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One Thousand and One Cows – The Tale of a Journey to Self-

By Yogi Amandeep Singh

Being with cows expands human compassion.

In the Upanishads there is a beautiful story of a great silent sage by the name of Muni Svetaketu. His father, Uddlak, sent him to study with a great master of Advaite, non-duality, to obtain Atam Gian: Self-Knowledge.

After years of study, Svetaketu had passed all his exams.  All that he could learn, he learned.  He collected all the knowledge that the master could offer him. Svetaketu was very proud, flaunted his knowledge, and was very full of himself.

 Soon it was time for him to return home to his father.  As he was walking towards his house, even from afar his father observed the way Svetaketu was walking.  His father observed how the young man was placing his steps. These were not the steps of a wise one; rather, the young man took steps, strutting like an egoist.  There was so much false pride in each of his steps.

Siri Singh Sahib, Yogi Bhajan used to say that a sage can be recognised by his Raftar, Guftar and Dastar.  Raftar is the way one walks.  Guftar is the way one communicates.  Dastar is one’s projection.

So, observing the way Svetaketu was walking, his father at once recognised that he had not yet obtained Wisdom.  He was returning home with just a load of empty knowledge.

As he was about to step into the house, his father said, “Wait, I have a question for you. Have you known that, by knowing which, everything is known? Have you known yourself?”

Svetaketu replied, “I have studied every scripture that is known, and you can ask me anything from them.  But this question, that you are asking is weird. I have never thought about it and neither was it discussed by my master. And the truth is, I don’t know myself despite studying for years.”

His father ordered, “Go back and know that, by knowing which, everything is known and without knowing it, nothing is known. All other knowledge is useless. First know yourself, then come back.”

Svetaketu went back to the master and enquired about that wisdom, by knowing which everything is known. He wanted the wisdom of the Self.

The master smiled, and said, “All that can be taught I have taught you.  The wisdom of the Self cannot be directly taught. You simply have to be receptive and someday the wisdom will bloom in you.”

The master, now seeing the true urge in Svetaketu, decided to give him the indirect teachings.  

The master had 500 cows in his Ashram. He instructed Svetaketu to take the cows to the forest and to remain with the cows, loving them, serving them and to be as silent as the cows. The Master told Svetaketu: “When the cows became one thousand in number, come back.”

Svetaketu took the 500 cows to the forest. He remained with them for many years. His thoughts reduced, his mind slowly and slowly began to dissolve. There was no one to talk to.  With time, his mind became just like that of a cow. For years he sat under the trees, walked by the streams, and slept under the vast skies.

A time also came when language disappeared from his mind, as well as all the conditioning that he had borrowed from society. He became innocent like the cows. The past dropped, and the future dropped. There was no more the concept of when and where.

He was always in the Here and Now.

Dwelling in the Here and Now, Svetaketu forgot how to count!  Since he forgot to count, he forgot when to return. 

One day, the cows themselves communicated to him, “Dear One, we are one thousand.  Take us back to your master's house. He awaits us.”

Svetaketu started walking back in silence, his gait had changed.  His eyes had changed.  His face had changed, and his entire essence had changed.

The master looked at Svetaketu coming back with one thousand cows. He said to his other disciples, “Look: one thousand and one cows are coming back.”

Svetaketu had become silent; his ego completely dissolved.  He possessed no mind, no sense of false “I.”  He moved with the cows as one of them. 

The Self had manifested in him. Only when there is no object in the mind to know, the knower, “Sakshi”- the True Self, blooms within. When the mind is not filled with thoughts, when there is not a single wave in the ocean of the mind, you are there alone. There is nothing other than you. That moment the greatest miracle that can ever happen on the surface of the earth happens: you become aware of your Self; for the first time you become filled by your Self. A self-illumination happens, you obtain Atma Gian, wisdom of the Self.

Knowing this, all is known and without knowing this, nothing is known.

Seeing Svetaketu in the state of Self, just pure presence, the master came forward to receive him.  The master was so overjoyed at his attainment that he started dancing in ecstasy. The attainment of the student is the real attainment for the master, as he has successfully produced one consciousness so fully evolved.

He embraced Svetaketu and said, “Now, there is nothing left to be known – you have already known that, by knowing which, all becomes known. Why did you come back?”

Svetaketu with folded hands said, “My beloved master, just to pay my respects to you, just to bow and to touch your lotus feet, just to be grateful. It has happened through you, through your guidance. I would have never attained this without you. You have taught me that which cannot be taught.”

Thank you for reading this story.  If you feel called, please donate to the Baba Jarnail Das Gaushala, cow sanctuary in Kapoorey Punjab. 


Save a cow to expand human compassion – Donate Here. 


May the pure light within you guide your way on.  Sat Naam. 

 —Yogi Amandeep



Kapoorey, Punjab

Baba Jarnail Das GaushalaCow Sanctuary