Service to the Guru (III) : Dhaumya's Three Disciples

Three more inspirational stories from the Mahabharata about service to the Guru. From unpublihsed book by Bhakti Promode Puri Maharaj, "The Heart of the Guru."

1. Aruni Uddalaka

yasya deve parā bhaktir
yathā deve tathā gurau
tasyaite kathitā hy arthāḥ
prakāśante mahātmanaḥ

Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master, who is his manifestation and not different from him, are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed. (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 6.23)

In ancient times their was a great sage of the name Ayoda Dhaumya. He hd three students, named Upamanyu, Aruni and Veda. The story of this guru and his disciples is told near the beginning of the Mahabharata. It tells how he tested them and how through his mercy they were able to understand the scriptural teachings. On hearing it, one cannot help but be amazed.

One day, Dhaumya bade one of his disciples, Aruni, who came from the kingdom of Panchala, to go and stop the water from flowing out of a rice field by repairing a breach in the dyke. In India, paddy fields are normally surrounded by low dykes of clay that keep the seedlings under at least a few centimeters of rain or irrigation water, without which the rice will not flourish.

Aruni took his guru’s order seriously and immediately went to the spot, and did everything he could to stop the water from flowing out, but the earth he put in the breach simply washed away in the strong current. When despite numerous efforts he was unable to break the stream of water from draining out of the field, he became very worried that he would fail to do his guru’s bidding, so he went and lay down in the breach himself. This successfully held the water back.

After some time, when Aruni had not yet returned from his errand, Dhaumya started to worry, for he was naturally very affectionate towards all his disciples. He took Upamanya and Veda with him and set off to the paddy fields. He called out, “Aruni, where are you? Come hither, my child.”

On hearing his guru’s voice, Aruni got up and came to him, bowing at his feet. On being asked where he had been, he answered, “I was lying down in the dyke to stop the water from going out, as I was unable to find any other means. I remained there until I heard your voice and came here. The water is now escaping again, so please tell me what I should do.”

Dhaumya Rishi was very pleased with Aruni and blessed him: “O Aruni, since you
arose from the ditch and reopened the course of water, you shall henceforth be called Uddalaka as a mark of my favor. And because you have been obedient to me, I bless you that you shall obtain all good fortune and that the meaning of all the Vedic scriptures will shine in you.”

2. Upamanyu

Another day, Ayoda Dhaumya ordered his second disciple, Upamanyu, in the following way, “Go, my child, and look after the cattle.” Upamanyu immediately did as he was told. From that day on, he went every morning with the cows and watched them graze until the evening when he returned to his guru’s ashram. Then he would come and salute him respectfully.

One day, when Upamanyu had paid his obeisance, Dhaumya remarked that he was looking quite sturdy. So he asked, “My child, what are you doing for food during the day? You are looking rather plump.”

Upamanyu answered, “Master, I support myself by begging.” Dhaumya immediately told him, “Nothing a disciple obtains in alms should be taken without first offering it to his guru.”

From that day on, whatever alms Upamanyu received from begging, he offered to Dhaumya, who took it all without leaving Upamanyu anything. Even so, the young lad made no complaint and went on attending the cattle from morning to night, returning in the evening to pay homage to his guru.

After a few days, Dhaumya observed that Upamanyu was not losing any weight and asked him once again, “My child, I take everything you obtain by begging without leaving you anything at all. So how are you feeding yourself now? I see that you are still looking rather plump.’

Upamanyu said, “Master, after I make over everything obtained in alms to you, I go begging a second time so that I can eat.”

Dhaumya replied, “This is most improper. By doing this, you are making it more difficult for other beggars. You have shown yourself to be quite greedy.”

Thenceforth Upamanyu stopped going to beg for a second time. A few days later, Dhaumya observed that his disciple was still looking fat, so he asked him again, “My child, I take everything you obtain by begging, without leaving you anything at all. You have stopped begging for alms a second time. And yet I see that you are still quite plump. What are you eating now?”

Upamanyu answered, “Master, I am now living on the cows' milk.” Once again, Dhaumya said, “It is not proper for you to take the milk of the cows without first obtaining my consent.”

Upamanyu once again acknowledged his guru’s criticism and stopped taking milk from the cows. However, after a few days, when Dhaumya observed that he was still fat, he said, “My child, you no longer eat alms, nor drink milk, and yet you are still fat. What are you doing for subsistence now?”

