by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura Prabhupāda
Many people regard Ekalavya’s guru-bhakti as that of the ideal disciple. But one special consideration must be observed…
Hiraṇyadhanura, the king of the outcastes (caṇḍālās), had a son named Ekalavya. Desiring to study the science of projectile weaponry (astra-vidyā), the outcaste prince presented himself before Droṇācārya. However, Droṇācārya did not agree to initiate him into the science of archery, for he was aware of Ekalavya’s very low status.
Nevertheless, Ekalavya vowed to himself that he would learn archery only from Droṇācārya, and with that purpose in mind, he went to the forest. There he sculpted an idol of Droṇācārya out of earth and began practising astra-vidyā in the presence of his imagined guru. In this way, he gradually became extraordinarily expert in archery. Arjuna was Droṇācārya’s dearest disciple, and the ācārya [great teacher] had promised him that none of his other disciples would ever be able to surpass him.
One day, on the order of Droṇācārya, the Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas ventured out from their capital to the forest to hunt. They soon came across a dog, directly on their path and were extremely astonished to find that seven arrows had been shot into the dog’s mouth simultaneously when he had opened it to bark. They could see that the archer who had let loose those arrows was even more skilled than any of the Pāṇḍavas, and set out to find him.
After searching for some time, they discovered that the boy who had performed this feat was Ekalavya, the son of Hiraṇyadhanura, and that he had developed his extraordinary skill by making and worshipping an idol of Droṇācārya.
The Pāṇḍavas returned to their capital and informed Droṇācārya of this amazing incident. In a humble mood, Arjuna informed Droṇācārya of the fact that the ācārya had one disciple more skilled in the art of archery than he. The ācārya listened to these words in shock. At once, he returned to the forest with Arjuna and came upon Ekalavya, who was fully absorbed in practising archery as he let loose dense volleys of arrows, one after the other.
When Droṇācārya approached, Ekalavya suddenly saw the ācārya standing directly before him. The young archer immediately worshipped his feet, introduced himself as one of his disciples, and stood submissively with folded hands.
Droṇācārya addressed Ekalavya, “You must offer me guru-dākṣina*.”
* Guru-dākṣina is the reciprocation due to the teacher of a particular art for initiating and training the student. If the student fails to provide guru-dākṣina, his learning is not blessed.
Ekalavya replied, “Whatever you order, I am prepared to give.”
Droṇācārya next told Ekalavya to sever his right thumb and give it as dākṣina, and he followed the order of his gurudeva with a bright face, without any objection.
Despite being rejected by Droṇācārya due to being from a low caste, Ekalavya did not lose faith in his gurudeva. He made an earthen statue of Droṇācārya and learned the science of archery from it, thus demonstrating ideal guru-bhakti [devotion to guru]. Furthermore, the common conception is that Arjuna was jealous that Ekalavya had achieved greater expertise than he had, and that Arjuna was responsible for destroying Ekalavya’s prowess by inducing Droṇācārya to keep his word. However, this is not actually true, and it is not the conception of the devotees.
Śrī Bhagavān is the eternal, Supreme Truth, His bhakti-nīti – that is, His principle of devotion – is eternal truth, and His devotees are eternal truth. These three – Bhagavān, bhakti and the bhakta [the Supreme Personality of Godhead, devotional service to Godhead, and the devotee] – are the sole, eternal Supreme Truth. For the devotees, everything is well, while for the non-devotees nothing is well. Even the qualities of the non-devotees are disqualifications because their qualities are not engaged in pleasing the transcendental senses of God.
Those who consider mundane ethics to be greater than Bhagavān are unable to
comprehend the topics of the Absolute Truth. They belong to the school of impersonalism (nirviśeṣa-vāda). They do not accept that Bhagavān, bhakti and the bhakta are non-different, and yet there are real specialities between them.
What flaw was there in Ekalavya’s behaviour that is worthy of careful deliberation? Ekalavya wore the mask of guru-bhakti, but he was actually acting antagonistically toward his guru.
When the ācārya – he whom Ekalavya had accepted as his gurudeva – did not want to teach Ekalavya the science of archery, either because he considered Ekalavya to be of a low caste, or for the purpose of testing him, or for any other reason, it was Ekalavya’s duty to take that order on his head. However, that idea did not even enter his mind. Instead, his main concern was to become baḍa, or very big and great.
