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40 short stories

40 Short Stories
From Various Sources
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1. God behind the gods, Kenopanishad
2. Happiness, Chhandogya Upanishad
3. What the thunder says, Chhandogya Upanishad
4. Sveta-ketu goes to school, Chhandogya Upanishad
5. Questions for Angiras, Mundaka Upanishad
6. One Mother, everywhere, Puranas
7. Man has five kinds of lights, Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad
8. Hymn to the Universal Lord, Svetasvatara Upanishad
9. The great flood -- Hindu style, Satapatha-Brahmana
10. Sri Krishna, Srimad Bhagavatam
11. How medicine came to be used, Cherokee
12. God's mysterious ways, Sri Ramakrishna
13. Clever animals, Mahabharata
14. Christmas everyday, retold from William Dean Howells
15. Tales of two fishermen, Sri Ramakrishna
16. Fantastic stories, (various sources)
17. The prince and the beggars, Sufi Traditions
18. Love conquers all, Mahabharata
19. Yama goes about his business, Srimad Bhagavatam
20. Buddha in the deer park, Jataka Tales
21. Mr. Ant-hill, Puranas
22. Not deaf, not mute, Puranas
23. "I give you three wishes", Traditional
24. The seven jars, adapted from the Arabian Nights
25. Crossing the Waters, Sri Ramakrishna and Ramayana
26. How to conquer death, Chandogya Upanishad
27. Never will I leave Thee, Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists
28. How the Moon Got to Look like That, Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists
29. Your Dream or My Dream?, Souls Afire, adapted from Elie Wiesel.
30. The Way of the Buddha,The Youngest Disciple, by Edward Thompson
31. Two Kinds of Food, A Story of stories, adapted from C.M. Kay
32. He who Loves, Owns, A Story of stories, adapted from C.M. Kay
33. Nothing Like Pride, Tales and Parables of Sri Ramakrishna
34. By the Will of God, Sri Ramakrishna
35. "Wherever you go, I will go" Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists
36. Saint Francis and the Wolf, The Little Flowers of Saint Francis
37. One Good Turn Deserves Another, Mahabharata
38. Who Taught Whom, Taoist Tales
39. Bigmouse, the Rat, Taoist Tales
40. How to Carve a Masterpiece, Taoist Tales
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1. God behind the gods
The gods and the demons had been having a war. Somehow the gods won, at least for the time
being. But they did not realize that the power of Brahman, the Supreme Being, had made their
victory possible. The gods took the credit themselves. When Brahman saw them congratulating
each other, he decided to act, and to teach them a good lesson.
So he appeared before them in a form something like a ghost. The gods said to each other in
great wonder, "What is this awesome spirit?"
Then they asked Agni, the god of fire, if he would try to find out who it was, and he agreed. He
ran toward the spirit and that spirit said, "Stop! Who are you?"
"I am Agni, the god of fire," he proudly replied.
"I see. And what power do you have?" asked Brahman.
"Why, I can burn anything on the earth," said Agni.
So Brahman, in that spirit form, put a straw on the ground in front of him, saying, "is that so?
Burn this, then!" Agni went toward it, his fiery breath crackling and arms ablaze, but in no way
could he burn that straw, for some strange reason, no matter how hard he tried. Going back to the
other gods, he told them shamefully that he had not been able to find out who that being was.
Now they had to ask someone else to try.
This time they chose Vayu, the god of the wind. "You please try to find out who this spirit is,"
they said. Vayu agreed and ran boldly toward the spirit, who told him, "Stop! Tell me who you
"I am Vayu, god of air and wind," he answered.
"Oh! What power do you have?" asked Brahman.
"Why, I make hurricanes and cyclones. I can lift up anything on this earth," said Vayu.
"Is that so?" said the spirit, placing a straw in front of him. "Then lift up this!" Vayu rushed at it
with a terrific noise but no matter how he huffed and puffed, the straw remained on the ground.
He too returned to the gods, ashamed, and let them know that the spirit baffled him.
