THE STORY OF SATYAKÃM JÃBÃL – BRAHMAVIDYÃ ENTIRELY ENCOMPASSED IN THE GURU’S COMMAND
There was a woman named Jabãlã. She lived in a hut and survived through hard labour. She had a son named Satyakãm. As Satyakãm grew up, one day, he said to his mother, ‘ब्रह्मचर्यं भवति वित्स्यामि किंगोत्रो न्वहमस्मीति’ – ‘Brahmacharyam bhavati vitsyãmi kimgotro nvahamsmeeti’ – ‘Mother, I am considering studying the Vedas. For that I want to observe celibacy and stay with a guru in a gurukul. Therefore please tell me my ancestral family name’ (Chhãndogya Upanishad: 4/4/1). Hearing this, Jabãlã sunk into deep thought, as she did not have the answer to the question. Jabãlã said, ‘नाहमेतद् वेद तात यद्गोत्रस्त्वमसि’ – ‘Nãhametad veda tãta yadgotrastvamasi’ – ‘Son, I don’t know about your ancestral family name’ (Chhãndogya Upanishad: 4/4/2). She explains, “You were born when I was young, and at that time, all my time was spent in serving guests. Therefore, I never had a chance to ask your father about your ancestral family name. All I know is ‘जबाला तु नामाहमस्मि सत्यकामो नाम त्वमसि स सत्यकाम एव जाबालो ब्रुवीथा इति’ – ‘Jabãlã tu nãmãhamasmi satyakãmo nãma tvamasi sa satyakãma eva Jãbãlo bruveethã iti’ – ‘My name is Jabãlã and your name is Satyakãm. There is no doubt about that. Therefore, if your guru asks you anything regarding this matter, tell him honestly that you are Satyakãm, the son of Jabãlã’” (Chãndogya Upanishad: 4/4/2). Jabãlã’s words were those of truth, simplicity and openness. This was the greatest lesson for Satyakãm. His mother’s character shaped his life. Satisfied by the answer, he went to Gautam Rishi, the son of Haridrumat, and humbly requested him, ‘ब्रह्मचर्यं भगवति वत्स्याम्युपेयां भगवन्तमिति’ – ‘Brahmacharyam bhagavati vatsyãmyupeyãm bhagavantamiti’ – ‘O lord, I have come to study. I will observe celibacy. I wish to become your disciple. Please accept me’ (Chãndogya Upanishad: 4/4/3). Gautam asked, ‘किंगोत्रो नु सोम्यासीति’ ‘Kimgotro nu somyãseeti’ – ‘What is your ancestral family name?’ (Chãndogya Upanishad: 4/4/4). Satyakãm replied, ‘नाहमेतद् वेद भो यद्गोत्रोहमस्मि...’ – ‘Nãhametad veda bho yadgotrohamasmi…’ – ‘Ãcharya, I don’t know anything about my family name. I asked my mother about this matter, but she didn’t know either. However, my mother’s name is Jabãlã and my name is Satyakãm, therefore all I can say about myself is that I am Satyakãm, the son of Jabalã’ (Chãndogya Upanishad: 4/4/4). He then narrated the entire conversation with his mother. His mother’s truth, simplicity and openness were reflected in Satyakãm’s words. Even the ãchãrya was astonished at her nobility. He had received the answer to what he wanted to know. If one’s speech is so truthful, then what is there to doubt in the family name? He accepted Satyakãm and gave him the upveetam – the sacred thread. Then, separating four hundred weak cows he said, ‘कृशानाम् अबलानां चतुःशता गा निराकृत्योवाच’ – ‘Krushãnãm abalãnãm chatuhshatã gã nirãkrutovãcha’ – ‘Take these four hundred cows and do not turn back until they are a thousand’ (Chãndogya Upanishad: 4/4/5). Satyakãm said, ‘नासहस्रेणावर्तेयेति’ – ‘Nãsahasrenãvarteyeti’ – ‘As you wish, O guru. I will not turn back until there are a thousand cows’ (Chãndogya Upanishad: 4/4/5).
Satyakãm took the cows to the forest. He began to care for the cows enthusiastically as the guru had commanded. Years passed. Satyakãm did not know how time passed while serving the cows to please his guru. The four hundred cows had now become a thousand healthy cows. He began to experience the grace of his guru. First of all the god of air became pleased with his faith and austere service. He said, “O Satyakam, ‘ब्रह्मणश्र्च ते पादं ब्रवाणीति’ – ‘Brahmanashcha te pãdam bravãneeti’ – ‘I will tell you a quarter of the knowledge of the form of Paramãtmã’ ” (Chãndogya Upanishad: 4/5/2). Saying this, he gave precepts on the form of Paramãtmã. He then said, ‘अग्निष्टे पादं वक्तेति’ – ‘Agnishte pãdam vakteti’ – ‘Agni will tell you the second quarter’(Chãndogya Upanishad: 4/5/2). The next day, Satyakãm was leading the cows towards the ashram. Evening set in. Satyakãm gathered the cows together and lit a fire. He sat in front of the fire and watched over the cows. Agnideva said, ‘ब्रह्मणः सोम्य ते पादं ब्रवाणीति’ – ‘Brahmanaha somya te pãdam bravãneeti’ – ‘O Satyakãm, I will explain a quarter of the form of Paramãtmã’ (Chãndogya Upanishad: 4/6/3). Satyakãm began to experience that the devas, of their own accord, serve one who obeys the guru’s commands. His knowledge continued to increase. After that Suryadeva (the sun-god) came and explained another quarter of the form of Parabrahman. Finally, a bird called Madgu explained the fourth quarter to him. Thus, Satyakãm attained brahmajnãn. The lustre of that brahmajnãn began to shine from his face. He came to the ashram and came into the sight of his guru. On seeing him, his guru said, ‘ब्रह्मविदिव सोम्य भासि’ – ‘Brahmavidiva somya bhãsi’ – ‘Beloved Satyakãm, you look like one who has attained the knowledge of Brahman’ (Chãndogya Upanishad: 4/9/2). Who taught you? Satyakãm told him everything. After narrating what happened, he said something unique, “Although the devas taught me and they are all worthy of respect, you are my true guru. I have heard that only knowledge which has been attained by the association of a guru like yourself is the most beneficial. Therefore you yourself teach me brahmavidyã.” Seeing his devoutness Gautam fulfilled his wish. By obeying the guru’s commands, Satyakãm joined the line of those that have attained brahmajnãn.
Indeed, from the story of Satyakãm Jãbãl, we see how brahmavidyã in its entirety is incorporated in the guru’s commands.
Thus, this Chãndogya Upanishad has revealed every aspect of brahmavidyã to us, by giving us precepts on the divine forms of Brahman and Parabrahman, their divine qualities, and revealing that those divine qualities can only be obtained by appropriately following the guru’s commands.
Sadhu Bhadreshdas, Ph. D., D.Litt.
Translated by: Sadhu Paramvivekdas