
The Lord's enticement worked. Narada now meditated on the form of the Lord more intensely than ever before. His hearing and chanting of the glories of Krsna engulfed his soul, and he became oblivious of the world around him. When the moment of death came, he was ready.
"Being freed from all material taints," Narada told his disciple Vyasadeva, "I met with death just as lightning and illumination occur simultaneously."
The transition was seamless, and when the material world was again created (for the material cosmos manifests in cycles), Narada was born from the creator-god Brahma's heart, as his most dear son. In this form, Narada had indeed reached perfection. The Bhagavatam tells us that his birth was not forced, as are most births in the material realm, but was completely voluntary: he was born merely to assist the Lord in His mission. Moreover, says the Bhagavatam, his body was just like the Lord's transcendental and immortal, with no difference between his outer body and the inner animating spark, the soul.
Teacher of Pure Devotion
Thus, Narada is considered a perfect devotee. His teachings, found throughout the Srimad-Bhagavatam as well as in his Narada-bhakti-sutras and Narada Pancaratra, are exemplary for souls on the path of pure devotion. They embody the essence of selfless devotional service.
Lord Krsna, feeling grateful for Narada's dedication and love, once asked him, "What can I do to serve you?"
"I do not care where I may be," Narada replied, "but I pray that I may be allowed to constantly remember Your lotus feet."
This single-minded determination marks Narada as the perfect guru, and many great sages have taken shelter at his feet. He is the spiritual master of Valmiki (the author of the Ramayana), and of Prahlada Maharaja, Dhruva Maharaja, the Pracetas, Citraketu, and many other prominent personalities in Vedic history. Most important, he is the spiritual master of Vyasadeva, often considered the model guru. For this reason, Narada Muni is the guru of gurus.
Transcendental Traveling Musician
Narada is a perfect brahmacari, a celibate whose sole purpose is pure devotional service to the Lord. The Linga Purana says that Krsna awarded Narada a vina, a stringed musical instrument, which Narada plays as he traverses the universe. Because the vina was a direct gift from the Lord, it is considered non-different from Him. Narada, then, carries the Lord with him as he travels the material cosmos, delivering the holy name to the devotees and helping those in need with his spiritual blessings.
Because Narada is a musician who travels throughout the universe enlightening people with Krsna consciousness, it was fitting that during Lord Krsna's appearance five hundred years ago as Lord Caitanya, Narada appeared as Srivasa Thakura. It was in his courtyard, Srivasa Angan, that the sankirtana movement, full of song and dance, began on earth. In this way, both as Narada and as Srivasa, he uses music particularly the chanting of the maha-mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare to spread the glories of Krsna.
Narada becomes a Gopi
ACCORDING TO the Narada Purana (2.80.9-32), the Skanda Purana (2.6.2-3), and the Padma Purana (4.75.25-46), when Narada first heard that Lord Krsna had appeared in Vrndavana, he wandered Vrndavana's twelve forests looking for any signs of his beloved Lord. With great intensity he ran through the secret bowers in which Krsna would meet with the gopis, His cowherd girlfriends. But he could not find any evidence of Krsna's appearance.
Vrnda Devi, a prominent gopi who helps arrange Krsna's rendezvous with His girlfriends, appeared before Narada and told him that to see such esoteric pastimes he would have to adopt the mood and form of a loving gopi himself. This was possible, she said, only for the most advanced practitioners of spiritual life. Vrnda Devi told Narada that he was one such soul and could affect such a change by bathing in a nearby pond known as Kusum Sarovara.
Narada did as Vrnda Devi had instructed and emerged from the waters as a gopi named Naradi. He was thus able to see Vrndavana with new eyes and enter into Krsna's pastimes with the cowherd girls.
Later, Vrnda Devi instructed him to bathe in another pond, which came to be known as Narada-kunda, and he resumed his male form.
The Narada Purana says that the lesson to be learned from this episode is that even a sage as great as Narada must meditate on Vrndavana in the intense mood of a gopi to attain the highest level of prema, love for Krsna. Such meditation is possible for only the most accomplished devotees.