Saturday, July 3, 2010

When the Lord became a Weaver....

Once upon a time, there lived two young men in a village. One was a weaver and the other a carpenter. They were very good friends, and were extremely attached to each other.

One day, they attended the annual village festival, which was a grand affair. People had come from far flung places to pay their respects to the deity.

One of the visitors was the young princess of their kingdom. All eyes were on her as she alighted from the elephant. Her long dark hair flew in the wind, while her lotus-shaped eyes took in all the happenings around her. Everyone seemed to be enraptured by her beauty, but the weaver fell in love with her the moment he set eyes on her. He could not take his eyes off her all day long, it was only when she left, that he turned to go back home.

The weaver was unable to get the princess out of his heart, and spent the night lost in her thought.  Even the rising sun did not succeed in weaning him away from his dreams, and his friend was surprised by his behavior. “My friend, what is it that ails you?” asked the carpenter, in concern.

“My friend, I have fallen in love! This is the source of my unhappiness, for I know that I can never gain her hand!” replied the weaver, sadly. The carpenter continued to question his friend till at last, he learnt the whole story. He could not bear to see his friend grieve in this manner, and so he decided to help him.

“My dear friend,” he said, “Do not give up so easily. I assure you that I shall help you marry the princess.” The weaver was thrilled hearing his friend’s words, but he was also doubtful of success. “She lives in a palace surrounded by guards, and is the daughter of the king! How can I, a mere weaver, get to meet her, let alone marry her?”

The carpenter replied, “We may be ordinary men, but we are devout, and intelligent. If we use our intelligence, the Lord will surely help us achieve our goals. So, do not worry, but get ready and weave wonderful clothes for yourself so that you can meet the princess!”

Heartened by his friend’s assurance, the weaver got to work, and wove the most beautiful and expensive clothes he had ever made, his mind and heart fixed on the woman of his dreams.

Meanwhile, the carpenter was busy at work too. He returned the next day, bringing with him a mechanical contraption, which looked like the Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu. The bird was fitted with different levers, which enabled it to fly.

He taught his friend how to use the bird, and said, “Friend, using this bird, you can easily fly high over the houses in our kingdom and reach the palace. No one can obstruct you, and you can easily reach the palace, without bothering about the guards who maintain a watch over the princess. Go late at night, so that no one will observe you, but just in case someone does catch a glimpse, he will think you are the lord Vishnu, and thus you shall be safe. Just in case, dress yourself as Lord Vishnu, which will aid you in concealing your identity, as well as winning the hand of the princess.”

The weaver was so happy with the plan that he hugged his friend and thanked him, and began preparations for his night-time jaunt. He wore the wonderful clothes he had made for himself, and adorned himself with jewelry fit for a God, and prepared to meet his love. Bowing before the lord, and asking for His blessings, he set off towards the palace.

Easily avoiding the palace guards, the weaver made his way on his mechanical Garuda to the princess’ apartments.  The princess was stunned to see the Lord in front of her, but even more surprised when he said, “O Princess, I have fallen  in love with you and have arrived here to marry you. Please consent to be my wife!”

The princess replied, with all due modesty, “O lord, I am honored by your words, but I am just a mortal girl. How can I marry you? Besides, the goddess Lakshmi is your rightful consort. How can you approach me thus?”

The weaver was well prepared for just such a question, and replied with a smile, “My dear, it is you who are my wife, born in this form due to a curse. I have sheltered you from other suitors for so long, but now it is time for me to make you my wife.”

The princess blushed and replied, “In that case, my lord, please talk to my father and take his permission. I shall marry you at once with his blessings.”

The weaver interrupted her, “My dear, it is not easy for mortals to set eyes on me. They have to perform severe penances for just a glimpse of me. I cannot grant your father this boon without due cause.  Marry me at once in the Gandharva style, or I shall curse your family!”

The princes did not want to be the cause of her family’s doom, and she was also thrilled by her good fortune in being the wife of Lord Vishnu. Agreeing to the terms laid down by the weaver, she married him in the Gandharva style at once. The weaver spent the night happily with his wife and left at dawn. Thereafter, he visited the princess every night and left before sunrise.

Meanwhile, the princess’ attendants suspected that the princess was meeting a man. However, since they did not see any man near the palace, they were confused. At last, one of them went to the king and voiced his suspicions.

The king was very angry when he learnt of the intruder, and he and his wife questioned the princess in detail. Unable to lie to her parents, she blurted out the truth – “My dear parents, you have no cause to worry, but instead, you should rejoice, for it is no common man who has chosen your daughter as his life partner. It is the Lord Vishnu himself, who comes to me every night. If you do not believe me, you can hide in my apartment and see Him for yourself tonight!”

The king and queen were so happy to hear this that they hid themselves that night and saw the weaver appear on his mechanical Garuda. The king was thrilled to see that it was the Lord Himself who had wed his daughter.

However, the knowledge that the Lord was his son-in-law led to the ego of the king getting a boost, and he started attacking the neighbouring kingdoms, sure that his son-in-law would come to his aid.

