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.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Satyakama Jabala

There was once a young boy named Satyakama, who lived with his mother. His father had died many years ago, and they lived all alone. The young boy saw his friends being sent to the gurukul, where they would gain knowledge at the feet of the guru, and wanted to go to the gurukul too.

He went to his mother and said, “Mother, I want to go to a gurukul and gain knowledge like all other Brahmin boys. Please tell me our gotra (family name) so that I can inform my guru.”

His mother replied, “My dear son, when you were born, I was busy with household duties, and had no time to ask your father his gotra. Unfortunately, your father died soon after, and the two of us were left all alone.  Your name is Satyakama, and mine is Jabala. So call yourself ‘Satyakama Jabala’. Tell your guru the entire truth and he will accept you as his disciple.”

Satyakama bowed to his mother and left for the nearest ashram. It was the ashram of the great rishi, Gautama. He told the sage his mother’s words, and the sage was pleased to see the truthful boy. He said, “You have proved that you are a Brahmin by your adherence to truth. Bring me the samith (sacred twigs of the peepal tree which are used as fuel), and I shall initiate you.”

Satyakama began his duties by fetching the fuel as instructed, and was initiated into brahmacharya – the celibacy stage of a Brahmin, with the Gayatri Mantra. Given the sacred thread, Satyakama took his place amongst the other Brahmin boys and began his education.

A few days later, the sage called him aside and gave him 400 lean and weak cows. “My son,” he said, “Take these cows to the forest and graze them. They are your charge now, so take good care of them.”

Satyakama, the ever obedient student said, “Sir, I will care for them well, and bring them back when they multiply into a thousand.”

With his guru’s blessings, he entered the forest with his herd, built a small hut for himself and a shed for the herd, and started his duties. He cared well for the cows, at the same time practicing the duties of a Brahmachari, and time flew. The cows grew fat on the lush green grass of the forest, and thrived on his love for them. Well fed and satisfied, the cows began to multiply, and soon there were many calves among them.

One day, a bull in his herd spoke aloud to him, “Satyakama, have you noticed that there are now a thousand of us here? It is time for you to take us back to the ashram. In return for the love and affection you have shown to us, I shall teach you one-fourth of the sacred truth about Brahman or God!”

The bull continued, “The east is part of the lord, and so is the west. So are the south and the north. The four cardinal points are the four parts of the Brahman. He is named ‘Prakasavan’ – the shining. This is all I can teach you. Agni, the lord of fire shall teach you more when the time comes.”

Thanking the bull, Satyakama collected the herd and started back towards the ashram of Gautama. He walked all through the day and stopped at night so that the cows could rest. After making arrangements for the herd, he lit a fire and performed his duties, and sat thinking of the lord.

Suddenly, he heard a voice. It was Agni – the lord of fire, speaking from the fire he had lit. “Satyakama!” it said, “I am here to teach you another fourth part of Brahman. The earth is a portion of Brahman, and so is the sky. The heavens and the oceans too are part of the Brahman. This portion of Brahman is called ‘Anantavan’- the endless. This is all I can teach you. You will learn another portion from a swan.”

Satyakama thanked the God of fire and continued his journey the next day. That evening, as he performed his evening duties by a river, a swan flew towards him from the river and said, “Satyakama, I am here to teach you another fourth part of Brahman. The fire you worship is one part of Brahman. The sun is one part and so is the moon. The Lightning is also part of the same Brahman. This aspect of Brahman is called Jyotishman – the luminous. This is all I know. You will learn the rest from another bird, a water fowl.

Satyakama thanked the swan and continued his journey towards his guru’s ashram the next day. That evening, after he performed his rituals and sat by a pond, a waterfowl appeared and said, “Satyakama, I am here to teach you the final fourth part of Brahman. Hear it and be blessed.”

The water fowl continued, “Satyakama, the prana, or breath, is itself a part of the Brahman. The eyes and its sense of sight are another part, and so are the ears and their sense of hearing. The final part is the mind and its thoughts. These are what make up the final one fourth part of Brahman, and this portion of Him is called Ayatanavan – the support. You now know the complete secret of Brahman.”

Satyakama thanked the water fowl and continued on his journey the next day, and finally reached the ashram of Gautama. Prostrating himself before his guru, he said, “Guruji, I have fulfilled my duty and brought back the cows which now number a thousand. Please accept them and give me your blessings.”

Gautama welcomed his disciple with open arms, and was struck by the luster on his face. He said, “Satyakama, you have performed your duty well and your face now shines with the luster of Brahman. You have surely gained the supreme knowledge. Tell me, how did you learn the secret of Brahman?”

