One day, the exceptionally kind and compassionate Śrī Nārada Gosvāmī was walking through the forest on his way to Prayāga. He planned to bathe there, in the confluence of the three sacred rivers Gāṅga, Yamunā and Sarasvatī. Along the way he saw a deer lying on the forest floor. The deer was writhing in agony, for it had been pierced by an arrow and its legs broken. This sight struck Nārada’s heart with intense pangs of grief.
Not too far ahead from where the deer lay, he spotted a wild boar, fallen and writhing upon the ground in the same way. The boar had also been left to convulse in pain, also pierced by an arrow and its legs broken. All of this perturbed Nārada greatly. Again, a short distance away, he found a rabbit in the same condition. His heart, enveloped by the pain of those living beings, became extremely restless.
As he proceeded further, he spotted the man who was responsible for such cruelty. Behind a tree stood a dark complexioned hunter. His eyes were red and his figure was fearsome and wild. He looked like the lord of death. He had already fixed an arrow to his bow and taken aim at his next prey. Completely unable to remain apathetic, Nārada left the path that led to the confluence of the three sacred rivers and walked into the forest toward the hunter. The hunter’s prey, a couple of deer, were startled when they saw Nārada coming and fled.
The hunter began boiling with fury. He truly wanted to shout profanities at Śrī Nārada Gosvāmī, but the influence of that greatest of sages was so powerful that he realized he was completely unable to do so. Instead, when he opened his mouth, he spoke as follows, “O respected sir,” he began, “For what purpose were you compelled to leave your path and walk towards me? Upon seeing you, the deer, who were my prey, have fled.”
“My dear boy,” Nārada said, “I lost my way, and came here to ask you for directions. But I also came to you hoping you would answer a doubt I have. Along the path, I saw a deer, a boar and other animals writhing in pain. Their flesh had been pierced by arrows and their legs crushed. Would I be right to assume they, too, were your prey?”
“Yes,” admitted the hunter. “You are right. They were my prey.”
Nārada said, “You are a hunter, so your occupation is to give chase to animals. But why do you not swiftly end the lives of your prey? Why do you leave them half dead, unable to leave their bodies? What is your purpose in such actions?”
“Please hear me, good sir,” said the hunter. “My name is Mṛgāri, and I have learned my hunting skills from my father. I wound my prey so severely that they cannot flee, and in that half dead state, they simply lie writhing in agony. This sight fills me with a kind of happiness that I cannot experience if I kill them swiftly.”
Śrī Nārada, who is most compassionate, listened to the hunter’s explanation and then spoke to him.
“I want to beg something from you,” he said, humbly folding his hands in front of the hunter, “Will you give me what I ask?”
The hunter became very pleased upon hearing this, and a genuine desire arose in his heart to serve Śrī Nārada, who was such an exalted saint. So he replied, “If you so need, you can take the fallen deer or other animals for yourself. Or, if you want deer-skin or tiger-skin, come to my home. I will give you whatever you want.”
If we contemplate the immense benediction this hunter was about to receive that day, by dint of some unknown spiritual merit (sukṛti) of his, we will become awestruck by his good fortune. In a past life, he certainly must have served a devotee of the Lord or the Lord Himself, perhaps without even knowing it. As a result, on that day, he was conversing with such an exalted devotee of the Lord as Śrī Nārada Gosvāmī. Moreover, he was feeling genuinely inclined to serve him. Because of all this, he was soon to achieve ultimate auspiciousness.
It is written in scripture:
bhaktis tu bhagavad-bhakta
sat-saṅgaḥ prāpyate puṁbhiḥ
Bṛhat-nāradīya Purāṇa (4.33)
Bhakti becomes manifest by the association of the pure devotees of Bhagavān (sādhu-saṅga). Such sādhu-saṅga is attained by the influence of previously accumulated spiritual merit (sukṛti).
Śrī Nārada Gosvāmī personally accepted this hunter’s fate as his own responsibility, for the hunter had accumulated some spiritual merit.
“I do not want the deer, its skin, or anything else,” explained Nārada. “I just want that from this day on, you will not leave all the animals you hunt half-dead. Instead, slay them swiftly, so that they leave their bodies immediately.”
