in Search of Knowledge
(A few selections from the Upanishad)
Satyakama Jabala said to his Mother Jabala: "Venerable mother: I wish to join school as a brahmacharin (pupil wishing to learn the true knowledge). Please tell me from what family I hail."
She said to him: "My child, I don't know from what family you are. In my youth, I went about in many places as a maid-servant; during that period I begot you; I myself do not know from what family you hail; I am called Jabala; and you are called Satyakama; so call yourself then Satyakama, the son of Jabala."
Then he went to Haridrumata Gautama and said: "I wish to join your school venerable Sir, as a brahmacharin, if you, venerable Sir, would desire to accept me."
He said to him: "My dear child, from what family do you hail?" He replied "Venerable Sir, I do not know from what family I hail; I have asked my mother who answered me: 'In my youth, I went about in many places as a maid-servant; during that period I begot you. I myself don't know from what family you hail. I am called Jabala and you are called Satyakama.' Therefore I call myself Satyakama, son of Jabala, venerable Sir."
He (the preceptor) replied to him: "Only a Brahmana can speak so candidly. My dear child, bring here the fuel-sticks (which are requisite for the ceremonial rite). I will accept you, because you have not swerved from truthfulness."
After he had accepted him, he separated from the herd four hundred lean and weak cows and said: "My dear, go after them and tend them." Satyakama then drove them forth and said to his teacher: "Not before they have become one thousand, will I return." So he lived far away for a number of years.
Chhandogya Upanishad, Fourth Chapter, Fourth Part
The Good and the Pleasant
"One thing is the good and quite another thing is the pleasant, and both seize upon a man with different meanings. Of these who so takes the good, it is well with him; he falls from the aim of life who chooses the pleasant.
"The good and the pleasant come to a man and the thoughtful mind turns all around them and distinguishes. The wise chooses out the good from the pleasant, but the dull soul chooses the pleasant rather than the getting of his good and its having.
"And thou, 0 Nachiketas, hast looked close at the objects of desire, at pleasant things and beautiful, and thou hast cast them from thee: thou hast not entered into the net of riches in which many men sink to perdition.
"For far apart are these, opposite, divergent, the one that is known as the Ignorance and the other the Knowledge. But Nachiketas I deem truly desirous of the knowledge whom so many desirable things could not make to lust after them.
"They who dwell in the ignorance, within it, wise in their own wit and deeming themselves very learned, men bewildered are they who wander about stumbling round and round helplessly like blind men led by the blind.
"The childish wit bewildered and drunken with the illusion of riches cannot open its eyes to see the passage to heaven: for he that thinks this world is and there is no other, comes again and again into Death's thraldom.
"He that is not easy to be heard of by many, and even of those that have heard, they are many who have not known Him, — a miracle is the man that can speak of Him wisely or is skilful to win Him, and when one is found, a miracle is the listener who can know Him even when taught of Him by the knower.
"An inferior man cannot tell you of Him; for thus told thou canst not truly know Him, since He is thought of in many aspects. Yet unless told of Him by another thou canst not find thy way to Him; for He is subtler than subtlety and that which logic cannot reach.
"This wisdom is not to be had by reasoning, 0 beloved Nachiketas; only when told thee by another it brings real knowledge, — the wisdom which thou hast gotten. Truly thou art steadfast in the Truth! Even such a questioner as thou art may I meet with always."
''I know of treasure that it is not for ever; for not by things unstable shall one attain That One which is stable; therefore I heaped the fire of Nachiketas, and by the sacrifice of momentary things I won the Eternal."
Katha Upanishad, First Cycle: Second Chapter 1-10
What is it Knowing Which Everything Is Known?
Svetaketu was the son of (Uddalaka) Aruni. His father said to him "Svetaketu! Move and go to study the true Knowledge, because, my dear one none of our family used to be unlearned and remain a mere appendage of Brahmanhood (a Brahman only in name)."
Then he, while twelve years of age, went as a pupil to a teacher and when he was twenty-four years old, had thoroughly studied all the books of Knowledge. He returned haughty in mind, conceited and thinking himself wise. Then his father said to him: "0 dear one! Since you are haughty in mind, conceited and consider yourself wise, have you inquired into that instruction whereby what is even unheard of, becomes heard, what is not comprehended becomes comprehended, what is not known becomes known?"
