Kaushika was feeling incredibly proud of himself. He had left his home to pursue to study of the Scriptures and now he could proudly say that he had masted them all.
Kaushika was sitting under a tree as he opened his eyes from his meditation. On top of the tree sat a crane. The crane was making a loud noise and disturbed the sage. The sage stared at the crane angrily. The poor crane had no chance. It burst into flames.
Kaushika looked at the bird horrified that he had done something like this. But deep down he could not help but feel proud of himself. His powers of meditation were amazing. He had managed to destroy the crane with his thoughts alone....
Kaushika got up from under the tree and went to the nearby village is search of alms. He stood outside a house asking for alms. [In those days an ascetic standing outside the house was considered a priority and had to be fed first]. The lady from the house was about to come and serve the sage when her husband came home, tired and hungry. The lady turned her back to Kaushika. 'Please wait Sage! I will attend to my duties and come later!'
Kaushika bristled at the words of the lady. But the lady did not seem to notice. She attended to her husband while the sage waited. By the time the lady finished and came out to meet Kaushika, the sage was furious from hunger and the waiting. The lady smiled as she shook her head. 'Do you think, I am a crane?'
Kaushika was flabbergasted. There was no way this woman could know what had transpired when he was outside the village. He looked at the woman as she continued. 'You are a sage. A well-read man and you have no doubt mastered the scriptures....but you still have to learn the true meaning of what is written there!' The sage listened dumbfounded at the words of the wisdom from the woman.
'A mastery of the Scriptures is necessary for a virtuous life but reading alone would not help you achieve it, sir! You need to use all the teachings in your daily life for you to be able to understand what it means....I am a wife, a mother. My first duty lies towards these people and not towards you. Only after serving them, am I obliged to look after you. And you sir...' The woman looked at Kaushika with a slightly sad expression. '...you still need to learn to control yourself. The crane came and sat on the tree. So what if it disturbed you? A man who had truly understood the Scriptures would know that none of these things would affect him in any way....But you got angry sir....' The woman shook her head. 'You still have many things to learn.'
Kaushika found that he could not talk. The words of the woman was simple, sharp and powerful. 'Please teach me some more about this 'virtue'!' He finally croaked.
The woman smiled. 'Sir! I have a lot of work. I may not be the right teacher to teach you these things.' Kaushika's face fell. The woman's face however brightened. 'There is a butcher in the city of Mithila! Please go and talk to him. He may be able to teach you what you need to know!'
Saying this the woman walked inside the house without a backward glance. Kaushika for the first time in his life realized that he really did not know anything. Without realizing Kaushika made preparations to go towards the city of Mithila.
There Kaushika was in for a surprise. Everyone in the city knew about the butcher and the butcher was highly respected. The man was a butcher and yet the people spoke of him as if he was a saint....Who was this man?
Kaushika saw the man outside his shop as he cut the meat pieces and handed it over to the customers. 'Sir, I am...'
The butcher nodded his head. 'You must be the sage whom the lady sent. Please wait....I am serving my customers. I am afraid I may be able to tell you what you wish to know only after I finish my work.'
Kaushika watched the man in a kind of trance. The man was a butcher. He killed animals and sold it to people. However the man did not look the least bit ashamed of what he was doing. In his face shone a strange light. A light of person who knew who he was. Kaushika had no doubt in the world that the butcher was an enlightened soul....
The sage watched while the butcher sold the meat and closed the shop for the day. He walked back to his home taking the sage with him. There he saw the butcher had a family and all of them looked happy and well. The butcher's parents looked thrilled on meeting the sage and they along with the butcher's wife looked after the sage well. The butcher's children were well mannered. The sage ate with the family. The food was simple and sufficient for him. After eating the food, the sage felt a strange sensation pass through him. He suddenly remembered his own parents....He had left them to study the Scriptures. What was his mother doing at this time....
'Sir! Who are you? What do you know about virtue? I think you are the only person in the whole world who knows the complete meaning of the word. Please teach it to me!'
The butcher smiled. 'Every person who does his duty and does it cheerfully with his whole heart leads a virtuous life....'
Kaushika frowned. 'Sir you are a butcher! How can you....'
The butcher smiled. 'It is my profession. My parents before me and their parents have all been butchers. I am just doing my family profession. There is no shame in it. I do it as my duty. My parents, my wife and my children....They are my life and I do everything that I can do to keep them happy. I do everything for them.....'
Kaushika felt a strange stirring in his heart. Suddenly his mother's broken words begging him not to leave them alone kept coming back. Shaking his head he looked at the butcher who was still speaking. 'A man who is totally in control of himself and does not let his emotions rule him....That is the sign of a learned man. A man who runs away from his responsibilities can never know the true meaning of virtue. Only and only when you do your duty and do it wholeheartedly, you can begin to know the true meaning of virtue....'
The butcher gave Kaushika full discourse on the soul and the means of attaining enlightenment.
By the time the butcher was finished, Kaushika was in a daze. He realized the crime he had committed by leaving his aged parents all alone at a time when they needed him the most. He turned to the butcher who had set him on the right path and asked with almost wonder in his voice. 'Sir! You are by far the greatest man I have ever seen....Then why is it that you are butcher. I cannot believe that you would have committed any crime to have to do a work which involves killing other animals...Why...?
The butcher smiled. 'Sir, in my previous life, I was a man who was well read in the Scriptures. My best friend was a king, who was extremely well versed in the art of warfare. From him I learned how to use the bow and arrow...' The butcher closed his eyes, wishing that he would forget what he was remembering. 'Once I went on a hunt with the king. The King killed a lot of animals in the forest and me....' The butcher breathed angrily. 'By mistake I killed a sage. A great sage who was meditating behind a tree.....' Kaushika listened with bated breath as the butcher continued. 'It was because of the curse of the sage that I was born as a butcher....'
The butcher continued. 'Even then in his last words, the sage taught me how to lead a virtuous life living as a butcher. It was the sage who taught me that no sin attaches to me if I do any work as my duty!...'
Kaushika looked at the butcher with a final understanding his eyes. He took leave of the butcher and went back to his aging parents. He served them well till the end of their days....