God sent Narada, an archangel, to earth on a divine errand—to find a true devotee of God. Disguised as a saintly human being, Narada ambled through different woodlands in search of such devotees. One day he spied a hoary anchorite practicing different kinds of penances under the shade of a huge tamarind tree. Narada went up to the anchorite and said, “Hello, who are you, and what are you doing?”
The anchorite replied, “Honored sir, my name is Bhadraka. I am an old anchorite who has been practicing rigorous physical discipline for eighty years, but I don’t seem to get anywhere.”
Narada replied, “Well, I came from heaven to find a true devotee of God.”
The anchorite remarked laughingly, “Honored protégé of God, your eyes are now beholding the greatest devotee of God on earth. Rain or shine, for eighty years I have practiced every imaginable mental and physical self-torturing discipline.”
Narada said, “Revered anchorite, I am very touched by your devotion.”
“Well, then,” bellowed Bhadraka, “if you are kith and kin of God, won’t you please ask Him why He has kept away from me for so long and not responded to my disciplinary exercises?” After agreeing to do what Bhadraka asked, Narada left and continued his quest for the best devotees of God.
As he ambled along, he saw by the road a dead-drunk young man trying ineffectually to place a bamboo pole in a hole in the ground and erect a fence. The young man was loudly cursing and shouting, “Hey, you naughty God. If you don’t come and put this pole in the ground, I am going to thrust it into your heart.”
The young man noticed Narada and shouted, “You good-for-nothing idler; how dare you stare at me like that?”
Taken aback, Narada replied, “May I help you to place your bamboo pole?”
The drunken young man promptly said: “No sir, I will accept help only from God, that sly eluder who has been playing hide-and-seek with me, hiding behind the clouds, trying to get away from working for me.”
With mild sarcasm Narada said, “You drunken fool, aren’t you afraid to curse God?”
“Oh, no, He understands me better than you do,” was the instantaneous reply. “Who are you?” the drunken man demanded.
“I am an angel from heaven and I have come to find the true devotees of God on earth.”
“Is that so? Well then, will you put in a good word to God for me, even though I have been somewhat bad? Please ask Him why He has delayed His visit to me, and when He is coming?”
Inwardly thinking, “You have a fat chance of seeing God,” Narada agreed to comply with the young man’s request and vanished into heaven. Excitedly, he went to where God was reigning on a glowing atomic throne. The Heavenly King gently asked, “Dear Narada, tell me all about your earthly excursions.”
“Well, my King,” said Narada, I sometimes think you are too hard to please. Do you know the anchorite, Bhadraka, under the tamarind tree?
“No, I don’t know him, ” God replied.
“How is that possible?” protested Narada. “That man has been practicing all sorts of disciplines for eighty years just to please you.”
“No matter what the anchorite has been practicing, he’s never touched my heart. Who else did you meet?” God asked.
“I met,” Narada started to say, but God interrupted him saying, “You met a drunken young man.”
“It’s very surprising, your Heavenly Majesty, that you seem to know this man,” Narada said. “Perhaps it’s because he’s been poking you with bamboo poles!”
God laughed heartily. Lovingly he said, “O Narada, I will prove to you which of the two men you saw is a true devotee.”
Then God said, “Dear Narada, return to earth again and go first to the anchorite, Bhadraka, and say, ‘I gave your message to God, but He is very busy passing millions of elephants through the eye of a needle. When He finishes, He will visit you.’ After you get the anchorite’s reaction, go and say the same thing to the drunken young man and watch his reaction. Then you will know.”
Narada returned to earth and gave God’s message to the anchorite who flew into a rage and shouted, “Get out–you, God, and all of your crazy crowd! Who ever heard of anyone passing elephants through the eye of a needle?
“My eighty years of discipline were nothing but folly. I am through trying to please a crazy non-existent God, and will now resume my long-neglected earthly duties.”
Taken aback by this remark, Narada hurried off to visit the young man who was even more drunk, still cursing, and trying to place another bamboo pole for the fence. But no sooner had Narada appeared than the young man came running and asked, “Hey, Narada, what did God say in reply to my message?”
When the young man heard what God had said, he began to dance with joy, saying, “He who can send worlds through the eye of a needle in an instant has long since finished passing elephants through the eye of a needle. Any minute He will be with me, and when He comes, my love for Him will make me forget my drinking habit and all my evil actions.”
As the young man danced in heavenly ecstasy, Narada joined him. Soon they found that God was dancing with them.
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This story illustrates that no matter how many years you have been going to church or doing good works, unless you love God, He will never reveal Himself to you. Thus the anchorite who practiced spiritual disciplines in a mechanical way, in utter oblivion of God, never received a divine response.
The case of the drunken man shows that, even if by continuous, strenuous effort you have not been able to give up bad habits but are intoxicated with the love of God, He will reveal Himself to you. With the dawning of His Light, the darkness of evil habits will vanish completely.
One should not think that God loves devotees with mental weaknesses more than He loves those without such frailties. But it is undeniable that God prefers true, intensely loving devotees with inner weaknesses to those mechanical devotees and anchorites who lack the God-alluring power of divine love.
Spiritual exercises may produce some good results, but to lure God into the sanctuary of the heart one must also have devotional love. Love is above the law. God surrenders Himself to the devotee who offers his unconditional love, which is above all laws of right living.
Rather than painstakingly following dry religious customs and rituals, first cultivate the sincere love of God in your heart. If you want to catch Him surely and permanently, use the strong net woven with the threads of right living and the silken cords of law-transcending unconditional love.