This is a story that we studied in our last Upanishad class at Houston’s Arya Samaj Temple. It is part of Chhandogopnishad (4th chapter). Although I have added some of my own details, the story remains faithful to the one in the Upanishad. The interpretation is mine given what I understood from the class. It is also an ode to our teacher Acharya Shridharji. Comments are always welcome.
He was young and restless. Many a times he had thought of where it all started and where it will end. There were no answers. Just questions. Some would tell him that his questions needed the highest scholarship to be answered. He finally decided one day – his time for Brahmcharya had come! The time to go and learn from a learned, enlightened and accomplished Guru had arrived.
But wouldn’t the Guru ask him of his family? Who was his father? His mother was a poor lady who worked at people’s houses to make ends meet but he had never known or seen his father.
He went to his mother and disclosed his plan. “Mother”, he said softly “what is my Gotra? Which family do I belong to? I have never known my father, if the Guru asks me, dear Mother, whom shall I point him to?”
The mother gathered herself. She looked straight into her son’s eyes and said “Satyakam, if you have decided to go for higher scholarship through a Guru, then you must tell him the truth as it is. The truth, my son, is that I have worked as domestic help in many a household and in my youth had fallen in love with many men, some good some not. You were born from one of them. I cannot tell you who it was but if your Guru does ask of your family – tell him that your mother’s name is Jabala and you are Satyakam, Jabala’s son.”
“And, son, please tell him what I have told you about your birth”.
Satyakam had found his “roots”.
After his search he came to Rishi Haridrumat (son of of Haridruman). “Dear Sir, I am extremely desirous of learning at your feet. Please accept me as your student.” Satyakam then related the complete story that his mother had told him of his birth.
Rishi Haridrumat smiled and said “My son, none who is ignorant and lacking in wisdom would have told me as honestly as you have. Your strength of honesty that you have inherited from your mother shows that you are a Brahmin, the learned. I will surely accept you as my student”
As the next day dawned, the Rishi approached Satyakam and directed him, “Satyakam, I have 400 cows who are weak and hungry, please take them to the forest for grazing, and only return when they have grown to a flock of 1000.”
Was this the learning Satyakam had come for?
Satyakam, nevertheless, went on to the forest with the cows. He learnt patience and worked hard at taking care of the cows. Years passed. Cows grew healthy and then mated and grew to 500 and then to 1000 eventually.
As he was moving with the cows, the oldest of the pack seemed to call him and implored “Satyakam, now we are 1000, please take us back to the Acharya (Guru).” Satyakam replied with respect “I will surely, Sir”.
The bovine then said knowingly “Surely you were sent to the forests to gather the Highest of the Knowledge – the Brahmagyan. I would like to start your journey on that path, son. Are you ready?” Satyakaam could not believe his luck “Yes sir, surely I am” and he sat down.
Let me start you on the path by giving you the first lesson – the first Dimension of Brahman.
Brahman, my son, manifests in the four directions – North, South, East and West and all that you can find in those directions. Just like everything is always lighted equally and receives everything without any preferences, Brahman is also that which is enlightened – the Prakashvaan.
And if anyone were to know Brahman as the one who is enlightened, he becomes enlightened as well and all that he sees seems enlightened. Nothing is beyond that.
The bull then said that I can explain no more. The next dimension of your learning will be taught to you by Agni, the fire. So move with the your pack of the cows and you will eventually get the next lesson in due course.
Satyakam thanked the learned bull and moved on.
Another day had come to an end. He gathered his flock and settled down. He lighted a fire and sat behind it as he thought on the lesson from the last day.
As he was pondering over the lesson, fire appeared to say something to him. “Satyakam,” the fire called out, “I want to give you your next lesson. The second dimension of Brahman.” Satyakam was most pleased. “I am most eager, please sir.”
The second dimension of Brahman, Satyakam, manifests as the Earth, the Space around it (Antariksh), the heavens and the Oceans and seas of the world. Brahman, my son, is Infinite. It exists beyond all limits. There is no end.
Anyone who knows Brahman and worships him as the “one beyond limits”, breaks all boundaries of existence and becomes one with all that he sees.
