Tales: The Greatest Devotee

Narada, sometimes called ‘Narada-muni’, ‘Narada-sage,’ was a great devotee of the god Vishnu, and was constantly engaged in practices in praise of his Lord.  Once it happened that Narada came to Valkuntha, the celestial abode of Vishnu, and met his god face to face.  In the course of their meeting, Narada asked Vishnu who His greatest devotee was – hoping, perhaps, that he would hear his own name mentioned in reply.  To his surprise, though, Vishnu named someone else.

“Who is that?” asked Narada.

“He lives near such and such a village,” Vishnu replied.

“May I have the privilege of studying his devotion?” asked Narada.

“Certainly,” said the god.

Immediately Narada set off to find this perfect devotee.  Through countless repetitions of the name of his Lord, Narada had purified his mind to such an extent that he could go instantly wherever he chose – and in the blink of an eye, he found himself in the hut of a simple farmer.  Watching unseen, he saw how the farmer, on waking in the morning, said just once, “Narayana,” one of the names of Vishnu.  Then he went about his affairs, working all day in the fields, caring for his crops and looking after his large family.  At night, before he fell exhausted into bed, he again said, “Narayana.”

Puzzled, Narada returned to Valkuntha.  “Lord,” he said, “I do not understand.  This farmer scarcely remembers you.  Twice a day he says your name, and that is the limit of his devotion.  How is it that he is your greatest devotee?”

Vishnu did not answer Narada directly. Instead, he said, “I have a task for you.  Take this.” And he gave Narada a pot, full to the brim with oil.  “Place this upon your head,” he commanded, “and carry it once all the way around Valkuntha. But be sure that not the smallest drop is spilled.”

Obediently, Narada placed the pot upon his head and, with great care, began to make the long journey around the immense home of Vishnu.  Perhaps no other person in the world could have accomplished the task Vishnu had set for Narada, but because his mind was pure and strong, Narada at last returned and carefully placed the full pot of oil before his Lord.

“Well done,” said Vishnu.  “And while you were carrying the pot, how many times did you say my name?”

“I did not say your name, Lord,” said Narada humbly. “I was concentrating on not spilling the oil.”

“And yet this farmer, with all his cares, says my name twice a day.”


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