Finally the gods chose Indra, their highest and best, and asked him to do the job. Indra agreed to
it. But when he approached that spirit, it suddenly disappeared! In its place was seen the shining
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form of the goddess Uma, a lovely woman adorned with gems, who is called the revealer of
Truth. "Who is that spirit," Indra asked her, "whom we have been seeing here?"
"That is Brahman, the Supreme Spirit," she answered. "It is all due to the power of Brahman that
you have had victory over the demons, and have become great. Don't you know that?"
Then Indra understood.
This story explains why Agni, Vayu and Indra rank higher than the other gods. They came
"nearest" to Brahman. And, of these, Indra deserves first place, for it was to him that the Truth
was first revealed. That Truth is Brahman, the desire of every heart. Meditate on him, the sages
say, for those who know him are rare and very precious to the world.
2. Happiness
"Dad, everyone is looking for happiness. But what is meant by happiness?" This was one of the
questions a wise boy in India, Sveta-ketu, put to his father many centuries ago.
"One of the signs of happiness, son, is that a person who has it becomes active. A person who
does not find happiness does not feel like being active. His mind is cramped, his will is weak.
What is vast and infinite brings happiness. There is no true joy in what is small or finite. I can
tell you that the Infinite alone is happiness; but you must desire to understand this Infinite, my
"I want to understand it, Dad," said Sveta-ketu.
"Good," said his father. "Then you must listen carefully to what I say and think deeply about it:
"When a person sees that nothing and no one is separate from him, that he is one with all the
people, animals, and objects in the universe, when a person sees and hears and knows nothing
else -- that is the Infinite.
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"But, if one sees or feels some other thing, obstructing him, separating him, then that is the finite.
He has not yet found the Infinite.
"The Infinite never passes away; it lasts forever; but what is finite will pass away."
Chhandogya Upanishad
3. What the thunder says
You've been in a storm -- you know what thunder sounds like. But, do you know what the
thunder is saying?
Ages ago, in India, sages meditated on the thunder and they tell this story.
When creation began, there was only the Creator. One of his names -- the one in this story -- is
Prajapati. Tired of being alone, Prajapati gave birth to three kinds of beings: gods, men, and, of
course, demons. (Demons always make stories more interesting!)
Well, as young people did in olden times, all these children had been studying with their father,
living a disciplined life. The day came when that stage of life was finished and they were about
to leave home and go out into their respective worlds -- the gods to their heavens, the men to
earth, and the demons to the hells below.
Before leaving, the gods came to their father, Prajapati, saying, "Give us a final word, Sir, before
we leave, if you please."
He was a close-mouthed old man, and besides, he wanted to test their learning, so he gave them
even less than a word! He gave them only a syllable, the Sanskrit syllable "da".
"Have you understood me?" their father asked.
"Yes, Sir," said the gods, "that must be short for damyata, meaning 'be self-controlled'".
"Yes," said Prajapati.
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Then it came the turn of the men to say goodbye. They too asked their father for a final word, but
he gave them the same syllable, "da". "Have you understood?" he asked.
"Yes, Sir," said the men, "this must be short for datta, meaning 'give in charity'".
"Yes," said the father. And when the demons came, it was the same story. Prajapati said "da" and
asked if they understood.
"Yes, Sir," said the demons (showing surprising intelligence), "it must be short for dayadhvam,
and you mean 'be kind, be merciful'".
"Yes," said Prajapati. Then they all bowed down before him and went their ways.
What do you understand by this story?
The demons, you see, are very cruel by nature. But if they can somehow bring some kindness
and mercy into their miserable lives, then there is hope for them to go up to a higher state.
Human beings, on the other hand, are better, but selfish; what they need is to help and serve one
another on this earth. Then they too will become fit for rising higher.
Now the gods are busy enjoying themselves in heaven, and there they have such a good time that
they forget about Truth and how to search for it. Without self-control, they will never find Truth.
So, Prajapati told each group the same thing, knowing full well that each sort of offspring would
understand it in exactly his own way. Great teachers often do this.