When the hunter heard this, he said, “You are asking this of me, but what is in it for you? And why do you forbid me to leave the animals half-dead? Please explain to me what is wrong with leaving them like that?”
Śrī Nārada replied, “To render the creatures unable to die is to inflict much more pain on them than outright killing them. To cause another entity distress is to guarantee that you yourself will consequently experience the same suffering. Hence, causing pain to others is tantamount to arranging the same suffering they experience for yourself. Just imagine, due to misunderstanding the laws of life, all the creatures you have killed, shall kill you, one birth after another for the same reason.
In the Vedas it has been said: “mā hiṁsyāt sarvāṇi bhūtāni – no living entity should be made to suffer.” And Manu, the father of mankind, has similarly said: “māṁ sa khādati amūtra yasya māṁsam-ihādmyaham – Whoever eats me, I shall later kill and take his flesh.”
The hunter had been a merciless and extremely savage person his entire life, but now, deeply affected by his encounter with such an exalted devotee of Bhagavān, faith in the inescapable reality of the fearsome consequences of his sins developed within his heart. As he began to vividly contemplate the many wicked deeds he had committed in his lifetime and then the inevitable, torturous punishments he was fated to suffer for them, he became engulfed by intense anxiety.
He cried out, “Ever since my childhood I have been killing living entities. There must be no end to the sinful reactions I have incurred. Is there any way to save me? Now I surrender myself at your sacred feet. Please save me from the reactions to my countless sins.”
When Śrī Nārada Ṛṣī heard the hunter’s earnest prayer to be delivered from his terrible fate, he said, “If you do what I tell you, and maintain your trust in me, you can be delivered from the reactions of all your sins.” “I shall do whatever you say,” the hunter said.
The following points should be noted:
First of all, spiritual piety (sukṛti) is essential. It is impossible to meet saintly personalities – the devotees of the Lord – without it, but it can be acquired knowingly or unknowingly. As a result of the hunter’s previously acquired spiritual merit, Śrī Nārada Ṛṣī came to him, but his faith in Nārada was not roused simply by seeing him. In fact, he had at first even wished to abuse Nārada with foul language, yet after speaking with him, the hunter developed faith in him. Therefore, although it is enjoined ādau śraddhā – at first there is faith – it actually implies ādau sukṛti – at first there must be sukrti. Only after someone has spiritual merit is this faith (śraddhā) attained. Thereafter, he attains the company of sādhus (saints), and along with that the inclination to follow their instructions is born.
Wealth is a hindrance to one’s eternal well-being
Secondly, through the statements of scripture or through their own words, the sādhus sever our attachments to all that is mundane and illusory. So in order to rescue the hunter from sensualistic life, Śrī Nārada ordered him to break his bow, which was the root of his futile pursuits (anarthas) as well as the principal means of his livelihood. For a soul entangled in the clutches of anarthas, wealth causes far greater harm than high birth, erudition, or physical beauty. Śrī Nārada once said:
na hy anyo juṣato joṣyān
yatra strī dyū tam āsavaḥ
Of all temptations for enjoyment, the allure of becoming rich bewilders a man’s intelligence even more than his physical beauty, high birth or erudition. When an ignorant person is privileged with wealth, he squanders it indulging in wine, women and gambling.
Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa said:
hariṣye tad-dhanaṁ śanaiḥ
tato ’dhanaṁ tyajanty asya
“When I wish to show someone special favour, I slowly strip him of his wealth. Eventually, his relatives and friends abandon him for being poverty-stricken. Thus he suffers one calamity after another.
Śrī Śaṅkarācārya has also explained that wealth is a hindrance to one’s eternal well-being:
vārta ko ’pi na pṛcchati gehe
As long as a man is committed to earning money, his family loves him. But later, as his body dwindles with age and he becomes incapable of working, everyone in his house ceases talking to him or even taking care of him.
