Our hard heartedness causes us to be insensitive and cruel to others. The more we are cruel, causing others pain, the harder our hearts become, and the further we move away from God. Spiritual life is about reversing this trend by softening our hearts.
When I was young I went to a pretty tough school in the Western suburbs of Sydney. When I started high-school I was big for my age and was a good rugby player, and I became a target for older boys who wanted to show how tough they were.
I got into a few fights and somehow I developed a reputation for being a tough guy, and I then had to maintain this image, as I was afraid that if I let people think I was weak, they’d take advantage of that and bully me. So there were a few fights and I became a bit of a bully myself for a while.
I had this tough guy image to maintain. I was also quite sarcastic, and an expert at making up cruel insults – the other kids knew that if they insulted me, I’d always have a smart answer to put them in their places. I still feel pain over how I hurt others as a child, with my words and actions. This was a manifestation of my hard-heartedness.
After I left school I became a hippy, and although there was much talk of peace and love, these things cannot be artificially manifested – to be real and lasting, they had to come from a purified heart. I knew within myself and among my hippy acquaintances that it wasn’t always possible to be full of peace and love when your selfishness and hard heartedness got in the way. So even as a hippy, I was a bit of a smart-arse who would make fun of people or hurt them with my words at times. But I was becoming aware of the fact that I didn’t really want to be like that. An astrologer at this time told me that my secret desire was to travel around delivering messages of love and peace, and I knew that this was actually true, though at that time I didn’t really have any love or peace to deliver to others.
Then I had the great fortune to meet a couple of enlightened spiritual masters, and I was given the holy names of the Lord to chant, and was able to hear great spiritual wisdom. Hopefully, over the years this has had the effect of changing my heart a little. One story that my spiritual masters told was of a hunter named Mrigari. This story is found in the Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya-lila, translated by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. It was told by Lord Chaitanya to Sanatan Goswami.
The story begins with the great enlightened sage named Narada Muni, who is a spiritual master in our line of disciplic succession. You may have heard mention of him before, he is known as the “transcendental spaceman” – he lives on one of the heavenly planets within this universe, called Siddhaloka, where all of the inhabitants have complete yogic powers. He is able to travel anywhere within the material universes and the spiritual world.
Narada carries a stringed instrument called a vina, and he continuously chants beautiful sacred mantras with intense love and amazing spiritual potency, accompanied by the sweetest of melodies. Whoever hears his chanting develops love of God within a short period of time. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, in the first two verses of his song Narada Muni Bajay Vina [English translation] says:
When the great soul Narada Muni plays his vina, the holy name, Radhika-raman, descends and immediately appears amidst the kirtan of the Lord’s devotees. Like a monsoon cloud, the holy name showers nectar in their ears. All the devotees, due to great ecstasy, repeatedly dance to their hearts content.
Once, in ancient times, Narada was visiting planet earth, in the holy area of Prayag in northern India. At Prayag we find Triveni Sangam – the confluence of the three holy rivers: the Ganges [Ganga], Yamuna, and the Sarasvati River, which no longer is visible to the material eye, but is described in ancient Vedic texts. Narada went to bathe in the confluence of these holy rivers. But as he walked through the forest, he saw a number of half-dead animals, pierced by arrows and flapping piteously in great pain.
Once upon a time the great saint Narada, after visiting Lord Narayana in the Vaikunthas, went to Prayaga to bathe at the confluence of three rivers – the Ganges, Yamuna and Sarasvati. Narada Muni saw that a deer was lying on the path through the forest and that it was pierced by an arrow. It had broken legs and was twisting due to much pain. Farther ahead, Narada Muni saw a boar pierced by an arrow. Its legs were also broken, and it was twisting in pain. When he went farther, he saw a rabbit that was also suffering.
Narada Muni was greatly pained at heart to see living entities suffer so. When Narada Muni advanced farther, he saw a hunter behind a tree. This hunter was holding arrows, and he was ready to kill more animals. The hunter’s body was blackish. He had reddish eyes, and he appeared fierce. It was as if the superintendent of death, Yamaraja, was standing there with bows and arrows in his hands.
