The Story of Satyakama Jabala in the Chhandogya Upanishad, Part 2: The Sadhana

Having accepted Satyakama as a disciple, the Guru now tasks him with caring for 400 cows.  Sri Aurobindo notes:  “Instead of beginning the instruction of this promising disciple he sends him out with four hundred miserable kine, more likely to die than prosper and increase, and forbids him to return till he has increased them to a thousand.  Wherefore this singular arrangement?  Was it a test?  Was it a discipline?  But Haridrumata had already seen that his new disciple had the high Brahmin qualities.  What more did he require?  The perfect man is a fourfold being and one object of Vedantic discipline is to be the perfect man, siddha.  When Christ said, ‘Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect,’ he was only repeating in popular language the Vedantic teaching of sadharmya, likeness to God.”

Satyakama’s task involved development of all the qualities required for attainment.  He was on his own, in the forest, with 400 weak cattle.  He was a young boy with no prior worldly experience in management, especially in the understanding of the needs of a large number of cattle, finding them the necessary nutrition, keeping them together, nursing them to a state of vibrant health, keeping them safe from predators, sorting out what to do about disease and weather impacts and thus, building a strong herd of 1000 cattle, which involves patience, time and dedication.  He lived an isolated life, had to also take care of his own health, deal with austerities in the form of reduced diet, simple shelter and clothing and the ravages of insects and risk of predators, deal with any issues of illness on his own, and learn how to live with himself in solitude and quiet.  Through this process, in his devotion to the Guru’s admonitions and his desire to attain spiritual realization, he made Nature his teacher, and through observation, receptivity and a quiet mind not filled with dogma, he was able to learn and grow.  We are not told how many years passed by while this process was developing, but it is clear that it was a considerable process over an extended time.

The concept of a perfect man being a fourfold being encompasses the sense that he has developed his mind, purified his vital energy, strengthened and brought under control his physical body and opened his soul to his spiritual truth of being.  The process undertaken by Satyakama succeeded on each of these levels, making him ready for the realization of Brahman.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Chhandogya Upanishad, pp.349-366

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