The neighbouring kings, however, were strong and united, and they attacked his kingdom in retaliation.

Faced with such a huge army, the king sent word to his daughter. “My dear,” he said. “I have waged war against our neighbouring kingdoms, relying on your husband’s aid, but now, the enemies are attacking our land, but there is no sign of your husband. Please ask him to come to help us wage war against our enemies.”

The princess obediently relayed her father’s message to her husband when he arrived that night. Now the weaver was in a quandary. But he bravely assured his wife, “My dear, why are you afraid of these mortal enemies? I shall crush them in a moment, do not fear! I shall appear in the battle and kill your enemies with my Sudarshan Chakra (discus)!”

The princess was comforted when she heard his words, and the king was pleased when he heard the news. He made arrangements for facing the enemy the next day.

The weaver meanwhile was in a fix. He did not know what to do. In a moment of recklessness, he had assured the princess that he would appear and slay the enemies. But what if the army recognized him as a simple weaver, and not Lord Vishnu? What if he was killed? On the other hand, if he did not appear on the battlefield, or just disappeared from the land, the attackers would surely kill the king and take the princess captive. He could not allow that! Even if she was safe, he could never see her again, and that was unbearable! Such thoughts tormented him all through the night, and finally, he came to a decision – he would go ahead and fly over the battlefield in his disguise. If he was killed, so be it. But there was just a chance that the army might mistake him for the genuine Lord and flee at once. He would give it a try, and trust the Lord to help him out of the mess.

Meanwhile, the real Lord Vishnu and his Garuda were having a related conversation. They had just learnt about the weaver who was going to dress up as the Lord and appear in the battle. This was a matter of concern, and Lord Vishnu said, “The weaver is prepared to meet his death bravely, but if he succumbs to a mortal’s arrow, people will lose faith in me. I can not allow that. The weaver has taken my form, and trusts in me to help him out, and I can not let him down. I myself shall go into battle at dawn tomorrow!”

The lord then instructed Garuda thus – “I shall enter the body of the weaver tomorrow and possess his chakra too. You must enter the mechanical contraption that he calls his vehicle, and must help me defeat the enemies.”

Accordingly, the next morning, when the weaver got himself ready for battle, he found himself infused with a new strength. Even his vehicle flew more like a real bird than ever, and he confidently entered the battleground, where he fought the army with ease, and killed the enemy king with his discus.

The army scattered with the death of their king, and onlookers were stunned to hear that it was the Lord himself who had aided their king! Meanwhile, as the Lord left the weaver’s body to go to His abode, the king and others recognized in him, the weaver of the kingdom!

At first, the king was wild when he realized that his son-in-law was not Lord Vishnu, but a humble weaver. But then, when the weaver related his story, the king realized that his son-in-law was not just an honest and clever man, but he was also an ardent devotee of the Lord, since the Lord himself had come to his aid. He decided to get his daughter married to him at once.

The weaver thus became a prince, and in time, the King. He ruled wisely and well, and always had complete faith in the Lord.

(Image from the Internet)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Uddalaka and Swetaketu

Have you ever wondered who and where is God? Why can we not see Him? How did he create the world? Here is a story from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad which answers your doubts.

Long, long ago, there lived a sage named Uddalaka. He had a son named Swetaketu. When Swetaketu was seven years old, Uddalaka invested him with the sacred thread and sent him to a gurukul to continue his studies under a suitable guru.

Swetaketu was a bright and diligent student, and learnt all he could from his guru, pleasing everyone at the gurukul. Finally, his studies complete, he returned home, bursting with pride at his achievement.

Uddalaka saw his son approaching the ashram, and realized at once that his son had returned filled with pride and ego. He was saddened, for true learning and knowledge brings not pride, but humility. A true scholar is one who has subdued his ego and humbly bows before the Supreme.

Uddalaka decided that he would have to complete his son’s education himself, and called Swetaketu. The boy arrived with a smile, ready to tell his father about all that he had learnt and all the praises he had received.

Swetaketu was received by his father with a question. “My son,” said Uddalaka “I am sure you have learnt all there is to learn at the gurukul. Do you now have the knowledge by which one can hear what can not be heard, by which one can see what can not be seen, and by which one can know what can not be known?”

Swetaketu was not only stunned, but also confused by his father’s question. How could one hear that which could not be heard, see what could not be seen, or know what could not be known? His father was a great rishi. Surely he had some knowledge that he hadn’t learnt so far. Part of his pride fell away as he asked his father respectfully, “Father, I do not have the knowledge of what you speak. Can you please explain this to me, since I do not understand?”

Uddalaka replied, “My son, I am talking about that which is inherent in all things. For example, once you have seen a lump of clay, you can recognize all objects made of clay. Similarly, once you have seen a nugget of gold, you can identify all items made of gold. In the same way, once you have seen a piece of iron, you can recognize all objects made of iron, no matter how different they may seem. For, it is not the shape, size or use of the object, but what they are made up of, which is important. Similarly, everything in the universe has different names and forms, but there is something inherent in all of them. Do you know what that is?”

