Episode 6- The Perfect Teacher - Story of Satyakaama and Upakosala Kaamalaayana


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Stories from Upanishads

Religion & Spirituality

Today’s story is of Satyakama and Upkosala Kaamalaayana. Friends in episode 2 of this podcast series we heard the tale of Satyakāma the seeker of truth. He was a young pupil then. In today’s story, we will take you on a forward journey where Satyakāma is a great scholar and a teacher of the sacred text.  This story is also featured as part of Chaandogya Upanishad which is a part of Sama Veda. Satyakāama after attaining sacred knowledge became a respected teacher. He tutored many pupils throughout his career. Upakosala Kāmalāyana was his student. He was under his revered tutelage for the past twelve years and had performed all sacrificial rituals as per the traditions and instructions in the sacred texts. It was customary in the hermitage that after graduating, the students were allowed to leave for their homes and seek other professions. Upakosala really wanted to see his parents after twelve long years of studying in the hermitage. However, on the day when all students were leaving the hermitage, Satyakāma refrained Upakosala Kāmalāyana from going home which made him very sad and heartbroken. Satyakāma’s wife was very kind-hearted and felt bad for the student. She asked him the reason as she was unable to understand why the young student was detained in the hermitage. She had observed him for twelve long years and knew that he had performed brilliantly as a student and attained sacred knowledge. She tried to convince Satyakaama to let Upakosala go home, but in vain, rather, Satyakaama himself left the hermitage and went on a journey. 

Upakosala Kāmalāyana was left alone in the hermitage along with his gurumata (Satyakaama’s wife). The heartbroken student was so sad that he left food. Satyakāma’s wife affectionately tried to feed him but all in vain. She asked him –“Upakosala, why don’t you eat? You may fall ill. Please eat my child. Don’t brood!”

On hearing this, teary-eyed and weakened Upakosala said –“O revered Guru Ma, my heart is broken and unhappy. I cannot eat anything.” While Satyakāma was on his journey, he thought about Upakosala. He knew that he still needed to learn the sacrificial steps and sacred texts and was not ready to lead a life of a householder as per dharma. Meanwhile, Upakosala too realized that his mind was strayed and was not focused on the sole objective of learning. He told his Gurumata –“O mother, my mind is impure with desires. These are not negative or foolish but rather pull me in different directions, whirling around and don’t allow me to concentrate. It weans me from my life energy.

Just a step back from the story, as per Shatapatha Brahamana, which is another sacred text from the wealth of Indian Philosophy, mentions that there are three types of fires or Tretagni, which must be lit during a Yagna or fire sacrifice. They are namely - Graahapatyagni which belongs to the master of the household and must be kept lit in the Graahapatyagni mound which is circular in shape. No Aahutis or sacrifices is done in Graahapatyagni. The fire from this is taken to lit the other fire mounds namely, 

A-havaniyaagni or the eastern sacrificial fire and Dakshinaagni which is the southern sacrificial fire. Especially in India, we are very much accustomed to the word “Havan” which is actually derived from the word -

“A-havaniyaagni” I derailed purposely just to tell you all about some of the specific Sanskrit terms which will come up in this story. So now coming back to the story -Upakosala sat down to meditate and concentrate in front of a sacrificial fire or Yagna. After days of fasting and meditating, tretagni or the sacrificial fires said among themselves –“The student of sacred knowledge has performed his penance well. He has tended us well. We must teach him about Brahman!”Then one day all three fires or TretaAgni appeared in front of Upakosala. They said –“Upakosala!”

Upakosala opened his eyes and with folded hands said -“Lord!”

The Tretagni or three fires told him - “Brahman is Prāna i.e. life, Brahman is joy, Brahman is the void. Know Brahman as your own self.”

Upakosala on hearing this replied to fire with folded hands. “O Lord, I know that life is Brahman, but I do not know that joy and void are Brahman.”

The fires replied –“My child, the Joy is absolutely the same as the Void. The Void is absolutely the same as Joy"

After saying this, they started explaining Upakosala about life and space.

The Graahapatyagni Agni i.e the householder’s fire continued to explain  –“Earth, food, fire, sun–all these that you worship–are forms of me. Brahman. He who is seen in the sun–that ‘One’ is me! Then Dakshinaagni or the southern sacrificial fire instructed Upakosala –“Son, He who dwells in the moon, stars, and in the water–that ‘One’ is me indeed!

