Once upon a time, there were two pupils who were ready to leave the Gurukula. They went to the Guru and said, "Gurudev, please tell us what gift we may offer you as our Gurudakshina?" The guru was pleased with the pupils' love and gratitude. He also loved their devotion, discipline and sense of duty. He expected nothing more from them. However, he decided to add a little more to his pupils' wisdom. So, he said to them, "Dear children, go into the forest behind our Gurukula and bring me some dry leaves for which no one has any use."
The boys wondered why their Guru had asked for this strange gift. But being obedient, they left for the forest as their Guru wanted them to do.
As soon as they entered the forest, they saw a small heap of dry leaves beneath a tree. As they were picking up the leaves, an old farmer came running to them and said, "Please put those leaves back! I have collected them. I am taking them to my field. When I burn them their ashes will make excellent manure, which will enable me to get a rich crop of grains."
The boys 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 are you going to do with these dry leaves?" asked the pupils. "Dear children," said one woman, "I use them as fuel to heat our bath water and for washing our clothes." The second woman said, "We pin the nicest leaves together with reed-pins and make leaf plates which are used as dinner plates in ashrams and temples. In this way, I earn some money to feed my children. The third woman said, "I collect dry leaves from this particular tree. My husband is a doctor who uses them for preparing herbal medicines. He cures many ailments."
The boys went still further into the forest. They saw some dry leaves under a tall tree. As they both were looking at them, a big bird swooped down, picked up a leaf, and flew away. The boys watched the bird carrying the leaf to the top of a small tree, where it was building a nest of dry leaves and grass. They did not wish to take away the dry leaves that were so useful to the bird.
Both the boys decided to go back to the Gurukula. On the way, they saw a small pond in which a big leaf was floating on the water. "There is a big leaf which isn't of any use to anyone," they said. They went to the pond and picked up the leaf. To their surprise, they saw two red ants crawling on it. As one of the boys held the leaf in his hand, the ants stopped moving as if to say, "This dry leaf is our lifeboat. If it weren't for this leaf, we would have drowned."
The boys gave up their pursuit and returned to the Gurukula. In a sad tone, they said to the guru, "Gurudev, we couldn't bring you any leaves because we discovered that even dry leaves have so many uses. All the dry leaves we saw were being used for some purpose. Please forgive us for not bringing you the Gurudakshina you asked for."
"Dear children," replied the Guru, "I have received the Gurudakshina I wanted. The knowledge you have gathered today is my real Gurudakshina. Even a dry leaf is of great use and of help to human, birds and insects. How much more precious then is a human body when we put it to good use! So, take good care of your body and use it to make your life, as well as the lives of others, happy. Never miss the chance to serve the needy, the sick and the aged. Always help the ignorant and the poor. Never forget the lessons you have learned today.