In ancient times, young boys were sent to gurukuls (schools) where they lived there for many years till the completion of their education. When the pupils had gained enough knowledge and wisdom, they were sent home with the Guru’s blessings and settled down in life.
Once, two pupils who were to leave the gurukul for home, went to their Guru and said, “Gurudev, please tell us what gift we may give you as our Guru-dakshina (offering to the Guru)?” The Guru was pleased with the pupils’ love and gratitude, and loved them for their devotion, discipline and sense of duty. He expected nothing more from them. However, He decided to add a little more to the pupils’ wisdom. So, He said to them, “Dear children, go into the forest behind our gurukul and bring me some dry leaves that are of no use to anyone.”
The pupils wondered why their Guru had asked for this strange gift. However, in obedience to the Guru, they set out to the forest to accomplish the assigned task.
As soon as they entered the forest, they came across a small heap of dry leaves beneath a tree. When they started picking up some of them, an old farmer came running and said, “Please put those leaves back into the heap. I have collected them for my field. After burning, their ashes will make excellent manure, which will help me grow a rich crop.”
The pupils left the heap and went a little further into the forest. There they saw three women collecting dry leaves and putting them into their baskets. “What do you do with these dry leaves?” asked the pupils. “We pin the intact leaves together with reed-pins to make dinner plates for temples; this earns us enough livelihood to support our children. We also use the torn leaves as fuel to heat water for bathing.”
The pupils then went still further into the forest. They saw some dry leaves under a tall tree. As both were looking at them, a big bird swooped down and, picking up one leaf, flew away. The pupils saw the bird carrying the leaf to the tree branch, where it was building a nest of dry leaves and grass. They did not wish to take away the dry leaves, which were useful to the bird.
Both the boys decided to go back to the gurukul. On the way, they saw a small pond in which a big dry leaf was floating on the water. “There is a big dry leaf which is of no use to anyone,” said one of them. The pupils ran to the pond and picked up the leaf. To their surprise, they saw two big red ants, who stopped moving, as if to say, “This dry leaf has been our life-boat. If not for it, we would have drowned in the pond!”
The pupils, thereafter, gave up all hopes of finding dry leaves that are of no use to anyone and unhappily returned to the gurukul. In a sad tone, they said to their Guru, “Gurudev, we found that even the dry leaves have so many uses that we could not bring any to You. All the dry leaves that we saw were being used for some purpose or the other. Please forgive us for not bringing along with us the Gurudakshina You had asked for.”
“Dear children,” replied the Guru, I have received the Gurudakshina I wanted. The knowledge about the importance of even seemingly unimportant things like dry leaves you have gained today is my real Gurudakshina. Even a dry leaf is of great use and help to man, bird and insect. How much more precious then should a man’s body be when it is put to good use! So, take care of your body and use it to do regular spiritual practice to make your life as well as the lives of others happy.”
Moral: Each person has the potential to serve God and His children. Regular spiritual practice enables us to discover this potential and directs us to use it in the best way.