finished his studies and went to his teacher to bid goodbye, the teacher told
him to always remember that his name Loknath meant
‘above many people’. He blessed Loknath to succeed in
life and make his name above others.
After the departure of his brightest, most talented student, the teacher
remained silent for a few days.
After leaving school, Loknath
did not go to any royal court. Nor did he show any interest in teaching. He
also remained silent about the matter of getting married and starting a family.
After roaming around aimlessly for a few days, he chose a quiet place along the
river Punyabhadra to erect a small hut and started
living there. For this, most people called him crazy.
Right from his childhood days, Loknath was a
little different from everyone else. Early in the morning, boy Loknath would roam around in the fields and forests all by
himself. He did not mix much with the boys of his age. In the late evening,
when the small hill near their village would look like a huge grey cloud fallen
off the darkening grey sky, young Loknath would stand
at the edge of the forest for hours and stare at it. For a child, that hill was
the end of his familiar world. “What if I pass that hill and go further and
further away? Where would I reach? His young mind used to get overwhelmed
trying to imagine that mythical place beyond the grey hill. He would forget
about his own family, his siblings and parents, and immerse himself in the
imaginary, hazy, silent land beyond the grey hill bathed in the evening light.
Perhaps the stories told by his grandmother were the stories of that land.
Perhaps Rama and Ravana were still there at their
eternal fight. In the endless dark forest there, the headless monster was still
groping his way. Perhaps that was the land of all that was strange and
that was long time ago. As Loknath grew up, he became
hard and harsh. As if to keep up with his increasingly dry, factual learning,
his physical appearance too became rough and craggy. With his unruly long hair
and flying beard, and his eyes flashing with steely sharp intellect, truly he
looked rather fearsome. But there were times when those sharp eyes would calm
down; in those moments he looked serene, handsome and generous.
As Loknath grew old, his ever curious nature gradually opened
up. Even before his thirteenth year, he started questioning the validity of the
visible world around him. Was there any Supreme Creator of the world? Such
questions frustrated him continuously. His goals too were strange to ordinary
people. He had always dismissed any effort to gain material comforts and
successes, now he became even more negligent in securing his name and fame.
Once, his revered mentor sent him a letter inviting him to accept the job of
the Chief Consultant in the royal court. The older consultant was dead and the
king asked for the best of the students from the school. Loknath’s
mentor was to send an elephant to bring Loknath to
the court with appropriate pomp and circumstance. But Loknath
summarily vetoed all the plans and sent one of his colleagues in his place.
There was no way he could be talked into accepting the post. Soon after this, Loknath left his school and within a year, found himself in
this small hut on the banks of Punyabhadra.
It had been now thirty years since Loknath
started living alone in his hut. The Jain religious community sent him some
food grains and two garments every year. Any other garment Loknath
made from the wild cotton that grew around his hut. Initially he started
tutoring a few students. But soon the fame of his sharp intellect spread far
and wide and more and more students crowded his hut. Loknath
got irritated and stopped tutoring altogether.
those days, there were dense, lush forests on both the banks of Punyabhadra River. In many places there were groves of
deodars and saal trees, in lower areas there were
thorny bushes entangled with various wild vines. The narrow river bisected the
hills on the south. Both banks were shaded by dense
That is where Loknath’s hut was located.
Loknath’s hut was a treasure trove of books. He had bound
two pieces of thin wood as book covers and inserted large taal
and bhurja leaves filled with his writings on Upanishads,Vedas, Smriti, Puranas, as well Panini and other grammarians’ works and
even some works by the astrologers. These and other such books were piled up
and scattered on the floor of his hut in such disorder that there was no place
to step in.
Every morning, Loknath would bathe in the
river, then sit under the old neem tree and start
reading with deep concentration.
Some days, the exhausted hot afternoon breeze of summer would mix with
the scent of the freshly blooming neem flowers and
create something of unforeseen beauty. There was the white haired teacher Aryabhatta drawing imaginary lines in air, trying to teach
student Shakatayan the exact positions of the stars
and planets. In the middle of chirping and singings of the wild birds, Yaska would be discussing his theories on languages.
