short story from the upanishad

upanishads are the concluding part of the vedas, india’s most venerable and ancient scriptures. below is a short story from the chandogya upanishad.

what the thunder says

you've been in a storm -- you know what thunder sounds like. but, do you know what the thunder is saying? ages ago, in india, sages meditated on the thunder and they tell this story.

when creation began, there was only the creator. one of his names -- the one in this story -- is prajapati. tired of being alone, prajapati gave birth to three kinds of beings: gods, men, and, of course, demons. (demons always make stories more interesting!)

well, as young people did in olden times, all these children had been studying with their father, living a disciplined life. the day came when that stage of life was finished and they were about to leave home and go out into their respective worlds -- the gods to their heavens, the men to earth, and the demons to the hells below.

before leaving, the gods came to their father, prajapati, saying, "give us a final word, sir, before we leave, if you please." he was a close-mouthed old man, and besides, he wanted to test their learning, so he gave them even less than a word! he gave them only a syllable, the sanskrit syllable "da".

"have you understood me?" their father asked.

"yes, sir," said the gods, "that must be short for damyata, meaning 'be self-controlled'".

'be self-controlled'".

"yes," said prajapati.

then it came the turn of the men to say goodbye. they too asked their father for a final word, but he gave them the same syllable, "da". "have you understood?" he asked.

"yes, sir," said the men, "this must be short for datta, meaning 'give in charity'".

"yes," said the father. and when the demons came, it was the same story. prajapati said "da" and asked if they understood.

"yes, sir," said the demons (showing surprising intelligence), "it must be short for dayadhvam, and you mean 'be kind, be merciful'".

"yes," said prajapati. then they all bowed down before him and went their ways.


what do you understand by this story?

the demons, you see, are very cruel by nature. but if they can somehow bring some kindness and mercy into their miserable lives, then there is hope for them to go up to a higher state.

human beings, on the other hand, are better, but selfish; what they need is to help and serve one another on this earth. then they too will become fit for rising higher.

now the gods are busy enjoying themselves in heaven, and there they have such a good time that they forget about truth and how to search for it. without self-control, they will never find truth.

so, prajapati told each group the same thing, knowing full well that each sort of offspring would understand it in exactly his own way. great teachers often do this.

so, it is said that, even today, when you hear the thunder's "da, da, da" it is the voice of old prajapati, the creator, repeating from time to time his instructions to all kinds of beings.
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