This is part of my ongoing series on the Mahabharat, an epic poem of ancient India. For links to all previous Mahabharat posts go here. Or you can simply click on the Mahabharat page link above.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is my 300th post! And it comes as this Tulsi Tree approaches it's 3rd birthday this week. To round it all off with style, I'll be celebrating my 30th birthday in a couple of weeks!
One could almost think that I arranged this on purpose. As you know, I do so like to do things on purpose. But as it happens, this is all beautiful accident. I had no idea of the numbers or the approaching anniversary until I happened to glance at my dashboard and realise what date it was.
It makes me remember that even when I think I have a plan, someone else has a plan that's better.
I have a nearly 3-year-old blog, I'm almost 30 years old, and this is my 300th post. What do I do with the sheer poetry of it? The answer's easy. I give you the fourth and final installment of my Upmanyu - Lost and Found series.
It's been a pleasure writing about Upmanyu and his guru and I hope you've enjoyed reading it. Just in case you missed any parts click to read the first, second and third parts.
In last week's installment, we saw that Ayuddhaumya was finally starting to connect with his student Upmanyu. This is what happened next.
The next day Ayuddhaumya waited to see what Upmanyu would do. The boy came along behind the cows as usual. He didn't go with the other boys to seek alms. He retired to the boarding house while they were all gone and when they returned, he came out to sit with them all during the evening lesson.
His face was withdrawn, his demeanor quiet.
Something about him made Ayuddhaumya not ask for details.
The next day was the same. Upmanyu brought no alms to the guru and did not eat with the other boys. Ayuddhaumya summoned him. "Where are your alms?"
"I don't have any."
"But then what will you eat?"
"I'm not hungry."
All of Ayuddhaumya's suspicions were aroused yet when he questioned the other boys they said that Upmanyu had done nothing untoward, broken no rules.
What was Upmanyu eating? And where? No one on the school saw him eating. Ayuddhaumya was certain he wasn't drinking any of the cows milk. Even the villagers, when asked, responded that they hadn't seen Upmanyu seeking alms.
By the morning of the third day, Upmanyu was looking strained. But he took the cows for grazing as normal and Ayuddhaumya sat thinking the whole day on what to do. He didn't want Upmanyu to starve. Overstimulated senses were better than no senses which would happen if this continued and Upmanyu didn't eat. He resolved to feed the boy his own alms when he returned at dusk.
As the cows came meandering back towards the school grounds, Ayuddhaumya stood with his hands clasped behind his back, watching for Upmanyu. More and more cows came and still Upmanyu did not appear. Thinking that the boy was at the very back, which would be proper if he was keeping a close watch on the herd, the guru waited until the last cow walked past him into the barn.
Upmanyu was nowhere to be seen.
Ayuddhaumya stood staring at the horizon, thinking it impossible that the boy had run away. He would never have abandoned the cows like that.
The minutes ticked by as Ayuddhaumya debated in his mind, but as the sun neared the horizon, he made his decision. Grim-faced, he called his students to him and gave them torches. Together, they set out over the fields in the direction the cows had come from, calling Upmanyu's name.
They walked for over an hour as the world darkened around them, calling "Upmanyu!" every few steps. The fields became jungle and Ayuddhaumya was grave.
"Upmanyu!" he called.
The faint call froze everyone, and they glanced about them, unsure where it had come from.
Ayuddhaumya held his hand up for everyone to be silent. "Upmanyu!"
"Gurudev." It came from due west.
The guru and his students turned and rushed through the brush, following the sounds of the now repeated calls. Still, it was dark, and Ayuddhaumya called to his students to watch their step. They stumbled upon a small clearing, where there was an old abandoned well.
"Gurudev!" Upmanyu's call came from deep within the well.
Ayuddhaumya ran and leaned over the old crumbling stones that surrounded it. It was more of a pit than a well, having dried out long ago. "Upmanyu!"
"Gurudev!" the boy called. His voice echoed up the shaft.
The guru leaned his torch over the stones to try to make out the boy's face. His other students ran to help him and they crowded around the well, straining to see Upmanyu. They were able to pick out the pale cast of his face, his eyes blinking and blinking in the light of their torches.
"Praise the Lord," Ayuddhaumya said. "My son, are you hurt?"
"My leg," the boy called, and he was indeed clutching his thigh. "I can't move it."
The guru turned to several of his students and ordered them to go find vines they could plait together to make a rope. Two others he gave his water cup and sent them to the river.
"Don't be afraid. We'll get you out of there," Ayuddhaumya told Upmanyu.
"Gurudev, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Upmanyu said. "Are the cows alright? I couldn't see them. Are the cows alright?" The echo of the walls made the boy's voice sound peculiar.
