Aravind Balasubramanya has spent more than 2 decades with Sri Sathya Sai Baba. He has studied under Baba and been His photographer.
As the early rays of the rising sun filtered through the trees, the forest woke up after its nightly slumber. Chirping birds kept preening their feathers in preparation for the day while the burrowing animals came out of their holes, their noses twitching. It was a beautiful spring day and the forest had put on its best vestures. On the border of the forest, in a large barn, a huge sheep flock too woke up to the day. This was Maya’s flock and she was a loving and caring head-sheep. All the sheep in the flock were happy with the matriarch’s rule. Maya seemed to know where exactly to graze for the best food and which spots to avoid to be safe from any danger looming from the nearby forest. However, there was something strange in Maya’s flock - her own little ‘lamb’, Mukti.
Mukti was not Maya’s own child. She had found him weak and helpless at the forest’s edge. Her maternal instincts had taken over and she had taken him into her flock. She fed him milk and tended on him like her own lamb. Mukti had gained his strength suckling at Maya’s bosom and soon had become an indispensable part of the flock. But as time passed, Mukti seemed to have developed a strange illness. He refused to eat anything other than his foster mother’s milk! How long could Maya breastfeed him? All the other lambs of the flock had started to chew on tender grass. But not Mukti.
Mukti’s growth too seemed so different. Unlike the other sheep, he did not develop much bodily hair. He had some hair near his face but that was about it.
“He is definitely not going to be a good wool-yielding sheep”, said one grandmother sheep.
“Mukti does not seem to be growing good horns. He is so ugly”, teased his friends.
“He probably needs a special diet of mountain grass because the grass of the plains do not seem to be suitable for his palate. Otherwise, I am afraid that he may never even bleat like a normal sheep”, pronounced the doctor-sheep.
Teased by the other lambs and left to fend for himself by the other sheep, Mukti found his sole solace in Maya, his mother, his saviour, his guardian and, most importantly, the provider of the only food that he seemed capable of taking - milk. But soon, Maya too had to give up on Mukti.
From Solitude to Loneliness
The day which Maya dreaded finally came. She went dry and had no more milk to feed Mukti. So accustomed to his daily nourishment, Mukti had no idea what to do. He tried his best to chew upon the grass but he just could not. His whole body repulsed and seemed to revolt against eating grass. Mukti just spat out the grass.
“I am sorry Mukti, I cannot help you any more”, lamented Maya. Mukti could not believe his ears. His mother was giving up on him?
“But mother, why am I suffering thus?” he cried out pathetically.
“I don’t know Mukti.”
“How can you not know? You gave birth to me right? Wasn't I a normal baby?”
That was when Maya could withhold no longer. She let out the secret from which she had protected her little one all this while,
“Child, I am not actually your mother! You did not come from me. I found you at the edge of the forest. My heart melted for you and so I nursed you all this while...”
Mukti was in a daze. The revelations seemed to much for him. He just ran out of the barn, away from the flock. Maya chased him, calling out,
“Mukti... Mukti... Where are you going? Come back to me...”
But Mukti was deaf to her cries now. He just ran like crazy. He was surprised at his own speed - none of the sheep or lambs could actually match up to him! He was happy that he was better than the rest of the flock in some way at least. He soon left every sheep behind and ran till he fell exhausted at the edge of the forest. That was when his eyes shut and everything went black.
From the Frying Pan Into the Fire
When Mukti opened his eyes, everything still seemed dark. In a few moments, his eyes adjusted to the dark and he could see that he was in a cave. There was the smell of meat and Mukti heard the roar of a lion. It didn’t take him long to realize that he was in a lion’s den! The very realization made him shiver in mortal fear. A lion must have found him fallen at the forest’s edge, he conjectured, and brought him to the den to make a meal out of him. Oh! How he wished that his mother was with him now. He repented having having run away from Maya.
And that was when the lion entered the den. The lion bared His (capital ‘H’ to differentiate the lion from the lamb) teeth and picked Mukti by the neck. He carried Mukti to the open space outside the cave and dropped him. Mukti thought that he would now be killed but the Lion began to play with him. Mukti had no interest in playing with a lion but did he have a choice now?
“C’mon little one, you look so weak and tired. Shall I get you some food?”
“The doctor says that I need to eat only a special mountain grass...” said Mukti sheepishly.
“WHAT UTTER RUBBISH”, roared the lion.