So, it is said that, even today, when you hear the thunder's "da, da, da" it is the voice of old
Prajapati, the Creator, repeating from time to time his instructions to all kinds of beings.
Chhandogya Upanishad
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4. Sveta-ketu goes to school
Long ago in India, there was a boy named Sveta-ketu (shway-ta-kay-too). He was already twelve
years old, but he had not yet gone to school. Probably he had no brothers or sisters and there was
so much work for him to do at home, helping his parents, that there had been no way for him to
go to the house of a learned teacher, which is where the pupils studied in those days. A boy had
to live with the teacher and study with him the various branches of knowledge that were taught at
that time.
The father of this boy said to him one day, "Sveta-ketu, go to school. You are a brahmin, of a
wellborn family, and no one in our family line has failed to live up to that. A brahmin must be
educated and learn how to behave nobly in every respect."
So Sveta-ketu went off to the local teacher's house and studied the great books, called The
Vedas, and similar subjects, for twelve years. In that time, of course, he had been able to master
many things, so he had quite a good opinion of himself. He walked proudly and smiled very
little. When, at the age of twentyfour, he had come back to his parents, they were very happy to
have him home again. But his father noticed the proud attitude in the boy and decided that there
was only one word for Sveta-ketu: conceited!
One day he said, "Well, my boy, since you consider yourself a very serious person and well
educated indeed, let me now test your knowledge. Did you ever ask your teacher for that
instruction by which one hears the unhearable, perceives the unperceivable, and knows the
"How, sir," the young man answered, very much surprised, "can there be any such instruction?"
"Why, in this way, my boy: by knowing the nature of one lump of clay, we can know the nature
of everything made of clay, can we not? The shapes of other things, such as a pot, a toy elephant,
etc., are just names, given to help us talk about them. The reality in them is just the clay, is it
"By knowing the nature of a nugget of gold, the nature of all gold things is known; likewise, by
knowing the structure of a nailfile, we understand everything made of iron. The shapes and
names we use for convenience. The reality is just the gold, or the iron."
"Yes, Father," said Sveta-ketu. "Surely my revered teachers did not know this; why did they not
tell me? So, you please tell me about that."
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His father agreed, and the instruction he gave his son, remembered by him and passed on to
generations of students, takes up a large part of one of the Upanishads. Let's hear the beginning
and a few other portions of that teaching.
"In the beginning, my boy," said the father, "there was just Being and nothing else. Some people
said there was Nonbeing and nothing else, and that Being came out of that. But they were
foolish! How could Being be produced by NonBeing?"
"It was just the opposite, son: in the beginning, there was just Being and nothing else. That Being
felt lonely. It thought, 'Well, let me become many. Let me produce other things.' And so It
produced the different elements of this universe, one after another." In this way, Sveta-ketu's
father went on to explain to him the various stages of creation.
"There is more to growing up than you may think. Facts, gathered from books and teachers are
all very well, but wisdom is to know that they all come from one source."
You are That!
Sveta-ketu's father continued:
"Every night, when they go into a state of dreamless sleep, all creatures enter again into that
Being from which they have come. Then, why do they not know it?"
"When the bees make honey by collecting the nectar of different trees and reduce them all to one
juice, these nectars cannot say, 'I am the nectar of an orange blossom,' 'I am the nectar of a
mango blossom,' etc. In the same way, my boy, all these creatures, though they have entered that
Being, they cannot say what they are. When they return again to the waking state, whatever they
are in this world -- a man, a tiger, a wolf, a boar, a worm, a fly, or a mosquito -- that is what they
become again. They do not know that they have come back from that Being."
"Suppose there is a hidden treasure of gold lying buried in a field. People who do not know about
it will walk again and again over that treasure and will not find it. Just so, all of us go, day after
day, into the embrace of that divine Being but do not realize it. The Self of this whole universe is
the same as the Seed from which it came. And you, O Sveta-ketu, are That!"