Ayuddhaumya was instructing his students to remove their scarves so he could use them to bind Upmanyu's leg. "They're fine," he soothed Upmanyu. "It is you who is hurt. How long have you been down there?"
"I don't know. They're all fine? Are you sure?"
Ayuddhaumya was sending some students off to find bamboo they could string together to make a stretcher. "Of course I'm sure. Now where does it hurt on your leg?"
"Everywhere. I couldn't see, Gurudev. I didn't know if there were more pits and I was worried that the cows might fall in them."
Ayuddhaumya was ripping a scarf into strips while one of his students held his torch aloft. "Son, the cows know enough not to fall down a well. They're not as foolish as you, certainly. How did you fall, anyway?"
"I couldn't see, Gurudev."
"What do you mean you couldn't see? This well is here in the middle of a clearing, plain as day."
"Gurudev, I couldn't see." See, see, see, echoed up the shaft.
Upmanyu's strange repetitions were beginning to grate on Ayuddhaumya's nerves. "What do you mean, you couldn't see?"
There were tears in Upmanyu's voice. "I'm blind."
The guru stared with incredulity at the boys, then seized a torch and leaned well over the edge, hanging down to look at Upmanyu closely. Some of his students reached over to anchor him.
The yellow glow of the torch flames heated Ayuddhaumya's face. The boy blinked and blinked but Ayuddhaumya saw that even as Upmanyu blinked in the light, his eyes didn't focus on the guru or the torch or the walls or anything else. His gaze only darted around, following the sounds everyone were making above.
"How can you be blind?" Ayuddhaumya demanded to know. "You were fine this morning."
Tears streamed down Upmanyu's sightless eyes. "I'm sorry, Gurudev."
"But how?" Ayuddhaumya's voice was harsh.
"I don't know. One minute I was fine and the next minute everything was dark."
The guru still hung over the edge, "What were you doing when you lost your sight?"
Upmanyu swallowed. "Eating. You said I couldn't drink the cows milk so I've been eating berries and leaves and things I find in the forest. I know I should have brought them to you first but I was angry. I'm sorry."
"What were you eating when you went blind? What berries? What leaves?"
Upmanyu blinked, his face bewildered. He pulled at his scarf that was knotted at his waist and tugged to loosen a pouch inside it. He held up some leaves. He whispered: "This."
Ayuddhaumya stared down at the leaves Upmanyu held up to him, then squeezed his own eyes shut. "Those are leaves from the arka plant." He pulled himself up from the edge. He slumped over the stones. "They cause blindness."
There was silence as Upmanyu sat frozen and Ayuddhaumya's students looked at each other in horror. Then, as one, they leaned over the well again and called down to Upmanyu, telling him it would be alright, that they would help him, that he would get well.
"There must be medicine, right, Gurudev?" one of his students asked him.
"Yes, there'll be medicine," another said. "Gurudev will know what to do."
Ayuddhaumya stared into the dark pit where Upmanyu sat. "There is no earthly medicine for this."
Again silence fell. The torches the boys held flickered, as if even that light would go out.
Then Upmanyu's voice came. "Leave me down here, Gurudev."
The guru took a deep breath. "I'm not going to leave you down there." He gestured to the boys to get back to work and they scrambled to obey, stringing bamboo together and plaiting long vines to make them strong enough to bear a man's weight.
"Gurudev, I'm blind," Upmanyu said. "I don't want to live in blindness. I don't want to be helpless."
"You won't be." Ayuddhaumya closed his eyes again, considering, then opened them and leaned over the edge. "I am with you, Upmanyu. As long as your guru is with you, you can never be helpless."
"But how will I live blind?"
"I said there was no earthly medicine. I did not say there was no medicine. Pray to the Divine Ashwinis, Upmanyu. They are the physicians of the celestial realm. Pray to them and they will give you sight."
Upmanyu shook his head. "I don't know how, Gurudev. I don't know any words to pray. I've never known. I never remember even when I try. I can't learn like the others!"
Ayuddhaumya nodded his head. "Yes, you can."'
"No, I can't! That's why I don't like lessons, Gurudev, because I can't learn. I'm stupid."
"You're not stupid, Upmanyu."
"I am! I couldn't even learn about plants when I tried too. I didn't know that the arka plant caused blindness."
"You didn't know because I hadn't taught it to you yet."
Ayuddhaumya paused. "Listen to me. I am your guru and as your guru I tell you that blindness of the eyes is as nothing when compared to blindness of the mind. You're not stupid, Upmanyu. You're ignorant. And it is ignorance that is true blindness, my son. Ignorance is true darkness. Pray to the Ashwinis, sing their stuti, and they will aid you."