Chanting the holy names of Śrī Bhagavān is the most beneficial spiritual path mankind can pursue, but the intoxication of wealth is a formidable obstruction on that path. Therefore, Śrī Kuntī-devī once said:
You are easily attainable for those who are exhausted with this mundane world. On the other hand, no one who has become intoxicated by the four privileges of prestigious birth, wealth and luxury, erudition and physical beauty can approach you with true sincerity.
On account of all this, Śrī Nārada Gosvāmī ordered the hunter to break his own bow, thus terminating his sinful method of earning a livelihood and encouraging him instead to adopt the life of a mendicant. That was the only way the hunter would be able to experience the Lord’s kindness and to realize his own insignificance. As long as someone remains attached to forbidden, sinful activities, which are driven by passion and ignorance, his consciousness will never awaken to the reality of the sādhus, the scriptures and the Lord:
yāvat pāpaistu malinaṁ hṛdayaṁ tāvad-eva hi
na śāstre satya-buddhiḥ syāt sad-buddhiḥ sad-guro tathā
As long as one’s heart is polluted by sin, his intelligence cannot have faith that the scriptures and sad-guru are real.
In the matter of attaining one’s eternal, spiritual well-being (paramārtha), poverty is indeed favourable. Mundane prosperity and sensualism are never favourable in the life of a person practising bhakti. And it will never suffice to simply feign spiritual realization and perfection; one must genuinely rise to the platform of spiritual realization. Material wealth and other temptations can never delude or intoxicate a siddha-puruṣa, or perfected soul, but if one who has not realized perfection attempts to mimic the behaviour of a realized personality, it will only result in his own ruination.
naitat samācarej jātu
manasāpi hy anīśvaraḥ
vinaśyaty ācaran mauḍhyād
yathārudro ’bdhi-jaṁ viṣam
If an ordinary person foolishly mimics the behaviour of a powerful master or god, he will ruin himself, just as drinking an ocean of poison as Śiva once did would annihilate any ordinary, mortal man.
We have heard that when someone is still in the early stages of chanting, he constantly commits offences to the Lord’s holy names. As a result of those offences, he verily obtains profuse material wealth and fame as well as abundant opportunities for sense enjoyment. And he even sees this affluence and recognition as signs of the Lord’s favour on him. If he fails to understand that this opulence is the result of his offences and in fact an obstacle in the path of bhakti, and if he does not act cautiously, then the chances of him becoming tṛnad api sunica – that is, more humble than a blade of grass – are very low, and rather undermined. In this way, impediments to chanting the pure form of the holy name (śuddha-nāma) arise.
In actuality, no amount of wealth or luxury can delude a self-realized soul, nor can they intoxicate him with vanity. Only one who is still gripped by anarthas should be fearful of these things. Supreme auspiciousness for sādhakas who are affected by sensual urges lies in poverty and being totally without possessions. Hence, abandoning all riches and opulence in favour of voluntary poverty shall prove propitious for the devotees.
We have heard from the accounts of Śrī Nārada Ṛṣī’s life how that most gracious, universal guru, showered his mercy upon the two sons of Kuvera. He demonstrated that once the vanity of wealth is eradicated, a person earns an eligibility for bhakti. In Nārada Ṛṣī’s life history, we find that he never accepted a wealthy or famous disciple out of greed for wealth and opulence.
The truth of the words “ye yata patita haya, tava dayā tata tāya – the more fallen someone is, the more mercy is available for him” exists forever in śrī gurutattva, which is represented by Śrī Nārada. Gurus like Śrī Nārada never exploit their disciples for money on the pretext of bestowing eternal well-being upon them, as many corrupt gurus are known to do. Such flaws, which are self-evident in the behaviour of bogus gurus, cannot be found in the character of gurus like Śrī Nārada. The Purāṇas state, “guruvo bahavaḥ śiṣyavittāpahārakāḥ – many gurus exploit their disciples for wealth.”
Genuine gurus are totally above envy. It is impossible for them to feel envy of another’s competence as guru. Śrī Nārada and other genuine gurus are never seen contesting each other, scuffling over any highly educated, honourable, or wealthy person, hoping to make him their disciple. On the contrary, when they meet another guru, especially one of a similar disposition and calibre, the profound camaraderie they feel for one another becomes evident.