"But, sir," asked the son, "that Being has no name or form. So, how could this universe, with all
its objects having all these names, come out of that?"
"Bring me a fig from our figtree," his father suggested. Sveta-ketu went out and came back with
a fig from the tree.
"Now break it."
"Yes, it is broken."
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"What do you see now?"
"Seeds -- hundreds of them."
"Now break one of the seeds, son."
"That is difficult, sir. But here, it is done."
"Do you see anything inside?"
"No, sir, there is nothing inside."
"Sveta-ketu, just because you cannot see it, that does not mean that there is not a fine principle at
work in the seed, which is the cause of the whole fig tree. Believe me, my boy, the Self of this
whole universe is the same as the tiny seed from which it came. And you are That!"
Now Sveta-ketu was puzzled and had a doubt in his mind: if some principle, called Being is the
cause of all this world, why do we not see that? So, he asked his father, who replied:
"Here is a lump of salt. Put this lump in a vessel of water, and I will see you again in the
morning." His son did so. Next morning, when he came, his father asked him to bring him that
lump of salt. Sveta-ketu looked into the vessel, but of course the salt had dissolved.
"Taste some water from the surface of the vessel," said his father, "and tell me how it is."
"Salty," Sveta-ketu said.
"Now taste a little from the other side and tell me how that is."
"Salty, Sir."
"Now carefully pour off most of the water and try a little from the bottom of the pot." This done,
Sveta-ketu replied that it tasted salty too.
"You could not perceive the salt with your eyes, you had to apply the sense of taste. So, also, in
this body of ours -- that Being is not perceived by eyes or tongue or any of the senses, but it is
here nevertheless. It has to be discovered by a different means."
( Later he will explain the means: meditation and discrimination.)
"The Self of this whole universe is the same as the tiny seed it came from. And you, O Svetaketu, are That!"
Chhandogya Upanishad
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5. Questions for Angiras
In ancient India, a very wise man named Angiras (Ung-gee-ross) lived in a hut in the forest. He
had inherited all his wisdom from his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. One day he was
seated in front of the hut when a young man from the village came up to him. This was a man
well-known as the owner of land, wise in the ways of the world. He said to the sage, "People
speak of knowing this subject and that science, and they brag about it; I want to know from you
if there is something I can learn which will explain everything to me."
Angiras looked at him steadily. "There are really two kinds of knowledge," he replied, "and one
of them is higher and the other is lower. The lower knowledge is of hymns and scriptures, rituals,
grammar, poetry, astrology and other such sciences... but the higher knowledge leads a man to
that which never dies. That is called the Indestructible."
"Yes, sir," said the young man. "That is what I want to know about."
"Then, listen well. The Indestructible cannot be picked up like this stick or that stone. It belongs
to no family, nor to any caste. It neither sees nor hears, It has no hands or feet, It is forever.
Wherever you go It is there; you cannot leave It; It is all around you.
"But It is very fine, very subtle, and that is why you do not see It. Everything else has come out
of this Indestructible, you see. You know how a spider spins out her thread from her own body,
and draws it back with her arms, or how plants grow from the soil, or how hair grows on a
person's body. In that same way, the whole universe emerges from that Indestructible Being.
Thus did my ancestors see in their wisdom, and thus did they impart the knowledge to me, and,
more than that, thus have I seen for myself."
"Sir," the young man said, "I need you to teach me more. I have been thinking within myself,
'What am I working toward, after all, in this short life? Just to satisfy some little desires? But
how can that lead me to something which is forever?' So I decided to gather some firewood and
go in search of a teacher of holy wisdom. And people told me about you. 'Is he learned,' I asked,
'one whose mind is filled with Truth?' Now I come to you in all faith and reverence: please teach
me further."
In those days, the sages and saints, who made their homes in the fields or forests, lived a very
simple life. They would build a small fire for performing the ceremonies prescribed in their
scriptures, or for cooking their food and for warmth in the winter. So when a seeker of Truth
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wanted to become a pupil of such a sage, he would gather firewood in a bundle and go to him
with this fuel as a gift and sign of respect.