Satyakama replied with folded hands, “Guruji, I learned about Brahman through beings which were not men. However, I have heard that it is only the knowledge which is gained through the guru, which is considered the true knowledge. Therefore, kindly instruct me in the true knowledge of Brahman, yourself!”

Sage Gautama replied, “My son, the knowledge you have gained is the result of performing your duties with diligence and sincerity. You have served your guru well, and it is this service which has gained you the ultimate knowledge. You have earned it well, and are blessed. There is nothing I can add to this, and hence your education is now complete.”

The story of Satyakama Jabala occurs in the Chandogya Upanishad, and teaches us that service towards our teachers, adherence to truth and sincere performance of our duties are the only paths towards the real knowledge.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Krishna, I only need you!

War had been declared between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Both sides were busy, trying to amass the larger army, and sent envoys to all the kings to ask them to take their side in the war.

The Yadavas, led by Krishna, were a sizeable force, one to reckon with. Knowing that Krishna, with his army, had the capacity to tilt the scales in the war, Duryodhana decided to go to Dwaraka himself and secure the co-operation of Krishna, especially his army. Meanwhile, the Pandavas who were truly devoted to Krishna, only wanted his support, and they sent Arjuna, the one closest to Krishna, to Dwaraka to humbly ask Krishna to join them.

Arjuna and Duryodhana arrived at Dwaraka at the same time. Krishna was having his siesta when the two of them arrived. Since both, Arjuna and Duryodhana were closely related to Krishna, they were allowed to wait in his room till he woke up. At once, Arjuna went to wait humbly at Krishna’s feet while Duryodhana, as haughty as ever, took a seat near the head of the bed.
As soon as Krishna woke up, his eyes fell on Arjuna. He sat up and then saw Duryodhana. He welcomed them and asked them the reason for their visit. Arjuna said, “Krishna, you know that war has now been declared. I have come to ask you to join us and give us your blessings.” Duryodhana said, “Krishna, I too have come to ask you for your help. Since I arrived here first, you must fulfill my desire before you grant Arjuna his wish.”

Krishna looked at them and said, “Duryodhana, you might have arrived here first, but it was Arjuna whom I saw first when I woke up. Besides, Arjuna is younger than you and has the right to be heard first. So it is Arjuna who shall have the first say.” Duryodhana was miffed, but he kept quiet.

Krishna continued, “Listen Arjuna and Duryodhana, both of you are my cousins and have equal rights over me. I would not like to take sides and have opposed the war from the very beginning. However, since the war is now going to take place, I am offering you a choice between me and my army. I shall not participate actively in the war, shall not take up any weapons, and shall only be the charioteer of the one who chooses me. My army, however, is free to fight for the side that chooses it.”

As soon as Krishna stopped, Arjuna said, “Krishna, I have made my choice. I only want you, not your army.” Krishna advised Arjuna to think again, but Arjuna was adamant, and Krishna granted him his wish. 

Meanwhile, Duryodhana was thrilled! “Arjuna is a fool. He has chosen Krishna, who isn’t even going to take up arms. How can he help Arjuna? Now I have Krishna’s powerful army, and that I what I really wanted!” he thought. Outwardly, he humbly thanked Krishna for his army and left with a smile on his face.

When Duryodhana had left, Krishna asked Arjuna why he had chosen him. Arjuna said, “Krishna, you are divine and the greatest of all. If you are by my side, I will surely win the war!” Krishna was happy and smilingly blessed Arjuna.

The Great War began and both sides faced each other. As Arjuna’s charioteer, Krishna held the reins and guided Arjuna without taking up any weapons. It was he who counseled Arjuna on the means to defeat his enemies and guided them to victory. Without Krishna, the Pandavas could never have won the war. It was Arjuna’s humility and devotion to Krishna which secured them the support of the Lord, and helped them trounce their enemies.

The true devotee is one who has a firm faith in the Lord, and performs his duty in a humble manner. Such a devotee always has the lord by his side, guiding him and steering him towards success and happiness.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Kannappa Nayanar - The Saint who gave his eyes to the Lord

The holy shrines of Tirupati and Kalahasti stand amidst seven hills even today covered with jungles. Long long ago, this area was one vast jungle, inhabited by few, except the tribes who considered the jungle their home. This is the story of one such tribal boy , Thimman, who came to be known as Kannappa Nayanar.

Thimman was the son of a tribal chief. A reputed archer in his tribe, he often led his people on hunting expeditions. On one such hunt, Thimman was separated from his friends, and he found himself in an unknown part of the jungle. Trying to find his way out, he came across a small shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.