"Venerable Sir, how is that instruction?"
"Just as, 0 dear one, through one lump of clay everything that consists of clay is known, modification being a clinging to words, only a name, it is only clay in reality.
"Just as, 0 dear one, through a copper pommel, everything that consists of copper is known, modification being merely a clinging to words, only a name, it is only copper in reality.
"Just as, 0 dear one, through a nail-parer, everything that consists of iron is known, modification being merely a clinging to words, only a name, it is only iron in reality — thus, my dear, is this instruction."
"Certainly my venerable teachers must not have known this teaching; because if they had known it, why would they not have communicated it to me? But venerable Sir, you will now please explain it to me!" "So be it, my dear!"
Chhandogya Upanishad, Sixth Chapter, First Part
"When, 0 dear one, the bees prepare honey, they gather the juice of manifold trees and assemble the juice into a unity.
"So also, in that juice of these, no distinction is preserved as that of a particular tree whose juices they are; so also, indeed, 0 dear one, all these creatures, when they enter into the Being (in deep sleep and death), have no consciousness thereof, that they enter into the Being.
"Whatever they may be here — a tiger, a lion or a wolf, or a boar, or a worm or a bird or a gadfly or a gnat, they are again born in these forms.
"This universe consists of what that finest essence is, it is the real, it is the soul, that thou art, Svetaketu!
"Venerable Sir, teach me still further," he (Svetaketu) said. "So be it," he (Aruni) replied.
Chhandogya Upanishad, Sixth Chapter, Ninth Part
"When one, 0 dear one, cuts this big tree here at the root, it trickles sap, because it lives; when one cuts it in the middle, it trickles sap, because it lives; when one cuts it at the top, it trickles sap, because it lives; thus it stands, penetrated through by the living self, prolific and rejoicing.
"Now if life departs from one branch, that branch withers; if life departs from the second branch, that also withers; if life departs from the third branch, that also withers; if life departs from the whole tree, the whole tree withers or dries up. Therefore, 0 dear one, you should mark this," he (Aruni) said.
"This body indeed dies if it is deserted by life; but this life does not die. This universe consists of what that finest essence is; it is the real, it is the soul, that thou art, 0 Svetaketu."
"Venerable Sir, teach me still further," he (Svetaketu) said. "So be it," he (Aruni) replied.
Chhandogya Upanishad, Sixth Chapter, Eleventh Part
1"Fetch me a fruit of that Nyagrodha (banyan) tree there.
" "Here it is, venerable Sir."
What do you see therein?"
"I see here, venerable Sir, very fine seeds."
"Split one of them."
"It is split, venerable Sir!"
"What do you see therein?"
"Nothing at all, venerable Sir!"
2. Then he (Aruni) spoke: "That finest essence which you do not perceive, 0 dear one — out of this finest essence, indeed, this great Nyagrodha tree has arisen.
3. "Believe, my dear, the universe consists of what that finest essence is; it is the real, it is the soul, that thou art, 0 Svetaketu!" "Teach me still further, venerable "Sir." "So be it," he (Aruni) said.
Chhandogya Upanishad, Sixth Chapter, Twelfth Part
1. "Put this piece of salt, here, in water and come again tomorrow to me." He did it. Then he (Aruni) said: "Bring me the salt which you had put into the water last evening." He groped, feeling after it and found nothing of it, because it was completely dissolved.
2. "Taste that water from this side! How does it taste?"
"Taste it from the middle! How does it taste?"
"Taste it from that side! How does it taste?"
"Let it be there; seat yourself by my side." He did it and said: "It (salt in water) is always present." Then the other one (Aruni) said: "Indeed, you do not perceive the Being here in
the body but it is, nevertheless, therein."
"This universe consists of what that finest essence is, it is the real, it is the soul, that thou art, 0 Svetaketu!" "Venerable Sir, instruct me still further!" "So be it," he (Aruni) said.
Chhandogya Upanishad, Sixth Chapter, Thirteenth Part
"Just as, 0 dear one, a man who, with eyes bandaged, is led away out of the region of Gandhara and then forsaken in a deserted place, will grope breathlessly towards the north or towards the south, because he has been led away with bandaged eyes and has been left in an uninhabited place.
