Long, long ago and far, far away, there lived a great sage. His name was Maharishi Shounaka. He had many disciples, and would send them to the surrounding villages to spread his message on life and its purpose. Over time, this increased the ego of some of the senior disciples and they began to consider themselves the storehouse of all knowledge.
One day, a few of these disciples came to Maharishi Shounaka and said, “Master, we have been obeying your commands and conveying your message on the purpose of life to the people in the manner we have found good and desirable. But we find that our work serves no purpose! Most of these people are stupid, and they are either unwilling or unable to learn or change their way of life. We feel it is a waste of our valuable time to educate these people and pass on our knowledge to them.”
The sage was amused, but saddened by the rising ego of these disciples. He said, “You all seem to have acquired considerable knowledge about people and life.”
“Certainly Master,” they echoed in unison. “Our learning is approved and appreciated everywhere. We have learnt almost all that is worth learning.”
“I am indeed very happy to learn about the level of your expertise,” said the Master. “But before we can discuss these matters further, I suggest that you form two groups and approach people again. One group will find out all about knowledge without reading books, and the other group will find out all about love without physical contacts. You may return to me later with your findings.”
The egoistic disciples were rather dismayed and surprised at the strange commands of the Master and the queer nature of their assignment. How could anyone acquire knowledge without reading books? And how could anyone learn about love without physical contacts?
However, in obedience to the Master’s wishes, they went around, far and wide, in two groups, seeking the view of the people of the surrounding villages and town on these two matters. But lo! They met with ridicule and laughter, wherever they went. People laughed at them as two groups of idiots, not aware of the facts of life. Their ego got a good beating and they came back to the Master, crestfallen.
“Oh Master! You simply sent us on a fool’s errand. Everyone who respected us before is now laughing at us. Master, it is impossible to acquire knowledge, without reading books, and it is equally impossible to understand love without physical contacts.”
“Is it so?” said the Master with a smile. “Then, what is the knowledge that you have got from me? If real knowledge could be got from libraries and real love could be got from physical contacts, then why have you come to me? After reading volumes of books, and searching for love through physical contacts, why are people still ignorant of true knowledge and true love?”
The disciples were shocked and ashamed at their lack of wisdom and appealed to the Master for guidance. “My dear children,” said the wise sage, “please understand that real knowledge cannot be obtained by just studying books, but by a study of the people, for whom and from whom the books have come. We have to first educate ourselves about the people, before we proceed to educate them. We should avoid ridiculing people, without placing ourselves in their place. A closer study of people leads us to a clearer perception of them, which in turn results in a deeper understanding. From such an understanding flows a sympathetic acceptance.”
“To study, to understand, and to accept creation, as it exists, is real knowledge. All else is just plain information, though you may have given many names to it. In the same way, real love is that which sprouts from us and generates a sense of gratefulness to the Divine, who has blessed us with a body and mind, and provided us with endless wonder in this creation.”
“This boundless gratefulness leads to a total love for the Divine, who is our resource and who is also our refuge. Real love related to giving, and can only be related to the Divine. All else is just plain desire, the desire to possess and enjoy, though you may call it by many other names. In order to receive the benefits of such knowledge and love, one must have faith in the Master, as he represents both the creation and the Creator. Through an enlightened Master, you can learn that the knowledge of creation is real knowledge, and the love of the Divine is real love. It requires humility from you as a basic qualification.”
This story reveals what to seek from an enlightened Master, and the importance of pondering on the purpose of our life.
This story from the Upanishads was compiled by Acharya Ratnananda in “More Light on Less Known: Courage, Compassion, Confidence” Volume 3.