Can a squirrel ever become a prince? In a little parable told by Swami Jyotirmayananda of the Yoga Research Foundation in Miami, a squirrel does become a prince.
This story illustrates a powerful lesson on the transformative effects of satsang.
Satsang is a Sanskrit word that means associating with the truth or that which is good and noble. It means keeping spiritual company.
This could mean being with, and learning from people who are spiritually inclined, or taking in spiritual knowledge through lectures, books and other media.
Keeping spiritual company is considered “good” because it brings peace of mind and “noble” because it promotes our spiritual growth.
In this story, the main character is the kind-hearted celestial sage, Narada, well known in Hindu writings to be the greatest devotee of God embodied as Lord Vishnu.
Narada is said to live even now. He has free access to any place he chooses. His sole mission is to worship God and inspire love for God in the hearts of all.
The sage Narada approaches Lord Vishnu with a question
One day, Narada went to Lord Vishnu in heaven and asked, “My Lord, can you please tell me the glory of satsang?”
Instead of answering his question directly, Lord Vishnu instructed him to go to a particular forest where he would find a giant tree. “Look amidst the branches for a squirrel. When you find him, ask him the glory of satsang.”
Narada found it rather strange that Lord Vishnu would tell him to ask a squirrel for the answer to his question. But, with full faith in the Lord, he followed his instructions.
Narada goes to the tree in search of the squirrel
When he found the tree and the squirrel, he approached him and asked, “O Squirrel, can you please tell me the glory of satsang?”
The squirrel didn’t reply but looked intently into the eyes of Narada. Narada eyes widened in anticipation thinking that the squirrel was going to say something. But just then, the squirrel’s eyes went blank, its body became limp and it fell down dead from the tree!
Shocked by what had just happened, the kind-hearted sage went back to Lord Vishnu. “My Lord! I found the squirrel but before he could answer my question, he suddenly died and fell off the tree!”
Lord Vishnu told him, “Go back to the same tree. There you will find a monkey who will tell you the glory of satsang.”
Narada wondered why Lord Vishnu didn’t answer his question again and asked him to consult a monkey instead. But without questioning the wisdom of the Lord, the faithful Narada went back to the tree.
Narada goes back to the tree in search of the monkey
On the tree, he found a monkey jumping from branch to branch. He approached him and asked, “Dear Monkey, can you please tell me the glory of satsang?”
The monkey stopped jumping, and moved its head from side to side, looking at Narada with great curiosity. Thinking that the monkey hadn’t heard him, Narada repeated his question, “Can you please tell me the glory of satsang?”
The monkey stopped moving its head and stared steadily into Narada’s eyes. Then, without saying a word, the monkey’s body became lifeless and fell off the branch to the ground below.
Trembling from what he had just gone through, the great sage went back to Lord Vishnu.
“My Lord! I found the monkey but before he could answer my question, like the squirrel, he too suddenly died and fell off the tree! I don’t understand what happened! Please explain to me.”
Again, instead of answering his question, Lord Vishnu gave him another set of instructions. He told him to go to a particular city after some time where a son would be born to the king and queen. “Go to the palace and ask the king to allow you some private time with the newborn prince. When you see the prince, ask him the glory of satsang.”
Shaken by his experiences with the squirrel and the monkey, and bewildered at why Lord Vishnu had not answered his question directly, Narada hesitated about going in search of the prince.
But then, he remembered that the Lord was all-knowing and benevolent. Surely there must be a good reason for what was happening. At the instructed time, Narada set out to do as he was advised.
Narada arrives at the palace
When Narada arrived at the palace, the king was overjoyed to see him. He took it as a very auspicious omen that the esteemed celestial sage had paid him a visit by his own will.
When Narada asked to see the prince alone, the king thought that the sage wanted to confer a special blessing on the child. So he happily ushered him into the room where the little baby boy was lying in a crib.
When everyone was out of the room, Narada walked uneasily towards the crib, remembering his experience in the forest.
What was going to happen? Would the newborn baby actually be able to speak to him?
Slowly, he bent down and looked inside the crib. There he saw a happy little baby waving its hands and feet about.
When the baby noticed Narada standing there, he stopped moving his limbs, and stared intensely into Narada’s eyes.
Narada’s heart began to race, his body became stiff and his face went as white as a sheet. He feared that the baby would meet the same fate as the squirrel and the monkey.
But nothing happened.
Then, remembering Lord Vishnu’s words and the reason for his visit, Narada nervously asked the baby, “C..c..can you p…p..please explain the glory of satsang to me?”
Then, for what seemed like an eternity, the baby didn’t move or say anything. Finally, the baby started to speak!
“O great sage, don’t you recognise me? I’m the squirrel that died and became the monkey. I’m the same monkey that died and have now become a prince.”
Narada looked on in astonishment, not comprehending what he was hearing.
The prince continued, “Revered Narada. It is by being in your blessed company that I was able to drop off my lower bodies and gain this human form. I’m surprised that you are asking me to explain the glory of satsang to you!”
Suddenly, everything became clear to Narada. He looked upwards, mentally invoked Lord Vishnu and humbly expressed his gratitude for the lesson in understanding the glory of satsang.
The beneficial effects of satsang are manifold
If you’ve ever had the rare blessing of being in the company of someone with saintly virtues such as unconditional love, compassion or goodness, you would have experienced a sense of peace and love within yourself. Those noble virtues rubbed off on you and uplifted your mind and emotions.
When we spend time in satsang, listening to spiritual truths or studying them, it transforms us in many ways. It…
- gives us a spiritual vision of our lives that enables us to live with greater purpose.
- provides a better understanding of our true spiritual nature.
- inspires us to face our challenges and sorrows in a positive way.
- spurs us to seek deeper fulfilment through spirituality.
- encourages self-reflection which makes us re-think our priorities and goals.
- helps us imbibe noble qualities such as humility, honesty, empathy, kindness, patience, forgiveness and so on.
Spiritual growth begins with satsang. It is an indispensable habit to cultivate if we want to live with greater self-awareness, purpose and happiness.
**This story is adapted from “The Four Gatekeepers at the Palace of Liberation” by Swami Jyotirmayananda
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