"But thereafter somebody had removed the bandage from him and said to him: 'There lie the Gandhara regions beyond; go thither from here.' He reaches home in the Gandhara region, inquiring further from village to village, instructed by others and now quite sensible; in the same way a man, who has here found a teacher, attains knowledge: 'I would belong to this drift of worldly existence until I have been released; thereafter I shall reach my home.'
"This universe consists of what that finest essence is; it is the real, it is the soul, that thou art, 0 Svetaketu!"
Chhandogya Upanishad, Sixth Chapter, Fourteenth Part
Learning and the Knowledge of the Self
"Teach me, venerable Sir!" With these words Narada approached Sanatkumara. He (Sanatkumara) said to him: "Tell me what you already know; then I will impart to you what lies outside it."
And the other (Narada) said, "I have, 0 venerable Sir, learnt the Rigveda,
Yajurveda, Samaveda, the Atharvaveda as the fourth, the epic and mythological poems as the fifth Veda, grammar, the ritual concerning the Manes, arithmetic, mantik, counting or reckoning of time, dialectic, politics, divine lore, the lore of the prayer, the lore of the ghosts, the science of warfare, astronomy, spell against serpents, the art of the muse [literally, of demigods, deva-jana]. This it is, 0 venerable Sir, that I have learnt.
"And thus I am, 0 venerable Sir, no doubt learned in scriptures but not in the lore of the Atman. Because I have heard from such as are like you that he who knows the Atman, overcomes sorrow; but venerable Sir, I am afflicted with sorrow; that is why you will carry me, 0 Sir, to that yonder beach beyond sorrow!" And he (Sanatkumara) said to him: "Everything that you have studied is mere name (naman).
"The Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, the Atharvaveda as the fourth, the epic and mythological poems as the fifth Veda, grammar the ritual of the Manes, arithmetic, mantik, reckoning of time, dialectic, politics, the divine lore, the lore of prayer, the lore of the ghosts, the science of warfare, astronomy, spell against serpents and the art of the muse — all these are a name, — everything of this is a name. You may adore the name!
"He who adores the name as Brahman — so far as the name extends itself that far, over that extent, he will be entitled to move about according to his liking, that is why he adores the name as Brahman." "Is there, O venerable Sir, anything greater than the name?" "Well, there is one greater than the name."
Chhandogya Upanishad, Seventh Chapter, First Part
The Vedic immortality is a vast beatitude, a large enjoyment of the divine and infinite existence reposing on a perfect union between the Soul and Nature; the soul becomes King of itself and its environment, conscious on all its planes, master of them, with Nature for its bride delivered from divisions and discords into an infinite and luminous harmony.
Or, "set the Will to its workings."
The Rishis and the Vedas
In ancient India, the concept of the Rishi connoted the highest ideal of the teacher. The teacher was a Yogin, one who had realized or was a seeker of true knowledge that comes through the practice of Yoga, which was at that time a developing science and art of psychological concentration and perfection. The Vedic Rishis described their aspirations and victories in the form of Mantra, inevitable expression born out of innermost vision and realization.
The Vedic Rishis refer to their "forefathers" as great pathfinders, and spoke of them in legends and myths in order to describe what they had achieved. For example, Parashara says: "Our fathers broke open the firm and strong places by their words, yea, the Angirasas broke open the hill by their cry; they made in us the path to the great heaven; they found the Day and Swar and vision and the luminous Cows" (1.71.2). This path, he tells us, is the path which leads to immortality, "They who entered into all things that bear right fruit formed a path towards immortality; earth stood wide for them by the greatness and by the Great Ones, the mother Aditi with her sons came (or, manifested herself) for the upholding" (1.72.9). The meaning of these cryptic verses is that the physical being is visited by the greatness of the infinite planes above and by the power of the great godheads who reign on those planes. This breaks the limits of the physical being, which opens out to the Light and is upheld in its new wideness by the infinite Consciousness, mother Aditi, and her sons, the divine powers of the supreme Deva or Lord. This was the meaning of Vedic immortality.
