Episode 4: Of Skins and Hearts
Bhagavata Purana THE STORY OF NARDA AND VISHNU MAYA
Among Brahma's many sons was one Narada. Narada refused to marry. He did not want anything to do with the material world. Like Suka, he preferred the realm of Narayana, when time and space do not exist, where Maya casts no spells. He went a step further; he encouraged Brahma's other sons to stay celibate like him. He did not see the point of engaging with Prakriti. He did not understand the point of constructing Brahmanda.
Many of Brahma's sons agreed with Narada. They also refused to marry. This happened several times, until an enraged Brahma cursed Narada, "you will stay trapped in the material world until you appreciate the value of Maya."
Narada went to Vishnu and asked him the meaning of Maya. In response, Vishnu said, "I will explain after you quench my thirst. Go fetch me some water."
Narada went to a river to fetch water. But as he was collecting the water, he saw a beautiful girl. He was so drawn to her that he followed her to her village and asked her father for her hand in marriage. The father agreed and the two got married. Before long, Narada was a father and then grandfather and then great grandfather. Narada felt content. Suddenly, dark clouds enveloped the sky. There was thunder, lightning, and rain. The river overflowed, broke its banks and washed away Narada’s house, drowning everyone he loved, everything he possessed. Narada himself was swept away by the river. "Help, help. Somebody please help me," he cried. Vishnu immediately stretched out his hand and pulled Narada out of the water.
Back in Vaikuntha, Vishnu asked, "Where is my water?" "How can you be so remorseless? How can you ask me for water when I have lost my entire family?" Vishnu smiled. "Calm down, Narada. Tell me, where did your family come from? From Me. I am the only reality, the only entity in the cosmos that is eternal and unchanging. Everything else is an illusion – a mirage, constantly slipping out of one’s grasp." "You, my greatest devotee, knew that. Yet, enchanted by the pleasures of worldly life, you forgot all about me. You deluded yourself into believing that your world and your life were all that mattered and nothing else was of any consequence. As per your perspective, the material world was infallible, invulnerable, perfect.
Narada bowed his head in realization. He knew Maya but had never experienced Maya. Brahma was encouraging his sons to marry so that they experience Maya. Knowledge of Maya is not experience of Maya. Unless one experiences Maya, one will not be able to empathize with those who are trapped in it.
Said Vishnu, "you knew all about measuring scales and subjective realities. Yet you forgot all about them as soon as you experienced the material world – home, family, children, and village. Your understanding of Maya and Brahmanda could have helped you in the tumult of pleasure and pain, but it did not. Such is the spell of Maya. Now that you have experienced Maya, I want you to go and meet people, shake up their measuring scales, challenge their subjective realities, until they realize that the only way out of Maya is seeking answers out of material reality. I want you to provoke them into following the spiritual path."
Thus Vishnu dispelled Narada’s illusion, bringing him back to the realm of reality and making him comprehend the power of Maya over man.”
“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. “
William Wordsworth, "THE WORLD IS TOO MUCH WITH US"
Eustace and the Dragon
“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it....
Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon's lair, but, as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons. That is why he was so puzzled at the surface on which he was lying. Parts of it were too prickly to be stones and too hard to be thorns, and there seemed to be a great many round, flat things, and it all clinked when he moved. There was light enough at the cave's mouth to examine it by. And of course Eustace found it to be what any of us could have told him in advance—treasure. There were crowns (those were the prickly things), coins, rings, bracelets, ingots, cups, plates and gems.
..I wonder how much I can carry? That bracelet now—those things in it are probably diamonds—I'll slip that on my own wrist. Too big, but not if I push it right up here above my elbow. Then fill my pockets with diamonds—that's easier than gold. I wonder when this infernal rain's going to let up?" He got into a less uncomfortable part of the pile, where it was mostly coins, and settled down to wait. But a bad fright, when once it is over, and especially a bad fright following a mountain walk, leaves you very tired. Eustace fell asleep.
Meanwhile Eustace slept and slept—and slept. What woke him was a pain in his arm. The moon was shining in at the mouth of the cave, and the bed of treasures seemed to have grown much more comfortable: in fact he could hardly feel it at all. He was puzzled by the pain in his arm at first, but presently it occurred to him that the bracelet which he had shoved up above his elbow had become strangely tight. His arm must have swollen while he was asleep (it was his left arm).
He moved his right arm in order to feel his left, but stopped before he had moved it an inch and bit his lip in terror. For just in front of him, and a little on his right, where the moonlight fell clear on the floor of the cave, he saw a hideous shape moving. He knew that shape: it was a dragon's claw. It had moved as he moved his hand and became still when he stopped moving his hand....
But just as he reached the edge of the pool two things happened. First of all it came over him like a thunder-clap that he had been running on all fours—and why on earth had he been doing that? And secondly, as he bent towards the water, he thought for a second that yet another dragon was staring up at him out of the pool. But in an instant he realised the truth. That dragon face in the pool was his own reflection. There was no doubt of it. It moved as he moved: it opened and shut its mouth as he opened and shut his.
He had turned into a dragon while he was asleep. Sleeping on a dragon's hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself....
The bracelet which had fitted very nicely on the upper arm of a boy was far too small for the thick, stumpy foreleg of a dragon. It had sunk deeply into his scaly flesh and there was a throbbing bulge on each side of it. He tore at the place with his dragon's teeth but could not get it off.
..."Well, last night I was more miserable than ever. And that beastly arm-ring was hurting like anything——"
"Well, anyway, I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly towards me. And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moonlight where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn't that kind of fear. I wasn't afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it—if you can understand. Well, it came close up to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn't any good because it told me to follow it."
"You mean it spoke?"
"I don't know. Now that you mention it, I don't think it did. But it told me all the same. And I knew I'd have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went. So at last we came to the top of a mountain I'd never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden—trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well.
"I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells—like a very big, round bath with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don't know if he said any words out loud or not.
"I was just going to say that I couldn't undress because I hadn't any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that's what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.
"But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that's all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I'll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this under skin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.
"Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.
"Then the lion said—but I don't know if it spoke—You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
"The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know—if you've ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away."
"Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off—just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt—and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me—I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on—and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again.
"After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me——"
"Dressed you. With his paws?"
"Well, I don't exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes—the same I've got on now, as a matter of fact. And then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream."
"No. It wasn't a dream," said Edmund.
"Well, there are the clothes, for one thing. And you have been—well, un-dragoned, for another."
"What do you think it was, then?" asked Eustace.
"I think you've seen Aslan," said Edmund.
The jewels with which Eustace had crammed his pockets in the cave had disappeared along with the clothes he had then been wearing: but no one, least of all Eustace himself, felt any desire to go back to that valley for more treasure.
CS LEWIS, VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER
“In this book, it seems like Aslan is in the business of taking ‘base material’ and converting it into treasure.”
"And so, C. S. Lewis has invited me to pray the most painful and redemptive prayer I have ever prayed: “Tear into me, O Lord.”
Jake Rainwater Jake Rainwater, a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological seminary pursuing a Master of Divinity.
Art used by permission of Melissa Tshikampabo Kamba. For more information about her exquisite art, please visit: https://www.tshikamba.com