Story from Chandogya Upanisad

[Here is a story from the Chandogya Upanisad. Raikwa of the cart can be likened to Diogenes of the tub, the Greek philosopher who warned off the king from stand- ing between himself and the sun when the latter visited him. Both prized self-possession more than power and pelf. Their rich inner harmony and happiness in the midst of external penury were the envy of kings. Rai- kwa said that mere giving of charity without spiritual knowledge could not bring the blessing of real happiness. Knowledge of the Spirit which is the creator of all gods was necessary.]

In ancient times there was a king called Janusruti. He was ruling over a kingdom called Mahavrsa. He was known to be a good king, just and merciful to his subjects. He was par- ticularly famous for his charities. He main- tained numerous free feeding houses. He built many rest-houses along the royal road. His generosity was on the lips of all.

He often felt proud that he was able to achieve so much in his life-time. He thought that that was the best way to accumulate religious merit and to get peace of mind. He believed that he was the greatest patron and that there was none else like him. He used to measure his merit by the amount of charity he had distributed.

One evening after the day’s work, he was resting on the terrace of his palace. As he lay there under the sky, right above him two white swans were speeding fast to their roost. As they were chattering and gossiping, the king overheard them.

The male bird said to its mate, You blind bat! Do you not perceive the bright band of light that proceeds from the King Janusruti? Beware lest you cross the flaming light of his fame and get yourself burnt. You must know that today there is none so famous as he for abundant charities.

The female bird laughed. Why do you thus threaten me, dear? We are wanderers of the skies. We know more of the world than others. After all, is this king’s merit more than that of Raikwa, the cartman? The king is but mad after name and fame. It is these that drive him to action. With all his charities he is ever restless. He hankers after praise. Raikwa, sitting where he is, attracts to himself as it were, the merit of all around as a lake draws into itself the waters on the slopes. At peace with himself, he does what he ought to and what he can and thinks not of the morrow.

Thus saying, the birds flit past and the sha- dows of the night closed on the sleepy earth.

But the king who had listened to the conversation became very restless. Raikwa began to haunt him. I must find out this man little known to fame but one who is at peace with himself and with the world,” he said with de- termination. As he slept, he thought of some speedy way of finding Raikwa.

At dawn, the bards began to sing the usual songs of praise to rouse the king from his sleep. But that morning the king did not feel very happy over the customary eulogies. He became conscious that there were people greater than himself and that they deserved more than him- self. The bards sang, “Rise ye, great king, the most generous and powerful one, giver of charities with a hundred hands, and patron of the seven worlds, rise, for now it is morning. Suppliants from the corners of the world await thy abundant gifts.

But he stopped them from repeating the words. He admonished the singers, saying, “Waste not those epithets on me. There is one greater than myself, perhaps a hundredfold greater. Go ye to the limits of my kingdom and find him out. I shall not feel happy till I have met that great soul.

The king’s servants, not a little surprised at this command, set out to seek Raikwa, the strange cartman, described by the king as a great soul. Some of his servants returned after a few days unable to find Raikwa. But the king was not satisfied and he asked them to seek him in a place where theknowers of Brah- man, the possessors of spiritual knowledge, usually dwell. When the servants saw that the king would never be at ease till he had met the philosopher, they again went in search of him. They began to scour the villages of the king- dom of Mahavrsa. In one of the remote villa- ges, a simple man, ostensibly a cart-driver, was shown to them. He was Raikwa.

With calmness writ large on his face and with infinite kindness in his eyes, there sat Raikwa under his cart near his small cottage. The servants wondered for a time. “What a fool is our king! He takes this bit of a man to be greater than himself! Certainly the king seems to have lost his head.” Thus they muttered to themselves. But they were helpless. They went back straight to the king and reported the matter. However ignorant his servants, the king knew the real worth of the man who sat under the cart.

As is the wont while going to see a great saint or a great soul, the king took numerous gifts with him. His generosity was all the more lavish on this occasion. He took along with him six hundred well-fed milch cattle with calves, gold coins, chariots with horses, and other lovely presents.

When the royal party arrived, Raikwa was at first surprised. But he divined the cause of the king’s visit, and saw that the king had come to him in search of spiritual truth and inner peace.

The king made obeisance and stood with folded hands in a reverent mood. He re- quested Raikwa to accept his humble gifts and direct him as regards the god that he should worship in order to attain real happiness. The cartman-philosopher, however, was not much enamoured of the rich gifts. He did not readily welcome them. A little rebukingly he said to the king, “O royal friend, why do you waste these precious things on me? All these and a hundred kingdoms cannot buy spiritual know- ledge. It is not something that can be bartered and bought in a market. These trinkets that you have brought are worth nothing to me.

The king felt a little hurt at this remark. But his respect for Raikwa increased a hundred- fold, when he saw his nonchalant attitude to- wards all material possessions. Disappointed and helpless for the time being, the king re- turned to his capital. But he had already come under the spell of Raikwa. The more he stayed away from him the more he felt bereaved. He used to hear numerous stories as to how many a person with a sore heart went to Raikwa and came back consoled and calmed. The king decided to make one more attempt to draw out the philosopher. Once again he went in an humble and suppliant mood to the saint of the cart. He approached him and begged of him knowledge as a favour.

Raikwa saw that the king was now ripe for a spiritual lesson and, therefore, welcomed him with warmth. The king then led Raikwa to his shamiana and treated him with the utmost respect. They had a long and intimate talk about matters of the mind and things of the spirit.

Raikwa said, Various are the gods that people worship as the highest deity. The sweep- ing wind, the flaming fire, the breathing vital force are worshipped as god by many. But the spirit, itself uncreated, creates all and supports them. The spirit eats not anything, that is, it does not stand in need of anything, and is self- supporting and self-satisfied. All belongs to the spirit. All are but instruments carrying out its will.

O king! have neither pride nor vanity for the charities that you dispense. Go thou, great king, to thy palace. Give but not with pride. Give generously but not with egotism. Give freely but not with an eye to fame. Give but not as something that is yours, but as something given you by the spirit for giving to others. “He who sees this truth becomes a seer and to him nothing is wanting and he becomes the enjoyer of things.

The king was extremely satisfied with these words of wisdom and experience that came from Raikwa.

Thenceforth, the village came to be known as Raikwaparna, after the philosopher of the cart.

source: The Upanisads, in story and dialogue. By R R Diwakar

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