Frowning, Parashar would stare absent mindedly at an
anthill, thinking about some difficult geometric formula--- Loknath
would suddenly realize that he was imagining the linguist Yaska’s
face superimposed on the swan swimming in the river.
night Loknath would stare at the stars and wonder
what they were. Here the Astrologers’ explanations did not satisfy him. At last he figured out himself that the stars
must be huge masses of bright luminescent crystals. They must be there to
provide light at night. He also thought the moon to be an even larger crystal
mass. He wrote down his theories in the books that were found after his death.
About the source of light in the stars, he wrote that the crystals found in the
stars must be much more luminescent than those found on earth. Many
mathematical calculations and geometric drawings about these and other theories
were left in his writings. These showed that Loknath
was an extremely talented scientist and that he was not bound to any one way of
thinking. If a better explanation came around, he would not hesitate to throw
away his old theories. He openly accepted criticism and lack of his own
knowledge. He requested everyone to read his writings and form their own opinions.
What he hated was indecisiveness. He could not tolerate wishy-washy people who
had no opinion of their own but readily accepted whatever came their way. He
preferred full knowledge or total ignorance. Anything in between was anathema.
Once he spent a few years working hard trying to write a treatise on Sankhya. After finishing he felt it was not exactly as he
wanted it to be. He saw many flaws and could not correct them even after trying
his best. So, one morning he took the handwritten tome to the bank of Punyabhadra. The reeds were shivering in early morning
breeze. Loknath took the fruit of his many year’s of hard work and tossed it all in the river. The
heavy book immediately sank like a stone. Only the surface showed a few
wavelets startled by the sudden impact of heavy scholarship on the wild untamed
Days went by. Loknath could not sit still in
one place like before. He was losing his peace of mind. Some days, he did not
eat anything at all but roamed along the river aimlessly. At night he did not
stare at the stars anymore lest any one of them blinking from behind the clouds
caught him like a school child guilty of not doing his homework. In the silence
of the dark forests, thousands of questions beset him. Why weren’t there any
answers in the Vedantas of Upasarga?
Loknath tried to concentrate in the books again. But anyone
looking at him would have seen irritation more than serenity on his face.
Reading the philosophers’ advices on achieving happiness only increased his
impatience. At night Patanjali from the dry leaves
would cast evil eyes on Gautam, Kapil
would sneer at Gemini. Vyasdeva resented being
delegated to the ranks of imbeciles. In the middle of the night, Loknath’s tired, overworked, supersaturated brain would
hallucinate a huge debate raging among the philosophers. The verbal fights
among the translators and illustrators were almost becoming physical. Loknath could not fall asleep. The smell of dried old
leaves would suffocate him. He then would come out of his cottage and stand
under the ancient neem tree. Some days, under a slice
of the moon, the huge forest looked mysterious. Some days the solid darkness
would give way to the chorus of calls from the night creatures. The glowworms
glowed on top of the trees. The sweet breeze from the river would cool his
overheated brows, but soon those silent questions would seize him again. This
time perhaps in the guise of darkness. If there were a maker of light, would
there be one for darkness too? If darkness was defined as lack of light, then
was it a self evident entity? Was it self generated?...Did
it preexist Creation?
Loknath would come back to his books again, reignite the
dying lamp and tried to find his answers. Some days he would look up at the sky
and sit in silence, thinking. The eternal mystery that he wanted to solve so
badly, seemed to retreat further and further away. Nowhere could he find any
help or a ray of hope.
few years before, Loknath used to think that some
wise and fortunate man perhaps did unveil the mystery of life and creation in
those very early days of human history. Those wise men had written down some
hopeful clues for the future generations. “Eureka!”, “I got it!” He remembered
the first time when he found a hint of it in those letters on a dry, fragile
leaf; it was perhaps twenty years ago. It was a rainy night. Nobody was out and
about except the lonely wind whooshing over the fields and forests. Sitting in
his dimly lit hut, those words had made him shiver as if a snake had bitten
him. When he closed the book and stared outside, it seemed the forests, the
grass, even the river was shivering like him. Now that memory merely made him
smile. Looking back, the naivety, and emotions of those young days seemed so
raw, so fraught with misunderstandings. Human mind finds it difficult to step
beyond a set boundary. One, who says that he knows, is either a self-deceiving
fool or a cheating liar. He had no concept of what he was supposed to
understand in the first place.
Suddenly his eyes were riveted on the early spring blood red Palash blossoms coloring the far blue horizons along the
years ago, Loknath was about twenty-one years old.
