Eternal truths contemplated on by thinkers of yore were handed down to receptive learners with spiritual longings. Varied are the methods of educating disciples. The name Upanishad — derived from upa, (near), ni (down) and shad (to sit) — subtly indicates the nearness of guru and sishyas as one such approach, observed Sri Mani Dravid Sastrigal in a discourse.

Seeking knowledge through different means has also been illustrated in the Upanishads, he added. While underscoring the attitude of the learner and how knowledge is to be gained from enlightened people, the Chandogya Upanishad refers to the stories of Satyakama Jabala and Janusruti. Wishing to learn the higher truths from the nearby Vedapatasala, Satyakama is confronted with the problem of declaring his antecedents as demanded by the Gurukula system. His mother advises him that he can only claim to be the son of his mother Jabala. Satyakama approaches the preceptor with his mother’s words. Appreciating his inherent straight-forwardness, he accepts him as his disciple. He bids him take care of 400 emaciated cows. Satyakama vows that not only will he make them healthy but also increase their number to 1,000. While serving his mentor with absolute faith and dedication, tending the cows over the years, a buffalo, fire, swan and duck impart the highest knowledge to him. On Satyakama’s return, his master perceives in his disciple a glow of enlightenment. Satyakama explains that he has been taught the truth of the Brahman by four different beings not human.

However, he prays to be accorded the upadesa from his acharya. Pleased, the guru imparts the same knowledge to his devoted sishya. The Gita states in this context: “The learner, for his part, should approach the preceptor with humility, a desire for truth and with an attitude of service to him.”

In another instance, Janusruti, a king noted for his munificence, comes to know that Raikvar, the man with the cart, is a truly realised person. The king wishes to be enlightened and chooses to approach him with the gift of material possessions. A satisfied Raikvar obliges him. Yet another means of gaining wisdom.