The story of Svetaketu is a lesson on how to learn. Humility is needed for a proper absorption and understanding of what is taught, and to infer what is not, said Suki Sivam in a lecture.
Svetaketu was sent by his father to a guru, and he came back after many years of study. His father, noticing his son's pride, asked him if his teacher had taught him what could not be learnt. He told Svetaketu to ask his teacher why he hadn't taught him what couldn't be learnt. Svetaketu went to his teacher, and put the question to him.
His guru replied, “So far you had not asked me. But now that you have, I shall teach you. See those cows there. Go to the forest with them and graze them. Leave your learning here, when you go to the forest. When the herd of cows increase to one thousand, then you may come back.”
Svetaketu left for the forest with the animals. In the forest, he had no one to converse with. There were no inputs that he received to set his mind thinking new thoughts. In the forest there was no way for Svetaketu to show his pride. He was as silent as the cows themselves. But he gained in wisdom.
He lost count of the days. The number of cows increased to one thousand, and still Svetaketu had no thoughts of returning. The cows began to feel uneasy, and they reminded Svetaketu of his guru's words and that it was time for him to return. Svetaketu then made his way back to his guru.
He fell at his guru's feet. His guru said that Svetaketu had now reached a higher spiritual plane, and had learnt what could not be taught. Svetaketu then went back to his father. His father was glad that his son had learnt the most valuable lesson in life, namely, that pride takes us nowhere.
Svetaketu now had no pride, no ego. He was like the cows he had tended. And that is the egoless state we should reach, for what is the body of a cow, or the body of a human being? These are just external manifestations. The atma resident in everyone is what is important, and realising this is the only valuable lesson in life.