Now Angiras understood that here was one whose mind was not constantly restless with desires,
one who was fit to receive the higher knowledge. And he began to tell him more of the
indestructible being called Brahman.
"As from a blazing fire, thousands of sparks of fire fly out, so these various beings you see in the
world all spring forth from Brahman and go back to Him again. Pure, higher than the highest, He
has no body, no breath, no mind; He is inside and outside everything. Yet, from Brahman have
come your life, your mind, eyes, ears, hands, feet, space and air, light and water, and the very
earth itself. It is He who binds all these together.
"About Him, my boy, they recite this poem:
'Fire is His head, His eyes are the sun and moon;
His ears, the directions -- north, south, east and west;
His breath is the wind, the Vedas his voice;
Under his feet the earth has sprung up,
And all things know Him as their innermost Self.'
"My boy, the man who knows this secret, hidden in the cave of the heart, breaks open, here and
now, the knot of ignorance.
"The instruction I give you, called Upanishad, "Angiras went on, "will be your bow. Your mind,
sharpened by worship and meditation, will be the arrow. Fixing it on the bow, with full
concentration, draw back and hit the target, the Indestructible Brahman. There is a sacred word -OM -- which is the bow; your own self is the arrow and Brahman is the target. Without
trembling, hit the mark, and like the arrow, lose yourself in It! Then all the knots of the heart are
broken, all doubts disappear and all actions trail away when He is realized, who is the farthest
away of the far away, the nearest of the near, the light of lights."
"Sir," said the disciple, "you have called this Brahman my 'inner self'. Then tell me about how I
can reach in to find this Self; how may I feel it is as my Self?"
Angiras replied, "I will give you an illustration."
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Two birds in a tree
"This body is like a tree in which two birds roost. They look alike, wearing beautiful feathers,
and they are fast friends. The lower bird is tasting the fruits of the tree and some are sweet but
others are sour. The higher bird sits in majesty, merely looking on. One day, the lower bird,
getting tired of all this, weeps at his forlorn state. Then, looking up at his friend above, so silent
and so calm, he hops up nearer to him. As he approaches the higher bird, the lower one is
surprised to find that the upper bird is just himself -- his true Self -- sitting there all the while,
unattached and at peace. Then his grief disappears. Then he knows that his ego never was real;
the Self was the real, the observer of all.
"This Self," Angiras continued, "cannot be reached by much talking or thinking, or even by great
study of scriptures. If the Self itself chooses a man, that man may reach It. To him, this Self
reveals Its true nature. But mark this well: That Self can never be won by one who is weak, or
careless, or practices foolish bodily tortures. Only if a person tries by strength, by earnestness
and right meditation, does he or she reach the home of Brahman."
"And, sir, what happens to one who reaches that?"
"Then, just as the many rivers flow into the one ocean, losing their names and forms, so the wise
person, free from name and body, enters into that Divine Being, higher than the highest. My son,
when you know that Brahman, you become that Brahman. You cross beyond all sorrow and evil.
You become immortal."
Mundaka Upanishad
6. One Mother, everywhere
You've often heard of God, the Father, creator of the universe. Have you ever heard of God, the
Mother? Mothers create too, don't they? -- even more than fathers, because we draw our very life
and nourishment from them. So, do not be surprised that in some countries and among some
people, God is also worshiped as "Mother". This is especially true in India. Over there, October
is the time when the year's crops of vegetables, grains and fruits are harvested. In the festival to
celebrate this many people gather around images of "the Mother" -- beautiful, painted and
decorated forms depicting the Divine Mother, looking just as they have imagined (or perhaps
seen) Her, for centuries. They praise Her and sing hymns and dance in honor of Her who has
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given them land and crop, cattle and goods. In short, everything has come from the hand of the
Mother, who is Creator, Sustainer and Dissolver of it all.
Here are two stories often told, about how one little boy, son of the Divine Mother Durga,
discovered Her true nature. His name was Ganesha. He is considered to have been very wise,
which is one reason he's shown in pictures with the head of an elephant!
