What They Didn't Teach Shvetaketu

Young Shvetaketu, twelve years old,
was sent away from home to learn
what custom said that he should know.

At twenty-four, his education
seemed complete and he came back,
proud of all that he had learned.

His father said: "But have you learned
to question what you do not know?

"And have you ever asked yourself
how you may learn what has not been
already learned, how you may think
of something that is yet unthought;

"How we may know reality
beyond the bounds of seeming knowledge
that our partial minds conceive?"

Shvetaketu is taken aback by this questioning, and he has to admit:

"No, I haven't been taught this way.
I do not know quite what you mean.
Just what could such a teaching be?"

His father replies:

"Consider, then, a piece of clay.
Throught it the substance "clay" is known.

"And thus, in knowing just this piece,
the common nature of all clay
is known, and tells of other things
that also may be made of clay.

"Through differences of name and form
in different objects made of clay,
one common substance "clay", is known.

"And thus, beneath appearances,
we recognise reality
beyond the bounds of name and form
our changing minds appear to see."

A little later, Shvetaketu's father points to large tree, whose fruits have fallen to the ground. Shvetaketu is asked to pick up a fruit and break it open. It has tiny seeds in it. Shvetaketu is asked to break a seed and say what he finds there. He has to reply: "Nothing, sir. The seeds are far too small."

So now the father says:

"And yet, within each tiny seed,
there is a subtle something which
your eyes don't see, something unseen
from which this spreading tree has grown
and now stands manifested here.

"This subtle something is that
'this-itself-ness' which is all this world.

"That is the truth. That is your Self.
That is what you really are."

- From the Chandogya Upanishad, Chapter Six.

Excerpted from Ananda Wood's essay 'The Upanishads - Asking for Simplicity'