Tales on Yoga:Devadatta and the Cows-M.S. Srinivasan

(Published in Awakening)

(This story is a recreation and free rendering of some of the episodes in Upanishad)

Devadatta was coming back to his Guru’s home. After twelve years of study and meditation on the scriptures, as instructed by his Guru, Devadatta was returning to his Guru, eagerly expecting his next assignment. His Guru was sitting on the front of his house and saw his beloved disciple coming towards him.

The Master’s gaze regarded the disciple, slowly coming near. With his penetrating inner vision the Master scanned the inner being of his disciple. He found that his disciple has grown much in his ego but very little in his soul. The Master was able to see that his disciple was afflicted with a colossal intellectual and spiritual pride nourished by study, meditation, noble thoughts, preaching, and the adulation of people.

Devadatta was not unaware of this pride within him, but instead of confronting it consciously and throwing it out, he indulged it half-consciously, sometimes patting it with satisfaction, sometimes pretending to dislike it, sometimes trying to counter it with a dose of humility which only made the ego more complex and subtle. In fact, Devadatta’s own self-image is that in spite of his great intellectual, moral and spiritual accomplishment he was a humble man. This self-image was further nurtured by his admirers around him. For Devadatta was very much respected by people in his own native place from where he is now coming back to his guru after many years. He was respected and admired as a great pandit, gnani and a teacher and for his high birth, nobility, knowledge and character. His admirers very often eulogised him that in spite of his immense knowledge and nobility of birth and character he was so humble. Devadatta accepted the compliment with a great inner satisfaction but outwardly with a pretended embarrassment and a pious modesty like, “All I have is nothing but a gift of His Grace.” So Devadatta was suffering from a double pride: pride of knowledge and pride of humility.

Devadatta’s Master saw this with his inner vision. But he was not disturbed or angry with his disciple. He was a spiritual veteran who had guided many seekers on the path. So he knew that Devadatta was suffering from a disease which afflicts most seekers at some stage on the path. And he was ready with a remedy.

Devadatta stood before his guru with folded hands and prostrated at his feet. He was expecting that his Guru will test his knowledge with many questions on the scriptures and when he is satisfied he will be initiated into the deeper mysteries of scripture. But Devadatta was a little upset when his Guru asked very formal questions regarding his health, family and his native place and nothing about his studies. After these preliminary formalities, the Master told Devadatta.

“Now prepare yourself for the next assignment. You know I have some hundred cows and hundred buffaloes in my cowshed. For the past few days the servant who is in charge of the cowshed has not come. So from tomorrow you will take care of my cattle. Everyday you have to take them to the grazing ground, which is a few miles from here, in the morning cows and in the evening buffaloes. You will see to it that every one of my cattle is properly fed and milked and manage the whole thing. This is your next assignment, which you will do for the next twelve years. You will do this diligently, sincerely, remembering God and offering your work to Him. So for next twelve years no more studies, meditations or scripture. Dump all your books and scriptures in your storeroom and begin this work from tomorrow.”

The Master’s words came as a rude shock to Devadatta’s bloated sattwic ego. But Devadatta had one great quality which most of the ancient seekers possessed and which most of the modern seeker find it difficult to keep. It is Faith, an unquestioning and absolute faith in the Guru. So Devadatta swallowed all the disappointment and revolt which rose in him and accepted the assignment with a blind will-to-faith in his guru.

The days, months and years passed. Devadatta took to his new assignment with a diligent, sincere and dutiful devotion to his Guru and God. In the beginning, he has to face frequent and violent revolts from his ego. He was surprised to find such violence in his nature because it was contrary to his own self-image as a gentle, humble and sattwic man. He confronted this revolt and violence with a granite and adamantine faith and surrender to his Guru and God. But after spending many months and years with his new non-human companions, his sattwic ego, denuded of the nourishment it received from study, meditations, lofty thoughts and the admirations of people, has become week and slowly lost it hold on his mind. For his four-legged companies cared little that the fellow who is with them, (who does not belong to their species), is a great scholar. Most of them did not even notice his presence.

Thus passed many years. Devadatta’s sincere faith and the wisdom and blessing of his Guru started yielding results. All revolt and pride passed away from his mind. His mind and heart were serene and glad. He was beginning to feel a deep love for his four-legged companions and they loved him. He felt a sense of oneness and unity with them as if they are a part of him. And this feeling of unity extended gradually and effortlessly into the Nature around him. Thus for the first time in his life, Devadatta had a living and concrete sense of the Unity of the Self, the Atman which was until now only a much thought-out and meditated concept in his mind. He had many such spiritual experiences coming to him spontaneously and revealing to him concretely the deeper truth of the Vedantic concepts, which were until now the objects of his thought.

This spontaneous spiritual illumination of the Devadatta’s mind was accompanied by an equally effortless flowering of his heart. As Devadatta tended his non-human companions with love and care and with a sense of oneness with them, feeling them as his own self, some of the natural innocence and simplicity of his animal brothers flowed into his instinctive and emotional nature. His heart became simple and innocent like a child.

Thus passed twelve years.

Devadatta was returning with his large group of animal friends to his Guru’s home. Today Devadatta felt an unusually deep and profound love, devotion, gratitude and self-giving to his Guru. He felt a strong urge to just drop and merge into his Guru’s feet. But normally whenever Devadatta returned after grazing the cows to his Guru’s house, his Master would be in his prayer and meditation room. But today, surprisingly, Devadatta saw his Guru sitting on the front of his house, in the same way as he saw him twelve years back when he returned from his native place to his Guru.

The Master, for the past twelve years, was watching his disciple’s spiritual progress with great satisfaction and joy. Today he felt a strong and intense longing to see Devadatta when he comes back after gazing the cows. So the Master completed his prayer and meditation earlier than his usual time and waiting in his house to receive Devadatta. He saw Devadatta and his large flock of cows appearing at a distance. He was remembering the scene twelve years back when Devadatta came alone to him with his bloated ego. But today, with this past image in his mind, the Master sent his inner gaze towards Devadatta, who was coming nearer. There was no longer the small, narrow and limited person shut within the body called Devadatta. There was a vast, pure, wide and luminous being spread out everywhere with an intense fire of love and self-giving for his Guru.

Devadatta hastened and dropped down at his Guru’s feet. He felt his whole being melting like a liquid lava and flowing towards his Guru’s feet and merging with it. He felt he has entered into the being and consciousness of his Guru. His soul was swimming in an ocean of the Infinite and Eternal. The Master lifted Devadatta and said:

“Your assignment is over, not that of gazing the cows, but on earth. You are now a Son of Heaven.”

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