There are also references in the second hymn of the fourth Mandala to the seven divine seers, who are the divine Angirasas and the human fathers. Riks 12 to 15 describe the seven Rishis as the supreme ordainers of the world-sacrifice, and put forth the idea of the human being "becoming" the seven Rishis, that is to say, creating them in himself and growing into that which they mean, just as he becomes the Heaven and Earth and the other gods; or, as it is otherwise put, man begets or creates or forms the divine birth in his own being. As Rik 15 says: "Now as the seven seers of Dawn, the Mother, the supreme disposers [of sacrifice, which in psychological terms means self- consecration, the discipline by which the separative sense of egoism is destroyed], may we beget for ourselves the gods; may we become the Angirasas, sons of Heaven, breaking open the wealth- filled hill, shining in purity." These Riks bring out the idea of the human fathers as the original type of the great becoming and achievement.
The word Veda is derived from the root vid, to know, and the Vedic Rishis looked upon the Veda as the Book of Knowledge. The Vedic Rishis discovered that the secret of victory lies in aspiration, which expresses itself in the form of burning flame, Agni. This burning flame rises higher and higher in our being, destroying impurities and obscurities, and there arise in us king-ideas, master- wills, intense prayers. There is then a response, and the doors of secret knowledge and power swing open giving birth to creative action or event. Victory is achieved — our being with its imperfect thought, will and emotion, is filled with vastness, luminosity and unfailing energy. The immortal in us is realized and becomes manifest.
The Veda contains the secrets of this realization. It is the science and art of the inter- relationship of our earthly being with the powers around it and above it, and of the processes by which our imperfections can be remedied. The Veda is indeed a book of discoveries, a record of research that the ancient fathers and their initiates carried on by personal verification, rediscovery and constant enlargement.
One of the most important legends of the Veda is the legend of the Angirasas. Its theme is the spiritual life of man but, to make it concrete to themselves and while veiling its secrets from the unfit, the Vedic poets expressed it in poetic images drawn from outward life. The Angirasas are pilgrims of the light. They are those who travel towards the goal and attain to the highest, "they who travel to and attain that supreme treasure" (II.24.6). Their action is invoked for carrying the life of man farther towards its goal. The journey is principally the quest of the hidden light, but through the opposition of the powers of darkness it also becomes an expedition and a battle. The Angirasas are heroes and fighters of that battle, "fighters for the cows or rays of light and knowledge" (goshu yodhah). They discover the supraphysical power or being, the king of the kingdom of illumined intelligence (Swar), and they seek his help. This being is Indra, who marches with them (saranyubhih), travellers on the path (skhibhih), comrades, seers and singers of the sacred chant, and fighters in the battle. Strengthened by them he conquers during the journey and reaches the goal. The journey proceeds along the path discovered by Sarama, the hound of heaven, the intuitive power that sees that path directly, the path of the Truth, ritasya panthah, the great path, mahas panthah, which leads to the realms of the Truth.
The drinking of the soma wine as the means of strength, victory and attainment is one of the
pervading figures of the Veda. The soma wine is the sweetness that comes flowing from the streams of the hidden upper world, it is that which flows in the seven waters, it is that with which the ghrita, the clarified butter of the mystic sacrifice, is instinct, it is the honeyed wave which rises out of the ocean of life. Such images, as pointed out by Sri Aurobindo, can have only one meaning: "It is the divine delight hidden in all existence which, once manifest, supports all life's crowning activities and is the force that finally immortalizes the mortal, the amritam, ambrosia of the gods." The Angirasas are distinguished by their seerhood, Rishihood. They are the fathers who are full of the soma, they have the word and are increasers of the Truth. The Angirasas have been described as those who speak rightly, masters of the Rik who place perfectly their thought; they are heroes who speak the truth and think with straightness and thus are able to hold the seat of illumined knowledge (vide Rig Veda, X.67.2).
The ancient Indian idea of the teacher is conceived in the light of the image of the Angirasas, and it is for this reason that the teacher came to be placed so supreme. The verses we have selected for this book give only a few glimpses of the aspirations and achievements of the ancient teachers. The meanings of the Vedic verses are not fully understandable; therefore, a great deal of research is required to discover the secret of the Veda. To understand exactly what the Vedic Rishis achieved, the reader may refer to Sri Aurobindo's luminous interpretation in The Secret of the Veda. These notes are based on that book, and the verses of the Veda included in the text have also been taken from that book.