This time Upamanyu said, “Prabhu, when the calves suckle their mother’s teats, their faces become covered with froth. I lick this froth to keep body and soul together.”

Again, his guru said, “This too is improper and unjust. Calves are by nature generous creatures. Seeing your hunger, they do not drink their fill so that more froth will be left for you. As a result they go hungry. I want you to stop taking this froth also.”

Upamanyu nodded his assent and the next day went as before to tend the cows. Now left with no other option, he became so hungry after a few days that he began to eat fruits and leaves. Not knowing which were edible and which not, he ate some milkweed leaves that caused him to go blind. Then, having lost his ability to see, he fell into an abandoned well and was unable to get out.

That evening, when the sun set, Dhaumya saw that Upamanyu had not yet come home, so he set off with his two other disciples to find him. They called and called until finally they heard Upamanyu’s weak voice rise from the bottom of the well. Dhaumya asked him how he had happened to fall into the hole. When Upamanyu had told him everything, Dhaumya said, “Pray to the Aswinikumars, the twin physicians of the gods, and they will restore to you your sight.”

Upamanyu, thus directed by his preceptor, sang a Vedic hymn invoking the Aswins. Shortly thereafter, they appeared to him and said, “We are satisfied. Take this cake and eat it. It will restore your sight.”

Upamanyu answered, however, “O Aswins, I believe that you are telling me the truth, but I dare not eat this cake without first offering it to my spiritual master.”

The Aswins told him, “You know, your guru once invoked us just as you did. We gave him a cake like this one and he took it without offering it to his master. Why don't you do as he did?”

Upamanyu refused to be swayed, however. “O Aswins!" he said, "Forgive me, but I have vowed to take nothing without first offering it to my preceptor.”

The Aswins then said, “We are pleased by your devotion to your guru. Your sight shall be restored and you shall enjoy all good fortune.”

When he had recovered his sight, Upamanyu climbed out of the well and bowed to his spiritual master. Dhaumya was very pleased with him for passing all the tests he had set for him and said, “You shalt obtain all the prosperity the Aswins have blessed you with. Moreover, all knowledge of the Vedas and the dharma shastras will illuminate your heart.”

3. Veda

Then it was the third disciple Veda’s turn to be tested. Dhaumya told him to stay in his house and act as his servant there. Veda did as he was told and served faithfully in the guru’s household for many years, bearing heat and cold, hunger and thirst, without complaint. This was the trial devised by Ayoda Dhaumya to test the resolve of his pupil. Years passed and Veda did all his chores uncomplainingly. Dhaumya was very much pleased with his dedication and so instructed him in all the wisdom contained in the scriptures, until Veda equaled his guru in knowledge.

This Veda then returned to his home town where he became a preceptor himself. One of his disciples was Janamejaya, the descendent of the Pandavas and king of the Kuru dynasty, who later was the principal audience for the Mahabharata, which he heard from Vaisampayana.

In the past, spiritual masters tested their disciples in this way. When they saw the sincere service attitude of their disciples, they blessed them with knowledge so that nothing remained for them to learn. Though times may have changed, the principle remains the same. The sincere disciple should show the same commitment to a genuine spiritual master’s service. It is said that the order of the spiritual master is to be obeyed without argument—ājñā gurūṇām avicāraṇīyā. From the transcendental point of view, a disciple who takes shelter of a saintly Vaishnava guru should pray for nothing but pure devotional service and divine love. Vishwanath Chakravarti sings, “The spiritual master’s pleasure leads to the pleasure of Krishna. If the spiritual master is displeased, there is nowhere else to go.”

In this series.


Parikshit said…
An even equally pertinent question is whether genuine gurus really exist nowadays. Authoritarians --imitation gurus or whoever else -- propagate similar teachings and exploit. The efficacy of such teachings in modern times should be carefully analyzed.
Anonymous said…

Yes, genuine Sat-Guru’s do exist (even today), but are rare, very rare to find.

"At the root of Dhyāna is the form of Guru, at the root of Pūjā is the feet of the Guru, at the root of the Mantra is the word of the Guru and at the root of all Liberation is the Grace of Guru."

From the Kulārnava Tantra (Translated by Ram Kumar Rai)

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