Adi Shankara was loved and respected by his disciples. Three of his disciples were intelligent and spent most of their time studying. Their classmate, Totaka, hardly studied. He made himself busy by washing the guru’s clothes, collecting flowers for his worship, making his bed and pressing his feet. The other students were fond of Totaka. However, they did not consider him to be bright.
Though Totaka had no time for studies, he would sit with his classmates when their Guru taught them. He would sit at the back. While other disciples had lots of questions, Totaka would be silent.
One day, the disciples came to class fully prepared. They bowed to the Guru and sat in front of him, waiting for him to begin the lesson. But the Guru did not begin the lesson. He seemed to be waiting for someone. They looked at each other to make sure all of them were present. Then they found Totaka missing.
They were surprised that their Guru was waiting for a student who had no intelligence to understand his profound teaching. Padmapada, one of the disciples, pointedly glanced at the pillar. His classmates got the message – teaching Totaka was as good as teaching a lifeless wall! They suppressed their smile as they looked at the Guru.
Guru Shankara did not miss anything that was taking place, though no words were spoken. He smiled. Then he called out to the missing disciple, “Totaka, come. Come to your Guru.”
Totaka who was collecting flowers heard his Guru. He turned towards him and walked to him with a lotus in hand and a prayer on his lips.
His classmates were stunned to hear Totaka reciting verses in chaste Sanskrit in praise of their Guru. This was for the first time they had ever heard Totaka speak! And he was reciting a poem, his own composition! The one they took as a dimwit was bursting forth with a beautiful poem in praise of the Guru. They slowly rose to their feet. As Totakaneared them, they bowed to him. Totaka dropped the flower at the feet of the Guru as the Guru lovingly hugged him.
Note: The poem of eight verse in praise of the Guru that Totaka recited is famous as Totakashtakam.