The verses we have chosen are hymns addressed to Agni, a word which is translated as power, strength, will, the god-will, or the Flame according to the context. The Veda speaks of Agni, the divine Flame, in a series of splendid and opulent images. He is the rapturous priest of the sacrifice, the young sage, the sleepless envoy, the ever-wakeful flame in the house, the master of our gated dwelling-place, the beloved guest, the divine child, the pure and virgin god, the invincible warrior, the leader on the path who marches in front of the human peoples, the immortal in mortals, the worker established in man by the gods, the unobstructed in knowledge, the infinite in being, the vast and flaming sun of the Truth, the sustainer of the sacrifice and discerner of its steps, the divine perception, the Light, the vision, the firm foundation. We experience Agni as our upward aspiration, the will towards Truth, and the force that uplifts us from our limitations by renunciation, purification and right enjoyment. This aspiration, when it reaches its acme, is what brings to us the victory — deliverance from falsehood into Truth, from darkness into Light, from death into immortality.
One of the great discoveries of the Vedic Rishis was the knowledge of the hierarchy of the various worlds and the inter-relationship and interaction of the physical world with the supraphysical worlds. Based on this knowledge, they found and applied the means by which man in the physical world can attain perfection. In their system of knowledge, Agni is found to be the fundamental bridge between the lower and the higher, a messenger that travels and turns human aspiration into divine victory, a will that enables man to rise above human limitations so as to become a candidate for perfection.
Agni, as sacrificial fire, is a symbol, useful for rituals, but the inner and secret sense can be
experienced by every aspirant as a fire of aspiration and will. In this book, we are not concerned with religion and ritualism, but with the psychological knowledge of our being and the ways by which it can be educated and cultivated. Indeed that was the central aim of the Veda, and we have selected only a sampling of verses to indicate the educational value of the Vedic discoveries, so that those teachers and pupils who are so inclined may be encouraged to explore, through a more strenuous study, the secrets that can be found useful in the process of learning and teaching.
The Vedas were followed by the Brahmanas and Aranyakas. While the Brahmanas dealt with the ritualistic aspects of the Veda, the Aranyakas brought out the inner meaning of the teachings of the Rishis. The Aranyakas were followed by the Upanishads. The word Upanishad consists of three components, upa, ni and shad, where shad means to dwell,upa means near and ni means closer. Thus Upanishad means dwelling very closely to the secret knowledge. Upanishads are also regarded as Vedanta, which means the end of the Veda. The Rishis of the Upanishads attempted to recover the Vedic knowledge which had become obscured in the course of time. The language of the Upanishads is much clearer than that of the Veda, even though it has yielded to various interpretations.
There are more than two hundred Upanishads. But the principal Upanishads are between eight and twelve. Isha, Kena, Kama, Prashna, Chhandogya, Brihadaranyaka, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya and Shvetashvatara are the most prominent. The stories that we have selected for this book are taken from the Chhandogya Upanishad and Katha Upanishad.
The Upanishads give us a clear idea of the ancient system of education and of the role of the teacher and the pupil. Some of the examples that we have given in this book clearly indicate that the pupil was supposed to approach the teacher and seek instruction from him, that the good teacher judged the pupil by his truthfulness and the earnestness of his seeking, and that the good pupil was the one who chose the path of the good rather than that of the pleasant. The Upanishads also point out that the knowledge sought by the teachers and pupils was the knowledge that transcends appearances and seizes upon Reality through direct experience.
In the story of Satyakama, we have an illustration of a young student who has an ardent aspiration to learn and study. His first quality is truthfulness, and the teacher rightly accepts him, convinced that his truthfulness is sufficient evidence of his qualification to be admitted.