When Narada Muni left the forest path and went to the hunter, all the animals immediately saw him and fled. When all the animals fled, the hunter wanted to chastise Narada with abusive language, but due to Narada’s presence, he could not utter anything abusive. The hunter addressed Narada Muni: ‘O gosvami! O great saintly person! Why have you left the general path through the forest to come to me? Simply by seeing you, all the animals I was hunting have now fled.’
Narada Muni replied, ‘Leaving the path, I have come to you to settle a doubt that is in my mind. I was wondering whether all the boars and other animals that are half-killed belong to you.’ The hunter replied, ‘Yes, what you are saying is so.’ Narada Muni then inquired, ‘Why did you not kill the animals completely? Why did you half-kill them by piercing their bodies with arrows?’ The hunter replied, ‘My dear saintly person, my name is Mrigari, enemy of animals. My father taught me to kill them in that way. When I see half-killed animals suffer, I feel great pleasure.’
Narada Muni then told the hunter, ‘I have one thing to beg of you.’ The hunter replied, ‘You may take whatever animals or anything else you would like. I have many skins if you would like them. I shall give you either a deerskin or a tiger skin.’ Narada Muni said, ‘I do not want any of the skins. I am only asking one thing from you in charity. I beg you that from this day on you will kill animals completely and not leave them half-dead.’
The hunter replied, ‘My dear sir, what are you asking of me? What is wrong with the animals’ lying there half-killed? Will you please explain this to me?’ Narada Muni replied, ‘If you leave the animals half-dead, you are purposefully giving them pain. Therefore you will have to suffer in retaliation.’ Narada Muni continued, ‘My dear hunter, your business is killing animals. That is a slight offense on your part, but when you consciously give them unnecessary pain by leaving them half-dead, you incur very great sins.’
Narada Muni continued, ‘All the animals that you have killed and given unnecessary pain will kill you one after the other in your next life and in life after life.’ In this way, through the association of the great sage Narada Muni, the hunter was a little convinced of his sinful activity. He therefore became somewhat afraid due to his offenses. The hunter then admitted that he was convinced of his sinful activity, and he said, ‘I have been taught this business from my very childhood. Now I am wondering how I can become freed from these unlimited volumes of sinful activity.’
The hunter continued, ‘My dear sir, please tell me how I can be relieved from the reactions of my sinful life. Now I fully surrender unto you and fall down at your lotus feet. Please deliver me from sinful reactions.’ Narada Muni assured the hunter, ‘If you listen to my instructions, I shall find the way you can be liberated.’ The hunter then said, ‘My dear sir, whatever you say I shall do.’ Narada immediately ordered him, ‘First of all, break your bow. Then I shall tell you what is to be done.’
The hunter replied, ‘If I break my bow, how shall I maintain myself?’ Narada Muni replied, ‘Do not worry. I shall supply all your food every day.’ Being thus assured by the great sage Narada Muni, the hunter broke his bow, immediately fell down at the saint’s lotus feet and fully surrendered. After this, Narada Muni raised him with his hand and gave him instructions for spiritual advancement. Narada Muni then advised the hunter, ‘Return home and distribute whatever riches you have to the pure brahmanas who know the Absolute Truth. After distributing all your riches to the brahmanas, both you and your wife should leave home, taking only one cloth to wear.’
Narada Muni continued, ‘Leave your home and go to the river. There you should construct a small cottage, and in front of the cottage you should grow a tulasi plant on a raised platform. After planting the tulasi tree before your house, you should daily circumambulate that tulasi plant, serve her by giving her water and other things, and continuously chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.’ Narada Muni continued, ‘I shall send sufficient food to you both every day. You can take as much food as you want.’
The three animals that were half-killed were then brought to their consciousness by the sage Narada. Indeed, the animals got up and swiftly fled. When the hunter saw the half-killed animals flee, he was certainly struck with wonder. He then offered his respectful obeisances to the sage Narada and returned home.
