There was once a great sage whose name was Aruni. He was extremely sincere. He had studied the Vedas and he was well conversant with Vedic lore.
Aruni had a son named Shvetaketu. Shvetaketu had studied the Vedas under the direct guidance of his father during his early years and he had mastered the Vedas while he was still in his teens.
Shvetaketu was extremely proud of his knowledge. He challenged many Vedic scholars to contests of knowledge and defeated them all. Their pride had to kiss the dust. One day, Shvetaketu heard of a King who was great and powerful and at the same time was surcharged with inner knowledge. Shvetaketu thought that if he could defeat this king with his mental prowess, then he would get abundant wealth from the king.
The name of this great king was Prabahan and he ruled the land called Panchal. Shvetaketu went before the king and said, “King Prabahan, I have come to teach you the knowledge of God.”
The elderly king was amused and said to the young man, “Wonderful. You teach me. Let me ask you five questions. If you can answer these five questions, from your answers I will definitely get the knowledge of Brahman.”
Then Prabahan asked the first question, but Shvetaketu could not answer it. He asked the second question and Shvetaketu could not answer that one either. The fate of the proud youth was the same on the third, fourth and fifth questions, too. King Prabahan was wonderstruck. He had thought that most probably this young boy would not be able to answer one or two of the five questions, but he had not been able to answer a single one.
Shvetaketu’s pride was smashed. His fate was most deplorable. He became extremely angry with his father. He thought that his father had betrayed him by not teaching him everything about Brahman. He thought that since his father had taught him, he must know everything about Brahman. How was it then, that he could not answer these five questions?
Shvetaketu returned home, furious with his father and narrated the story of his humiliation. Then he accused his father, saying, “Father, you wanted me to be humiliated by the king.”
Aruni quietly asked his son what the questions were. When he heard the five questions, he said, “Son, to be very frank with you, I myself do not know the answers to these five questions.” When Shvetaketu heard that his father did not know the answers, he calmed down.
Then a thought entered Aruni’s mind. “I must go to Prabahan and learn the answers to these questions.” he thought. “The knowledge of Brahman may be at his feet.”
But he had a little pride. He said to himself, “I am Brahmin and Prabahan is only a Kshatriya. Kshatriyas are not supposed to be conversant with Vedic lore. It is only the Brahmin who should have God-knowledge.”
But Aruni had a sincere heart, a devoted heart. He thought, “I must not cherish my pride. I must go and sit at the feet of this king and learn from him the knowledge of Brahman.”
So Aruni went to Prabahan and begged him for God-knowledge. Prabahan said, “How can I give it to you? You are a Brahmin. If I give it to you, other kings, one or two Kshatriya kings will be offended. Right now this knowledge is only for the Kshatriyas. If I give it to you, then the Brahmins will have the same knowledge. You have quite a few things that we do not have, but the things that we have are our own.”
Again king Prabahan had a most divine heart. He thought it over and then said, “I know that the Kshatriya kings, my comrades, my compeers, will be angry with me, but my heart sees that you deserve this knowledge. Today this knowledge will go to a Brahmin. From now on, the knowledge that so far has been treasured and cherished only by Kshatriyas will be shared by the Brahmins also.”
A similar incident happened in the life of the great sage, Balaka. This sage has a son named Balaki. Balaki was like Shvetaketu — very proud, very haughty. He used to challenge all Vedic scholars and he used to beat them roundly. He came to learn from the scholars that there was a Kshatriya king who had realised the knowledge of the highest Absolute. The name of this king was Ajatashatra. Ajatashatra was the king of Kashi, which we now call Benares, the most sacred place for pilgrimage in India.
Balaki went to Kashi with his indomitable pride and said, “I have come to teach you, King Ajatashatra.”
The king was deeply amused when he heard that this boy was going to give him knowledge of God and he immediately offered him one thousand cows if he could do it.
Balaki began. “That which is inside the sun is Brahman and I worship Him.”
Ajatashatra said, “I knew it. I knew that Brahman is inside the sun, but I don’t worship Brahman in that form. It is inside the sun, but Brahman is something else, also.”
Then Balaki said, “That which is inside the moon is Brahman and I worship Him.”
Again Ajatashatra said, “I knew it. It is true that that which is inside the moon is Brahman. But Brahman is something else, also.”
So Balaki continued saying. “Brahman is inside this, Brahman is inside that,” and the king kept replying, “I knew it, but Brahman is something else, also.”
Then poor Balaki was confused. He thought, “This means that the king has superior knowledge.” He meditated for some time and felt that what the king said was true — that not only is Brahman inside everything, but also Brahman is something else. So Balaki asked the king for the knowledge of Brahman.
This time this boy unlike Shvetaketu had the inner nobility. He felt that what he knew he had offered to the king, but this king had knowledge that was infinitely higher and deeper than his own. So Balaki sat at the feet of Ajatashatra and begged the king to give him the knowledge of God.
And Ajatashatra did teach him. What was the knowledge that he taught? He taught that that which is inside each object, inside all of creation, is Brahman. That which trancends form, shape and name, is Brahman. Brahman is within; Brahman is without. Brahman is far; Brahman is near. Brahman is the Universal, Transcendental Reality and again Brahman constantly transcends its own reality. This is the knowledge which Ajatashatra gave to Balaki.
These stories from the Upanishads show that the knowledge of the Vedas and the knowledge of Brahman are not one and the same. The Vedas have the knowledge of Brahman, but it is not inside the pages of the books, or inside the mantras. It is in the message which the Vedas contain, more so in the practice of the teachings. It is in the meditation of the seeker who has studied the Vedas and who is applying the Vedic truths in his outer life. Only by one who applies the Vedic truths in his life — in his concentration, meditation and contemplation — can the real breath the knowledge of Brahman be seen, felt and realised.