Sūta said: O brahmins, hearing all this about the Sage of the Gods – the incarnation of the All-Attractive, Vyāsa Satyavatī’s-son asked more questions about his birth and deeds.
Vyāsa asked: What did you do between the departure of the wanderers who instructed you and the beginning of your present life? O Son of the Selfborn, how did you spend the rest of that lifetime? How did you eventually give up that life and attain your current body? O supermost of the learneds, all these things happened in a previous creation, but the annihilation of time seems to have not touched your memory at all. Why?
Nārada answered: This is what I did between the departure of the wanderers who instructed me and the start of my present lifetime.
I was my mother’s only child, a simple and low-born woman, a servant with no status. She had nothing but me. So she firmly embraced me in bonds of affection. She only wanted to care for and protect me, but she couldn’t. Like everyone, she is not independent, but is just like a puppet in the hands of fate.
I did not know left from right, before from after, I only knew my mother. But when I was five years old I went to live with a teacher for my schooling.
At that time, the poor woman went out at night to milk the cows. On the path a snake bit her foot, and thus time struck her down.
‘Fate is but a vehicle through which God expresses his affectionate blessings upon the devoted.’ Making up my mind like that, I departed towards the north.
The meeting with the Kṛṣṇa-saṁkīrtanists which awakened his spiritual enlightenment uccured when the boy was roughly four or five years old. After they left, the boy did not abandon his loving and dependent mother. He continued to be indebted to her affection. When he turned five, his mother enrolled him with a local teacher for education. While the boy was living there, his mother had to do his chores, such as going out at night to milk the cows. Once while doing so she was bitten by a snake and died. The young boy realized that the loss of his loving mother, though sad, represented the end of his normal responsibilities and duties. Therefore he left everything behind and began walking due north.
The four directions represent the four goals of life. North is the final direction, counted by following the Sun’s path beginning from sunrise in the northern hemisphere. Thus the north represents the final goal: liberation. That is why it is an ancient custom to walk due north without possessions to renounce ones material existence.
I passed flourishing populations, towns, villages, farms, mines, plains, valleys, gardens, nurseries and forests. I entered the hills and mountains of many precious metals. All around were trees with branches broken by huge elephants, and pure lakes with lotus flowers that would attract the hearts of the citizens of heaven, decorated with birds and bees. I also roamed through rows of bamboo, and pens of sharp grass and weeds; alone in inaccessible caves; in fearsome forests, the playgrounds of dangerous snakes, owls, and jackals. Exhausted body and soul, thirsty and hungry, I bathed and drank in the pool of a river and got relief. There, in an uninhabited forest, I sat beneath the shelter of a banyan tree, focused myself upon the self within myself, and contemplated what I had learned that time.
“That time” refers to the rainy season the boy spent with the Kṛṣṇa-saṁkīrtanists. As one walks due north in India one eventually enters the Himalayan peaks. It seems Nārada has retraced that path for us, a path gradually becoming less civilized and passing into the wonders and horrors of raw nature. The experience of leaving behind humanity and making peace with the raw forces of nature is an important pre-requisite to deep spiritual contemplation.