Friday, February 18, 2011

Satyakama of Jabala

The opening verses in the Chandogya Upanishad is

Om ! Let my limbs and speech, Prana, eyes, ears, vitality
And all the senses grow in strength.
All existence is the Brahman of the Upanishads.
May I never deny Brahman, nor Brahman deny me.
Let there be no denial at all:
Let there be no denial at least from me.
May the virtues that are proclaimed in the Upanishads be in me,
Who am devoted to the Atman; may they reside in me.
Om ! Peace ! Peace ! Peace !

Among the four Vedas, the Chandogya Upanishad belongs to the Sama Veda.  One of the most extensive among all the Upanishads, it is also the best.  There were certain priests specializing in the Sama Veda who were known by this peculiar name Chandogya and it is they who postulated all the verses in this Upanishad. 

Upanishad means "sitting down near" that is at the feet of an illustrious preceptor for an intimate session of spiritual discussion.  One of the prime qualities of an Upanishad is that it offers a very different vision of what religion ought to mean to one.  There is an underlying meaning to life, a reality which the rituals and religious rites cannot teach and when compared to the daily mundane things that we see and touch in our lives which are mere shadows and unreal.

It is the conviction of this Upanishad that this reality is the real thing in life and not what we see and feel.  And the essence of every created life is this Reality, which is our real life and that which is within us. 

One of the great Upanishadic Maha Vakyas, “Tat Tvam Asi” [Thou Are That] is explained in this Upanishad.  It teaches us, the oneness of the Atman, which is with in oneself, with the Paramatma or the Brahman of the Universe. The Universal principle of all life.  It also talks about the significance of “AUM”, among several other things. 

All creations in this world or Universe are within the Brahman and HE is the Eternal Truth. The Brahman is the subtle essence in all of us. He is the Self. And that is Tat Tvam Asi

One question that needs to be answered is “Who is a Brahmana?”  Is he a person born in the highest caste among the chathurvarnas?   Is one a Brahmana just because he is born in a family of the highest caste or because he exhibits certain qualities that qualify him to be a Brahmana? 

The answer is unambiguous, unequivocal.  A Brahmana is one, not by birth, but one who exhibits certain characteristics, irrespective of his Gotra, Kula or Dynasty. 

In the Vana Parva of the Mahabharata [Chapter 180] Yudhisthira explains:

satyam danam ksama-silam
anrsyamsam tapo ghrna
drsyante yatra nagendra
sa brahmana iti smrtah


“A person who possesses truthfulness, charity, forgiveness, sobriety, gentleness, austerity and lack of hatred is called a Brahmana”.

Then again, in the Srimad Bhagavatham  Sage Narada states:

samo damas tapah saucam
santosah ksantir arjavam
jnanam dayacyutatmatvam
satyam ca brahma-laksanam


“The symptoms of a Brahmana are control of the mind, control of the senses, austerity and penance, cleanliness, satisfaction, forgiveness, simplicity, knowledge, mercy, truthfulness, and complete surrender to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”

Even if, a person does not have all the qualities enumerated above, if he has one vital quality that in the perception of his Guru, seems to be vital, then he can be considered as a Brahmana.

 And this is illustrated in the story of Satyakama and his mother Jabala. [Satyakama = He who loves Truth]

Once upon a time, Satyakama the son of Jabala addressed his mother and said: “I feel the time has come for me to go to the home of a spiritual teacher. From whom does our family come so that I may tell him when he asks my lineage?”

She said to him: “I do not know, my child.  You were born when I was young and going from place to place as a servant.  Your name is Satyakama and my name is Jabala.  Why not call yourself Satyakama Jabala?”

Satyakama went to Haridrumata Gautama and said to him: “Revered Sir, I want to become your disciple. May I approach you, as a pupil?”

Gautama said to him:  “What family are you from, bright one?”

Satyakama said: “Sir, I do not know.  My mother says she bore me in her youth and does not know my ancestry. She says that since my name is Satyakama and hers is Jabala I should call myself Satyakama Jabala.” 

Gautama said: “None but a true Brahmana could have said that.  Fetch the firewood my boy.   I will initiate you. You have not flinched from the truth.” 

He selected four hundred lean and sickly cows and gave them to Satyakama to care for.  “I shall not return” the boy said to himself, “until they become a thousand”.

Driving them away towards the forest Satyakama lived a number of years in the forest. When the cows had become a thousand,  he started on his homeward journey.

During the times of Satyakama, it was essential for a Guru, to know the caste of the student, because the instructions to each student was given according to his caste, which would prepare him for his distinctive life within the society. It is also true, that a student's caste was finally determined during his education according to his aptitudes and inclinations as perceived by his Guru, but his entry in  to the Gurukula depended on the caste of the parents. From this esoteric principle, of caste being determined by the vocation that one choose after getting an education, as determined by his Guru, now a days it has become a bone of contention, because caste has become a matter of heredity. And in the era of Satyakama, it was but natural that he should have known the caste of his father.  

Satyakama's mother was a Shudra, a menial servant in the houses of high born. In the normal course no Guru would have accepted him because of his lineage.  And on top of it, he was an illegitimate son born out of wedlock and with no clue as to who his father was.  In the true tradition of those times, his Mother had served the guests, the Atithis, and one or more of them had slept with her. 

Satyakama was thirsting for knowledge.  And with that single intent, he dared the society, approached an enlightened Rishi in Gautama, a feat which even those of high born would have not dared  to do.  

The guru, Gautama immediately perceived that Satyakama  was a character  composed of Karma and Samskaara, with truthfulness as a prime trait, which in those times identified one as a Brahmana.

Sage Gautama had goose pimples all over his body when the  young Brahmacharin spoke the truth about his mother, because none but a Brahmana could have spoken thus. 

On his way back to the Ashrama of his Guru Satyakama  was initiated into the Brahma Sutras and all the other Vedantic truths,   first by  the Bull in the pack who explained one foot of Brahman and the second foot was explained by Agni, and the third foot by a Hamsa and the fourth and final foot by a Madgu, a diver bird. Thus he directly experienced Brahman and knew that Brahman was manifesting all the worlds.  After receiving this knowledge, Satyakama reached the abode of his Guru Gautama.

“Satyakama” his teacher called, “you glow like one who has known the truth.  Tell me, who taught you?”

“Satyakama replied:  “No human, Sir.  But I wish to hear the truth, from you alone.  For I have heard from persons like your good self that only knowledge which is learnt from a teacher (acharya) leads to the highest good”.

Then his teacher taught Satyakama the same wisdom that was taught to him by the four beings other than humans.  “Nothing was left out from it; nothing was left out.”  Because, Brahmajnana can only be learned from a guru who is himself a  Brahma-jnani!!

I conclude this brief story of Satyakama Jabala with this quote from Sage Sandilya.  At the moment of death a knower of Brahman should meditate on the following truths:

Thou art imperishable.
Thou art the changeless Reality.
Thou art the source of life.

This highest knowledge is the Knowledge of Brahman. Sage Angirasa, to Lord Krishna

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