--“It is nothing, Maya dear. I will definitely return, in about seven
years, it will not even take that long to finish the studies. Besides, do you
think I can stay too long without you?
Seventeen-year-old Maya smiled shyly, “ Only
seven years? That is not too long.”
Loknath replied eagerly, “ That’s
what I am saying too,” then looking trustingly at Maya’s face, “It really isn’t
too long, is it?”
Maya tried to hide her smile, “Oh, not at all! Just morning and
evening.” And then she burst out laughing.
Loknath felt a bit embarrassed, “No, really Maya, I’m
serious. I meant…”
young Maya who wiped her own tears and with gentle eyes and a sweet smile had
encouraged him to follow his ambitions, perhaps had no place now in adult Loknath’s heart. At this point in his life, he did not care
for such trivia anymore.
His heart was changing right from the time when he started his studies.
He forgot Maya. He learned to denounce all things of material comfort and
pleasure. He focused his mind only on the scholarly discourses of the learned
men and teachers. It was as if an entirely different world had opened up to
him, revealing all its mystery. Against all that, Maya, a mere chit of a girl,
stood no chance. Only ignorant fools derive pleasure from such inconsequential
things. Perhaps because they had no other worthier cause to preoccupy their
Yet, once in a while, in some unguarded moment, those memories would
suddenly seize his mind like some nocturnal evil spirits and remind him how a
twenty year old youth was once blessed with her sweetly shy smile. It was the
very first gift of his youth.
After many years, Loknath heard a vague news
that Maya too had never married and that she denounced all earthly pleasures to
enter a monastery as a nun. That too was many years ago. After that he never
bothered to seek any news of her. Let her be wherever she went.
Evening shadows darkened around the hut. Loknath
looked up at the sky and prayed – “Oh All Seeing Power, I am the philosopher Loknath. I am not ignorant like ordinary mortals. But my
knowledge is incomplete. I want to understand why this universe is made as it
is. Is there something called God as the ordinary folks believe? I do not just want to read other people’s
descriptions. I want proof, myself. I do not know if You
can hear me, but please let me know. And don’t try to make me forget with
distractions. I shall not be appeased.”
the Academy of Mahamandali, lived the chief
philosopher Madhavacharya. Loknath
went to him with all his unanswered questions. Madhavacharya
started to explain about liberation, the many different types of liberations,
the difference between liberation and salvation etc
etc. He was getting so deep into various explanations and was quoting so many Shastras and Puranas to support
his theories that Loknath felt the only way to
achieve true liberation was to escape his verbosity.
day while bathing in the river, he felt something touch his back. Perhaps it
was the tail of some animal. But when he reached behind and grabbed it, he
found it was a leafy aquatic plant. He yanked it out and saw the lower part of
the plant under water –what was tickling him—was quite different from the upper
part exposed to sunlight and air. The lower part was more like fir trees
whereas the upper part had large flat leaves.
This was eminently suitable to the plant where
it could float on the broad upper leaves and stay intact in the stream of
water, which easily flowed through the hair like long leaves in the lower part.
Loknath finished bathing while preoccupied with
wondering about the smart arrangement of the plant. He sensed that this was a
clue to something important.
felt that this presence of two totally different types of leaves on one stem
was a proof of Nature’s consciousness. Otherwise who would make such an elegant
design for an insignificant waterweed? How could it otherwise change the lower
leaves to avoid being torn up by the fast current.
Loknath also remembered that a few days ago he had prayed
to the Almighty Creator for a proof of His existence. Was this then the answer
to his prayer?
thinking, this type of conclusion was quite tenuous. Only ordinary people can
easily be lured into it. He tried to dismiss such easy solutions and looked for
more robust proof. Yet, everyday some thought inside his mind kept distracting
him. That water plants dried up remains stayed in front of his cottage for many
days. Loknath often forgot his books and was found
looking for something in the banks of the river where the reeds bent low and
flowed along the current, where many wildflowers bloomed in masses on the
water’s edges, where many water birds laid their eggs and carefully hid them
under the broad leaves near the riverbanks. Loknath
intently examined them; He noticed many similarities among the different types
of wild flowers. Most of them had five petals. In the wide valley, there must
had been two millions to perhaps ten millions such tiny flowers, Loknath randomly sampled them and noticed that they all had
five petals surrounding a central spot.