Swetaketu bowed before his father and said, “Father, I do not know of these things. Perhaps my gurus too did not know of this, for if they had, they would surely have taught it to me. Please teach me this knowledge of which you speak.”

Pleased with his son’s humble request, Uddalaka said, “Listen, my son, I shall tell you how this world was created. In the beginning, there was only the ‘Sat’ or the One True Being. Having decided to create other beings, he first created Tejas (Fire), Apas (Water) and Annam (Food). Entering them as the Jivatma (Soul), he brought them to life and gave them name and form. He then decided to multiply further, and made them merge in different ratios to create more beings. These are what we know by various names today as Indra, Surya, and others.”

The rishi continued, “The three basic forms had merged to create more forms, but the basic nature of the three constituents were retained. Agni or fire showed itself as the red colour, while water showed itself as white and food as black. Even in their new forms, they showed themselves, for example, in the sun, what we call Surya or Aditya, the red colour is due to the fire, the white due to water and black due to food or earth.”

The sage explained further, “The basic forms of all beings are only the first three forms to be created – Tejas, Apas and Annam. Even in these three forms, it is the Sat, the True Being, who is the one form within all these three. Thus, the Sat alone is all, for all are different names for Him!”

Uddalaka concluded, “My son, the Sat is all powerful, for all beings are just His reflections. We call Him by many names, the True Being, the Supreme, and the Brahman. But they are all just different names for the all powerful One who is the essence of all life. Once we know Him, we know everything else. It is from Him that we all are born, and it is into Him that we merge when we die. We come into contact with Him within ourselves when we meditate. He pervades all and destroys all. He is the only perfect One. My dear son, you are not Him!”

Swetaketu was humbled by his father’s words, for he realized how little he knew. He said, with folded hands, “Father, please tell me more about the Supreme Being, for I want to know more about Him.”

Uddalaka was happy to see that his son was showing the signs of humility and a desire for knowing the real truth. He said, “My son, observe how the bees collect nectar from different flowers and make honey in their hive. Is it possible to distinguish the nectar of the different flowers from the honey? So also, we are all different, but in essence, it is the one true being that unites us all!”

He continued, “My son, see the rivers which merge into the sea. The waters of the different rivers appear different. But the sea into which the merge does not change. So also, we are all different forms of the true being. We appear different due to our forms, but we arise from the same source, and merge into the same – which is the Supreme!”

The sage then asked Swetaketu to bring a fruit and cut it into two. Uddalaka asked, “What do you see?” Swetaketu replied, “I can see seeds.” Uddalaka said, “Cut a seed into two and tell me what you see.” Swetaketu replied, “Father, there is nothing inside the seed.” Uddalaka smiled and replied, “Son, you can not see anything inside this seed, but from this tiny seed sprouts a huge tree. So also from the One True Being sprouts the entire universe!”

Next, Uddalaka asked Swetaketu to bring a glass of water and some salt. He asked Swetaketu to put the salt in the water and asked, “Can you see the salt now? Can you take it out?” Swetaketu replied, “Father, I can not see the salt, for it has dissolved in the water, and I can not take it out.” Uddalaka now asked Swetaketu to take a sip from the glass. Swetaketu replied, “The water is salty.” Uddalaka asked Swetaketu to taste the water from all portions of the glass, and Swetaketu replied that the water tasted salty everywhere. Uddalaka explained, “My son, you can not see the salt, but you can taste it. Similarly, the Supreme being pervades every atom of this universe, even though we can not see Him.”

Swetaketu understood at last the significance of Sat, and felt humble as he realized the magnitude of the One True Being. In course of time, he became a great rishi himself.

Thus, we too should understand that the only perfect one is the Lord, and all we see around us are His forms. We are, but tiny specks of his creation, and must remember this and learn to be humble. Humility is indeed the greatest of all virtues, for only then can we realize the truth.
(Image from the internet)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hidden Treasure

Once upon a time, there was an old man who owned a vineyard. He was a hard worker, and took care of his vines, growing some of the best grapes in the area. He had three sons, but was an unhappy man, because all his sons were lazy.

He worked hard from dawn to dusk in the vineyard, but none of his sons even offered to help him!  They spent their time sleeping or whiling away the time in useless activities. As he grew older, the old man grew weaker, and was not able to work as hard as before, but he continued to tend to his grapes as best as he could. However, he was now worried, for none of his sons had learnt anything about the vineyard.

He was old and knew he would die soon, and wondered, “How will my sons manage after I die? If they continue to be as lazy as they are, the vines will wither and there will be no harvest. How will they earn money?” Tormented by such thoughts, the old man’s health deteriorated. “I should somehow make them aware of their duties and the importance of work” he thought.