After all this, Narada Muni went to his destination. After the hunter returned home, he exactly followed the instructions of his spiritual master, Narada. The news that the hunter had become a Vaisnava spread all over the village. Indeed, all the villagers brought alms and presented them to the Vaisnava who was formerly a hunter. In one day enough food was brought for ten or twenty people, but the hunter and his wife would accept only as much as they could eat.
One day, while speaking to his friend [the sage] Parvata Muni, Narada Muni requested him to go with him to see his disciple the hunter. When the saintly sages came to the hunter’s place, the hunter could see them coming from a distance. With great alacrity the hunter began to run toward his spiritual master, but he could not fall down and offer obeisances because ants were running hither and thither around his feet. Seeing the ants, the hunter whisked them away with a piece of cloth. After thus clearing the ants from the ground, he fell down flat to offer his obeisances.
Narada Muni said, ‘My dear hunter, such behavior is not at all astonishing. A man in devotional service is automatically nonviolent. He is the best of gentlemen. ‘O hunter, good qualities like nonviolence, which you have developed, are not very astonishing, for those engaged in the Lord’s devotional service are never inclined to give pain to others because of envy.’
The hunter then received both the great sages in the courtyard of his house. He spread out a straw mat for them to sit upon, and with great devotion he begged them to sit down. He then fetched water and washed the sages’ feet with great devotion. Then both husband and wife drank that water and sprinkled it on their heads. When the hunter chanted the Hare Krishna maha-mantra before his spiritual master, his body trembled, and tears welled in his eyes. Filled with ecstatic love, he raised his hands and began to dance, waving his garments up and down.
When Parvata Muni saw the ecstatic loving symptoms of the hunter, he told Narada, ‘Certainly you are a touchstone.’ [A touchstone can turn base metal into gold.] Parvata Muni continued, ‘My dear friend Narada Muni, you are glorified as the sage among the demigods. By your mercy, even a lowborn person like this hunter can immediately become attached to Lord Krishna.’ Narada Muni then asked the hunter, ‘My dear Vaisnava, do you have some income for your maintenance?’ The hunter replied, ‘My dear spiritual master, whoever you send gives me something when he comes to see me.’
The former hunter said, ‘Please do not send so may grains. Only send what is sufficient for two people, no more.’ Narada Muni approved his not wanting more than a daily supply of food, and he blessed him, saying, ‘You are fortunate.’ Narada Muni and Parvata Muni then disappeared from that place. So far I have narrated the incident of the hunter. By hearing this narration, one can understand the influence derived by associating with devotees.
Lord Chaitanya told this story because He wanted to stress that even a cruel hunter, one who took pleasure in causing pain to other living beings, could become a pure devotee of the Lord – simply by associating with Narada Muni, or a devotee in his bona fide disciplic succession. So it is my hope that I may also be changed by the association of my spiritual masters, who are bona fide representatives of both Narada Muni and Lord Chaitanya. When Lord Chaitanya met his spiritual master, Ishvara Puri, he was given instructions about chanting the holy names of the Lord. Ishvara Puri taught Him the following verse from Srimad Bhagavatam:
A person who is constantly engaged in devotional service to Krishna and who chants His holy name becomes so transcendentally attached to the chanting that his heart becomes softened without extraneous endeavor. When this happens, he exhibits transcendental ecstasies and sometimes laughs, sometimes cries, sings and dances – not exactly in an artistic way, but just like a madman.
[Srimad Bhagavatam 11:2:40]
Certainly that heart is steel-framed which, in spite of one’s chanting the holy name of the Lord with concentration, does not change when ecstasy takes place, tears fill the eyes and the hairs stand on end.
[Srimad Bhagavatam 2:3:24]
Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami wrote a beautiful book titled The Nectar of Devotion. This is a summary study of Srila Rupa Goswami’s Bhakti Rasamrta Sindhu. In chapter 31 it is stated:
A soft heart is compared to honey, to butter and to nectar. And the condition of the mind is compared to sunshine. As honey and butter become melted even in slight sunshine, soft hearted persons become easily melted. Nectar, however, is by its nature always liquid. And the hearts of those who are in pure ecstatic love with Krishna are by nature always liquified, just like nectar.