Then Ā-havaniyaagni or the eastern sacrificial fire instructed him –“Breath, space, sky, lightning are all forms of me. One who dwells in the lightning that “One” indeed me!” 

Then all fires or tretagni told Upakosala in unison –“He who knows and devotes to this fire thus repels all evil-doing from himself, becomes a possessor of the world, reaches a full length of life and lives long. His descendants are not destroyed. Both in this world and in the yonder.’After saying this, the sacrificial fire assumed a new aspect and transformed into the Lord himself. The earth, life, the sun, moon, the stars, the lightning – everything was transformed and idealized. Upakosala realized the true nature of all things. The Tretagni continued –“My dear Upakosala, you have this knowledge of ourselves and knowledge of the Atman or Soul. However, your teacher revered guru Satyakama will tell you the way to attain it.”

After a few days,  Satyakāma returned to the hermitage from his journey. He visited his student who was busy memorizing the sacrificial instructions. On seeing him, he was startled. He asked Upakosala –“My son, your face shines like one who knows Brahman. Who has taught you?” Upakosala smiled and said –“My revered guru, the sacrificial fires taught me about Brahman! ”Satyakāma was glad to hear this. He affectionately embraced his student and said –“My son, what you learned is true! Indeed they told you about the world. I will teach you the truth. Just as the drops of water cannot cling to the lotus leaves, no evil will ever cling to the one who knows this truth.”The teacher continued while his student listened to him with full concentration. “One which glows in the depth of your eyes is the Ātman or Self. One who is immortal, and fearless is Brahman or Supreme Self. The beauty and the wonders of creation come together. The “One” who knows and understands this wondrous fusion is called Samyadvāma. 

The “One” who brings all goodness into the universe is called ‘Vāamani’. The “One” who brings in light, for it shines in all the worlds is called ‘Bhāamanīi’. He is the Beautiful, the Luminous One. In all the worlds, forever and ever, he shines!” Satyakāma continued that once the person dies, whether all cremation ceremonies are performed or not, the person is given to the fire. From the fire, into the day, from the day into the half-month of a waxing moon, from half-month of waxing moon into the six months during which the sun moves northwards, from the months, into the year; from the year, into the sun; from the sun into the moon; from the moon into the lightning. There is a ‘Purusha’ or a person who is ‘Amānava’  or non-human. He leads them onto Brahman.  This is the way to the Gods, the way to Brahman. Once human proceeds on this path, will not ever return. After explaining the Brahman to Upakosala, Satyakāma declares him as his worthy disciple. Finally, he was allowed to go home enlightened with this eternal knowledge of Brahman. So dear friends, that was the story of Satyakāma and his disciple Upakosala. You must be wondering why the teacher was so heartless and detained the young boy in the hermitage, and not allowed him to go to his parents after graduation. In reality, Satyakāma was the perfect teacher or guru. He knew what he was doing. He wanted all his disciples to excel in life and in other professions. The basic building block of one’s character is education and he wanted to make that foundation strong. So he left Upakosala to fight his inner demons, for self-realization. Swami Vivekananda once commented: “A man harms his disciples by staying too long with them,” for they do not develop the independence needed to pursue a spiritual life. So as a teacher Satyakāma left Upakosala to realize that his thoughts and mind were strayed and needed focus. Upakosala went on to rediscover the eternal truth and know Brahman. Later on, Satyakāma when realized that Upakosala has worked hard towards understanding Brahman like an able teacher and explained to him the ways to attain it. He enlightened him with the sacred knowledge of Akshi-Purusha Vidya which describes the being seen in the eyes of Brahman.

As it is custom in our podcast series I will ask you three questions and I will refer to the names of those lucky ones who have provided me with all the correct answers in the future episode. So the first question is - “Why was Upakosala detained in the hermitage?” Second question -“What are the three types of sacrificial fires mentioned in the story?” And the last one - “Name the sacred knowledge or Vidya which describes the being seen in the eyes of Brahman? So please email me your responses. My email is - arghyathinks@gmail.com, I would really love to have your responses soon. 

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