One day, the old farmer was working on his farm in the cold, and he fell sick. He was bedridden, and could not move. He knew he would die soon, and called his sons. “My sons, the time has come for me to die. I wanted to teach you how to work on the farm, but you never listened to me. I know that you have no idea how to tend to a vineyard, but I do not want you to starve, so I have accumulated a treasure for you. Dig in the vineyard and you will find it. You can live happily on the treasure for your entire life!” As he said these words, the old man breathed his last.

The three sons were excited! Treasure! Their father had buried a treasure in the vineyard! “We only have to dig once for the treasure. Once we find it, we can easily live on it all our lives!” they said. “We shall never have to work again!”

Early the next morning, they began their work, digging up the vineyard bit by bit. They were too lazy to uproot the grape vines growing there, so they dug all around the roots carefully so that they would not miss the treasure.

It took them a month to dig up the entire vineyard, but they could not find the treasure. They decided to try again, this time digging a little deeper. Again, they could not find anything. They decided to try one last time, but again, they returned, disappointed! Dispirited, and angry with their father, they gave up.

Meanwhile, that year, the rainfall was not good, and all the vineyards in the area suffered. The harvest was bad, and the grapes that did grow were dry and looked lifeless. However, the old man’s vineyard flourished, since the earth dug again and again near the roots of the vines had absorbed all the water there was, and provided plenty of nourishment to the growing grapes. In time, the fattest, juiciest grapes grew on the vines! No one in the area had seen such grapes before! They came to the three brothers and asked them how they had managed to grow such grapes.

The lazy brothers realized that all their digging had resulted in a great harvest. Spurred on by their friends and neighbours, they set to work at once, harvesting the grapes, and carting them to the market. At the market, their grapes sold at a price higher than ever before, for they were the best grapes of the year!

When the three brothers returned home and counted their earnings from the sale, they realized that it was a small fortune! By digging in the vineyard they had really found a treasure! This was the treasure their father had spoken about! They finally understood that hard work would always yield results. They silently thanked their father for his clever way of making them realize their error, and resolved never to be lazy again, but to work hard, so that they could reap such wonderful grapes again!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Wheel Bearer

Once upon a time, there lived four young Brahmin boys in a small village. They were bored of the simple life they led, and wanted to earn money and live a comfortable life. They did not want to work hard as farmers or acquire learning as Brahmins did in their little village.

They decided to leave their village and set out into the world. “We shall visit other places and find a way to make lots of money” they decided, and set out on their journey.

They visited towns and great cities, but all the methods to make money involved a lot of hard work as well as knowledge, and they were unable to find any task to their liking. Finally, one day, they met an old and wise-looking sage who asked why they were wandering about.

“O wise one, we want to make lots of money, as fast as possible, so that we can spend our life in comfort and happiness. We do not want to remain as poor as the rest of the people in our village, and that is why we are travelling, looking out for the right opportunity” they said.

The sage replied, “Sons, your travelling has borne fruit with our meeting. I can help you achieve your goals. Here are four cotton wicks. Take them and go to the slopes of the mighty Himalayas. Where your wicks fall, you will find a great treasure!” Handing over one wick to each of them, the sage disappeared.

The boys were thrilled, and set out for the Himalayas. Just as they began ascending the snow covered mountain, the first wick fell.

The boy who had held that wick began digging, and found copper-ore in that spot. He was very happy and collected all the copper he could carry and said, “Our quest has ended, for this will gain us a lot of money. Let us take this copper and return.” But the other boys said, “it is just your wick which has fallen, and this is just copper, the basest of all metals. We shall journey further, and seek a better fortune.” The first boy said, “You can proceed. I am satisfied with this, and shall return home with what I have.”

A little further up the hill, the second wick fell, and they found the area full of silver. Again, the boy who had held that wick was satisfied, and decided to return with all the silver he could carry. The other two however said, “First we found copper and then silver. We shall surely find gold and diamonds next.” They left their friend alone and climbed up further.

At last, the third wick fell, and as they had anticipated, they found gold. The boy said, “My friend, this is what we came for, and here it is, at last – So much of gold, and all for us. Let us take all the gold we can carry and return home. Our family must be missing us.”

But his friend was not yet satisfied. “It is your wick which has fallen, and if you are satisfied, you can return like the others. My wick is yet to fall, and I shall surely find diamonds next. What is gold when compared to diamonds? I do not wish to return” he said.

The third boy did not want to leave without his best friend, so he said, “Friend, we know by now that these wicks are magical, but we have been taught to be wary of magic. I feel in my heart that we should not be greedy and return home now, but if you insist, you can go further. However, I shall not return alone, but shall wait for you here till you return with what you find.”

The fourth boy continued up the steep mountain, until at last he came to a plateau. He was hungry and thirsty, and fatigued by the difficult climb. All he wanted was water, but there wasn’t a sign of it. Instead, he saw a haggard-looking man with blood dripping down his body, for there was a wheel whirling on his head.

He went up to the man and asked, “Sir, why are you standing here, and in this shape, and why is that wheel on your head?” As soon as he said these words, the wheel left the man’s head and settled on his own!

Suffering from the pain from the whirring wheel, and absolutely shocked by the change of events, he asked the man who was now stretching his limbs happily “What is this? Why has this happened? When will I be freed?”

