To learn that could not be taught – Story of Shvetaketu
We come to understand in the Chandogya Upanishad that SHVETAKETU learned everything that could be learned, then there was nothing else to be taught, so the master said, “You have known all that can be taught. Now you can go back.” Shvetaketu was thinking that his father would be very happy – he had become one of the suprememost scholars of the country; he was known everywhere, respected everywhere – but he saw that the father was sad, so he asked, ”Why are you sad?”
The father said, “My boy, you seem to have a high opinion of yourself; you are proud of your learning. But did you ask your teacher for the spiritual knowledge that enables you to hear the unheard, think the unthought and know the unknown?” Have you learned that by learning which there is no need to learn anything any more? Have you known that by knowing which all suffering ceases? Have you been taught that which cannot be taught?”
The boy also became sad. He said, ”No. Whatsoever I know has been taught to me, and I can teach it to anybody who is ready to learn.” The father said, “Then you go back and ask your master that you be taught that which cannot be taught.” The boy said, “But that is absurd. If it cannot be taught, how can the master teach me?” The father said, “That is the art of the master: he can teach you that which cannot be taught. You go back.”
He went back. Bowing down to his master’s feet, he said, ”My father has sent me for an absolutely absurd thing. Now I don’t know where I am and what I am asking you. My father has told me to come back and return only when I have learned that which cannot be learned, when I have been taught that which cannot be taught. What is it? What is this? You never told me about it.”
The master said, “Unless one inquires, it cannot be told; you never inquired about it. But now you are starting a totally different journey. And remember, it cannot be taught, so it is very delicate; only indirectly will I help you. Do one thing: take all the animals of my gurukul – there were at least four hundred cows, bulls and other animals – and go to the deepest forest possible where nobody ever comes and moves. Live with these animals in silence. Don’t talk, because these animals cannot understand any language. So remain silent, and when just by reproduction these four hundred animals have become one thousand, then come back.” “So go to the hills, to the forest. Live alone. Don’t talk. And there is no use in thinking, because these animals won’t understand even your thinking. Drop all your scholarship here.”
Shvetaketu followed. He went to the forest and lived with the animals for many years. For a few days thoughts remained there in the mind – the same thoughts repeating themselves again and again. Then it became boring. Shvetaketu became aware. There were four hundred animals, birds, other wild animals, trees, rocks, rivers and streams, but no man and no possibility of any human communication.
There was no use in being very egoistic, because these animals didn’t know what type of great scholar this Shvetaketu was. They didn’t consider him at all; they didn’t look at him with respect, so by and by the pride disappeared, because it was futile and it even looked foolish to walk in a prideful way with the animals. Even Shvetaketu started feeling, ”If I remain egoistic these animals will laugh at me – so what am I doing?” Sitting under the trees, sleeping near the streams, by and by his mind became silent.
The years passed and his mind became so silent that Shvetaketu completely forgot when he had to return. He became so silent that even this idea was not there. The past dropped completely, and with the dropping of the past the future drops…. So he forgot what the master had said, he forgot when he had to return. There was no when and where, he was just here and now. He lived in the moment just like the animals, he became a cow.
When the animals became one thousand, they started feeling uncomfortable. They were waiting for Shvetaketu to take them back to the ashram and he had forgotten, so one day the cows decided to speak to Shvetaketu and they said, “Now it is time enough, and we remember that the master had said that you must come back when the animals became one thousand, and you have completely forgotten. Now is the time and we must go back. We have become one thousand.” So Shvetaketu went back with the animals. The master looked from the door of his hut at Shvetaketu coming with one thousand animals, and he said to his other disciples, “Look, one thousand and one animals are coming.” Shvetaketu had become such a silent being – no ego, no self-consciousness, just moving with the animals as one of them.
The master came to receive him; the master was dancing, ecstatic. He embraced Shvetaketu and he said, “Now there is nothing to say to you – you have already known. Why have you come? There is no need to come now, there is nothing to be taught. You have already known.” Shvetaketu said, ”Just to pay my respects, just to touch your feet, just to be grateful. It has happened, and you have taught me that which cannot be taught.