Monday Musings – 18 – Truth

silhouette photo of swan in the body of water during golden hour


Learning does not know lineage

Here is the story of Guru Haridrumata Gautama and his famous sishya Satyakama Jabala, which appears in Chapter IV of the Chāndogya-Upaniṣad. Hindu culture is often criticized for the restrictive caste system. But this story proves that what is really needed for learning is a commitment to the truth. Social status or economic status does not matter. Prerequisites for learning are the student’s commitment and passion and not their status.

Gautama, the son of sage Haridruman, was a celebrated rishi of the Vedic age. He was well versed in the Vedic lore and had many students in his tapovana, forest retreat.

A young boy named Satyakama once expressed a desire to his mother, Jabala, to go to Gautama’s tapovana to study. She was glad to know her son’s passion for learning.

“Mother, please tell me my lineage,” said Satyakama, for he knew that Gautama would be sure to ask him the name of saint from whom his family traced descent.

Jabala was in a fix. She didn’t know who Satyakama’s father was. She had never been married. Satyakama was an illegitimate child and would probably be denied the right to study the Vedas. It was most embarrassing for her to disclose her story to this child. Jabala thought Satyakama would feel sad and Gautama would not admit him knowing her story.


Teaching Truth

Jabala wavered for a while. Then she resolved to speak the truth, whatever the consequences could be. She would bequeath truth to her son. She kissed Satyakama on the head and said: “My child, in my youth I was extremely poor and served many men in many countries as a slave girl. Your mother has never been married. I am Jabala. So tell the sage that your name is Satyakama Jabala.”

Satyakama took leave of his mother and trekked to Gautama’s Tapovana.

When Satyakama arrived at the tapovana the sun was about to set and the students were busy arranging the sacrificial fire. In the twilight hour Satyakama prostrated himself before the sage. 

Satyakama said: “Revered Guru, I want to live in this tapovana as a celibate. Kindly accept me as one of your disciples.”

“Most affectionate blessings! What is your lineage, my child ?” asked Gautama.

Satyakama told the sage what his mother had disclosed to him and traced his descent from his mother, saying, “Jabala is my mother; I am Satyakama; so I would be known as Satyakama Jabala”

Satyakama did not hesitate to ask because he was an illegitimate child. Don’t hesitate to ask what you want if you are sure that you are on the side of truth.


How Satyakama learnt?

Gautama looked at Satyakama. The sage rose from his seat and embraced the boy warmly and said: ” My child, bring the firewood for the sacrificial fire. I have decided to initiate you into discipleship”


Knowing Self

Gautama started the lessons the next day. Gautama initiated Satyakama in meditation as the first step to settle his mind and heart. With a quiet mind, Satyakama experienced his own inner Self.


Learn your Inner Self as the first step

Guru then took Satyakama to the pasture where hundreds of cows were grazing. Gautama separated out four hundred thin, weak cows and said  “Take these cows to another part of the forest and live, my dear boy,” he said. “Tend them carefully. You may return when they have multiplied to a thousand!”

Without any question, the obedient Satyakama drove his four hundred cows to a lush meadow on the other side of the forest.

At first Satyakama felt lonely, since he was all by himself. He sang to the cows and they mooed back to him as he slept. Satyakama learnt to enjoy his life in the forest. His cows ate nourishing green grass and drank pure water from a spring-fed pond. Satyakama watched his cows grow plump and happy.

Satyakama was so contented with his life that he noticed neither the passage of time nor the increasing size of his herd.


Learn to take challenges on your stride.

Profound change was taking place in Satyakama. In his peaceful life in the forest, his mind became serene, his heart filled with love. Satyakama never felt alone. Every living creature became part of his family. He remembered the phrase his mother had taught him, “The world is my family” (Vasudhaiva kutumbakam). He was so contended with his life that he stopped counting the size of his herd.

One day, the head of the cows, a wise bull, reminded Satyakama that the size of the herd grew to 1000 already. The bull also offered to teach Satyakama the secrets of understanding Brahman. Satyakama listened to the bull


Listen well to learn well

 “Brahman shines from the east and the west and from the north and south. This is because Brahman is everywhere”  “The fire, Agni, will now teach you more about Brahman.” The bull said.

 Satyakama began to drive the cows back to his teacher’s ashram. When evening came, he put a rope around a large area to protect the cows. Then Satyakama lit a fire. After some time, the fire, Agni, spoke to him about the nature of Brahman. “Brahman is the earth and the atmosphere. It is the sky and the ocean. This is because Brahman is endless. It is without beginning or end. This is one quarter of Brahman.” Agni then added  “A swan will tell you more about Brahman.”

 The next evening, after traveling with his cows, Satyakama again lit a fire by the side of a river. He sat down and saw a great white swan gliding down the river towards him. The swan began to teach Satyakama about the nature of Brahman.

 “Brahman is fire and Brahman is the sun. Brahman is the moon, and Brahman is lightning. This quarter of Brahman is light. Brahman is the light of life.”  Then the swan said, “A bird will tell you more about Brahman.”

The next evening, after settling his cows in a safe place beside a hill, Satyakama again lit a fire. He sat down on dry, soft grass, facing east. This time a purple sunbird flew down from the limb of a tree.

 The sunbird sang, “Brahman is the breath, and Brahman is the eye. Brahman is the ear and also the mind. This quarter of Brahman is the seat, the resting place. Just as the eye is the seat of what is seen, and the mind is the seat of what is thought, so Brahman is the seat of everything. Everything rests upon Brahaman.”

Listen well to learn well. Learning could come from unexpected quarters. Never mind, it could be a bull, fire, swan or sunbird.

 Finally Satyakama arrived at Gautama’s ashram. His teacher noticed how Satyakama’s face was shining, and he said to him, “I see that you found Brahman. For it is said that the knower of Brahman has settled senses, a smiling face, freedom from worry, and has found the purpose of life.”

 Satyakama still bowed before the guru and spoke humbly, “Please, honored Sir, teach me about the nature of Brahman.”


What is Brahman?

 “You have heard that east and west are Brahman, that earth and sky are Brahman, that the sun and moon are Brahman, and that the eye and ear are Brahman. Like waves stirring within the ocean, all these are a part of Brahman. This is because Brahman is everywhere. Brahman is everything (Brahmaivedam Sarvam). It is endless. It is the light of life. Everything finds its rest in Brahman”

 “And Brahman is realized by knowing the Self, your true nature. Then you realize that you are everywhere – you are endless, and you are radiant. This is the supreme knowledge, Brahma Vidya. Yes, this is the supreme knowledge, Brahma Vidya.”

Satyakama realized Brahman, and grew up himself to become a great teacher of Brahman. 


Management and Leadership Topics covered in the previous posts

  1. The right attitude — Ch 1Ch 2  Ch6 Ch10  Ch11  Ch14  Ch15
  2. Governance — Ch 3  Ch4  Ch7  Ch13
  3. Leadership — Ch 5  Ch 8  Ch10 Ch14  Ch15
  4. Management — Ch 7  Ch13  Ch16
  5. Intelligence & Wisdom — Ch 9  Ch10  Ch11  Ch14  Ch15  Ch16
  6. Happiness & Success — Ch10  Ch14 Ch15

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article belong to the author. is neither responsible nor liable for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in the article.



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