The next lesson, Satyakam, will be given by the celestial bird and the fire kept on burning and the night quietly disappeared into its own darkness.
The next day also brought the same hard work. He took all the cows and kept walking. The fleet of thousand moved on and as the night fell he again got all together and lit the fire and sat behind it to think through the two lessons.
As he was thinking when the celestial bird flew in. “Satyakam, how are you, son?” it asked. “I was waiting for you, o’ learned sir”. So you must be ready for the next lesson of Brahmvidya (the knowledge of Truth and Creation), the bird averred.
The third dimension of Brahman manifests as the Fire, lightning (or electricity), the Suns and the moons. It is light itself. Everything that gives out light, my son, reflects the Brahman. Consider Brahman as light.
If anyone were to know Brahman as light and worship It as such, then he would be light as well and everything that he sees will be light. There will be no darkness anymore.
The celestial bid adieu as it said “the next lesson, Satyakam, will be given by the divine Mudgu”.
So, Satyakam reflected – Brahman was the enlightened, the infinite and also the Light. The one that lightens and the one that was enlightened were one! And that “one” was limitless. There was nothing but this “one” that knew no end or limits and was self-illuminated. What should I consider that is not Brahman, Satyakam pondered? And more importantly, will I be able to “see” this Brahman or “hear” It … how can I experience It?
As the first rays of the light poured in and touched all that was in East, the west, South and the North, Satyakam smiled. Brahman was with Brahman. He moved on with the flock.
The day then ended as the cows were tired but full. Satyakam again gathered the flock and settled down. He lit the fire and sat behind it to ponder again.
Mudgu, the divine, came upto Satyakam. “Are you ready for the fourth and the last lesson, my son?” Satyakam was still trying to figure the way to experience Brahman but had found no answer.
The divine Mudgu saw through his dilemma as he started his lesson.
The fourth and last dimension of Brahman, my son manifests as your visual sense or eyes, the ability to listen or your ears, your mind, and finally your Prana – the life energy. All that you consider as you, is nothing but Brahman. It is the Experience itself, Satyakam. Everything that exists depends on your ability to experience it. THAT foundation of experience, is Brahman.
Now, your learning is complete Satyakam, and you are ready to go back to your Guru, Rishi Haridrumat.
Satyakam came back to Rishi Haridrumat and gave back the one thousand cows that he had cared for and nurtured.
The Rishi welcomed him and said “My son, your face is lit up with divinity. You have surely known the Truth by now, Tell me son, who gave you the knowledge?” Satyakam related his experiences and said “Sir, I had come to learn from you and it is said that only a Guru can teach you the Truth and none else. Although all those celestials and divines told me the Four Dimensions of Brahman, but I want to learn from you. Please give me the knowledge, my dear sir”.
Rishi HariDrumat smiled and patted Satyakam. “Satyakam, there is nothing that is left to be taught. You have learnt all that I know. All these years of self-introspection, led you to manifest the highest form of teaching within you. The bull, the fire, the bird and the Mudgu were but you yourself. And “you” Satyakam are nothing but Brahman. You surely know this.”
Editorial note: Satyakam is a very popular character in the Upanishads. We may encounter him elsewhere in the other stories as well.
1. The realization moves from being enlightened to relating to the infinite to being the light itself to the final realization that you were experiencing the Truth all the while… you just did not realize it. Awareness of Truth is the Experience of Truth. There was never a time when you were not the Truth or away from it. There will never be a time when Truth will not be you! Truth appears as “known” when you awake to the fact that experience itself is the Truth!
The journey becomes the destination. Truth ceases to be a destination at that time.
2. A True Guru never judges. He also never instructs and imparts spoken or written knowledge. Knowledge related by a teacher is his own experience and not the Truth. Truth can only be experienced by everyone through self-effort (Purusharth). Awareness is the state of awakening.. of realizing that you are no more and also not different from the Truth itself.
There is, therefore, no teacher of Truth.
3. Realization that Truth is living and dynamic and infinite is the journey of Truth.
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