Many years ago, there lived a Brahmin by the name Kaushika. He was the only son of his parents. He was very inclined to spiritual studies. He wanted to study Vedas & gain spiritual powers.
So he told his parents about his wish to leave for the jungle, where he would devote his time in meditation & spiritual practices. His parents were aghast. They were old & completely dependent on him. They tried their best to refrain him from going, by reminding him of his duties & responsibilities. But Kaushika was adamant. He left his parents in tears & pain & left for the jungle.
In the jungle, Kaushika started his spiritual studies in earnest & was completely consumed by the practices. In course of time, he became an ascetic & gradually started gaining spiritual powers. In the process, however, he became proud of his achievements.
One afternoon, as he was meditating under a tree, a bird flew in & perched itself in one of the branches, just above the Brahmin. A little later some bird toppings fell on Kaushikaâ€™s head & his meditation was broken. He was upset & looked at the bird with anger. Due to ascetic powers that he had gained with his spiritual practices, Kaushikaâ€™s gaze burnt the bird to ashes. Though saddened by the death of the bird, Kaushika felt that justice had been done. He also realized that he was gaining powers, & this made him proud.
A few days later, late in the afternoon, he was at a village to beg for alms. Those days, it was a regular practice for a Rishi, or an ascetic to go to any doorstep and ask for food etc as bhiksha(alms). It was considered auspicious by the household to give away such alms. So the lady of the house came out & on seeing Kaushika, asked him politely to wait, while she went in to get some food. At the same time, her husband also returned home. The lady, immediately set aside the pot of food she was taking for the Brahmin & attended to her husband. After making him comfortable & attending to his needs, she excused herself & came out to give food to the waiting Brahmin. Kaushika felt insulted & angry. He said,â€œYou put your husband before me in your duties!!! Do you know the powers of a Brahmin??? Do you know wht I can do??â€ The lady was calm & composed. She said, â€œAccording to my Dharma, I need to attend to my husband first & that is what I have done. Please do not threaten me with your anger. I am not a simple bird that will die in front of your gaze. A true Brahmin is one who has mastered his anger.â€ Kaushika was stunned into silence. â€œHow does she know about the bird?? How come she is not afraid??â€, he mused. He immediately apologized to the lady for his outburst. Realizing that she was very learned, he asked her to give him knowledge. The Lady said, â€œOh holy one! You are a learned Brahmin, but you have not understood the truth of virtue, the Dharma. Right now, I have to go back & attend to my husband who has come back from work, so I cannot attend to you. I have just come out to give you your food, as you have come to our doorstep. If you wish to be enlightened & want to understand Dharma, go to Dharmavyadha, who lives in Mathura. Any one will guide you to him. Kaushika, immediately thanked the lady & hurried to Mathura. â€œHe must be a great & a learned sage!!!â€ Kaushika told himself.
On reaching Mathura, & being directed to Dharmavyadha, he was completely taken aback to find that it was a butcherâ€™s shop. A very ordinary looking man came out and said, â€œWelcome home, oh holy one, I am Dharmavyadha. Please make yourself comfortable & rest, but I will not be able to give you time now. Right now I have to attend to my duties. I have customers waiting at the shop. I shall attend to you in the evening after I close my shop. Meanwhile, you may rest at my place or go around the city.â€ Saying this, the butcher went back to work. Kaushika was horrified. He could not bear to be in this place. â€œHow can a butcher be spiritually enlightened?? How can this man of a low caste give me supreme knowledge on Dharma???â€. However, the quest for knowledge made him wait till the evening.
As the day came to an end, the butcher closed his shop & then taking Kaushika along, he returned home. There he first touched the feet of his parents & then introduced the Brahmin to his family. â€œHe is a very learned Brahmin & has come from a far off place. He will stay with us today.â€ After that he attended to his old parents & complied with the duties of the family. Then he asked Kaushika to join for dinner. Having completed all this, Dhramavyadha then sat with the Brahmin. He said, â€œI know the story of the bird & also about the lady, who sent you here. Tell me how I can help you.â€ Kaushika asked, â€œButchering animals is sinful. How can you be spiritually enlightened then?? Are you not ashamed of your conduct & living???â€ The butcher had a calm & serene smile on his face. He said, â€œI am not ashamed of my living. I am engaged in my family trade. I work hard & honestly at it. I do not inflict injury to other creatures as you did to the bird. As we walk on the soil, so many creatures are being trampled under our feet. When a farmer tills the land, he kills so many animals that thrive under the soil. But it is his Dharma to do what he is doing. For me, my parents are my Gods. Taking care of them is our greatest duty. My wife & children attend to them with devotion & love. We live together as one happy family & each one of us adheres to our duties with a smile. In doing oneâ€™s duty cheerfully, lies true virtue. This is what the dutiful lady sent you here to learn. Oh learned Brahmin, you have run away from your responsibilities & deserted your old parents, who are completely dependent on you. All the spiritual learnings, power & achievements are of no use, if you neglect your Dharma.â€ Kaushika remembered his mother crying, when he left home, â€œWho will look after us when you are gone, my son???â€ He became repentant. He lay prostrate in front of the butcher. â€œYou have shown me the path of true virtue, the true meaning of Dharma. I am deeply indebted to you.â€ Saying this, Kaushika immediately returned to his parents, who were overjoyed to see him. He served them lovingly & dutifully till the end of their lives. Along with that, he continued with his spiritual practices & meditations.
This story from Mahabharata brings to light that our spiritual achievement is useless if we neglect our duties or Dharma.