A sob escaped Upmanyu's trembling lips. "I don't know any words to pray, Gurudev. I try to listen when you teach scripture but I don't remember any of the words." He bowed his head and wept.
Ayuddhaumya stared down at his lost student. There was something, a secret his own guru had taught him many years ago. He'd never used it in his life - he'd never had to - but he knew, with a dawning realisation, that it was for this day that his guru had taught it to him. His guru had known that Ayuddhaumya would need it for this day.
"So what if you don't know the words?" he called down to his student. "Am I not with you, your guru?" Guru, guru, guru, echoed down the shaft.
Upmanyu lifted his head.
The boys had been busy with the vines and Ayuddhaumya took a length to measure it down the well and see if it was long enough. Satisfied, he instructed them on how to anchor it around a tree and brace it with their own weight. The other end he tied to his waist, looping it around his middle and between his legs. He slung the handle of his water cup over his shoulder.
"I'm coming down to you," Ayuddhaumya called to Upmanyu. "Don't be afraid." He climbed over the edge, nodded to his students who were ready to brace themselves, and made his way down.
Another of his students tied a torch end with a vine and lowered it down the other side of the well, to light the guru's way. He reached the bottom with no mishap and carefully stepped around Upmanyu's prone leg. It was swollen, certainly broken. He would have to set it but better to set it once he got Upmanyu out of the well.
"Gurudev?" Upmanyu's voice was small, the echo faint. He sat up and folded his palms.
"Don't be afraid," Ayuddhaumya told him. He crouched by Upmanyu's muddy side and touched his water pot to the boy's lips.
Upmanyu drank. Gulping, still weeping, Upmanyu sat uncomplaining of his broken limb.
"I'm going to put my hand on your head, Upmanyu. You must be still."
The boy nodded, unmoving as Ayuddhaumya rested his palm on Upmanyu's hair.
"Ignorance is true blindness, Upmanyu. It is darkness. But knowledge is sight. Knowledge is light. Open your heart to knowledge, my son." Ayuddhaumya took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and let flow through his hand what his guru had taught him.
Years of chanting, decades of toil, ages of secrets untold, poured from his mind into Upmanyu. The ocean, the stars, the earth, the flame, all flowed as Ayuddhaumya blew the winds of his mind to his student. Mantras that brought salvation, music that brought harmony, formulas that brought creation.
Upmanyu jerked, as if struck by lightning, but he did not cry out. In stunned silence, he sat with his guru's hand upon his head.
In his mind, Upmanyu saw numbers, letters, waves of sound. Strings that bound the world together. Words that linked the cosmos. Stars within stars, planets within planets, pushing and pulling, round and round as the world grew and shrank. He saw life that sparked, form that changed, seeds of spirit that glowed. He saw hurtling power, controlled destruction, and the creation that arose from that destruction. The immense cycle of sacred life. As the world was and as it would be. He saw radiance, light, the bliss of infinity. He saw Divinity.
He saw his own soul. It was full of light. His soul was full of light.
He opened his mouth and began to sing:
"Before creation you manifested, O Divine Ashwini Twins.
First-born, of the five elements, you are nature and you are spirit.
You are the dawn and you are the dusk.
You are the wheel of time and you are freedom from time.
You are infinity, meditated upon by sages.
You rotate the cycle that binds us all.
You are the parent and you are the child.
You are the guru and you are the student.
You are the colour and you are the form.
You pervade all, heal all, grant bliss to all.
Divine Ashwini Twins, release me from blindness.
I beg you to heal me, O Bringers of Light.
Grant me your blessing, that I may see."
In his mind Upmanyu saw that from the flames of the sun two children arose. Golden haired, golden eyed, golden skinned, they grew as he watched and became men. They glowed as the sun, blazing in their hearts, and they came towards him.
Ayuddhaumya saw the Divine Ashwinis, Nasatya and Dasra, as they stood before him and Upmanyu. They smiled down at the boy and Ayuddhaumya took his hand from the Upmanyu's head to bow before them. He did not speak as he knew he was not meant to.
Upmanyu fell to the ground, his broken leg forgotten, making obeisance on the well floor. His eyes were squeezed shut yet he knew where the Ashwinis stood.
The twin Ayuddhaumya knew was Dasra spoke: "We are pleased with you, Upmanyu, disciple of Ayuddhaumya."
Nasatya held out his hand and the guru saw that Nasatya was holding a sweet. "We bring you a healing cake, Upmanyu. Eat this and your sight will be restored."
Upmanyu raised himself to kneel and moved to hold his hands up for the cake. But then he paused. He turned towards where his guru stood, then turned back to the Ashwinis. "I am grateful and prostrate myself before you. But I cannot eat this cake without first offering it to my guru."
Nasatya laughed. "We did not bring this for your guru. We have given him gifts already. This cake is for you and you only. Eat and be healed."