In the next story, taken from the Katha Upanishad, we have Nachiketas, a young brahmacharin, who is offered by his father to Yama, the god who controls and governs the kingdom of death. We are told that Nachiketas, seeing his father giving away old cows as offerings to Brahmins, feels that his father ought to give something valuable and asks his father to whom he (Nachiketas) should be given as a sacrifice and offering. Thrice he asks his father, and his father, annoyed with his insistence, pronounces that he is offered to Yama. The young Nachiketas visits the abode of Yama, where he waits for three days for Yama's arrival. When Yama comes, he is pleased with Nachiketas for his patience and sincerity, and offers him three boons. Nachiketas first asks for his father's
appeasement and his well-being, which Yama grants readily. Next, he asks for the knowledge of the secret of the fire of austerity. And, lastly, he asks for the knowledge of the secret of death, of what happens to man after death and what really is the secret of immortality. Yama does not intend to give away this secret and offers him the choice of worldly happiness in the form of riches and progeny and success. However Nachiketas is firm in his demand and rejects the choice offered by Yama. Yama is pleased with the steadfast adherence of Nachiketas to his noble search, and grants him the secret knowledge. The short extract presented here in this book is a dialogue between Yama and Nachiketas, in which Yama explains the distinction between the good and the pleasant, and points out that since Nachiketas chose the good in preference to the pleasant, he considers Nachiketas a worthy pupil who deserves to be given the secret knowledge.
The third story, taken from the Chhandogya Upanishad, contains a famous dialogue between Aruni and his son, Shvetaketu. There are three important elements in the extract. In the first place, we have here an illustration of the method of teaching by dialogue and personal experimentation. Secondly, the central question raised by Aruni is one of the most striking questions that every good
Painting by Rolf, Auroville
teacher and pupil should raise: "What is it knowing which everything is known?" Thirdly, the answer provided to the question is perhaps the quintessence of India's entire approach to the problem of knowledge. In brief the answer is that the knowledge of essence gives us the foundation of all that is manifested, and that the quintessence of all phenomena is the inner self which is identical with that which transcends all and manifests all. Tat tvam asi, "thou art That", is one of the great pronouncements of the Upanishadic knowledge, and Aruni explains this knowledge by various examples, so that the pupil can grasp it.
In modern times, science, after its triumphant discoveries and inventions, is slowly returning to the realization that knowledge depends very much on the knower, and that the most important object of knowledge is the self that is seeking knowledge. Schrodinger and others have come to the conclusion that this new orientation will press the scientific inquiry into the field of self-knowledge. Here we see the modern quest converging on the ancient wisdom.
In the fourth story, which is also taken from the Chhandogya Upanishad, we have a dialogue between Narada and Sanatkumara. When Narada approaches Sanatkumara, Sanatkumara says;
"Tell me what you already know; then I will impart to you what lies outside it." Narada replies enumerating a large number of disciplines of knowledge that he has already learned. Sanatkumara points out that what Narada knows is only name and that there is something greater than name. This brings out the real distinction between learning and knowledge. The aim of the good teacher is to
help the pupil liberate himself from the cobwebs of learning and to lead him to the luminosity of true knowledge.
In connection with the story of Narada and Sanatkumara, it may be worth noting that ancient India had developed a wide variety of disciplines of the sciences and arts. It is difficult to say whether these disciplines developed during the Upanishadic age, but to some extent they surely did, and we have some information about the curriculum followed in Taxila, the most important seat of learning in ancient India. It is said that Taxila was founded by Bharata and named after his son Taksha, who was established there as ruler. (Taxila was situated about twenty miles west of modern Rawalpindi.) Apart from the Vedic knowledge, grammar, philosophy, and eighteen shilpas were the principal subjects of specialization. It is surmised that these eighteen shilpas were as follows: vocal music, instrumental music, dancing, painting, mathematics, accounting, engineering, sculpture, agriculture, cattle- breeding, commerce, medicine, conveyancing and law, administrative training, archery and military art, magic, snake-charming and poison antidotes, the art of finding hidden treasures.
Later literature mentions sixty-four Kalas, which a cultured lady was expected to master. These included the art of cooking, skill in the use of body ointments and paints for the teeth, etc., music, dancing, painting, garland-making, floor decoration, preparation of the bed, proper use and care of dress and ornaments, sewing, elementary carpentry, repair of household tools and articles, reading, writing and understanding different languages, composing poems, understanding dramas, physical exercises, recreation for utilizing leisure hours, and the art of preparing toys for children.