Whole-hearted Surrender to Guru
Some days later, Śrī Nārada went to see Mṛgāri, who had now become a penniless mendicant, in order to give him his association. On his way to Mṛgāri’s straw hut, he was pleasantly surprised to meet his friend Parvata Ṛṣī. Overjoyed and thinking of his disciple’s welfare, Nārada begged Parvata Ṛṣī to accompany him. Parvata Ṛṣī affectionately accepted his invitation and together they headed toward the hunter’s cottage.
Meanwhile, Mṛgāri developed genuine faith in Śrī Nārada, his gurudeva, for he had beheld with his own eyes the glory and divine potency of Śrī Nārada. Nārada Gosvāmī had instantly healed the deer and other two animals that Mṛgāri had shot and all but killed the day they had met, and let them run off into the forest. And from that day on, people had miraculously began bringing him a large amount of food every day to maintain him, without his ever asking.
Because of these divine phenomena, Mṛgāri became staunchly and unpretentiously inspired to serve his gurudeva, Śrī Nārada. Without anyone urging him, he whole-heartedly surrendered himself to his gurupādapadma and attained a state of fixed dedication to him. He never succumbed to making a shallow or pretentious show of affection for Nārada or submission to him, or to any other form of deceit. Consequently, he longed for the company of his śrī gurupāda-padma, and became increasingly restless to see him moment by moment.
And so, on the day Nārada came with his friend Parvata Ṛṣī to visit him, his heart brimmed with such intense love that as soon as he saw his śrī gurupādapadma approaching from a distance, he started to run toward him, anxious to fall prostrated at his lotus feet. However, since a multitude of ants covered the path, he could not run. Being very careful not to kill or injure a single ant, he began to tread most carefully, using his cloth to gently sweep them from the path. Having done so, he prostrated himself before his śrī gurupādapadma. When Śrī Nārada saw the extraordinary kindness and non-violence that had appeared in one who had once been such fearsome and heartless hunter, he said:
ete na hy adbhutā vyādha tavāhiṁsādayo guṇāḥ
hari-bhaktau pravṛttā ye na te syuḥ para-tāpinaḥ
O Hunter, it is not at all remarkable that you have developed such good qualities like non-violence, for those who earnestly take up devotion to Śrī Hari never wish to inflict pain on others.
The meaning of this verse is that once a person attains bhakti for Śrī Hari, the desire to kill or hurt anyone, even a tiny ant or an insect, will not remain in his heart. Therefore, those who wish to attain bhakti completely avoid violence, even in the matter of eating and so forth.
By the Grace of Śrī Guru
Mṛgāri respectfully seated Śrī Nārada Gosvāmī and Parvata Muni on kuśa grass mats within his courtyard. He washed their feet and drank the water, sprinkling some of it on his head, and then began chanting the names of Kṛṣṇa with great love. As he chanted and danced in front of his guru, his body trembled, his hairs stood on end, and he began weeping. Beholding the hunter’s remarkable transformation and pure love of God, Parvata Muni was wonderstruck by the glory of Śrī Nārada’s supernatural power to bestow divine love of God upon the living entities. He addressed Śrī Nārada as follows:
aho dhanyo ’si devarṣe kṛpayā yasya tat-kṣaṇāt
nīco ’py utpulako lebhe lubdhako ratim acyute
Aho, Nārada Muni! you are extolled as the sage among gods. By your grace, even a lowborn hunter can instantly develop ecstatic symptoms like horripilation and become attached to the Lord.
Thus it is seen that prema-bhakti is attainable by the effect of saintly association. Material gain, adoration and fame do not find a place, in any way, in the heart of a person who has such divine company; this is certain.
Even as the bogus guru instructs his disciple on the topic of guru-bhakti, it is unbearable for him to contemplate to what extent he is actually qualified to be a guru. Indeed, there is nothing more painful for an artificial guru to contemplate. Therefore, we feel the utmost honour for the following words: “durlabha sadgurur devi śiṣya-santāpa-hārakaḥ – O Pārvatī-devī, rare is a bona fide guru who can truly end the suffering of his disciples.”
―Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Trivikrama Mahārāja