“No... Really... I cannot eat grass...”
“Of course you cannot eat grass little one. Lions don’t eat grass!”
Mukti was convinced that this was the most stupid lion ever.
“But sheep do... and they start eating grass as lambs...” said Mukti with an air of irritation.
“You are no sheep you... what’s your name?”
“Mukti, you are no sheep! You are a lion cub. Who told you you are a sheep?”
“Your mother? Really? When did she tell that?”
“Er... Um... Actually, it was not my mother. It was Maya. She took care of me when I was weak.”
In an instant, Guru the lion realized what had happened!
“Ah! You were with Maya! That is why you thought you were a sheep! Mukti, realize that Maya seems to be good caretaker but she can never foster you because you are not a sheep. You are a lion, just like me. See, how similar we are...”
That was when Mukti realized that Guru indeed looked like a bigger version of himself. Guru had a beautiful mane and very little hair on the rest of the body. Guru was so handsome, better than all the sheep of his flock.
“Come with me Mukti”, said Guru and took him to a pool. “Look within... See, you are just a reflection of myself. You are a lion. Roar now...”
“I cannot”, squeaked Mukti, “I never have...”
“Again, that is Maya’s training... I am a lion and I roar. You are a lion and you cannot roar because you don’t know that you are a lion! That is the only difference between us. Now c’mon, trust me. Have faith in what I say and roar.”
That was the moment of reckoning for Mukti. Guru was asking him to unlearn and give up all that he had learnt in his lifetime. In return, He promised to make a lion out of a sheep. That goal was worth giving a shot for. And so, placing complete faith in the words of Guru, Mukti gave it all he had. And today, instead of the ‘bad bleat’ that all the lambs criticized him of, what emanated was a magnificent roar! In an instant, Mukti had found himself. Mukti had been liberated from the prison of being a sheep which Maya had built.
My Story, Your Story, Everyone's Story
"Oka Chinna Katha" - When my Master and best friend for life, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, intercepts the speeding current of His Discourse with these three Telugu words, meanings, "One little story" all ears are alert, all hearts are quivive. For, the story that follows is a flash that illumines, a shower that cools, a joke that tickles, a "tablet" that alleviates, a peep into epic grandeur or pompous absurdity, a poetic parenthesis, an exhilarating prick, a lilt that enlightens, a sugar-coated pill of profundity, a disarming repartee, a volley of raillery on religious rigmarole!
The story of Mukti the lion is not one which Baba narrated in a discourse but it is one which He lived throughout His earthly sojourn. He has been and continues to be ‘Guru’ for so many stray ‘Muktis’ who have been blinded from their reality, having been with ‘Maya’ all through life. Swami always exhorts in His discourses, (example - 27th January 2004 )
“Srunvantu Viswe Amrutasya Putrah” meaning, “Listen all ye the children of immortality...”
“From Truth you have come and to Truth you shall return. That Truth is God. God is Truth.”
Innumerable have been the instances when looking at me in the eye, during a discourse, Swami has said,
“You are an embodiment of Love; the embodiment of God.”
And this is not just my experience. Thousands, nay millions, will vouch for this as being their own experience too. That is why when He was asked,
“Are you God? Who are you?”
“Find out who you are and then you will understand who I am for I am God and you too are God. The only difference is that I know it, while you do not!”
“How can I believe that I am God Swami? This seems like a lie...”
“It is not a lie my child. It is the inconvenient Truth! If only you truly see yourself, you will realize it and roar. But for that, you need ‘reflection’!”
That is why Mukti’s story is close to my heart - because it is the story of my life too. The story where I have forgotten what Mukti (meaning ‘Salvation’ or ‘Liberation’ in Sanskrit) is because of my proximity to Maya (meaning ‘Delusion’ in Sanskrit). I shall place complete faith in my Guru (meaning ‘Master’ in Sanskrit) and roar out my identity some day or the other. Till such a time comes, I shall continue to bleat saying - Baa Baa, BaaBaa, Baba. I am sure, my Guru will hear my bleat and teach me how to roar for am I not, after all, His child?
This story was inspired in me by a 1952 Walt Disney cartoon that I saw as a child. The cartoon entitled “Lambert, the Sheepish Lion” was wonderfully made and lasted just 8 minutes. Thanks to YouTube, it is available for all to view and enjoy.
Lambert, the Sheepish Lion.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2013 Aravind Balasubramanya