The man replied, “This is a device set by the Lord of Wealth to safeguard his treasures. Anticipating that magicians would send their disciples to gather wealth, he has arranged that whoever gets so far with a magic wick in his hands will have to undergo this suffering. You will be freed only when another man like you comes here with a wick in his hands and asks you the same question you asked me. Till then, you will not know hunger or thirst, sickness or death. You just have to stand here and experience the suffering as a punishment for your greed.” Saying this, the man walked away, happy to be free at last.

Meanwhile, the third boy was waiting for his friend, and started worrying when there was no sign of him. When he at last saw a strange man going down the hill happily, and still couldn’t see his friend, he decided to search for him. He also climbed up and reached the plateau and saw the strange sight, and it was a while before he recognized his friend.

Hearing the sad tale from his friend’s lips, he said, “My friend, I asked you to be satisfied with the gold, and beware of the magic wick, but you would not listen to me. This suffering is the outcome of your greed, and I cannot do anything to help you. I do not know how long it will take you to be free of this curse, so I cannot wait for you any longer. Allow me to return to the village.”

Saying thus, the third friend returned to the city, sold all his gold at a high price, and returned to his village a rich man. He was satisfied with his wealth, and now worked hard, and also helped others, for he had learnt that it was not wise to be greedy.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Six Blind Men and the Elephant

Once upon a time in a village, there lived six blind men. In spite of their blindness, they had managed to educate themselves. Seeking to expand their knowledge, they decided to visit a zoo and try out their skills in recognizing animals by their touch.

The first animal they came across, as soon as they entered the zoo, was an elephant. Remember, these men were blind, and they had no idea what an elephant looked like. They sensed an animal nearby and went closer so that they could feel it and see what it was like.

As the first man approached the elephant, the elephant waved its trunk, and the man felt something brush past him. Managing to hold on to it, he felt it, and found something long and moving. He jumped back in alarm, shouting “Move away! This is a snake!”

Meanwhile, the second man had moved closer, and walked right near its legs. Thankfully, it was a tame elephant, and it did not crush the man at once, but allowed him to touch its legs. As the man touched the thick, cylindrical –shaped legs, he called out “Do not worry. These are just four trees here. There is certainly no snake!”

The third man was curious hearing the other two, and moved forward. As he walked towards the elephant, it bent, and he felt his hand touch one of the tusks. Feeling the smooth, sharp ivory tusk, the man cried out “Be careful! There is a spear here! A sharp one!”

The fourth man cautiously walked up behind the elephant, and felt its swinging tail. “It’s just a rope! There is nothing to be afraid of!” he said.

The fifth man had meanwhile reached out and was touching the huge ears of the animal. “I think all of you have lost your sense of touch!” he said. “This is nothing but a huge fan!”

The sixth man did not want to be left out. As he walked towards the elephant, he bumped into its massive body, and he exclaimed, “Hey! This is just a huge mud wall! There is no animal at all!”

All six of them were convinced that they were right, and began arguing amongst themselves. “It’s a snake!” said one. “No, its not!” said the second. “It’s a tree!” “You are wrong!” cried the third “It’s a spear!” “You are all wrong! It’s just a rope!” shouted the fourth! “It just a fan!” said the fifth, and the sixth insisted “You are all wrong. There is no animal, just a mud wall here!”

Wondering about the commotion, the zoo keeper arrived on the scene, and was surprised to see 6 blind men surrounding an elephant, each of them shouting at the top of their voices! “Quiet! Quiet! Quiet!” he shouted out, and when they had calmed down, he asked, “Why are all of you shouting and arguing in this manner?”

They replied, “Sir, as you can see, we are all blind. We came here to expand our knowledge. We sensed an animal here, and tried to get an idea of its appearance by feeling it. However, we are not able to arrive at a consensus over its appearance, and hence are arguing. Can you please help us and tell us which of us is right? Does the animal resemble a snake, a tree, a spear, a fan, a rope, or a wall? Please enlighten us!”

The zoo keeper laughed and laughed before answering, “My dear men, each of you have touched just one portion of the animal. The animal you see is neither a snake, nor any of the other things you have mentioned. The animal in front of you is an elephant!”

Turning to the men one by one, he continued, “Sir, you touched the trunk, which is long and curved, hence you thought it to be a snake. Sir, what you thought were trees are just the elephant’s legs. They are so thick and strong, because the animal is huge. Its body is what you thought was a mud wall” he said, turning to the sixth man.

He continued further “Sir, what you thought of, as a spear is just the tusk of the elephant, and what you thought was a fan is one of its ears. As to what you thought was a rope, it is its tail!”

As the six men bowed their head, ashamed of the scene they had created, the zoo keeper said, “My dear men, this is a huge animal, and luckily, it is tame. It stood by calmly as each of you touched it. You are extremely lucky that it stayed calm even during your argument, for if it had got angry, it would have trampled all of you to death!”

