A story from the Chhandogya Upanishad – Stories from Upanishads
The relationship between father and son is something sacred, deep rooted, and leaves a powerful influence on the son even after the father is long gone. The conversation between Uddalaka, and Shvetketu, as narrated in the Chhandogya Upanishad, is an example of such an ideal father and son relationship which will be remembered for generations to come.
In a hermitage deep in the forest lived the learned sage, Uddalaka Aruni with his son Shvetketu. When Shvetketu came of age, his father sent him to an Ashram for his education as was customary in those days. When Shvetketu returned home after twelve years of education, Uddalaka asked him, “What did you learn while in the Ashram, my son?”
“I learned everything that can be known, father,” Shvetketu answered.
When he heard this, Uddalaka became silent and thought, “What pride! Such conceit is born only out of ignorance. My son has not yet grasped the essence of the supreme knowledge of Brahman which brings humility.”
Shvetketu observed the change that came over his father and inquired, “Why did you become so quiet, father?”
“Dear son,” replied Uddalaka, “You say that you know everything that can be known. Then you must know that knowledge or wisdom by which what is unknown becomes known and what is unseen becomes seen?”
“No, I don’t,” replied Shvetketu. “But please, father, tell me about it.”
Uddalaka lovingly said, “Well son, look at those pots and toys. They are made of clay. The potter takes a lump of clay and makes all kinds of different shapes out of it. So by knowing one lump of clay, one can know everything that is made of clay!”
“This is true for everything, son,” continued Uddalaka, “If you know the fundamental structure of gold, you will also know all the ornaments made out of it. If you know a piece of iron, you know all the utensils made of iron.”
To make things clearer for his son, Uddalaka headed towards the river while continuing his conversation, “Therefore, my child, you must get to know the essence of all things, the One that exists in everything in this Universe, the great power of Brahman.”
“It is that same power which guides the river from the hills to flow into the ocean. That power then causes the water in the ocean to evaporate and form clouds which will produce rain to replenish the river, thus completing the cycle.”
Pointing towards a tree which was chopped down by a woodcutter, Uddalaka said, “Take for example that tree over there. The sap, which is it’s life and enabled it to draw sustenance from the earth, is leaking out of it.”
“Can you tell that one of the branches of the tree is dead?” questioned Uddalaka. “Each branch of that tree if deprived of the sap, which is it’s life, will dry up. And when the entire tree is drained of the sap, the whole tree will die.”
While Uddalaka and Shvetketu were talking, they saw a dead body carried by a group of people for cremation. Uddalaka pointed towards the dead body and spoke to his son, “Similarly, my son, when life forsakes the body, the body dies, but the life itself does not die.”
The son looked puzzled when Uddalaka explained, “My son, that which does not die is called the Atman and you are that Atman. The Atman is all pervasive and is present in everything that you see, living or nonliving.”
“Why can’t I see this Atman which is all pervasive and in everything?” Asked Shvetketu.
To explain this, Uddalaka asked his son to bring a fruit which was hanging from a Banyan tree (a tree common in india which gives plenty of shade and bears small fruits).
Shvetketu picked a fruit from the tree and brought it to his father.
“Break it, son, and look inside,” suggested Uddalaka.
“What do you see?” Uddalaka questioned.
“Tiny seeds, father,” replied Shvetketu.
“Do you see anything inside?” asked Uddalaka.
“No! There is nothing there” responded Shvetketu.
“If there is nothing inside,” said Uddalaka, “Then how can that tiny seed gives rise to this huge Banyan tree? That, Shvetketu, is the Atman, the essence of all things. The Atman pervades the universe, and, my son, you are a part of that universe.”
“Well father, if we cannot see the essence, how do we know that it exists?” said Shvetketu with a puzzled mind.
“I shall explain that to you, my son” affirmed Uddalaka. “First put some water in that pitcher.”
“Now bring some salt and put the salt in the water,” instructed the father. Shvetketu did as his father asked.
“Keep the pitcher aside for now,” said Uddalaka, “And bring it to me tomorrow morning.”
Early the next morning, Shvetketu went to his father with the pitcher of water.
“Can you see the salt?” asked Uddalaka.
Shvetketu searched, and of course, the salt was no longer visible.
Shvetketu said, “No, father, it must be dissolved in the water.”
“Now taste it from the top,” instructed Uddalaka.
Shvetketu dipped his finger into the water and tasted the water from the top.
“It is salty,” Shvetketu said.
“Now taste the water from the bottom,” said Uddalaka.
“It’s salty there too, father” answered Shvetketu.
“Similarly, Shvetketu, as you cannot see the salt, you cannot see the essence. But it is always present everywhere.”
Finally Uddalaka concluded, “My son, this omnipresent essence is called the Atman, which pervades everything. You too are that, Oh Shvetketu.”
“I am grateful father,” said Shvetketu and touched his father’s feet. “You have helped me gain the knowledge with which the unknown becomes known, the unseen becomes seen.”
The father then blessed his son.
Father and Son: Uddalaka and Shvetaketu – Kids Moral Stories