THE INTELLIGENCE OF A WOODCUTTER
The shortcomings of the artificial yoga process.
Adapted from a parable by Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur
Once, a woodcutter was planning to go to Sundarban to collect wood. Knowing that many ferocious animals live in Sundarban, an elder well-wisher of the woodcutter said to him, “If you go there without a weapon, you may lose your life.”
The woodcutter retorted, “Everyone thinks you have to bring a weapon with you when you go to Sundarban. I am going to do away with this nonsense. I am not so foolish as to carry a load of coal to a coal mine. If I see any ferocious animal coming towards me, I will immediately tear off a branch from a nearby tree and scare it away so severely that it won’t dare come back anywhere near me.”
The woodcutter considered himself very intelligent. He didn’t have the common sense, however, to understand that a tiger could pounce on him far faster than he might be able to find a tree and break off one of its branches.
This is exactly what happened. A few days after the woodcutter entered the forest, news came out that a small tiger had pounced on the woodcutter and killed him. Immediately upon seeing the tiger, the woodcutter had tried to break a large branch off a tree, but just before he could turn around and defend himself with it, the tiger struck and killed him.
A few days later, a sadhu entered this forest in the course of his ongoing travels. The sadhu was always engaged in Hari-kirtan and from time to time became overwhelmed with love for the Lord. He was often oblivious to his immediate environment.
A few curious gentlemen from a nearby village saw the sadhu enter the forest. Out of curiosity, they secretly followed him into the forest carrying weapons to protect themselves, and possibly to protect the sadhu if the need arose.
Feeling that there wasn’t a tinge of enmity (himsa) within the heart of the sadhu, the tigers, bears, and other animals did not attack the sadhu. Rather, when they heard the sadhu loudly performing Hari-kirtan with his vina, many of the ferocious animals came over to listen and started to dance along in ecstasy. By hearing the sadhu’s Hari-kirtan, the violent nature of even some of the most angry and naturally ferocious animals was dissipated.
The curious gentlemen saw this from a distance and were completely astonished. They thought, “These ferocious animals quickly attacked and killed the woodcutter, and he couldn’t check their attack even with his own weapon, but this sadhu is able to control these ferocious animals without any weapon at all. How is this possible?”
The woodcutter represents an astanga-yogi, and the tiger represents the six enemies of the soul: lust, anger, greed, bewilderment, pride, and envy.
Astanga-yogis think they can conquer the senses by their own strength through yama, niyama, asan, pranayam, pratyahara, dharana, and dhyan (restraints, observances, postures, breath regulation, withdrawal, concentration, meditation). Before they can conquer them, however, the six enemies attack, and they fall short of samadhi just as the woodcutter failed to collect wood from Sundarban and died in the clutches of the tiger.
The sadhu is a devotee of the Supreme. Devotees are not followers of any artificial path (path that simply negates anything), and they do not indulge in the egotism and imagination that they will succeed in subduing the enemies and the senses by their own efforts using artificial means.
Rather than trying to simply block out or fight off the enemies, the devotees utilise the drives of the enemies positively as impetuses to serve the Supreme. Lust becomes inspiration to make offerings to Krishna. Anger becomes aversion to things that are unfavourable to devotion. Greed becomes eagerness to hear the glories of Krishna from the sadhus. Bewilderment becomes lamentation in not having more service to Krishna. Pride becomes confidence in chanting Krishna’s glories. Envy, however, has no place in the lives of devotees because devotees are well-wishers of every living being and are not disturbed by the good fortune or success of others.
As the animals of the jungle danced to the sadhu’s kirtan, so the enemies facing the soul are harmoniously adjusted in the devotional practice of a devotee. This is indeed amazing to the curious gentlemen who followed the sadhu. They represent undisciplined persons who consider self-restraint impossible (like surviving in Sundarban without a weapon) but are yet to appreciate the harmony found in devotion to the Supreme. As the curious gentlemen marveled at the ferocious animals dancing to the sadhu’s kirtan, so undisciplined persons are charmed by the virtuous character of the devotees.