Other Good Teachers and Pupils in The Upanishads
In the Upanishadic literature we come to know of a large number of good teachers and good pupils. In the selection presented in this book there are Satyakama, Jabala, Nachiketas, Shvetaketu and Narada. We may also refer to the traditional story of Uddalaka Aruni, the son ofAruna Gautama and father of Shvetaketu. Most of the important works of the period refer to him as an authority on rituals and inner knowledge. As a pupil, he is often cited for his devotion to his teacher. He was asked by his teacher to prevent the inundation of the ashram farm during a rainy day. Unable to plug a crack in the dam, he used his own body to plug the breach and thus prevented the inundation of the farm. The Chhandogya Upanishad makes reference to Krishna Devakiputra who received initiation and knowledge from his teacher, Ghora. He is indeed the one declared later to be the Lord Krishna. The Upanishads describe him as a student eager in his pursuit of knowledge. We may also mention Pippalada, a great sage in the Prashna Upanishad. Raikva is the name of the cart driver whom the King Janashruti approached for instruction. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, we have a vivid account of the supremacy ofYajnavalkya. According to the story, Yajnavalkya's guru, Uddalaka Amni, could not hold his own in a disputation with him in a vast assembly of scholars from the entire Kuru Panchala country which had been summoned by King Janaka of Videha. The Upanishads contain other great names of teachers and pupils, such as Ashvala, Jarat Karava Artabhiga, Bhujyu Lahyayani, Ushasti Chakrayana, Kahoda Kaushitakeya, and Gargi Vachaknavi. We should also
mention Maitreyi, a learned wife of Yajnavalkya, who "was conversant with Brahman". One of the famous dialogues in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is between Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi. This dialogue occurs when Yajnavalkya is about to renounce the life of a householder for that of a hermit, and he proposes to divide his wealth between his two wives, Katyayani and Maitreyi. But Maitreyi insists on his giving her instruction in spiritual wisdom.
According to tradition, Dhaumya was a great teacher, and stories are told not only of Arum Uddalaka, one of his good pupils to whom we have referred earlier, but also of his other pupil Veda, who is reported to have himself become a very good teacher. Veda is especially noted for the devotion displayed by one of his pupils, Utanka. On the completion of his studentship, Utanka encounters every sort of experience and danger in order to procure the presents of Veda's choice before being free to leave his preceptor's home.
Kacha and Devayani - Abanindranath Tagore
Another picture of ideal studentship is brought out in the story of Kacha and Devayani. Devayani's father Sukracharya, was Kacha's teacher. She fell in love with Kacha, but he had taken the vow of brahmacharya and refused to enter into marriage with her. One passage in the Mahabharata gives Kacha's description of the life he lived in that retreat of learning: "Carrying the burden of sacrificial wood, kusha grass, and fuel, I was coming towards the hermitage and feeling tired, sat for rest under the banyan tree, along with my companions, the kine, under my charge." This brings out the fact that one of the traditional duties of the student was to tend his preceptor's cattle, and collect wood for fire and sacrifice, and this put him into intimate touch with Nature and subjected him to the influence and educational processes of Nature working through "silent sympathy" as Wordsworth put it. The Mahabharatagives the full traditional story of Kacha and Devayani.
A number of books on the Upanishads are available. We have taken the extract from the Katha Upanishad from Sri Aurobindo's book The Upanishads. The other extracts are from the translation by V.M. Bedekar and G.B. Palsule.
For a detailed exposition of ancient Indian education, the reader is referred to Ancient Indian Education by Radha Kumud Mukherjee.
The sage Sukadeva addressing king Parikshit — Kishangarh miniature painting
Altekar,A.S. Education in Ancient India. Varanasi: Nand Kishore and Brothers, 1957.
Sri Aurobindo. The Secret of the Veda, Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library, volume 10.
Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1972.
Sri Aurobindo. The Upanishads, Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library, volume 12. Pondicherry:
Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1971.
Mitra, Veda. Education in Ancient India. New Delhi: Arya Book Depot, 1964. Mukherjee, Radha
Kumud. Ancient Indian Education. London: Macmillan, 1951.
Saraswati, Swami Dayananda. Satyartha Prakash. Translated by Durga Prasad. New Delhi: Jan
Gyan Prakahan, 1970.