The story of three disciples: #2 Upamanyu

Posted on May 21, 2010


Dhaumya once gave his other disciple Upamanyu the responsibility of herding cows. From then Upamanyu would herd the cows during the day and return in the evening to pay his respects.

One day, Dhaumya asked him, “Dear child, I see that you are very plump (after undertaking day-long activity outdoors). By what means do you support yourselves?”

The shishya replied, “Sir, I support myself by begging”. Dhaumya said, “You cannot consume food obtained by such means without offering it to me”. Upamanyu replied “so be it”. And from then on, Upamanyu would offer the alms to his Guru, and Dhaumya would keep the entire portion to himself.

* * *

After some time, Dhaumya, noticing that his disciple was still heavy and round, asked him, “My child, nowadays I take all the alms from you, and yet you have not reduced in girth. By what means do you support yourself now?”

Upamanyu replied, “Guruji, after I hand over all my alms to you, I go for alms a second round to support myself”. The teacher said, “By going for alms a second round, you adversely affect the livelihood of others who depend on alms. This makes you greedy as well. Hereafter you must not seek alms for a second time.”  Upamanyu replied “so be it”. From then on he abstained from begging for alms a second time.

* * *

After a while, Dhaumya asked his disciple, “Dear, I now take away all your alms, and you do not go begging a second time. Yet I see that you are fat. How are you supporting yourselves now?”  The student replied, “Sir, I consume the milk of the cows that I herd to nourish myself.”

Dhaumya replied, “Child, It does not befit you to consume the milk from these cows. You should abstain from such behavior.” And Upamanyu said “so be it”. He then tended to the cattle abiding by his teacher’s instructions.

* * *

Sometime later, Dhaumya, noticing that his disciple was still heavy, asked him, “O, my child, I now take away all
your alms, and you neither go begging a second round nor consume milk from the cows. Then how do you support yourselves?” The student replied, “Master, I consume the froth thrown out by the calves from their mouths when they drink their mothers’ milk”.

The preceptor replied, “Looking at way you are able to maintain yourselves, I suppose these generous calves throw out large quantities of froth out of compassion. You should allow the calves full share of their food, and must not obstruct them in the process of securing full meals” Upamanyu replied, “so be it”, and he went about his business of tending to the cattle.

* * *

Upamanyu, thus deprived of food by the above means, had to endure bouts of hunger. One day, driven by extreme hunger, he consumed Arka leaves in the forest. As a result, he lost his eyesight, and, as he wandered around helplessly, fell into a pit.

Dhaumya, observing that his disciple did not return, went in search of Upamanyu in the forest. The teacher located Upamanyu and learnt from him all that had transpired. Dhaumya said, “My child, Pray to the Aświn twins – they are the Gods governing the health of the Devas; They will be able to rectify your vision”.

Heeding to his Guru’s words, Upamanyu praised the Aświn twins (the meter of the slokas change suddenly hereon to reveal prayer verses that are flowery in language and rich in metaphor).

O Aświn twins; You existed even before the creation; You are omnipotent, omnipresent, and free from deterioration…

You weave the wondrous cloth of the year by the white cloth of the day and the black cloth of the night…

360 cows representing 360 days produce one calf which is the year. That calf is the creator and destroyer of all. Seekers of truth following different routes, draw the milk of true knowledge with the calf’s help. O Aswins, ye are the creators of that calf!…

O, sons of Surya, Nasatra and Dastra (the names of Aswins) , the Kalachakra – the wheel of time – consists of 720 spokes representing days and nights in a year. The rotation of this wheel of time is repetitive and endless. You liberate wise men from the travails of this wheel of time. I too pray to you to liberate me from my suffering. Please help me regain my eyesight

The Aświns, pleased by Upamanyu’s prayer, appreared before him and offered him a prasada that, when consumed, would regain his vision. Upamanyu agreed to consume the prasada after offering it to his Guru.

The Aświn twins (in a way to test the boy further), said, “O Upamanyu, Previously we gave a similar prasada to your Guru, and he consumed it without sharing with his Guru. So do not mind eating it now without your Guru”.Upamanyu thanked the Aświns, but however declined their offer.

Pleased by his resolve, the Aświns repaired his sight. They also offered  him a golden tooth, adding that they earlier provided his teacher Áyodha Dhaumya only with a blackened alloy tooth (possibly to allow Upamanyu to prove to his Guru that he was indeed cured by Aświns).

The Aświns then blessed Upamanyu with good fortune and left. The boy returned to his guru and narrated all that had happened. Áyodha Dhaumya was thrilled, and he blessed Upamanyu with prosperity and mastery of the Vedas. Thus ends the story of Upamanyu.