He continued further, “It is not enough to gather knowledge, but also important to learn to share and pool your knowledge. If, instead of fighting amongst yourselves, if you had tried to put all your observations together, you might have had an idea of the animal as a whole! Also, when you can not see the entire truth, it is better to go to someone who does know the complete truth, rather than guess about small parts of it. Such half-knowledge is not just useless, but also dangerous. If you had come directly to me, I would have helped you identify all the animals without putting you in danger!”

The six men apologized to the zoo keeper, and assured him that they had learnt their lesson. From now on, they would seek true knowledge from the qualified people, and would also try to work together as a team so that they could learn more.

The zoo keeper took them on a tour of the entire zoo, and showed them all the animals, describing each of them in detail, so the men got a clear mental picture of the animals. The six men returned home, more knowledgeable and much wiser than they had been when they left!

(Note: This story is originally from the Panchatantra, but it has been adapted to appeal to today's generation. The essentials of the story and the moral value have been retained in the spirit of the original) Image from the internet.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Dove's Sacrifice

There was once a hunter who lived in a village at the edge of a forest. Everyday, he would go into the forest and ensnare animals or birds, and selling them, would return home with the money.

One day, he was unable to catch any animals, but just a single she-dove. Putting her in a cage he always carried along, he turned homewards. Suddenly, the sky was rent by thunder and lightning, and soon, it started raining heavily. Finding himself unable to proceed in the rain, he took shelter under a tree, praying aloud, “O Lord, I am caught in this terrible thunderstorm, tired, cold and hungry. Please help me and show me a way out of my troubles.”

Now, on the same tree lived a dove, the husband of the same she-dove who had been captured by the hunter. The dove was worried about his wife, and wondered what had become of her. He voiced his worries aloud, “My beloved has not yet returned. Has she been stranded by this terrible thunderstorm, or has she become the target of some hunter. Is she alive or dead? My nest feels too lonely without her, and I can not live in her absence. O my beloved, where are you?”

The she-dove heard the lamentations of her husband, and thanked the lord for giving her such a wonderful and caring mate. She felt sad that she was unable to return to him. But she called out to him, saying, “My dear husband, please do not grieve so. I cannot bear to hear your lamentations. As a wife, I have tried to be true and good to you, so please remember the good times we had together.”

She continued, “I have been caught by the hunter who rests under this tree, which is our home. But before you get angry with him, let me tell you that he is only doing his duty, which is to capture or kill animals and birds. It is our misfortune that I have fallen into his hands. But he is cold and hungry in this thunderstorm, and has taken refuge under our home. He is thus like a guest to us, and it is our duty to serve him to the best of our ability.”

Filled with emotion, she advised her husband, “helping our enemy might land you in danger, and you might even lose your life, but we should never budge from our duty, so I pray to you to help the poor man!”

Hearing the words of his wife, the dove wept for her, but then, flew down to the hunter and said, “O hunter, in the midst of this thunderstorm, you have taken refuge under the tree I call home. You are thus my guest, and I welcome you. Please tell me what I can do for you.”

The hunter was surprised to hear the words of the bird, but he said, “O bird, I am cold and hungry. Is there something you can do to relieve my misery?”

The dove thought for a moment, and then flew off, returning with a burning piece of twig. Placing it on the ground, he gathered some half-dried leaves and tried to add fuel to the fire. When it still wouldn’t burn, he picked up his nest and threw it on the embers, and at last the fire was big enough for the hunter to warm himself.

While the hunter tried to bring some life into his numbed limbs, the dove addressed him again –“O hunter, I have tried to give you warmth, as best as I could. I can see that you are hungry, but I have nothing to offer you as food. I therefore, offer myself to you, and hope that you fill your stomach and return home refreshed. This is the only way I can serve you, who are my guest.” Before the hunter could say a word, the dove jumped into the fire so that the hunter could eat him!

The hunter was left speechless at the great sacrifice of the bird. He felt disgusted with himself and said, “I am the lowliest of all creatures on this earth, for I have been hunting and capturing these creatures, which are kinder and better than I am.  From now on, I shall give up this terrible profession. I shall not harm any other creatures ever again!”

Taking this oath, he set free the she-dove he had in his cage, and turned his feet homewards, for the thunderstorm had passed.

The she-dove saw the body of her dear husband, who had sacrificed himself performing his duty, and said, “My dear husband, you perished doing your duty, and shall surely attain heaven. Of what use is my life without you by my side. I do not want to live any more!” and she too jumped into the fire which had consumed her husband!

As she stepped into the fire, a divine vehicle appeared from the heavens, with the dove seated in it. He called out to his wife – “Come dear, come and join me, for we shall live together now in heaven!” Thus the dove and his wife, having performed their duty righteously, attained heaven.

The hunter saw this sight from afar, and repented for his deeds which had separated such a pair. Immersed in his thoughts, and unwilling to live such a cursed life, he walked into a forest fire. The fire consumed all his evil deeds, and he too attained heaven.

