ONE of the attractions of a certain type of story is its demonstration that the reader is not merely, being treated to an ingenious exhibition of gossamer word-spinning and thought-weaving ; what he is being told actually works in practice. The story of Raikva, according to the great commentator Shri Shankaracharya, is introduced in order to make the general subject matter of this part of the Chhandogya Upanishad easily understandable and to show how a man of firm virtue is eventually led to a Teacher who imparts to him the supreme Knowledge.
Of rather different intent is the tale recounted by a modern Zen master in commenting on a verse of the celebrated Zen Teacher Hakuin. ” Lions and Tigers ” is satirical and symbolic and the finer points of the illustration will need tobe dived for. Even so, the greatest challenge to readers is likely to be the history of Sheikh Kalloo, the first instalment of whose adventures appears as our third Conventionally-minded readers may be as baffled by the Sheikh’s conduct as the conventional people in the story, even though the Author’s Preface furnishes an important clue.
THE STORY OF RAIKVA
It was a warm summer night. The great-grandson of Janashruti had dismissed his servants and retired to rest on the flat roof of his palace. From his couch he could see out over the stucco balcony across the valley to where sparks of light sputtered intermittently among the trees as if vainly attempting to penetrate the soft clinging veil drawn by the moon across the face of the countryside.
He reflected on the duties of a King towards his subjects.
Could he be certain that his own efforts to fulfil his obligations in accordance with dharma were wholly adequate ?
True, he had bestowed gifts with a generous hand on the holy Brahmins, as tradition warranted : rest houses were now established in every main centre of his kingdom where the poorer folk could obtain food and shelter free of charge and here in his capital, liberal quantities of food were prepared every day in his own palace kitchens and distributed to any persons who cared to apply for it.
And yet . . . was it enough ? . . . should not more be done ? . . .
His attention was momentarily distracted by two elegant swans sweeping past in single file. He was marvelling at the relaxed grace of the leading bird when the other suddenly spoke to its companion in rough human tones
” Have a care, O short-sighted one !
Do you not see the radiance generated by Janashruti’s great-grandson on account of his well-known generosity ?
If you fly too close, you might get burnt.”
” You always exaggerate ! ” the leading swan sounded scornful, ” Anyone would think you were talking of Raikva with the cart “.
” Oh ! And what, pray, is this Raikva like ? ”
” Well, you know in a game of dice that all the lower throws are so to speak included in the highest throw ; in the same way, everything worthwhile that anyone has or can have belongs to Raikva, and also to one who knows what Raikva knows “.
When he awoke next morning to the strains of the royal musicians, the King at once summoned to his presence the gate-keeper who had been keeping watch the previous night.
” Was it you I overheard talking last night about Raikva, with the cart ? ” he asked him, still not quite trusting his memory of the previous night’s unusual incident.
” No, Your Majesty, I did not speak.”
Then Janashruti’s great-grandson, thinking that the two swans may have been friendly celestial beings in disguise, told his gate-keeper all that had passed and sent him off to search throughout the length and breadth of his kingdom for Raikva. The gate-keeper set out without delay and rode from village to village enquiring for the illustrious Raikva, but after a few weeks he was obliged to return to the capital and report failure
” Your Majesty, I have made enquiry in every town and village in your kingdom, but no one has heard tell of this Raikva “.
” Nay, friend “, the King replied, ” seek for him not in the towns and villages but in the woods and solitary places, on the banks of rivers-that is where a knower of Brahman is to be found. Make yet further search “.
It was in a forest glade, some distance from the nearest habitation, that the King’s emissary at last succeeded in his quest. He saw an old cart standing in front of him and a man lying on the ground beneath it protecting himself from the sun and scratching a sore place on his skin. He approached cautiously and respectfully addressed him :
” Sir, are you Raikva with the cart ? ”
” Yes, they call me that “, said the figure disinterestedly.
Too excited to wait, the messenger rode post-haste back to his master with the welcome news :
” Your Majesty, Raikva has been found “.
The following day, the King set out on foot from his capital with a procession of gifts for the Sage, including a priceless necklace, a carriage drawn by mules and six hundred cows. Coming to where Raikva was, the King addressed him :
” O revered Sage, be pleased to accept these cows, this necklace and this mule carriage, and to instruct me in the science of spiritual Knowledge “.
” Shame on thee, fool ! “, came the indignant reply, ” thou expectest to obtain this knowledge at small cost indeed. Be pleased to keep thy baubles ”
The King understood and departed, having first offered respectful salutations to the Sage. All that he held dear would have to be given up before he could be accepted as a disciple. He spent no time in vacillation.
The way was clear and his determination firm. He stayed in the capital only long enough to assemble a large caravan of his most cherished possessions before setting forth once more to visit Raikva. He came before him a second time and, bowing low three times, said
” O holy one, here are a thousand cows and a carriage drawn by mules, a necklace and this my daughter to serve you. Please accept these small offerings together with the land and villages which surround this spot, and be good enough to accept me as your disciple “.
And he was taught the spiritual Truth by means of which everything worthwhile that anyone has or can have is obtained.
And the great-grandson of Janashruti knew what Raikva knew.
(From Chhandogya Upanishad IV 1 and 2 as explained in the commentary of Shri Shankaracharya.)
© Trevor Leggett