"Forgive me, my Lords. I cannot. I must first offer it to my guru."
"Think on what you are saying," Dasra said.
Nasatya said: "If you do not obey our instructions then your eyes will never heal. Eat."
Upmanyu bowed his head to the ground, pressing his lips together. He shook his head. "True blindness is ignorance and my guru has saved me from that. He has saved me."
Dasra put his hand on his twin's arm. "So you refuse this cake we give you, Upmanyu? You refuse even if it means you will be blind forever?"
"Yes," Upmanyu whispered.
Nasatya lowered his arm and the cake dissappeared. Both twins leaned over and placed a hand each over Upmanyu's eyes. Light poured from their fingers and when they took their hands away, Upmanyu gazed up at them with clear and focused eyes.
He folded his palms. "You restored my sight."
"Yes," they said.
"I beg you, why?"
"Because of your devotion to your guru," Dasra said.
Nasatya turned to Ayuddhaumya. "You have done well. Your student surpasses even you. Remember when we gave you a sweet? You did not offer it to your guru."
Ayuddhaumya smiled. "By your grace, I have a student who is better than I."
Dasra passed his hand over the boy's leg. "Arise, beloved Upmanyu."
The boy stood, his leg healed. But then he realised that he was still rising. He and his guru both were floating up the well towards the opening into the night. Their feet came to rest on the ground with all the other students around them and the Ashwinis before them.
The Divine Twins raised their hands in blessing to Upmanyu. "You will be a master of learning. All the knowledge granted to you by your guru will remain with you always. Enlightened, you will enlighten others."
Upmanyu was overwhelmed. He stared as the Ashwinis dissappeared, their light still shimmering in the dark around them. He looked to his guru who was gazing at him with pride. He kneeled before Ayuddhaumya. "Gurudev, I was never worthy of this."
"None who are truly worthy think they are worthy, Upmanyu."
Ayuddhaumya gave all he knew to Upmanyu. He gave it freely, as his guru gave it to him, because he wanted to lift Upmanyu out of the darkness of ignorance. That is a teacher's job. All their knowledge, all their experience, all their wisdom, they pass to their students so that their students may be enlightened. Then those students pass it to others. It is an unselfish gift that keeps on giving.
Ayuddhaumya was a teacher who refused to give up on a child. He knew that if he could only find a way, he could change Upmanyu's life. And Upmanyu, once he found his master, was ready to sacrifice everything in devotion to him. Once he knew the truth and depth of his guru's knowledge, he went from being a student to a disciple. A disciple to a master.
Knowledge enlightens us. Knowledge grants us sight we would otherwise never have. And when you give someone knowledge, it does not diminish your own but increases it, as it increased Ayuddhaumya's. Knowledge grows and grows the more it is shared because knowledge is another form of love. It's sets us free.
The Hindu scriptures say:
Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo Maheswara
Guru Saksat Parah Brahma Tasmai Shri Guruveh Namaha
= My guru is the creator Brahma, the preserver Vishnu, and the destroyer Shiv,
In my guru is the Almighty Himself, and it is to him that I make obeisance.
A guru creates because in giving knowledge he gives his student new life. A guru preserves because he protects that knowledge and nurtures it. A guru destroys because he destroys the darkness of his student's ignorance. In the guru, the Hindu scriptures say that the supreme Lord resides and that is why in a choice between God and guru, the student always picks his guru. Because it was his guru who led him to God.
This is precisely what happened to Upmanyu. He was offered a sweet by the Divine Ashwinis but in accepting it he would break a rule his guru had taught him. He refused to do that. He choose the enlightenment his guru gave him to the sight the Ashwinis offered. He passed the test of devotion that was presented to him.
This is the ideal relationship between a guru and disciple.
But in our society today, it has become fashionable to look down on teachers. They are low paid. They are expendable. They are not respected by even the parents of the children they teach, let alone the children.
The very people in our society who enlighten our children are the very people we grind into the dirt. We burden them with procedures and paperwork and pointless targets that have nothing to do with real education. We handicap them with rules upon rules that hinder teaching. We take away their budgets so that there's nothing left for them to give to the children. And then we wonder why our schools are failing, why our children are not learning. We think our teachers have failed us but it is we who have failed them.
Think back to your own teachers. Even the ones you didn't like. Even the ones who made you angry. Where would you be without them to teach you to read? To count? To write? To think? To reason? To sing? To play? To imagine? To create? Despite all the ways in which we have failed them, in which we are not worthy, still they give us knowledge. They share everything. And they don't give up because it is their hope that in enlightening us, we might surpass even them in enlightening others.
Should we not at least try to do them justice?
To read the next Mahabharat post go here.