There are two things we can learn from this story – first, that sacrifice is the key to happiness, and second, that we should never harm any creatures, however small they are. 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Strangers are dangerous

Once upon a time, in a palace, there was a huge and beautiful bed with soft pillows and warm sheets. The mattress was filled with feathers, and was fit for a king, for it was the king himself who slept on it. In a corner of this wonderful bed lived a flea with her family.

Every night, when the king was deep in sleep, the flea bit him and drank his blood. She was careful not to bite the king before he was fast asleep, and wasn’t too greedy, and just bit him once, so the king never realized her presence. Thus, she continued to live on the bed, undiscovered, and soon grew plump and healthy, feasting on the royal blood. Her family too learnt the art of sucking blood inconspicuously, and prospered on this feast.

One day, a mosquito happened to enter the royal chamber through an open window. She saw the wonderful bed and the decorations, and realized that it must be some great personage who resided there. She wondered how the blood of such a rich man would taste, and decided to stay back to try it out.

The flea saw the mosquito and asked, “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

The mosquito replied, “I am a mosquito, and I have come from the stagnant pond outside the garden. I am tired and hungry. Could I please stay here tonight?”

The flea angrily replied, “No, you cannot. This is my area, and I have not invited you. I do not like strangers, so leave at once!”

The mosquito continued to plead. She said, “Please allow me to stay here just for the night. I can see that you are healthy and strong. The person who sleeps here must indeed be something special, since you are well fed. Look at me; I am so thin because I have not tasted good blood in a very long time. I have been living only on the blood of the vagrants who sleep near my pond, and their blood is as thin as water, for they are a malnourished lot. Please tell me who is it that sleeps in this magnificent bed!”

The flea replied, “You are right. It is no ordinary human who sleeps in this bed. This is the abode of the king himself, and it is on his blood that we feed everyday. I have lived here all my life, and have learnt to suck the king’s blood without making him aware of me. I have marked out my area, and no one is allowed here. So please leave. I am sure you will find other beds in the palace with other occupants as well nourished as the king.”

The mosquito would not give up so easily. “Please, please allow me to stay just for tonight” he said, but the flea was adamant in her refusal.

As a last resort, the mosquito resorted to flattery. “You are blessed to feast on the king’s blood. Indeed, you are the king of us vermin. I am a simple insect who has come to ask you for help. Will you turn me away without even a meal? I have never tasted royal blood, and am not likely to do so again. Please do not turn me away like this.”

The poor flea was moved by this entreaty. She did not have the heart to turn away such a supplicant, and relented. But she also laid down a condition. She said, “All right. You may stay here tonight and taste royal blood, but since you are in my domain, you must follow my rules. Do you agree?”

The mosquito was thrilled, and agreed. She said, “Thank you so much for allowing me this pleasure Please tell me your rules. I shall surely obey them.”

The flea replied, “There is a place and time for every deed. You must only bite the king at the right place and at the right time.”

The mosquito said, “I am an ignorant mosquito. Please tell me which is the right place and the right time.”

The flea was happy to enlighten the mosquito. She said, “You must only bite the king when he is fast asleep. That is the right time. Further, you must bite him only on the feet where the sensations are the least. That is the right place.”

The mosquito replied, “Thank you for teaching me. I shall abide by your rules.”

The mosquito waited in a corner of the room, while the flea returned to her home in the mattress. Soon, night fell, and the king returned to his room. The mosquito was awed by the sight of the royal personage, and looked forward to tasting his blood.

As the king got into the bed and closed his eyes, the mosquito was overwhelmed by her good fortune, and forgot all the warnings and the rules laid down by the flea. She rushed to the king and bit him on his arm!

The king was not yet asleep, and the mosquito bite seemed to him like the sting of a scorpion! He woke up in alarm and called out to his guards –“There is some insect on my bed which just bit me. Find it at once and kill it!”

As the guards began combing the mattress and the pillow for the insect, the mosquito flew away. Meanwhile, the guards found the flea and its family in a crevice, and killed all of them!

Thus, the mosquito brought about the destruction of the family who had granted him sanctuary. This is why we must never trust strangers or allow them into our homes. 

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sri Krishna's Hunger

The Pandavas were the true heirs to the throne of Hastinapur. However, the Kauravas, their cousins, led by the evil Duryodhana, would not allow them their right. The kingdom was finally divided, and the Pandavas given the kingdom of Indraprastha. The envy of the Kauravas did not cease, and they managed to trick the Pandavas out of Indraprastha through a deceitful game of dice. Moreover, they even managed to get the Pandavas exiled to the forest for 13 years.

The Pandavas left for the forest accompanied by their wife Draupadi and a few sages and their disciples. During these 13 years, they were also regularly visited by many sages as well their relatives. Yudhishtra foresaw the problems of feeding such a large number of people, and, on the advice of the sages, prayed to Surya, the Sun God. In response to his prayers, Surya gave him a bowl – an Akshayapatra – a vessel which manifested and held unlimited amounts of food. While giving this wonderful gift to Yudhishtra, Surya said, “Through this vessel, you shall obtain, for the entire period of your exile, as much food as is needed for you and all those who accompany you. Only when everyone has been fed, and Draupadi has her share, will the vessel become empty for the day. Once empty, the vessel will fill again, only the next day!”

