A Butcher’s Yoga

Ugly Butcher
A young monk went to a forest; there he meditated, worshipped, and practised Yoga for a long time. After years of hard work and practice, he was one day sitting under a tree, when some dry leaves fell upon his head. He looked up and saw a crow and a crane fighting above in the tree. This made him very angry. He said, “What! Dare you throw these dry leaves upon my head!” With these words he angrily glanced at them and a flash of fire went out of his head and burnt the birds to ashes. He was very glad, almost overjoyed at this development of such power. He could now burn the crow and crane by just a angry look!

After a time he had to go to town to beg for food. He stood at a door, and said, “Mother, give me food.” A voice came from inside the house, “Wait a little, my son.” The young man thought, “You wretched woman, how dare you make me wait! You do not know my power yet.” While he was thinking thus the voice came again, “Boy, don’t be thinking too much of yourself. Here is neither crow nor crane.” He was astonished and anxious to know how the lady inside knew about his powers, yet he had to wait. At last the woman came, and he fell at her feet and said, “Mother, how did you know that?” She said, “My boy, I do not know your Yoga or your practices. I am a common everyday woman. I made you wait because my husband is ill, and I was nursing him. All my life I have struggled to do my duty. When I was unmarried, I did my duty to my parents; now that I am married, I do my duty to my husband; that is all the Yoga I practise. But by doing my duty I have become illumined; thus I could read your thoughts and know what you had done in the forest. If you want to know something higher than this, go to the market of such and such a town where you will find the butcher who will tell you something that you will be very glad to learn.” The monk thought, “Why should I go to that town and meet a lowly butcher?” But after what he had seen, his mind opened a little, so he went.

When he came near the town, he found the market and there saw, at a distance, a big fat butcher cutting meat with big knives, talking and bargaining with different people. The young man said, “Lord help me! Is this the man from whom I am going to learn? He is the incarnation of a demon, if he is anything.” In the meantime this man looked up and said, “O young monk, did the lady send you here? Take a seat until I have done my business.” The monk thought, “Why is he making me wait, does he not know that I am a powerful yogi?” Nevertheless he took his seat; the man went on with his work, and after he had finished he took his money and said to the monk, “Come sir, come to my home.”

On reaching home the butcher gave him a seat, saying, “Wait here,” and went into the house. He then washed his old father and mother, fed them, and did all he could to please them, after which he came to the monk and said, “Now, sir, you have come here to see me; what can I do for you?”

The monk asked him a few questions about soul and about God, and the butcher gave him a lecture which was so profound that it was recorded by the monk and is known as the Vyadha (Butcher’s) Gita . It contains one of the highest flights of the Vedanta.

When the butcher finished his teaching, the monk felt astonished. He said, “Why are you in the body of a butcher? With knowledge such as yours why are you doing such filthy, ugly work?”

“My son,” replied the butcher, “no duty is ugly, no duty is impure. My birth placed me in these circumstances and environments. In my boyhood I learnt the trade; I am unattached, and I try to do my duty well. I try to do my duty as a householder, and I try to do all I can to make my father and mother happy. I neither know your Yoga, nor have I become a monk, nor did I go out of the world into a forest; nevertheless, all that you have heard and seen has come to me through the unattached doing of the duty which belongs to my position.”

There are two elements to Karma Yoga: One is selfless action. The other is unconditional love. As we see in the stories above, both the ordinary woman and the butcher performed their action with selfless motive and love. They were hence both Karma Yogis and because of this both of them became illuminated with higher knowledge.

When you do actions selflessly it means that you are unattached to the result nor the people involved. A Karma Yogi has to learn to control her desires and her ego and this is what turns her day-to-day actions into Yoga. The only way humans can perform daily actions without friction is by the presence of love. That is why love is an essential part of Karma Yoga. Since this love is a part of Karma Yoga it is selfless unconditional love. It is the type of love that a mother has for her new born infant. Being liberated from the burden of all expectations, attachments, and desires, a Karma yogi is a free soul whose every action reflects the Divine will and whose every moment is a moment of intense joy and love.

Related: What is Duty? By Swami Vivekananda

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