“Valmiki was a great poet, and similarly Vyasadeva is a great writer, and both of them have absolutely engaged themselves in delineating the transcendental activities of the Lord and by doing so have become immortal.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.5.22 Purport)Download this episode (right click and save)
The spiritual master is an ocean of compassion. They can be as hard as a thunderbolt when necessary. When a person vehemently protests the practice of devotion, insisting that God is not real or that He is impersonal, without transcendental attributes, the bona fide guru stands up and opposes. They don’t sit idly by while others insult the person to whom they dedicate thoughts, words and deeds.
At the same time, when the guru sees genuine interest, when they find someone who is a candidate to take up devotion to God in earnest, they can become softer than the petal of a lotus flower. There are many historical incidents which illustrate this kindness and compassion, with one of them being the meeting of Narada Muni and Maharishi Valmiki. At the time Valmiki had not yet received his spiritual name; he was known as Ratnakara. He was a highway robber. Who knew that he was to be the future author of the life and pastimes of the Supreme Lord in His incarnation of Rama. What Narada Muni did not do in that meeting with Ratnakara is as important as what he did do.
1. Offer up his credentials
Narada Muni is famously known through Vedic literature and the historical accounts described within. His rise from the son of a maidservant to a wandering ascetic, triloka sanchari, is described in works like the Shrimad Bhagavatam. Narada is a son to Lord Brahma, the creator. Narada is the spiritual master to so many important personalities of the Vedic tradition.
Needless to say, he has impeccable credentials. Yet from the stories told of the first meeting with Ratnakara, Narada did not mention any of his own attributes. He did not stand up and say, “Hey, I am your guru. I am a guru to the entire world, in fact. You should stop what you are doing and listen to me.”
Instead, Narada simply asked a few questions. Ratnakara was a dacoit at the time. He intended to steal from Narada, but the saint has nothing material to offer up. Narada asked the man why he was involved in this kind of work, which was unclean and sinful. He asked Ratnakara if he knew that his family members would have to share in the sin, since Ratnakara had replied that he was stealing to support them. Just a few simple and wise questions were enough to establish Narada’s credibility with the robber.
2. Give an extended lecture on the science of self-realization
As a spiritual master, Narada has full knowledge of the science of self-realization. He knows that the spirit soul is the basic functioning unit of life. It is what animates an otherwise dull and lifeless body. Narada knows that the spirit soul transmigrates, from one body to another, continuing the journey at the time of death. He knows that material life is not very worthwhile, that even after pleasing family members with money, food, clothes and shelter, there is no happiness.
Yet Narada didn’t give an extended lecture to the highway robber. He did not ask the man to sit down and listen to high philosophy. The time and circumstance were not favorable for that. Narada Muni is expert at judging the nature and disposition of the disciple, even if that person has not yet formally accepted Narada as their guru.
3. Give a magical touch and say that he was healed
The modern cheating guru will offer up mantras for a few dollars. The sacred chants are then supposed to heal the person of any problems they may have. The money is for maintaining the guru, so that they can continue to sell the mantras to others. The wise person raises the objection that if the mantra is so valuable, why not give it away for free, so that many more people can be healed?
Another variety of the cheating guru is the magical touch. Meet with the saintly person, have them touch you on your head, and then be on your way. Everything will be solved as a result. Even if this were possible, there is the issue of independence to consider. I may cleanse myself from a tough day at work by taking a shower at night. But this doesn’t mean that I won’t get dirty again. It doesn’t mean that the potential for becoming unclean is completely gone, forever.
Narada did not offer the highway robber a magical touch. He did not touch him on the forehead and effect a transformation in that way. The change would have been insignificant if it occurred that way. Rather, Narada set up a situation where the robber would be transformed through devotion that he would maintain for the rest of his life, at his choosing.
4. Laugh at him for chanting incorrectly
When the highway robber learned that his family members did not want to share in the sin of stealing, he was at a standstill. What to do? Narada asked him to chant the holy name of Rama. This is one of many names for the Divine; it describes God as the person who has all transcendental pleasure. It also refers to the avatara known as Rama, who is non-different from God.
There was one problem. The highway robber couldn’t chant the name. It’s a simple Sanskrit word. Just two syllables. Even though in the common use of the word in the Hindi language the trailing short “a” sound is left off, the original Sanskrit word indeed has two syllables.
Narada did not laugh at Ratnakara’s inability to chant something so simple. Narada did not chastise or mock the soon-to-be famous disciple. Narada adapted to the situation to find a way to help the man. He advised the highway robber to chant the word “mara” instead. This means “death.” The sinful activities of the robber had gathered so much momentum that it was not possible to chant something so pure as the name of God. Mara was more suitable to him.
5. Demand perfection right away
Narada cleverly tricked the robber into chanting the name of Rama. By saying “mara” in succession, the sound of Rama was produced anyway. The spiritual master then gave some space. He did not insist on perfection right away. It is not easy being this patient. Imagine if you know something and you’re teaching it to someone who doesn’t know anything about it. How long will you wait until the person finally understands?
Narada Muni waited a long time. It was long enough that an anthill formed around the robber. He was so much in trance through chanting the name of Rama backwards that he didn’t notice the ants or the hill. When Narada Muni returned, seeing the anthill he initiated the disciple with the name Valmiki. In this way the great-soul Valmiki became purified through the limitless compassion of the guru Narada. Soon Valmiki would earn the distinction of original author of the Sanskrit biography of the person whose name he chanted for so long.
With ageless wisdom at his command,
Still not perfection instantly to demand.
With highway robber patient to be,
Clever when trouble in pronunciation to see.
Just the word “mara” instead say,
Holy name heard in that way.
Narada Muni, limitless compassion showing,
Divine energy wherever with him going.