The thirst to learn more grew and took over his mind like a disease
spreading over the body of a patient. Hundreds of question beset him, unusual
they were, terrible, huge, like fearsome ogres, these questions seized him day
and night. Initially Loknath welcomed the questions,
but soon he found them almost painful. It was as if in a large dark empty room
a tiny ray of light had raised his hopes. Now he thrashed about for a glimpse
of more of that light, more of the open sky. He could not sleep at night. He
could only pray for more knowledge, more consciousness.
this state of mind, he still observed new things in nature. He noticed an
insect gradually killing a smaller one by injecting something from his body
into the smaller insect. He picked up
the larger insect to look closely and saw that it was using a hollow but sharp
needle like syringe to deliver the poison and that this poison was coming out
of his own body, from a hollow organ. What an efficient way of killing one’s
Loknath’s mind went blank for a second. Here was Creator in
His cruelest form! The faithful ones foolishly think of Him as kind and
Loknath spent the rest of the spring and the entire summer
in a trance. At last a strange incident put an end to his incessant quest,
suspicion and impatience. It was the beginning of the monsoon season. After a
long and hard summer, the grass was dry and colorless, the wind was like a gust
of hot flame itself. In the evening the winds picked up and heavy dark clouds
piled up in one corner of the sky. Loknath was lying among
the tall grasses around the bend of the river and watching the arrival of the
clouds, suddenly something bit him between his first and second finger. As Loknath turned and withdrew his hand he saw a poisonous
viper raising his hood to hit him once more. Loknath
lunged to catch its tail but missed and got a handful of grass only. The snake
had disappeared by then.
Loknath immediately tore strips from his clothes and tied
at his wrist and arm. He tried to make them as tight as he could but it wasn’t
enough. He tried to remember the medicines for snakebite—the roots of white Aakanda plants—he tried to look for them but couldn’t find
any. The arm felt weak, the venom must be spreading in his blood. Loknath tried to remember other anti
venoms, seeds of kusum flowers, and barks from
red sandalwood tree, none of them were nearby. After some time, he could not
walk or even stand. The venom had attacked his whole body. Loknath
collapsed near a bush.
Slowly, very slowly, a light brightened the farthest corner of his
consciousness. The impending death while holding him in its grip also sounded a
far away stream freeing out of its mountain prison, coming down to remove his
blindfold, promising him freedom.
Lord, beyond the eternal space, from some unimaginable distance away, You have kept an eye on this most insignificant human. Is
that why You gave me the clue of that water plant? I
did not recognize You then, now I can see—You are in my soul, You are my soul,
greater than the universe, nobler than heaven, beyond all materials… as the
cloud is the life source of all plants, You are the source of my life. You can
hear the cries of my soul. Well, show me the way now and I’ll follow you,
beyond this dark kingdom, beyond that far horizon, beyond the end of this
life…. I shall at last see Your eternal glory, Your
Suddenly Loknath’s philosopher
subconscious balked. ‘You are losing your power of critical thinking. You can’t
judge for yourself when you are almost dying. Get over this weakness. Forget
all this simplistic devotions.’
But Loknath could not make any decisions. He
was too exhausted to fight with his thoughts. Like the effect of addictive
opium, death gradually strengthened its stranglehold…
Somewhere two small children were picking up wild dates under a date
palm tree at the edge of some no name village. Their footsteps could barely be
heard beyond the farthest reach of time…
Near a Mou tree, a boy and a girl are picking
the tasty mou flowers…the girl is giving all the
juicy ones to the boy—here, try this, see how sweet it is…
Far in space white bearded, luminous sages are going somewhere. One of
them says to his friends, -wait, I can see a fountain of fresh water. Come,
let’s throw this away and fill our bowls with this clean water. Some inky stuff
is dripping from their bowls.…
Near the corner of the lane, in one cloudy afternoon, someone had beaten
a girl, her loose hair covered her face, her clothes are torn…she is
sobbing,--why? Why would you beat me? Just because I come to your place? I
won’t come, ever, you’ll see…
Loknath’s dying eyes raptly stared at the universe, just as
two young eyes once had stared at another, many years ago, in a nameless small
village. The darkening world again posed a huge question in front of him but
found no answer.