Ganesha went outdoors one day to play and found a stray cat. Too small to know better, he
began to pull her ears and tail. He roughed up that poor cat and even began to beat her with a
stick, making marks on her head till, yowling, she ran for her life. Some hours later Ganesha
went into the house. His mother, to his astonishment and dismay, was looking terrible. Her hair
was a mess, she had scratches on her face and she limped from the bruises on her body.
"Mom!" cried Ganesha. "Who beat you up?"
Sadly Sri Durga replied, "It was you, I'm afraid."
"No way! What do you mean? I never did it!"
"Do you remember, his mother asked, "a while ago, how you treated a certain cat?"
Now Ganesha though that the cat's owner must have come and beat Mother Durga on account of
him, and he burst into tears.
"Where is that man?" he sobbed.
"No, not that. You see, my boy, I am not just your physical mother. I have filled the whole
universe with My Being. As a matter of fact, whatever you do to any least part of it, you do that
to Me."
Some years later the Mother was sitting in her dressing room in a very lofty mood. She had
recently been meditating and in that mood had become quite conscious of her own divinity. Now
she put around her neck a lovely necklace of gems, a gift from her husband, Shiva. But seeing
Ganesha and her other son, Kartik (Karteek), playing nearby, she said to them "Look, I will give
this precious necklace to whichever of you comes back first, after traveling all around the
universe. So run this race, but cover every mile of the universe."
Kartik immediately dropped what he was doing, went out, and finding the animal he most liked
to ride upon (which was a magic steed), he set off on the long journey. He went as fast as he
could, over the earth, out to the moon and planets, sailed through the galaxies and visited the
asteroids, even peeping into a black hole or two. Almost exhausted, he recalled that he had to
save energy enough to return. When Kartik finally reached home he saw his brother was already
wearing the necklace of gems! Ganesha, you see, had become much wiser now: he had simply
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gone all the way around his Mother's body and then bowed down before Her. He knew full well
that apart from Her there was no universe.
7. Man has five kinds of lights
The wise man, whom we have called "the Venerable Sage," came one day to the court of King
Janaka, ruler of a portion of India. In those early days, people had no lanterns or artificial lights.
They used to keep open fires nearby most of the time. The King had a desire to ask this sage
some questions about the source of light, but it happened, on that day, that the Sage did not feel
inclined to talk. Still, somehow, Janaka got his permission to begin a conversation.
"Revered Sir," the king asked, "What lights a man's way in this world? What is the real source of
"Why, that is easy, O King," the Venerable Sage replied, "the sun lights a man, of course. For,
with the sun alone as light, a person sits, goes out, does the day's work, and returns."
"True, Sir! But when the sun has set, what lights one's way in this world?"
"Why, then, O King, the moon is one's light. For, by moonlight, one can sit, or go out, do one's
work, and return."
"That is true, O Sage," agreed Janaka. "But," he added, "when the moon also has set, what then?"
"Then fire is one's light, O King. For, by the light of fire, one sits, or goes out, does one's work,
and returns."
Again Janaka agreed. "That is true, Sir, but when the sun and moon have set, and the fire has
gone out, then what lights one's way in the world?"
"O King," answered the sage, "at that time, voice alone is one's light. By the sound of voices, one
can sit, or go out, do one's work, and return. For, when it is so dark that one cannot even see
one's hand in front, one can still hear sounds, and move toward them."
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"That, too, is true, Sir. But when the sun and moon have set, and the fire has gone out, and all
sound has stopped, what then lights one's way in the world?"
"Then the Self, alone, is one's light, Your Majesty. For then one must sit, or go out, do one's
work, and return, all with the help of the Self alone."
Janaka happened to know quite a lot about the Self already, but he urged the Venerable Sage to
explain more about it. He hoped he could add further to his own spiritual knowledge, so he
continued to question the Venerable Sage.
"Which is the Self?" Janaka asked.
