Chapter 1: Pursuit of Knowledge
There is a beautiful story in the Upanishads. A young man, Svetketu, came back from his guru’s house - from his gurukul, the family of his guru - learned, and of course, as young men are bound to be, very proud of his learning. Haughty. Egoistic. His father, the seer Uddalak, watched him coming, entering the village. The father watched him from the window and became sad: “This is not learning! He has become a man of knowledge. This is not knowing!” Uddalak said to his own heart, “I never sent him for this. He missed the point! He wasted his time!” Because knowing is humble. Not humble in the sense that it is opposite to ego, it is not related to ego at all, not even as an opposite - because even the opposite carries something of it.
Not feeling that his son is humble, the father became very sad. He is getting old, and here comes this boy having wasted many years of his life - why does he look so proud? Knowing always makes you humble.
This word humble is beautiful. It comes from the root humus; the root really means earthy, of the earth, unpretentious. And the same root is the base of the words human and humanity. You become human only when you become humble, you become humble only when you are of the earth. Of the earth in the sense: unpretentious, simple, unconditioned, earthy.
Here comes the son so proud and haughty, he must have become a man of knowledge - and he had become one. He came, he touched his father’s feet, but it was just a formality. How can a man who has become so egoistic bow down?
The father said, “Svetketu, I see your body bent, but not you. And what misfortune has happened to you? Why do you look so haughty? A man of knowing becomes humble, Svetketu. Have you heard anything about that One, knowing which, one knows all?”
Svetketu said, “What are you talking about? How can one know all by knowing one? Absurd! I have known all that could be known in the university, I have become as profound as one can become in all the subjects that are taught there. I have exhausted the whole possibility of learning. When my master said to me: ‘Now you know all and you can go back home,’ then only I came back - but of what you are speaking, that ‘one’ - never heard of it. Nobody talked about it in the university. Grammar we learned, language, history, myth, philosophy, theology, religion, poetry. Everything that is known to man I have learned, and I have become proficient, and I have attained to the highest degree that the university can confer. But we never heard about that ‘one’ - what are you talking about? Have you gone mad? How can one know all by knowing one?”
Uddalak said, “Yes, that One is you. Svetketu, tattvamasi, that art thou. If you know this One you will know all, and all that you have known is just rot. You have wasted your energy. Go back! Never come again unless you know that One by knowing which all is known.”
“Because,” said Uddalak to his son, “in our family no one has been a brahmin just by name. We have called ourselves brahmins because we have known the Brahma. You don’t belong to our family if you don’t know that One, go back!”
That One are you, that art thou. A very small seed, almost invisible to yourself. Unless you search deep, and search long, with perseverance and patience, you will not encounter it.
That seed is within you, that is your withinness, and the whole vast world is nothing but you written on a large canvas. Man is humanity. You are the world.
Says Lao Tzu: