This is yet another story from the Jataka tales.
Long long ago, around 700 BC, Takshashila was a well established university in India. It was one of the biggest with about ten thousand students. It offered studies in all disciplines, ranging from science to philosophy, though its specialization was in medicine. Many greats like Chanakya, Chandragupta Maurya and Charaka are said to be products of this university. This university was located near Rawalpindi in present day Pakistan and had international students coming to study there. This university thrived for nearly ten centuries before it was damaged by some invasions in 6th century CE and thereafter abandoned.
There are mentions of this university in the Jataka tales very often. This story is one such instance.
Coming back to the story, in the University of Takshashila, there was a young scholar by name “Deena”. He was a very nice person who was very good in his studies and helpful to everyone , but he had a negative obsession about his name. ‘Deena’ means weak and miserable.
So strong was his obsession that he felt extremely bad when people called out his name. “I have got such a bad name – weak… and miserable… hmmph…” he snorted. “I wonder where my parents got this name from…” he sighed.
Just then somebody was calling him, “Deena, O Deena where are you?” Deena was so irritated hearing his name called out loud.
“I must do something about this name of mine” he said to himself. The next day, he went to his teacher earlier than usual.
“Come Deena! What brings you here so early?” asked the Guru (teacher).
“I have a request Guruji” said Deena. “I do not like this name of mine. It hurts me a lot when people call me ‘weak’ or ‘miserable’ and so I want to change my name.” He looked crestfallen.
The teacher smiled and patted his shoulder comfortingly. “Deena, I think you are too obsessed about this” said he. “The name is only an identity, Deena. I don’t think you should be worried so much about this”
But Deena did not seem convinced. “No Guruji” he said. “I want you to please give me a new name. Kindly give me a good name. Please…”
The teacher thought for a while. “I will give you a new name, but you will have to do something before that. Will you?” , he asked.
“Sure, Guruji” said an overjoyed Deena.
“Then, do one thing. Go on a trip to the nearby city for a few days and observe any incident which happens there and also find out the names of the people involved. You can go and stay in a public guest house. Visit markets and other residential areas and observe. Then after you come back, you can decide on changing your name” said the teacher.
Deena agreed. In those days there were public guest houses run by the kings where people could go and stay for free. So it was not difficult for Deena.
The next day Deena left for the city by walk. Upon reaching the city, he saw a procession with a dead body being carried for cremation. The pall bearers were going in the front and the relatives of the dead person were walking behind.
Deena remembered his teacher’s words and slowly walked up to a relative of the dead person and asked him “What is the name of the person who has passed away?”
“Amar Babu” said the relative and walked ahead with the crowd.
“Amar Babu means ‘immortal person’” thought Deena, “but he is dead??”
He reached a choultry (public rest house) and stayed the night there and was thinking about this the whole night.
The next day morning he decided to visit a residential area, and while walking on a street, he saw a woman outside her house. She was speaking angrily to another woman who appeared to be her maid-servant.
“If you are not doing your job well, I will get someone else to work for me. Get lost from here” the woman yelled, and gave the maid-servant a beating with a cane.
The maid-servant was pleading with tears in her eyes, “I will do better tomorrow Mataji (mother). Please do not stop me from service. I have three mouths to feed at home and they will starve to death if you fire me.”
The lady’s neighbours looked on helplessly. They seemed visibly disgusted at this incident. As Deena passed by them, one of them commented to another, “See how our neighbour is beating her maid-servant Lakshmi. She is Karuna only by name, but her behavior is so cruel! Don’t know who named her thus!”
After all, Karuna means ‘mercy’ and Lakshmi means ‘wealth’.
Deena was shocked. Cruel ‘Karuna’ and poor ‘Lakshmi’. He thought he had understood the purpose of names now and thought of going back to Takshashila the next day.
As he walked towards the end of the city, he saw a man approaching him. The man asked “Are you going to Takshashila?”
“Yes” replied Deena.
“Well” said the man. “May I come with you? I am also going to Takshashila, but I do not know the way”.
“Of course yes!” said Deena.
They slowly started walking towards the wooded road which was leading to Takshashila.
Deena asked the man, “By the way, what is your name please?”
“Margadarshaka” said the man.
“Margadarshaka means ‘guide’? But you do not know the way to Takshashila and are asking me to guide you??” asked Deena.
The man got terribly upset.
“Are you joking my friend?” said he in an irritated tone. “Do you mean to say if my name is Margadarshaka, I should know all the roads and routes in this country? Are you mad or are you making fun of me huh?”
Deena felt bad. “I am extremely sorry, my friend” he said. He then narrated the tale of his travel to the city, and its purpose. The man looked at Deena and took pity on him.
“Look here Deena” he said. “The name is only an identity for a person to mark who he or she is and does not reflect the owner’s character, understand? Though your name means ‘weak’ or ‘miserable’ you are so strong in character, are you not? I hope you understand now.”
“Thank you” said Deena as he went back to the university with a clear mind.
The next day, even before his teacher could ask him, he said, “I am happy with my name Guruji. Thank you for showing me the right path.”
The teacher simply smiled in response.