The Wish-Fulfilling Tree
Three Hindu parables about attachment, desire, and understanding what's real.
BY: Pradip Bhattacharya
Another way of understanding this predicament is through trying to answer, what is Maya? This the question put by the wandering sage Narada to Vishnu. The story that follows was retold to the author Andre Malraux by a passerby in the Indian city of Varanasi:
Narada, the itinerant divine sage and inveterate experimenter, roams the three worlds, sowing seeds of discord. He goes up to Vishnu and demands that Maya be explained to him. Vishnu is silent. Narada is not one to be denied. He insists so persistently that the god has to answer him. "Maya cannot be explained, it has to be experienced," he says. "If you can't explain what you create, then I won't believe in you," retorts the never-say-die sage. Quickly deserting his serpent couch--for the fate of gods in whom humans do not believe is shrouded in uncertainty--Vishnu beckons him to follow.
Walking together, they reach a desert where Vishnu sits down under a tree and exclaims, "I am so tired, Narada! Take this lota and get me some water from that oasis. When you return I will explain Maya to you." Eager to plumb the mystery, Narada speeds off to the oasis and finds a well there beside a hut. He calls out, and a lovely girl opens the door. Looking into her eyes Narada is reminded of the compelling eyes of Vishnu. She invites him in and disappears indoors. Her parents come out and greet the guest, requesting him to rest and eat after his journey through the burning sands before he returns with the lota of water. Thinking of the lovely girl, Narada agrees.
Night falls, and they urge him to leave in the cool morning. Awakening in the morning, Narada looks out and sees the girl bathing beside the well. He forgets about the lota of water. He stays on. The parents offer him their daughter's hand in marriage. Narada accepts, and settles down here. Children arrive; the parents-in-law die; Narada inherits the property. Twelve years go by. Suddenly the floods arrive--floods in the desert!--and his house is washed away. Carrying his children on his shoulders, Narada wades through the raging waters with his wife. Suddenly, she is swept away. Reaching out to clutch her, he loses hold of his children who disappear in the waters. Narada is submerged in the floods and loses consciousness. He awakens to find head pillowed in someone's lap. Opening his eyes he gazes into the eyes of Vishnu, seated at the desert's edge under that same tree, those eyes that remind him of his wife's. "Narada," asks Vishnu, "where is the lota of water?" Narada asked, "You mean, all that happened to me did not happen to me?" Vishnu smiled his enigmatic smile.
Is the karmic law real? Who experiences what happens? Shankaracharya entered a dead king's body, experienced a royal life of luxury with queens, courtesans, retainers, war--everything. And he returned to answer the riddle put to him by a wise woman. Which of these was real? Do we dream or live? Certain things remain an enigma. It is said that the path of yoga breaks away from the adamantine shackles of karma. That is why the Buddha exclaimed that he had seen through the labyrinth of creation, hence the rafters are shattered, the edifice has crumbled, and never again will he be in the clutches of birth and rebirth.