Our mind often behaves like a baby monkey. Restless by nature, it jumps from one branch (thoughts) to another in the span of a few seconds. With such a mind, how is one supposed to have one pointed focus on spirituality and Bhakti towards the Lord ?
The mind needs to be engaged in such a way that it listens and absorbs knowledge that will not only enrich our devotion but also teach us many valuable lessons.
This is where Katha comes in. In english, katha translates to ‘Story’. When we hear of certain incidents taking place in society and our day to day lives, we are very much impacted by its contents and the way each of us react or respond to it is different. Even as we speak of the incident that took place, our mind has already begun picturing each minute detail and thus it is engaged in thinking about the incident.
When one says the word, Katha, if our minds run towards holy scriptures like Srimad Bhagawatam, then our minds are truly blessed. The Srimad Bhagwatam elucidates the divine pastimes and leelas of Lord Sriman Narayana.
But when I say ‘Katha’ I am not being specific. Katha, or story, can be many things to many people. If ‘Katha’ for me is Srimad Bhagawatam, ‘Katha’ for someone else might be Grandma Stories or Stories they listened from Childhood.
It is important to choose the right story for children in order to inculcate devotion and good principles. A young child’s mind is like a sculptor’s molten wax. It is not firm yet and any shape can be given to the wax. What we inculcate in children, in the initial years of growth stays with them for life. This is one way of looking at the importance of katha.
Secondly, a divine story is a lesson in disguise. If we look at the heart warming story of Sri Shabari devi, we can obtain a beautiful lesson on divine love. Shabari devi, an old acetic was waiting for the darshan of Srirama after many years of procuring knowledge from her guru, Rishi Matanga. Every day, she would pluck berries for Srirama and bite into them to peruse their taste. She wanted to offer her Lord the sweetest berries and wanted to make sure he did not eat any bitter ones. Shabari devi was not aware that offerings should not be tasted. Nevertheless everyday, she would pluck berries and decorate her hut as she waited for her Lord’s darshan.
One fine day, her wait ended. Srirama and his younger brother Lakshmana came to her hut, as they looked for Sita devi who had been captured by Ravana.
Eagerly, Shabari devi offered the sweet, half eaten berries to Srirama and Lakshmana. At this, Lakshmana pointed out that the berries were half eaten and thus were not fit for consumption. But here, Srirama does not pay heed to his analysis. All he could see was Shabari devi’s profound devotion.
A lesson that can be learnt here, is that an offering made to the Lord is meant to be made in sincere love and devotion. The gratitude and affection behind the offering is far more important than the offering itself.
Here, if we use symbology, then Shabari devi symbolises the sincere and endless wait for god and devotion towards him. Her plucked, half eaten sweet berries symbolise divine love for the Lord. But being too indulgent in symbology robs the divine stories of its sweetness.
While listening to Katha, if one is alert and not distracted, the mind is engaged in listening to the divine stories and this is the first step to enriching one’s devotion. This is called Sravana- Listening to ancient texts and divine stories. It is one of the nine types of Bhakti called Navavidha Bhakti. Simply by hearing, one is rendering devotional service. As easy as it sounds, sometimes it is difficult to reign in our minds from countless other thoughts like day to day problems we face. However, if listening to katha, is a practice that is inculcated at an early age, it will be very good for children.
To maintain a healthy body, we consume a balanced diet. Similarly, whatever we see or hear or absorb mentally, constitutes a diet for our mind. If we absorb good things, it is good for our minds. However, if we absorb negative things, it creates chaos in our minds.
Hence, we do have a choice in what we can feed the mind. It will be good if we can nourish our minds and intellect with divine pastimes from Srimad Bhagwatam and other puranas.