"The Self, Your Majesty, is the Knowing One, here among our various parts -- the Inner Light
within the heart. It is He who sees this world of our waking state. It is He who sees the world of
dream. And, in the dreamless sleep, when we think that we are not seeing, the Self is there,
"There can never be an end to the seeing of the Seer. He is eternal. In deep sleep, you seem to
know nothing, but in truth, the Self goes on knowing, for can there ever be an end to the knowing
of the Knower? No. He exists forever.
"In the space within your heart lies this One Controller of All, the Master of All. It cannot be
destroyed. It does not attach Itself to anything. It is not bound, does not suffer, is not injured.
Good and evil do not affect It.
"When a person clearly sees this Self inside as God, the Lord of the past and the future, then he
has nothing to fear. This is the undying, fearless Brahman. Fearless, indeed, is Brahman, and he
who knows this becomes the fearless Brahman."
Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad
8. Hymn to the Universal Lord
We have no trouble lighting a fire today. We simply take a match and by friction ignite the
chemical mixture that coats the head of it. But, through the ages of human history, most of the
earth's people have not had matches. Some started fire by striking together certain kinds of
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The oldest and commonest way, probably, was by the friction of two pieces of wood, one of
them being a sharp stick that they turned rapidly, like a drill, against the other, which was a
block. You have heard of something like this practiced by the Native American tribes.
This was the method used by the men of ancient India too, three to four thousand years ago. In
this story from the Upanishads, the teacher uses this way of producing fire as an illustration. He
tells the student to think of his own body as the lower piece of wood, the block, and to think of
the sacred syllable OM as the pointed piece, or drill. Then, by meditation with the help of the
word OM, a kind of "friction" will be created that will purify his mind and in due time, God will
be revealed.
"For," said the teacher, "if you look into your own soul, you will see the Lord, but you must look
sincerely and earnestly. By pressing sesame seeds, we get oil from them; by churning milk, we
get out the butter. And there is water under dry riverbeds, but we really have to dig to discover it.
That divine Self is hiding here in everything, just as butter is hidden in milk. That is what the
wise men seek to know through spiritual practice. That is Brahman, the Goal Supreme."
Then the teacher began to chant this hymn to the Lord, who is everywhere:
"I know You, Ancient One, the Lord of shining light,
Who dwells beyond all darkness and the night;
By knowing You alone can a man cross over death,
There is no other path for him to take.
"All heads are Your heads, all faces Your faces,
You dwell in the heart's cave and all hidden places.
Through the whole universe, You have extended Yourself.
You are Shiva, the auspicious, the ever-present Lord.
"With hands and feet everywhere, eyes and ears
Everywhere, heads and mouths everywhere,
You have filled up every corner of space.
Smaller than smallest and larger than largest.
"Present are You in the depths of our heart.
When free of desires and unshaken by sorrow, we
Seek for You only, then by Your grace, Your
Form and Your glory stand clearly before us.
"You are the woman and You are the man,
You are the youth and the maiden, too;
The old one tottering there with his cane
Is You, who are born here again and again.
"You are the bird of dark-blue hue and the parrot green
With bright red eyes; You are the thunder-cloud's black sheen,
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You are the seasons and the seas. Beginningless and
Endless, You are He from whom all worlds are born.
"Can men ever roll up space like a skin?
Then, unless they have known You without and within,
How can they cross over sorrow and death?
O You, whose light needs no other light.
"Creator of even Brahma, the creator,
Revealer to him of the knowledge called Veda,
To You, Lord, I come in my longing for freedom;
To You, Lord, for refuge, with reverence, I come!"
Svetasvatara Upanishad
9. The great flood -- Hindu style
One morning they brought Manu his water to wash himself;
Just as they do nowadays -- for washing hands.
While he was washing, he found a fish between his hands!
It said: "Save me, and look after me, and I will save you!"
"Save me?" asked Manu, "What do you mean?"
The fish said: "A great flood will destroy every living thing;
I will save you from the flood."
Manu asked, "What must I do to look after you?"
