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Harry R. Schwartz

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A Thousand Cows

Published 17 May 2008. Tags: animals, history.

It’s time to talk about Yajnavalkya, the legendary Indian sage:

King Janaka of Videha once performed a lavish sacrifice and distributed many gifts. Many wise men from Kuru and Panchala attended the ceremony, and Janaka wanted to know who was the wisest among them. So he drove a thousand cows into a pen, and between the horns of each cow he fastened ten gold coins. Then he said: “Venerable brahmins, these cows are for the wisest among you. Let him take them away.”

None of the other brahmins dared to speak, but Yajnavalkya said to his pupil Samashrava: “Son, you can drive these cows home.” “Hero of seers!” his pupil exclaimed joyfully, and drove them home.

The other brahmins were furious. “How presumptuous!” they shouted. And Ashvala, the royal priest, asked: “Yajnavalkya, do you really believe you are the wisest of those assembled here?”

Yajnavalkya replied: “I salute the wisest, but I want those cows.”

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Moral: take the cows.