The disciple who got the task to look after 1000 cows

1001 Tales Discourses

“The new man, he will be complete, entire, acquainted with the outside world and acquainted with the inside world as well,” says Osho. From our series 1001 Tales, compiled by Shanti.


There is a story in the Upanishads, which contains a few very beautiful existential statements about life.

There was an old seeker of truth; his name was Uddalak.

The son was learning with one master, then another master. His son was Shvetketu.

He sent his son to well-known masters in the country to learn everything that is possible to learn. And when he acquired all that was available, with great pride he came back home to say to his father, “I have fulfilled the task.”

Uddalak looked from his window and saw that his son was coming with many scriptures. And he could also see the proud look, the proud walk.

Shvetketu came in and told his father, “I have done it!”

Uddalak must have been a man like me. He asked him, “Have you known yourself?”

Shvetketu said, “But nowhere in all the schools I have been was this part of the syllabus. No – I know everything about medicine, I know everything about language, grammar; I know everything that is taught there. But to know oneself? Even the question is not raised.”

Uddalak said, “Burn those scriptures and go back. Find out who you are, because if you don’t know yourself, what is the value of all the knowledge that you are burdened with? You have missed the central point.”

Shvetketu was very much hurt and shocked, because he had come with so much pride, thinking that his father was going to reward him. Instead, he is condemned, utterly condemned: “You wasted so many of your years. Go back!” Uddalak did not allow him even to rest.

Shvetketu went to the greatest master that he had come across in his search for learning, and told him, “My father has demolished me completely! And he has sent me back for a single thing. He says unless you know yourself, all your knowledge is useless.”

When your own house is in darkness, what is the point of knowing that the whole world is full of stars and light? The light is needed first in your own house.

That master said, “I was afraid of this, because I know your father; in our youth we have been disciples of the same master. I was afraid that this was going to happen. You were going with so much pride, and I know your father – he is not interested in borrowed knowledge. He wants to know himself. He is not interested in beliefs. His only effort all his life has been to come to a certainty, to an experience which is not borrowed, which is his own, authentically his own. I was afraid that this was going to happen to you.”

Shvetketu asked, “Then what am I supposed to do?”

The master said, “All that I knew I have taught you. As far as knowing oneself, I am as ignorant as you are. But I can suggest one thing. I have got one hundred cows in the ashram. You take these cows into the hills, and when they have become one thousand, giving birth to calves….

“You remain in the mountains, you forget all knowledge that you have learned. In fact you will not need it there; the cows are not interested in any kind of knowledge. You will not even encounter another human being. Language will not be needed. Grammar and all the subtleties of grammar will be useless.”

Shvetketu asked, “But how is this going to help me to know myself?”

The master said, “You simply go. Help the cows to grow. Take them to fresher fields deeper into the mountains, and wait till they are one thousand. Then you can come. And everything else we will discuss afterwards.”

Masters have their own devices. As far as I understand this story, I know the man knew – but it could not be told. He created a situation, a device.

Shvetketu went to the mountains. For a few days the mind went on with all the knowledge that it had gathered, but what use was it? The cows were just munching grass, and Shvetketu was sitting amongst those one hundred cows waiting for the time when they will become one thousand.

Days passed, months passed. And the story is really beautiful, because Shvetketu forgot everything: knowledge, language, arithmetic. There was no need… by and by everything became useless.

He almost became as innocent as a cow. What else to do? A man is known by his company. Now, if you live for years amongst cows, just listening to their munching the grass…. He was sitting under the tree taking care of them. They became one thousand.

And here is a beautiful point: one cow spoke to Shvetketu and said, “We have become one thousand, now it is time to get back home. It seems you have forgotten counting too!” And really he had forgotten.

He brought those cows back to the master’s house. Other disciples were also amazed with this experiment. It looked so strange – that to know oneself one has to take one hundred cows into the mountains and wait and wait till they become one thousand!

The disciples looked: the cows were coming. They rushed to the master in the house, and they said, “One thousand cows are coming.”

The master said, “No, one thousand and one.”

The disciple said, “But you had asked for one thousand.”

He said, “Yes, I had, but what about Shvetketu?” He was coming just in the middle of the cows, so innocent, so utterly childlike.

The disciples of the master were very excited, because the master had promised, “When Shvetketu comes, then everything will be discussed. For the time being you do this, and ask the question later.”

Shvetketu came, handed over the cows to the master, and said, “Now can I go? My father must be getting very old, and I don’t want him to die disappointed in me.”

The master said, “But what about those other things we were going to discuss afterwards?”

