An Upanishad Story – The Yogi and the Man in the Pond

“Someone who’s desperate will engage in thought and action because they want to get happy. Someone who has baseline happiness engages enthusiastically in thought and action because they are happy.”

Thom Knoles

Episode Summary

Apart from the Veda, one of the many gifts of ancient wisdom from India is the Upanishads. The Upanishads consist of several short parables that give us insight into how we can behave in ways that support our personal and collective evolution.

In this podcast episode, Thom shares the story of a man in a lake who, while immersed in more water than he’d need in a lifetime, remained thirsty. This is a story we all have a need to hear as we all have our own ‘thirst stories’ that are running our lives.

It’s a short yet profound tale that we can use to remind ourselves when we’re making things harder than they need to be.


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Episode Highlights


Upanishad – Sitting at the Feet of…



Once Upon a Time There Was a Yogi



Who Came Upon an Unusual Sight



And Offered Some Help



But His Offer Was Rejected



Looking Outwards for Sources of Happiness



Relief From the Mercy of the Object World



An Effortless Mantra – A Vehicle for the Mind



Finding What the Mind is Looking For



Becoming an Exporter of Happiness



Established in Being, Perform Action


Jai Guru Deva


An Upanishad Story – The Yogi and the Man in the Pond

[00:00] Upanishad – Sitting at the Feet of…

Upanishad. Upanishad. Upa, U-P-A, nishad, N-I-S-H-A-D. Sometimes anglicized into a plural by putting an S on the end, as in ‘The Upanishads’. But Upanishad, all one word, in Sanskrit means a sitting at the feet of. In other words, it is a story gleaned while sitting at the feet of a master, an Upanishad. And the Upanishads typically are parables, analogies, fables, all of which are designed to have a certain meaning.

There are 10 principal Upanishads, and there are somewhere around a hundred minor Upanishads. The 10 principal ones are very well described by one of the devotees of my master’s master. My master was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. His master was Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, who was the king of the yogis during his time, until the 1950s. And he had another disciple besides my teacher, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who was Dr. S. Radhakrishnan. And Radhakrishnan became a professor at Oxford University in the subject of Sanskrit, classics, and philosophy. And Radhakrishnan wrote a fabulous book, which I recommend, entitled ‘The Ten Principal Upanishads.’

[02:28] Once Upon a Time There Was a Yogi

So, let’s give an example of an “Upanishadic” story.

Once upon a time, there was a yogi. What is a yogi? Someone who has attained yoga. What is yoga? Not the pretzel positions that everybody assumes they are, the wearing spandex, and looking at yourself in a mirror, and listening to Madonna in the background that we see in the West. Yoga in Sanskrit means a consciousness state of union.

The word yoga is etymologically the basis of our English word yoke. When something unifies the oxen with the cart, for example, that’s a yoke.

Yog, which often the final A in a Sanskrit word will be dropped, yog, or yoga, is the union state of consciousness, unification state, where individuality is experiencing its union with universality. The layer of consciousness at which individually and universality meet. This is the state of yoga. And someone who is a yogi is someone who has attained that consciousness state.

So, our yogi is walking through the forest. And in India as today, today as in ancient times, one can find reclusive yogis walking through the forest, very lightly clad, if at all clad, and who are just living their life in nature. They don’t really interact with the rest of so-called civilized society.

[04:08] Who Came Upon an Unusual Sight

This yogi comes upon an unusual sight. He sees lying in a pond of perfectly clear, potable drinking water, a man whose body, though floating in the pond, has his chin resting on the rim of the pond. And his tongue is sticking out, and he is trying to lick drops of dew from the leaves of grass that are surrounding his face. And it’s evident from the mud prints that he has dragged himself by his chin as far as he could onto these blades of grass, where he’s licking the dewdrops.

[04:57] And Offered Some Help

The morning sun is just coming over the horizon. The yogi approaches the floating man and says, “Excuse me, sir, may I help you in any way?” The man looks up at him with his tongue sticking out, licking at these drops, looking a little annoyed, and says, “No,” and goes back to licking again.

The yogi says to him, “Whatever are you doing?” He says, “Are you one of these people who’s going to waste my time and make me thirsty by asking me what I’m doing? Is it not evident what I’m doing, and the urgency with which I do it? You see the sun is rising. There’s a limited amount of time during which dew accumulates on these blades of grass. I’m very thirsty, as you can see. Now you’re requiring me to talk and waste time while the dewdrops evaporate. And I have to get back to licking.” And he gets back to licking.

And the yogi says to him, “But sir, you are floating. The rest of your body from your neck down is floating in a lake of beautiful, sweet, clear drinking water, which I’ve come here to fill up my container with and take it away.”

[06:15] But His Offer Was Rejected

The annoyed floating man looks back up at the yogi again and says, “Not only are you wasting my time while I try to get the dewdrops, but now you’re telling me you’re one of these people who believe that there’s some kind of floating lake, in which we all float, of pure drinking water.”

The yogi says, “Yes. If you were just to let go of your licking and relax, you could slide back into the lake and simply open your mouth. And the beautiful drinking water would flow in in infinite amounts, and you wouldn’t have to rely anymore on these little dewdrops.” The man says, “Please leave me, go away. I don’t wish to participate in your strange religion.”

So the yogi fills up his gourd and walks away, looking back over his shoulder for the last time with a smile, but also a bit of pain in his heart and compassion at the man who was relying only on the dewdrops to slake his thirst.