The Pandavas were careful in using the vessel, and had no trouble feeding all the people who came to visit them. This, in turn, provoked the Kauravas’ ire, for they could not bear even the slightest happiness for the Pandavas.

One day, the sage Durvasa arrived at Hastinapur with ten thousand disciples! The sage was known for his great anger, and Duryodhana hurried to serve the sage himself. He looked after the sage’s every need, and made sure all his followers were contented and comfortable. As he had hoped, the sage was pleased with the prince, and asked him what he wanted.

This was the opportunity Duryodhana had been waiting for! Instead of asking something for himself or his family, or for the good of his subjects, Duryodhana tried to make use of the opportunity to belittle the Pandavas. He said, bowing with false humility, “Great Sage, you have blessed us by your visit here. My cousins, the Pandavas are living in the forest. All I ask of you is that you visit them and bless them too, as you have blessed me. Please go late in the afternoon, so that they can complete their chores and look after you and your followers well.”

Duryodhana had phrased his request well, for the sage was impressed by his love for his cousins, and agreed to go to the Pandavas at once. He did not realize that Duryodhana was trying to get his cousins into trouble, sending the sage to them at a time when they would not be able to provide food for the sage and his huge retinue.

As Duryodhana had expected, the sage and his disciples arrived at the Pandavas’ ashram just after they had all finished their meal. Yudhishtra welcomed the sage warmly and asked how he and his brothers could serve him.

The sage replied, “O eldest of the Pandavas, we are coming from Hastinapur, where we learnt that you were living here in exile. You cousin took good care of us and asked us to pay you a visit. We are tired from our long journey, and wish to have food. But before that, we shall take a bath in the river. Please keep the food ready for us, for we are very hungry!”

As soon as the sage had left for the riverbank, Yudhishtra turned towards Draupadi, who had a shocked look on her face. “My lord” she said, “the Akshayapatra is empty, for I have just had my food. What can we do now?”

Now the Pandavas panicked! If they did not serve the sage food, he would be angry and curse them! No doubt, this was what Duryodhana had intended when he had sent the sage to their abode.

As the Pandavas wondered what to do and how to inform the sage that they could not provide food to such a huge number of people, Draupadi thought of the only one who could help them – Krishna! She was an ardent devotee of the lord, and had complete faith and belief in Him! She called out to him “Krishna, please help us. There is no one but you who can help us. If you do not come to our aid, the sage will surely curse us!”

The lord always responds to a sincere prayer, and Krishna appeared at once, miraculously, in their midst. As the Pandavas and Draupadi stared at him, stunned by his sudden appearance, Krishna looked at Draupadi and said, mischievously, “Draupadi, I am hungry. Can you please give me something to eat?”

Draupadi found her tongue at last, and pleaded, “Krishna, how can you tease me like this? The sage Durvasa has arrived with ten thousand disciples, and we are wondering how to feed them, and now you come here and ask for food too! Don’t you know that there isn’t a morsel of food here?”

Krishna replied, with a smile, “Draupadi, are you sure there is no food in the house? Come, show me your vessel, and let me see.”

Draupadi went inside the ashram and brought out the Akshayapatra, which she had just cleaned after eating her share of the food. Krishna took it in his hand and peered into it. Suddenly, he put his hand in and picked out a morsel of food from the rim. “See” he said, “There is some food left!”

While Draupadi bowed her head, ashamed that she hadn’t cleaned the vessel properly, Krishna put the morsel into his mouth, and said, “Aah! This is just what I wanted! Now my stomach is full. I am satisfied!”

Turning to the Pandavas, who were looking at him open-mouthed, Krishna said, “Bhima, go and inform the sage and his disciples that food is ready for them. Ask them to come and eat soon!”

Bhima was surprised by Krishna’s words, but he trusted the lord and obeyed him at all times. He walked towards the river, where the sage and his disciples had just completed their bath.

Meanwhile, the sage and his ten thousand disciples, as they were emerging from the river, suddenly felt their ravenous hunger disappearing, and in no time, they felt as if they had just had a full meal. Seeing Bhima approaching, they wondered how to inform him that they could not eat another morsel!

The sage wondered what had happened to make him feel so satiated, and realized through his powers, the entire sequence of events. He said to Bhima, “Son, we came here sent by your cousin, knowing that you would not be able to provide us food. I wished to test you, and you have passed the test with your love and devotion to the lord. I realize that it is Krishna, who has accepted a morsel of food from you and satiated the hunger of the whole world. I bow before the lord who rescues his devotees in distress. You are all blessed, because of your devotion to the lord. Please forgive me for refusing your hospitality and allow us to take your leave.”

The sage left the ashram at once, blessing the Pandavas, and the Pandavas heaved a sigh of relief. Krishna had saved them once again! Such is the love of the Lord towards his devotees.

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