Shvetketu laughed. He said, “Forget all about it! Living with cows, slowly slowly… there was no other excitement, entertainment. Waiting under trees, sitting under trees doing nothing, slowly slowly a silence started happening on its own accord. I was not meditating, but meditation was happening to me. And a moment came when all my thoughts disappeared, all my feelings disappeared – just a pure is-ness remained.

“I could not even say, ‘I am,’ because there was no I. Then I knew that the whole grammar was wrong. ‘I’ does not exist. All that I can express is that I felt and experienced a certain am-ness; not ‘I am,’ but am-ness, a deep existential experience. Now I know what my father wanted me to know, and there is nothing to discuss.”

The master said, “I knew it. If you had come and started asking the same question again, that would mean the device had failed. With my blessings you can go to your father.”

He came back home. The father was really very old; he was waiting for the son. He could see again from the window, and this is what he was expecting – Shvetketu, so humble, so simple; no scriptures, just coming like a cool breeze.

He came into the house. You could expect that he would have declared, “Now I have fulfilled your desire.” No, he simply touched his father’s feet, kissed his father’s feet, tears flowing from his eyes.

The father said, “So, it has happened. Now I can die peacefully. I have fulfilled my duty; I am not leaving behind me an ignorant man full of rubbish knowledge. I am leaving behind me a pure space, a being, alert, aware, knowing himself – which is the greatest knowing in the world.”

Science should open the doors of devices which religions have been keeping closed.

There is a vast universe outside you – infinite. You can go on and on exploring it, there is no end.

But there is a bigger universe within you, and so close – just within you! And you can go on exploring it. You will come to know who you are, but that is not the end: that experience goes on deepening infinitely.

A man can be both, and that will be the total man. I have defined the new man in many ways, from different angles.

Let this also be included in the definition of the new man: he will be complete, entire, acquainted with the outside world, acquainted with the inside world.

And the moment you know both, you know they are not two; it is the same energy extending into two polarities. One becomes the object, the other becomes the subject. I would like to call it the science of the inner. And whatever is known as science today, I will call the science of the outer.

But the inner and the outer are two sides of the same coin. The outer cannot exist without the inner, the inner cannot exist without the outer. So there is no separation and there is no question of bridging…

The scientific approach to existence and the religious approach have been in the past separate and unbridgeable. The reason was the insistence of old religions on superstitions, belief systems, denial of inquiry and doubt. In fact, there is nothing unbridgeable between science and religion, and there is no separation either. But religion insisted on belief – science cannot accept that.

Belief is covering up your ignorance. It never reveals to you the truth; it only gives you certain dogmas, creeds, and you can create an illusion of knowledge through them. But that knowledge is nothing but a delusion.

Anything based on belief is bogus.

Because religions insisted continuously on belief, and the basic method of science is doubt, the separation happened. And it became unbridgeable. It is unbridgeable if religion does not arise and face the challenge of doubt.

The whole responsibility of the religions has been to keep these two as two.

In my vision, there is only science with two dimensions. One dimension approaches the outside reality, the other dimension approaches the interior reality. One is objective, the other is subjective. Their methods are not different, their conclusions are not different. Both start from doubt.

Doubt has been condemned so much that you have forgotten the beauty of it, you have forgotten the richness of it.

The child is born not with any belief, but he is born with a very curious, doubting, skeptical consciousness. Doubt is natural, belief is unnatural.

Belief is imposed by the parents, society, the educational systems, religions. All these people are in the service of ignorance, and they have served ignorance for thousands of years. They have kept humanity in darkness, and there was a reason for it: if humanity is in darkness, knows nothing of reality, then it can be exploited easily, enslaved easily, deceived easily, kept poor, dependent. All these things were involved.

The old religions were not concerned with truth. They talked about it, but their concern was how to keep people away from truth. And up to now they have succeeded. But now those religions are all on their deathbed and the sooner they die the better.

Why do you need a belief in the first place?

You don’t believe in a roseflower. Nobody asks you, “Do you believe in a roseflower?” You will simply laugh, you will say, “The question of belief does not arise; I know the roseflower.”

Knowledge needs no belief… Any belief indicates your ignorance, your blindness, but gives you a false sense – as if you know.

Quote by Osho from From Death to Deathlessness – Answers to the Seekers of the Path, Ch 20, Q 1

UddalakaUddalaka or Uddalaka Aruni (c. 8th century BCE), is a revered Vedic sage of Hinduism. He is mentioned in many Vedic era Sanskrit texts, and his philosophical teachings are among the center piece in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and Chandogya Upanishad, two of the oldest Upanishadic scriptures.

The series 1001 Tales has been compiled by Shanti
Photo credit Amit Dave, Reuters

Comments are closed.