The story of Satyakama Jabala is found in the Chandogya Upanishad. Satyakama wanted to find out the nature of Brahman (the Supreme Truth). Apart from this the story also states that anyone can seek truth – family, caste, creed and religion are of no value for a true seeker. A seeker of truth must be honest and should always speak truth.
This particular narrative of the story of Satyakama Jabala is taken from the ‘Eternal Stories from the Upanishads By Thomas Egenes, Kumuda Reddy.’ You can find the book here at Google Books.
Long ago, in a small hut in the dense forests, lived a boy and his mother. The boy's mother named him Satyakama, which means "seeker of truth".
More than anything, Satyakama wanted to live the life of a student, meditating and studying about Brahman in an Ashram. But to become a student, he had to know his father's family name, because in those times teachers only accepted students from certain families.
So Satyakama went to his mother, Jabala, and said, "Mother, I want to live the life of a student of sacred knowledge." Jabala was pleased with her son's desire to study Brahman.
"Dear Mother, of what family am I?" Satyakama asked.
"I do not know your family name, my precious son," his mother said.
"Then what shall I tell my teacher, Mother?" asked Satyakama earnestly.
Jabala led a pure life and knew the power of truth. "Tell him just what I have told you, my beloved son," she said.
With his mother's blessings, Satyakama left his home. He walked through thick forests and he came to the home of Saint Gautama, who lived in his ashram by the edge of the forest.
Satyakama bowed to the teacher in respect. "Please, honored Sir," he asked, "will you accept me as your disciple? With your blessings, I wish to become a knower of Brahman."
Gautama thought the boy looked healthy and bright. But to accept him as a student, Gautama had to know the boy's family background. And so he kindly asked, "Of what family are you, my boy?"
"My mother said to tell you that her name is Jabala and my name is Satyakama – and I know nothing more about my family," Satyakama explained without fear. "So I am Satyakama Jabala."
Gautama was pleased that the boy's mother had taught her son to tell the truth. "Only one from the best of families could give this explanation so sincerely," he said, "I will gladly accept you as my student."
Satyakama's heart felt warm with happiness. At last he would be able to study the knowledge of Brahman.
The next day Gautama said, "I will now begin teaching you the knowledge of Brahman, which is called supreme knowledge (Brahma Vidya). The first step is to know your Self." And so Gautama initiated Satyakama in meditation to settle his mind and heart. With a quiet mind, Satyakama experienced his own inner Self, which was like a vast ocean of silence.
After teaching Satyakama to meditate, Gautama did something that was very unusual. He took Satyakama to the pasture where hundreds of cows were grazing. To Satyakama's surprise, Gautama separated out four hundred thin, weak cows.
"Take these cows to another part of the forest and live, my dear boy," he said. "Tend them carefully. You may return when they have multiplied to a thousand!"
Without any doubts in his heart, the obedient Satyakama drove his four hundred cows to a lush meadow on the other side of the forest.
At first Satyakama felt lonely, since he was all by himself in the forest. But he sang to the cows and they mooed back to him as he slept. Satyakama began to enjoy his life in the forest. His cows ate nourishing green grass and drank pure water from a spring-fed pond. Satyakama watched his cows grow plump and happy.
Satyakama stayed many years with the cows, living a peaceful life. His days began and ended with meditation. As his mind became more and more quiet, he was able to comprehend the profound knowledge his teacher had given him.
He carefully tended the cows, always finding rich pastures for their grazing. As Satyakama grew older, the herd of cows began to multiply. However, he was so contented with his life that he noticed neither the passage of time nor the increasing size of his herd.
Nevertheless, a profound change was taking place in Satyakama. In his peaceful life in the forest, he was coming to know the Self. His mind became serene, his heart filled with love, and his face glowing with light.
Satyakama never felt alone. Every living creature became part of his family. He remembered the phrase his mother had taught him, "The world is my family" (Vasudhaiva kutumbakam).
"All this beauty up down and all around is a part of Brahman," he thought. "Everything that grows and decays is part of the great totality." He felt that he, too, was a part of the eternal cycle of life.
One day, the head of the cows, a wise bull, spoke to him, "Satyakama!"
"Yes, honored sir," answered Satyakama, who respected all living things.
"We are now one thousand cows," said the bull. "Please take us to your teacher's hermitage. And I will teach you the nature of Brahman, which has many aspects."
"Yes, please tell me," said Satyakama.
"Brahman shines from the east and the west," the bull told him, "and from the north and south. This is because Brahman is everywhere. It is universal. This is one quarter of Brahman."
Then the bull said, "The fire, Agni, will teach you more about Brahman."
Satyakama began to drive the cows back to his teacher's ashram. When evening came, he put a rope around a large area to protect the cows. Then Satyakama lit a fire. He sat down on the west side of the fire, facing east. He gazed at the dark sky, filled with his friends, the stars. After some time, the fire, Agni, spoke to him about the nature of Brahman.
"Brahman is the earth and the atmosphere," said Agni, "It is the sky and the ocean. This is because Brahman is endless. It is without beginning or end. This is one quarter of Brahman."
Then Agni added, "A swan will tell you more bout Brahman."
The next evening, after traveling with his cows, Satyakama again lit a fire by the side of a river. He sat down, facing east, and saw a great white swan gliding down the river towards him. The swan began to teach Satyakama about the nature of Brahman.
"Brahman is fire." the swan explained, "and Brahman is the sun. Brahman is the moon, and Brahman is lightning. This quarter of Brahman is light. Brahman is the light of life."
Then the swan said, "A bird will tell you more about Brahman."
The next evening, after settling his cows in a safe place beside a hill, Satyakama again lit a fire. He sat down on dry, soft grass, facing east. This time a purple sunbird flew down from the limb of a tree. Like silk woven with gold, its wings caught the brightness of the fire.
The sunbird sang, "Brahman is the breath, and Brahman is the eye. Brahman is the ear and also the mind. This quarter of Brahman is the seat, the resting place. Just as the eye is the seat of what is seen, and the mind is the seat of what is thought, so Brahman is the seat of everything. Everything rests upon Brahaman."
Finally Satyakama arrived at his teacher's dwelling. His teacher noticed how Satyakama's face was shining, and he said to him, "I see that you found Brahman. For it is said that the knower of Brahman has settled senses, a smiling face, freedom from worry, and has found the purpose of life."
But even with these words of praise, Satyakama spoke humbly, "Please, honored Sir, teach me about the nature of Brahman." For Satyakama wanted to learn from his teacher about the true nature of Brahman.
"You have heard that east and west are Brahman, that earth and sky are Brahman, that the sun and moon are Brahman, and that the eye and ear are Brahman," his teacher replied. "Like waves stirring within the ocean, all these are a part of Brahman. This is because Brahman is everywhere. Brahman is everything (Brahmaivedam Sarvam). It is endless. It is the light of life. Everything finds its rest in Brahman.
"And Brahman is realized by knowing the Self, your true nature. Then you realize that you are everywhere – you are endless, and you are radiant. This is the supreme knowledge, Brahma Vidya. Yes, this is the supreme knowledge, Brahma Vidya."
And that is how Satyakama came to know Brahman, and grew up himself to become a great teacher of Brahman.