[07:21] Looking Outwards for Sources of Happiness

All right. Well, if you haven’t figured it out already, what does it mean? Human consciousness, human consciousness, peers outward through the eyes, the ears, the nose, the senses of perception to the outside world. “I need happiness. What can give me happiness? Here’s a little dewdrop. Here’s another. Here’s another. Maybe if I have this particular kind of sandwich for lunch, I’ll get a wave of happiness.” But you know it won’t last because after you finish eating it, then you digest it. And then before you know it, you’re hungry again. “Maybe if I go here, or go there, or watch a movie, or ride in a car, or take a walk, or sculpt my body in some way, that will give me longer lasting happiness.”

But of course, everything that we do in aid of becoming happy is a relative thing that changes. And each thing that you rely upon to give you a little wave of happiness ends up changing in some way. And hunger returns, thirst returns, body goes back into being out of shape again and whatnot. So then, how do we come out of this? Where do we relate to our man in the pool? That’s us, floating in the field of pure consciousness at our baseline.

[08:50] Relief From the Mercy of the Object World

We drag ourselves to the edge, and look for happiness in the little dewdrops that are constantly evaporating and disappearing. Our happiness is at the mercy of the object world, which is constantly changing. And sliding back into the pool, as the yogi suggested to the corpulent man, that means to let go of all of these little individual things for a moment. Let go of them for a moment, and let your consciousness go into the bliss of the one, indivisible, whole consciousness field.

It is a bliss state, a state of supreme, inner contentedness, which lies there at the baseline of our active waking consciousness. Our waking active mind only looks outward until we learn how to meditate. Once we’ve learned adequately how to meditate, we should be able effortlessly to settle down to our own least-excited state, and the first discovery we make as our mind approaches the field of Being, is that the tendency of thinking evaporates. “What is thinking in aid of? How can I get from where I am to someplace better?” Thought always is the precursor of action.

What kind of action specifically? “I want to move from where I am, which is either already unsatisfactory or about to become unsatisfactory, to someplace that is more satisfactory.” The mind is looking for greater happiness. It’s built into the mind’s nature to do this, to move in the direction of greater happiness.

[10:39] An Effortless Mantra – A Vehicle for the Mind

When we are taught Vedic Meditation, we are taught a pulsation of sound. It’s there in the form of a word. A word that has no specific intended meaning, but whose sound characteristics are very mellifluous, and whose sound characteristics match our individual bundle of vibrations. This is referred to as a bija, or seed, mantra. Mantra, man for mind, tra for vehicle. We close our eyes, we pick up effortlessly the mantra that has been assigned to us by our teacher, and effortlessly allowing it to settle down, the mind begins to experience that the mantra, as it becomes subtler, also intrinsically becomes more charming with each repetition of it.

When the mantra becomes fainter, moving in the direction of that inner silence, it also becomes more charming. The mind’s embedded nature, which is to move effortlessly toward anything more charming, causes the mind to follow the mantra. The mantra becomes subtler and subtler. It becomes more and more charming. And then the mind is left in that quiet state when the mantra evaporates, and thoughts don’t replace it.

[12:02] Finding What the Mind is Looking For

When the mind touches that field of Being, though one is capable of thinking, the mind chooses not to think. Why is that? There’s only one reason why, B-L-I-S-S. Supreme, inner contentedness. Only bliss can explain why a mind, which always wants to move, has stopped moving. The mind has found what it’s looking for. It’s found the infinite source of supreme contentedness inside.

Now, what happens when the mind finds that? Do we stop licking the dewdrops? When our mind has grounded itself in the state of Being, there’s a new phenomenon that takes place. Action no longer, thinking and action, no longer are the means whereby we’re going to gain infinite happiness, baseline happiness.

[13:01] Becoming an Exporter of Happiness

We have baseline happiness. So then, what’s the purpose of thinking and action? Because meditators do continue to think and continue to act. It turns out that instead of being importers of happiness, trying to find where it is in the outside world, and then take that happiness from there, those are the dewdrops, and import the dewdrops of happiness into the barren field of unhappiness inside oneself. Instead of trying to import happiness from the outside world, one who is established in Being finds thought and action extremely useful as a means whereby to export happiness.

Because interestingly, once we have found that inner contentedness, that inner happiness, for ourselves, it’s extremely evident by just looking around that that happiness is not anywhere else outside.

So, as a meditator, instead of importing happiness from where we think it is, which is outside of us, to where it is not, which is inside of us, we become exporters. We find it in the baseline of our own consciousness. And thought and action now become a means to export happiness to the outside world. We take our happiness on an excursion, and make ourselves available to the need of the time.

[14:34] Established in Being, Perform Action

But we do not do so as a desperado. Someone who’s desperate will engage in thought and action because they want to get happy. Someone who has baseline happiness engages enthusiastically in thought and action because they are happy. And their happiness is stirred by the phenomenology of bringing that happiness, and exporting that happiness to the world to meet the need of the time, and to be part of the solution.

This is a very good example of how we learn from Upanishad how to have an image in our mind which supports what we’re experiencing, and supports what we see in others, the desperate search for the dewdrops of happiness in the outside world, all of which simply yield a marginal amount of very temporary satiety. And at the dawn of the next day, the desperate search commences again, and again, and again.

And so instead of living our life like that, we follow the yogi’s advice, slide back into the unbounded bliss of internal Being, and then come out and engage in action established in Being, and meeting the need of the time successfully.

Jai Guru Deva.

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