Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

The Tenth Man
by Dhanya

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An old story used in the teachings of Vedanta to illustrate a very important point

In ancient times in India, young boys were often sent at the age of twelve to study with a guru, either at the guru's house if the guru was married, or in the guru's hermitage if the guru was a renunciate. The boy would stay with his guru for twelve years, studying the Vedas and the Upanishads, and at age 24 he would return home to be married.

This story concerns ten boys who were studying at their guru's home. The boys decided that they would like to return to their village for a festival and to visit their families. The guru was a bit concerned about their going as he wasn't able to accompany them himself at that time.

One of the boys spoke up, and said that he would take responsibility for the group and make sure that they all arrived safely.

The guru reluctantly agreed to let them go, and they started on their journey. On the way, they came to a swiftly flowing river which they had to cross. The boy who was leading the group advised them all to hold hands and carefully ford the river. They did so, but the current was so swift that the boys were quickly separated, and some appeared to be swept away downstream.

As they scrambled up the banks on the other side of the river, dripping wet and frightened from their experience, the leader advised them all to line up, so that he could count them and make sure that they all had crossed safely.

The boy counted, "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine." Nine?!!!!!!!

He had them line up differently. The count was again nine. The leader counted them over and over again, and every time all that he came up with was nine. Nine! Nine! One boy had not made it across! One boy was lost! One boy had drowned! One boy was dead!

The boys all ran around in a panic, beating the bushes, looking, screaming and crying for the tenth boy. And the leader? He was banging his head on a tree. "What will my teacher say? What will the boy's parents say? I took responsibility, and now one of us has drowned."

A wise old man, sitting nearby, watched the whole drama as it unfolded. He understood what had happened, and he approached the leader of the group. The boy poured out his story of woe, weeping in utter despair, "I took responsibility for the group, and now one of us is lost. One of us has drowned in the river."

The wise old man said to the boy, "Don't worry. I can help you. I know where the tenth boy is."

The leader was a bit skeptical, but also desperate, and the old man did appear to be calm and sane, so he said, "Yes, please do help us if you can."

The old man said, "Okay, all of you line up, and I will count you."

The leader thought, "Well, this is a waste of time because I've counted over and over again." Still they did as the old man requested because he did seem sane and wise, and they were all in total despair.

The boys lined up, and the boy who had been leading the group took the last place in the line.

The old man counted. "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine..." And then arriving at the leader, the old man said, "Ten - you are the tenth man."

The leader was elated! "I am the tenth man!"

The tenth man hadn't drowned in the river, and he wasn't lost. All the while the tenth man was there, as the leader himself, but had gone unnoticed, overlooked and uncounted.

This is our situation in samsara. We "count" everything we see and perceive, and we forget to "count" ourselves. We even will "search" for our self in all kinds of places, situations and experiences. And yet we are always and ever "right here." Our very own self which is totally 100% present and available, standing as "I am," but overlooked in all of our activities.

And so we panic, and are traumatized, searching for what has never been lost. And sometimes it takes a wise person to point this out to us. Someone who is standing outside the situation, someone who is not caught up in the same panic, someone who knows what our problem is and what the solution is. That person is our teacher.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012