This story from Mahabharata brings to light that our spiritual achievement is useless if we neglect our duties or Dharma.
Kaushika was his parents’ only son.
“Mother,” he said one day, ” I want to go off into the jungle and devote myself to spiritual studies. ”
His mother said with concern, “But son, your father and I are very old. Your father is so sick he can hardly move. If you go away, what will happen to us? Who will attend to our needs?”
Kaushika did not listen. He was determined to study the Vedas. His mother cried in vain as she watched her son turn his back on her and leave for the jungle.
Eventually Kaushika acquired great mystical powers.
One afternoon, as he was meditating under a tree, a crane flew up, and perched herself on a branch above Kaushika. Some bird droppings fell on Kaushika’s head. Kaushika furiously threw a fiery gaze at the crane.
The crane immediately fell dead.
The sage felt sorry for what he had done. “How could I have allowed my anger to take over me that way?” He mourned.
Later in the day, he went to a village to beg for alms. The lady of the house asked him to wait and went to get some food. Right then her husband arrived. She immediately set aside the pot of food she was taking to the sage and went to attend her husband.
After washing his feet, giving him food, and attending to his needs, she came back out to give the alms to the sage. The sage was very insulted. “You put your husband before a pious sage? Do you know the power of a Brahmin?”
She calmly replied, “Yes, a true Brahmin is he who has mastered his anger. Please do not threaten me, I am not a crane that will die by your fiery gaze.”
The sage was amazed. “How does she know about the crane?” he wondered.
The lady continued, “Oh holy one! You are a learned Brahmin but you have not understood the truth about virtue. If you want to be enlightened, go to Dharmavyadha who lives in Mathura. Any one will tell you where he lives.”
The sage thanked the lady and hurried to Mathura. “He must be a great and learned sage indeed,” Kaushika thought to himself.
But when he finally reached Dharmavyadaha’s place, he found it to be a butcher shop!
A very ordinary looking man came out and said, “Welcome holy one. I am Dharmavyadaha, the man you seek.”
“How can a butcher be spiritually enlightened?” Kaushika asked in amazement.
Dharmavyadaha smiled and said with compassion, “I know the story of the crane and of the woman who sent you here. Come, let us go to my house. ”
The sage could not contain himself and blurted out, “But butchering animals is such a sinful profession! Are you not ashamed?”
“I am not,” the butcher calmly said. “I am engaged in a family trade. I work hard and honestly at it. There is no reason for me to be ashamed of my work!”
“Holy one,” continued the butcher. “If I do injury to other creatures, so do you as you did to the crane. ”
“As we walk on the soil, we are trampling on numerous creatures. Nor is the air devoid of creatures.”
“You see that farmer tilling the land? He is killing so many animals that thrive under the soil.”
They reached the butcher’s house. The butcher’s wife was doing her house hold chores and his two boys were playing.
The butcher introduced the sage to his wife and boys.
Then the butcher entered the house and touched his parents’ feet.
“Here is a learned Brahmin who has come from a far-off place.” the butcher told his old father.
“Welcome, holy one,” the father said.
Before leaving the room, the butcher remarked, “My parents are my Gods. My wife and my children attend to them with devotion and love. We consider caring for them to be our greatest duty.”
“In doing one’s duty cheerfully, lies true virtue. This is what the dutiful wife sent you to learn.”
“Oh learned one!” the butcher continued, “You have run away from your responsibilities and deserted your aged father and mother. Spiritual achievement is useless if one has neglected one’s Dharma, or duties.”
The sage remembered his mother crying, “Who will look after us when you are gone my son?”
The sage apologized, “You have shown me the path of true virtue, the true meaning of Dharma, Oh pious one. I am deeply indebted to you.”
Kaushika immediately returned to his parents and served them lovingly till the end of their days.