On this Guru Poornima day, I am pleased to present this story of the power of Guru Bhakti and what it can bestow upon an individual.
This is the story from the life of the great Guru Sri Adi Shankaracharya. Sri Adi Shankaracharya, had four disciples namely, Sureshwara, Padma Pada, Hastamalaka and Totaka. It is said that Totaka was known by the name of Giri before getting this name. He had joined the Acharya at Sringeri and was junior to the others.
Giri was extremely hard-working, obedient, and shy but unfortunately not endowed with a sharp intellect. Sureshwara, Padma Pada and Hastamalaka, on the other hand, were very clever and sharp and grasped all that was taught by Sri Adi Shankaracharya very quickly.
So, Giri never opened his mouth in the class, or raised any doubts. Neither did he participate in any debate or discussion in the class.
If there was one thing he indulged in with full focus and concentration, and which gave him complete satisfaction, it was serving his Guru Sri Adi Shankara. Giri looked after all the needs of his Guru anticipating them. He washed the Guru’s clothes, pressed the Guru’s feet as he went to sleep, plucked flowers for his worship, cooked his food, and did all the chores with a smile. He followed Sri Adi Shankara like a shadow, never did any act which would be viewed as being disrespectful. So much so, that he never even walked ahead of his Guru as he would have to show his back to the Guru.
All the service he did to his Guru was filled with unconditional Guru Bhakti and passion to serve the Guru. His mind was devoid of any expectation from the Guru. For him Guru was God. In class however, Giri was only a silent listener, but listened with rapt attention.
Over a period, Sureshwara, Padma Pada and Hastamalaka started feeling that Giri was inferior to them and that by teaching Giri, the Guru was wasting his time. Adi Shankara could easily understand what was in their minds and he was not happy about it.
One day as they had assembled for the class, Adi Shankara noticed that Giri was not present. He was still plucking flowers for the Pooja. So, he waited for him to come and join. The three disciples understood that their Guru was waiting for Giri. They exchanged meaningful smiles. Padma Pada gazed at a nearby pillar and nodded as if to mean “Teaching Giri is as good as teaching a pillar” and the friends nodded in agreement. Adi Shankara decided it was time to dispel the pride of these three disciples of his.
He chose to reward Giri for his Guru Bhakti. By just that thought and a benevolent look at Giri from afar, Adi Shankara awakened in Giri the knowledge of fourteen subjects.
At that moment, Giri felt inexplicable bliss and ecstasy in his heart. He then remembered it was time for him to go to the class. With the plucked lotuses, he ran to the Guru and fell at his feet to pay obeisance.
Placing the lotuses at the feet of the Guru, he got up and gazed at the eyes of his Guru. At that instant, beautiful verses flowed out of his mouth like a cascade which came to be known as Totakashtakam. It was a poem on surrendering to his Guru. The poem was in the ‘Totaka’ meter on which the long and short sounding syllables are arranged in a very systematic and beautiful manner.
Sureshwara, Padma Pada and Hastamalaka were awe-struck at this transformation of Giri. From an average student who could not even speak one sentence properly, to a person singing a poem in a beautiful meter with words full of profound meaning, Giri had indeed been blessed abundantly by the Guru.
The three of them having witnessed the miracle of the Guru’s grace, discarded their vanity, and started holding Giri in high esteem. Now they understood, that things which could not be attained by great intelligence could be comprehended with sincere Guru Bhakti.
Giri was now called Totaka and later Totakacharya who headed the first Matha established by Sri Adi Shankaracharya at Badrinath.