INTEGRITY MATTERS, NOT BIRTH IN RESPECTABLE FAMILY
At a young age, Satyakama had the strong desire to go to a competent teacher and learn the lofty spiritual truths. At his time there was indeed a great preceptor Gautama, son of sage Haridruman, who was running a forest retreat, tapovanam.
Having made up his mind, Satyakama approached his mother for her permission and blessings. Though her heart was heavy at the thought of her only child leaving home, to return probably after ten to twelve years, she decided to encourage him to get going.
There was now a technical difficulty. Teachers normally ask a prospective student his lineage, from which sage his descent is. Having never seen his father, Satyakama asked his mother, “Who is my father?”
Jabala, the mother, was nervous. During her younger days, she was a servant maid at many places and the cold truth was that Satyakama was an illegitimate child of a relationship without marriage. Moreover Jabala, who was a very young person those days, worked at many places and did not remember now exactly who Satyakama’s father was.
The lady was however made of special stuff. She decided not to lie. In all openness, she said to him, “My son, I really do not know who your father is. Those times were so different in my life. Please tell Gautama, the great one, that you are the son of Jabala and you really do not know your father’s name or other details.”
That was it. The boy went to the gurukula (residential school) of sage Gautama, and the teacher, as expected, asked the boy his gotra (lineage).
As the mother, so the son. Satyakama said to Gautama with due reverence and with total straightforwardness, “My mother says to me she does not really know who my father is. She wants me to say to you I am her son, Jabala’s son.”
Rather than getting embarrassed or being negatively impressed, the guru was very pleased at the truthfulness and the courage of the boy. Gautama accepts Satyakama and formally initiates him into the studies at the school. In due course of time, Satyakama Jabali blossoms into an illumined sage himself.
[Chandogya Upanishad – chapter 4 – goes into a lot of details of this inspiring story.]