According to custom, if the student does not accept a guru from an external perspective, he will not be accepted as properly trained, nor will he ever be acclaimed as great. It was for this reason that Ekalavya created an earthen statue of Droṇācārya and imagined being in his presence. In this act, his sole purpose was to become great by expertly learning the science of archery. In essence, the root cause and purpose of his sādhana was nothing but
the gratification of his senses.
Sacrificing himself to the desire of his guru was in no way his exclusive aim. Some argue that, in the end, Ekalavya made no objection to the strict instruction of his guru, and in fact, executed his order with joy. However, by reflecting upon this matter with gravity and a little subtlety, we can see that even in this instance, rather than actually valuing transcendental devotion to his guru, Ekalavya considered mundane ethics to be of utmost importance. The ethic he upheld when he severed his thumb was that one must unfailingly give whatever object one’s gurudeva requests as dākṣina.
Actually, Ekalavya did not make his offering with any real devotion, or bhakti. Bhakti’s tendency is to be natural and honest. If Ekalavya had natural and causeless bhakti for Hari, guru, and Vaiṣṇavas in his heart, then neither his guru, Droṇācārya; nor the topmost Vaiṣṇava, Arjuna; nor Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself would have been disturbed by his behaviour. But his gurudeva did not accept Ekalavya’s endeavour to attain expertise in the science of archery or to become great. The core of Ekalavya’s heart suffered from the disease of desiring and endeavouring to become even greater than Arjuna, who is the greatest of Vaiṣṇavas.
The desire to be greater than the Vaiṣṇava is not bhakti, it is abhakti. It is simply a display of mundane bravado. According to worldly considerations, the ambition to become great may be considered a good thing. But the endeavour to stay subordinate to the Vaiṣṇavas and to remain under their guidance is indeed called bhakti.
Rather than directly receiving knowledge through the śrauta-paramparā* or from a mahanta-guru (grandmaster) through the process of aural reception, Ekalavya wanted to become great through his own bravado, and it was this that Arjuna informed Droṇācārya of. If Arjuna had not mercifully done so, impersonalism (nirviśeṣa-vāda) would have triumphed. An atheistic doctrine would have been established that it is possible for people to achieve perfection without ever approaching a mahanta-guru for transcendental knowledge or instructions on bhakti and even after going against the wishes of such a guru and simply practising near an imaginary or clay statue of him. It is clear that Arjuna was not at all envious of Ekalavya; rather he showed causeless compassion to him and the whole world.
* The descent of perfect sound vibration through the succession of perfected masters.
If Ekalavya had had sincere bhakti for his guru, then Kṛṣṇa would never have been able to destroy him, for He always protects His bhakta or the bhakta of His bhakta. However, Ekalavya was killed by Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s own hands. This was the ultimate fate of Ekalavya.
Śrī Caitanyadeva has explained, “An external display of austerities cannot be
called bhakti. The demons also perform austerities of such severity that even the demigods cannot rival them” (Śrī Caitanya-bhāgavata, Madhya-khaṇḍa, 23.46). Ekalavya wanted to be greater than the Vaiṣṇava, even though this was directly opposed to the desire of his guru. Because he was slain by Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s own hand, he attained an impersonal destination. Only demons are killed by Śrī Kṛṣṇa, while devotees are protected by Him.
Hiraṇyakaśipu and Prahlāda are the respective evidence of this. We must not wear the mask of guru-bhakti with the objective of becoming greater than the Vaiṣṇavas. We must not become impersonalists (nirviśeṣa-vādīs). This is the teaching that śuddha-bhaktas [bona fide devotees] can glean from the example of Ekalavya’s life. There is not even one iota of guru-bhakti in the most extraordinarily skillful execution of karma, but subordination to the Vaiṣṇava is truly bhakti.
Translated by the Rays of The Harmonist team
from Upākhyāne Upadeśa
Upākhyāne Upadeśa is Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura Prabhupāda’s instructions through the medium of scriptural moral tales.
Rays of The Harmonist On-line; Year 5, Issue 1, “Arjuna versus Ekalavya”, by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura Prabhupāda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License to ensure that it is always freely available.