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Knowledge Ought To Make A Person Humble – Story From Upanishads

When Uddalaka, a Vedic rishi, found that his son Svetaketu had not begun the study of the Vedas even at the age of twelve, the age for upanayana or initiation into Vedic studies, he sent him to the house of a teacher. When Swetaketu returned home after having studied the Vedas for twelve years, the father was shocked to find him vain and immodest. Knowledge ought to make a person humble.

Uddalaka said to his son, ‘Did you ask (your teacher) about that instruction through which the
unheard of is heard, the unthought of is thought of, and the unknown becomes known?’ Swetaketu
was surprised. Could there ever be anything knowing which everything else is known? How could knowing about one object bring about knowledge of an unrelated entity? After all, we learn about objects by noting their distinctive identities.

Uddalaka explained: All transformation is change of name and form, nama and roopa, which are superimposed on an underlying substance. Having known a piece of clay one gets to know all objects made of clay, having known a piece of gold one gets to know all objects made of gold, and having
known a piece of iron one gets to know all objects made of iron—for all modifications are mere words, having speech as their basis, the underlying substance (clay, gold, or iron) is the reality (Chandogya Upanishad 6.1.4–6). The entire world of phenomena, being a series of transformations, is a conglomerate of forms with corresponding names—the transformations are mere names; knowledge of the one, indivisible Existence underlying all phenomena gives us the
knowledge of all that exists.

Shwetaketu understood that his learning was incomplete. He requested his father to give him the
knowledge which he spoke about. Uddalaka was happy to find his son humbly seeking further knowledge. Gurupasadana, approaching the guru formally, in all humility, was an essential prerequisite
for studentship in ancient India. Even princes had to follow this procedure—they would go to the guru ‘faggots in hand, samitpani’. Being satisfied with his son’s behaviour Uddalaka said: ‘In the beginning, my dear, this (universe) was Being (sat) alone, one only, without a second. ... It (Being, Brahman) cogitated, “I shall be many, I shall be born.” It created fire.’ From fire arose the waters, and from the waters food. Brahman entered these primeval entities to manifest name and form. On being consumed by the individual, the subtle aspects of food, water, and fire give rise to mind, vital force (prana), and speech. Hence, ‘the mind consists of food, prana of water, and speech of fire’ (Chandogya Upanishad 6.6.5).

Source – Excerpts from article titled ‘Tat-tvam-asi Shwetaketu’ by Swami Alokananda published in the September 2008 edition of Prabuddha Bharata Magazine.