The shrine was a small one, consisting of just a Shiva lingam, but was clean and neat. Thimman found himself inexplicably attracted to the lingam. He was filled with a desire to make an offering to the deity.

Thimman had no idea about the correct way to pray to the Lord, but he was so consumed with love for Him that he offered the meat he had with him to the Lord. The Lord was touched by the love of the young boy, and happily accepted the meat. Satisfied, Thimman went away, determined to find his way back to the shrine.

The shrine was an ancient one, and was cared for by a Brahmin who lived in the nearest town, many miles away. The poor Brahman was an ardent devotee of Shiva, but could not make the long journey every day, so he came to the shrine once a fortnight, bringing the items of puja along with him. He cleaned and prayed to the deity and made his offerings before returning home.

The Brahmin returned to the shrine the day after Thimman had made his offerings, and was shocked to see the meat lying next to the lord! He assumed that some animals must have left the meat there, and cleaned it well with fresh water from a nearby stream before continuing with his routine. The Brahmin left that day, satisfied that he had done his duty.

The next day, Thimman returned, bringing more meat for the lord. He did not know any prayers or rituals, and spent some time talking to the lord and pouring out his heart. This gave him so much pleasure that he started coming to the shrine everyday, bringing with him the catch of the day.

One day, he felt that the lord looked a little dirty, and needed a bath. But how could he give the deity a bath? He had no vessels to bring water! As he walked towards the shrine carrying the day’s catch in both arms, he noticed the small stream flowing nearby and had an idea! He bent and filled water in his mouth and went to the shrine where he poured the water from his mouth on the lingam, thus bathing it. He then made his offerings and spoke to the lord before leaving for the day.

The next time the Brahmin returned to the shrine, he was repulsed by the sight he saw! There was meat all over the place again, and this time, the lingam was covered by spittle! This was not the work of an animal, but a human being! How could anyone thus defile the Lord? He patiently cleaned up the shrine before chanting the mantras and purifying the lingam before making his offerings. Again, he left, having done his duty, hoping that such sacrilege would not occur again.

Imagine the Brahmin’s predicament when he saw the same thing every time he arrived there!  Disgusted by the situation, he could not control his tears and addressed the lord aloud, “O Lord, you are the purest of all, the greatest of all Gods. How can you allow such indignities to happen to you yourself? You are the protector of the universe. Please protect yourself from such a sinner!”

Lord Shiva was moved by the Brahmin’s plea, and spoke out to his devotee, “My dear devotee, what you consider indignities is the offering made to me by another devotee. He knows nothing of rituals and correct practices, but, like you, he loves me with all his heart. I am bound by his devotion, and have to accept all that he offers me. If you wish to see the extent of his love for me, hide somewhere and see what happens. It is time for him to come.”

The Brahmin was curious about this devotee whom the Lord himself praised and hid himself behind some bushes. Thimman came very soon, as usual carrying meat in his hands and water in his mouth. As he poured the water from his mouth on the lingam and made his offerings, the Brahmin shuddered in his hiding place.

Meanwhile, Thimman was surprised when the lord did not accept his offerings as usual. Wondering what he had done wrong, he looked closely at the Lord. Suddenly, he noticed that there was something oozing from the Lord’s left eye! Horrified, he collected herbs and applied them to the eye, hoping to cure the problem, but it only made it worse, for blood started oozing instead of the water. He tried out a few more remedies, none of which worked.

Finally, he decided that the only way he could solve the problem was by offering the Lord his own eye. Taking one of his knives, he cut his left eye out of its socket, and placed it on the lord! At once, the blood stopped oozing, and Thimman heaved a sigh of relief!

Suddenly, he was shocked to notice that the right eye was now bleeding the same way! He now knew the solution and decided to offer his other eye too. But once he had taken his right eye out, how would he see where to place it? He pondered for a minute, and came up with a solution. Lifting his leg, he placed it on the place where the Lord had his right eye, and with his knife, proceeded to take out his right eye from its socket!

Even the lord could not bear to see this great sacrifice by his devotee, and appeared in front of him! At once, Thimman regained his sight, and prostrated before the Lord. The Brahmin too came out from hiding, and bowed before the Lord.

Lord Shiva blessed both of them and praised them for their devotion, in their own way. He especially lauded Thimman, and declared him to be a saint – a Nayanar, as the greatest of Shiva’s devotees were known. Since he had given up his eyes (kann is one of the words for eye) for the Lord, he would henceforth be known as Kannappa Nayanar.

By conferring the title of a saint on a lowly tribal boy, the Lord reiterated that it is true love and devotion for the Lord which matter, not the prayers and rituals we perform. Only those who love the Lord with all their heart can hope to attain Him!

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