The Butcher’S Lesson

The Butcher’S Lesson

Here is a strange story from our scriptures.

A young sanyasi did penance for many years. One day while he was sitting under a tree, some dry twigs and leaves fell on his head. He looked up and saw a crane and a crow fighting. He realized that the commotion created by their scuffle had caused the twigs to fall on his head. He shouted at them in anger. So intense was his angry gaze that the birds were reduced to ashes! The Sanyasi was overjoyed at his new found power.

Later he went to a nearby village to beg for food, as was the way of the Sanyasis in ancient times. He knocked at the door of a house. A lady called out saying, “Please wait for a while. I am just coming.” That angered him and he thought, “What an insolent woman; asking me to wait! She doesn’t know my powers!” Barely had this thought crossed his mind that the lady called out. “Don’t be vain, Oh Sanyasi! I am neither a crow nor a crane!” When she came out to give food to him, the bewildered Sanyasi, asked the lady, “How did you know what I was thinking? How do you know about the crow and the crane?” She said, “I executed my duty towards my parents before I got married. Now I perform all my duties towards my husband diligently. When you called out for alms, I was attending to my husband who is very ill. That is the only yoga or dharma that I know. Discharging my dharma religiously has illumined me.” The Sanyasi was quite taken aback. He said, “Can you teach me more about dharma?” She said, “If you want to learn more, go to the town nearby and meet the butcher there. You can learn a lot from him.”

So the Sanyasi went in search of the butcher. All the while, he was thinking, “A butcher is a chandala. In our country, they are the lowest caste of people. How can he give me knowledge?” Anyways, he found the butcher and watched him from afar, slaughtering the hens and goats. The Sanyasi thought, “How can this man know anything about duty? He is the devil personified.” Just then the butcher noticed the Sanyasi and asked, “Did the lady send you to me? Please wait, while I finish my work.”

After finishing his work for the day, the butcher took the Sanyasi to his house. There he looked after the personal needs of his aged parents. He washed and fed them and made them comfortable. Then he said to the Sanyasi, “Tell me my friend, what can I do for you?”

The Sanyasi questioned him about the Atma and the Paramatma. The butcher answered him and revealed his knowledge of the highest Vedanta philosophy. So deep was his knowledge about the subject that the Sanyasi was amazed. He said, “Such profound knowledge! Such insight! But why then, are you donning the form of a butcher? Why are you doing such dirty and despicable work?”

The butcher replied, “No work is low or dirty or despicable. It is your thoughts that make it so. I was born as the son of a butcher. I learnt this trade before I learnt to think for myself. It’s the only trade I know. But I am totally unattached to it. I perform my duties towards my parents and try to please them and make them comfortable. I do not know yoga or prayer, but all that I have learnt and told you is because I am doing my duty in my worldly position.”

There is a great meaning in this. Firstly we must do the duty which is fostered upon us by our birth. Secondly, the duty conferred by our position. The execution of such duties with an unattached mind is what we must strive for. When we are unattached, we are not emotionally involved. We do not think of doing the work for any benefits or returns. If our mind is focused on duty, then the execution of work would be merely a mechanical process, to which we have no karmic attachments.

This is extremely difficult, but the journey of life is full of try, try, try again till you succeed!”