This story happened during the Ramayana period and was narrated several times in Mahabharata and is one of my favorite stories. Kaushika was born to a Brahmin parents, by the time he was born his parents were very old. Right from his childhood he had an inclination towards spiritual studies.
“Father,” he said one day, ” I want to quit the family life, go off to the forest and devote myself to penance and spiritual attainment. ”
His father replied, “But son, your mother and I are very old. I am losing my vision and can hardly move. If you leave us, what will happen to us? Who will serve and protect us?”
Kaushika did not listen to his words. His parents cried in vain,and watched their son turn his back on them. Kaushika’s ambition was fierce, he pursued his goal with utmost sincerity. He mastered all spiritual practices and was on penance under a tree for days together. One day a crane on top of that tree was making noise that disturbed him. Kaushika opened his eyes and stared at the crane angrily. The crane burst into flames.
“How could I have allowed my anger to control me? I have killed an innocent crane.,” he mourned. However deep down he could not help but feel proud of himself. He admired his focus and his penance. Ascetics those days had to beg and ask for alms instead of working and earning their bread. By begging for food, the ascetics would lose their pride and ego which is essential for spiritual growth. Kaushika too went to a nearby village in search of alms. He went to a small house and asked for biksha (alms).
In those days people never made the ascetics wait outside the house, as they considered serving them was a priority. The lady from the house collected food items in a vessel and was about to serve Kaushika, but right at that moment her husband came home, tired and hungry. The lady turned her back on Kaushika. She said ‘Sage! I will attend to my duties and come later to serve you!’
Kaushika was brimming with anger, but the lady just ignored his reaction. She attended to her husband while the sage waited outside. Once her husband fell asleep the lady came out to serve Kaushika. Kaushika was so furious and with all his anger he stared at the lady. The lady smiled and replied, ‘Please do not threaten me, I am not a crane that will die by your fiery gaze’.
The sage was flabbergasted, there was no way this lady could know what had transpired in the forest. He fell flat on her feet, and asked her to take him as her disciple. The lady continued. ‘You claim to be a sage. You are a well-read man, you have mastered the scriptures, but you have not learnt the true meaning of those scriptures!’
‘I am a wife and a mother. My focus is in taking care of my family. Nothing else distracts me until I am done taking care of my family’, she continued ‘if you have dedicated your life to spiritual seeking, then your focus should have be on that and not on some crane sitting over the tree’. The woman continued her teachings “if you had understood the scriptures, you would know that none of the external things would affect you. But you got angry for a trivial thing.’
The words of the woman were simple, yet very powerful. ‘Please teach me more’ he said. The woman replied, ‘Oh Sage! I may not be the right teacher for you. There are several great gurus in this land. You go to Mithila and ask for Dharmavyada.’ Thanking her, Kaushika rushed to Mithila to continue his spiritual seeking.
Kaushika reached Mithila, and asked for Dharmavyadha, everyone he met knew about Dharmavyada, and they gave him the directions. All the people whom Kaushika met on the way praised Dharmavyada as the greatest saint of their locality. Kaushika finally reached his destination, but was shocked to see a butcher shop at that location. He asked the butcher about Dharmavyadha, the butcher said ‘I am Dharmavyada, the man you seek. You must be the sage whom the lady sent. Please wait, as I am serving my customers. And I am afraid I may be able to teach you only after I finish my work.’
Dharmavyada after finishing his work said “Come, let us go to my house.”
Kaushika’s mind was full of conflicting thoughts, “Butchering animals is such a sinful act! Is he not ashamed of it? How could he be a realized guru?”. Reading his thoughts, the butcher calmly said. “It is my family trade. I work hard everyday and serve people. There is no reason for me to be ashamed of!”
“Oh Sage,” continued the butcher. “If I harm other creatures, so do you as you did to the crane. Humans cannot survive without destroying other life forms. As we walk on the soil, we are trampling on numerous creatures. Nor is the air devoid of creatures. There is life even in the plants that we consume”.
The butcher continued his teachings “Our scriptures do teach us not to consume flesh. It is for changing our guna and to condition our body for spiritual seeking. A hardworking laborer or a warrior needs a different guna and for them flesh eating is not a sin”. He also taught him about the true meaning of Ahimsa.
The butcher added ‘Every person who does his assumed duty and does it with utmost dedication and focus climbs up the spiritual later.’ They entered the house of the butcher, where the kids came running to him. The butcher then served his ailing father, he procured all the groceries for his wife and toys for his kids.’ Kaushika got embarrassed, suddenly his father’s words, begging him not to leave them, kept coming back.
He realized that if a butcher, who worked all day and spent the rest of the time taking care of his family could attain the ultimate realization, then he too could attain that by serving his ailing parents. He thanked Dharmavyadha and left Mithila as a changed man. He went home and served his parents with sincerity and devotion until they passed away. Kaushika went on to become one of greatest sages.