The Spiritual Path

The Mahabharata is full of stories and incidents that not only explain the mysterious laws of the universe and our spiritual path, but also give us techniques and mantras to awaken latent powers within our body-brain system.

There is this story of a guru, Apod Dhaumya, and his three disciples, Aruni, Upamanyu, and Veda. This story is in three sub-sets, one with each disciple. We will cover these over three articles, starting today.

The word ‘Dhuma’ comes from two roots, one meaning ‘smoke’ or ‘mist’, and the other meaning ‘to agitate’ or ‘liberate from oneself’. When a student first sits for meditation, one closes the eyes and observes the darkness inside. Slowly, one sees a screen of smoke or mist, known as the etheric body. My teacher called it the minor ring pass-not or the screen that does not allow our vision to go beyond. Our inner vision must penetrate beyond this screen to observe the workings of the mind. The goal of the guru is to agitate the disciple enough to wake him/her up from sleep so that he/she is free of his/her own-self.

One day, the guru asked Aruni to go to a nearby stream and build a wall to hold the water. Aruni spent the whole day trying to dam the water. Despite his repeated attempts, he could not do so as the water kept breaking through the wall from a certain spot. By nightfall, he was tired, hungry, and knew not what to do. So, he went to sleep on the wall, covering the leaking area with his body. When Aruni did not return, the guru got worried and went to look for him, along with his disciples. They found Aruni sleeping at the dam he had created. When Aruni explained to the guru what had happened, the guru was very pleased and re-christened him ‘Uddalaka’, meaning ‘the one who has crossed the great expanse of water’.

This small story unveils a beautiful aspect of life. It reveals the first step, for any student on the spiritual path; to block the leakages that exist within. We lose energy continuously through brooding, daydreaming, negative emotions, and inner chatter. To stop these leakages, one has to stake one’s whole life or leave no stone unturned, just as Aruni did by sleeping at the dam. If we are successful in stopping these leakages of energy, then we have crossed the great ocean. In the words of Swami Vivekananda, “It is a life's work; and the end to be attained is well worth all that it can cost us to reach it… no price can be too great to pay.”

The guru asked the second disciple, Upamanyu, to look after the cows. Upamanyu would look after the cows the whole day, return to the ashram in the evening, bow to the guru, and go about his routine. The guru observed, as days passed, that he was getting fatter and healthier, so he asked Upamanyu what he ate. Upamanyu told the guru that he lived on bhiksha; that he would beg and eat what people provided. The guru explained that a disciple needs to offer the bhiksha received to the guru first. So, the next day, Upamanyu did not eat but offered the bhiksha to the guru. The guru took all of it, leaving none for Upamanyu. A few days later, the guru observed again that his disciple was still fat and healthy. On being asked, Upamanyu replied saying that after offering the bhiksha to the guru, he went out begging again. The guru reprimanded him saying that begging twice was greed; that he was stealing other people’s nourishment, and so Upamanyu stopped begging the second time.

After a few days, the guru was perplexed as Upamanyu was still healthy. Now, when asked what he ate, Upamanyu said that he drank the cow’s milk. The guru was taken aback as Upamanyu did so without his permission and the guru explained to Upamanyu that he should not do so. After a few days, despite the guru taking away all of Upamanyu’s bhiksha, not allowing him to beg a second time, and refusing him to drink the cow’s milk, Upamanyu still looked healthy. So, again the guru called upon Upamanyu and asked him what he ate. Upamanyu narrated to the guru how after the calves had had their fill, he would consume the foam from their mouths. The guru reprimanded him again, explaining that the young calves were taking pity on him; the calves were giving him the foam that they needed for their own growth. Again, Upamanyu acknowledged the guru’s instructions and went about his work.

Let us try to grasp what is being conveyed here. We have seen in previous articles that cows symbolise the senses and the energy of sensitivity. We also saw that our first step was to stop the leakages of energy. The second step is to create will, and upgrade the quality of the energy, that is free the energy from the tendency to leak out in a reaction. Will is created in five stages, the last being the surrender of personal will to divine will.

What are these wills? What is the will we all live by? How do we upgrade the quality of our energy? We shall look into the answers to these questions and also draw parallels with the story of Upamanyu in our next article.