The fish said: "When we fish are small, we're always getting killed.
Fish eat fish.
So keep me in a jar at first.
When I grow too big for that,
Dig a pond for me and keep me in that.
When I get too big for that, take me down to the sea;
By then I shall be too big to be killed."
It soon grew to be a huge size; in fact, it was a ghasha,
The biggest of all the fish.
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Then it said, "The flood is coming;
I know the year when it is due.
So listen to my advice: Build a ship;
When the flood comes, go inside.
I will save you from the flood."
Manu took the fully-grown and healthy ghasha down to the sea.
Later, at the time the fish had said,
He took its advice and built the ship.
When the flood came, he went inside.
The fish swam up, tied the ship's hawser to his fin,
And swam, pulling the ship behind him,
To a nearby mountain-side.
Then it said to Manu: "There! Now you're saved.
Tie the ship to a tree, but mind the water doesn't go down
And leave you stranded on the mountain.
Come down the mountain slowly, as the water level drops."
Manu did exactly what he was told.
The mountain-side was named "Manu's Descent."
The flood destroyed every living thing -Only Manu was left.
-------------------------------------------------At the beginning of things, the Earth was covered with water. Men, who were spirits at that
time, flew to the north, the east, the south, and the west, but nowhere found dry land. This made
them sad.
Suddenly a rock rose in the middle of the waters. It spurted fire and finally exploded throwing
the waters up into the clouds. Then dry land appeared. Herbs and trees grew and the spirits
descended and became flesh and blood.
from the Omaha indians
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10. Sri Krishna
We don't know how long ago he was born. It was long centuries ago. There are many legends, as
you know, about some of the people who leave their mark on history. One of these is Sri
Krishna, whom millions of people have looked upon as God, born in India in a human body.
One day when he was just a baby, still crawling on the ground, he got into a mud-puddle, and
you can well imagine that very soon he was putting some of the mud into his mouth -- it looked
so good! Something like chocolate? Boys of the neighborhood saw Krishna eating the mud and,
knowing it would not be good for him, ran to tell his mother.
She hurried to the mud-puddle. Worried to know how much the baby had put into his mouth, she
placed her hand on it and asked him to open it. And you cannot imagine what happened to her.
Instead of the usual pink tongue, palate and little teeth, Mother Yashoda saw the whole universe
in the mouth of her baby. Krishna's mouth displayed the entire solar system in the Milky Way,
the sun, moon and earth itself, crawling with its many living creatures.
Do you understand why she saw it this way? Her vision was changed. Like clouds dispersing
before a blazing sun, her ordinary ideas about this baby being just human like the rest of us
vanished, and by the power of God even in that tiny body, the divine nature of this child shone
But his mother didn't understand this right away. She thought she must be dreaming. When she
realized she was actually seeing God in her baby, she became very humble. Aware, now, of his
real power and holiness, she gave voice to a prayer: "O Lord of Love, who has entered our world
as a human child, you have given me the honor of taking care of you; please shower Your
blessings on us forever!"
Then -- to finish our story -- you must know that her consciousness changed again. Yashoda
became her usual self and was able to pick Krishna up and take him to a basin and wash off all
the mud. And she warned him about eating it. So once again the Lord, covering himself with a
human disguise, so to say, allowed himself to be brought up as babies always are.
When they are a bit older babies can also be naughty and get into worse trouble. Sri Krishna was
not different in this respect. One day his mother had churned milk to make fresh cheese. She had
kept it in a pot where she thought it would be safe. But Krishna found the pot, pulled it down and
broke it. Putting his little hand in, he pulled out some cheese and crawled to a dark corner to eat
it. Just then a monkey wandered in (as they sometimes do in India) and Krishna fed some of his
cheese to the monkey. When Mother Yashoda discovered all this, she gave the boy a good
scolding and decided to fasten him somewhere with a rope, so she might go on with her work.
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She thought she had chosen a long enough piece of rope, but it proved too short when she tried to
use it. So she got more rope, and still more, and tied them together, but Krishna seemed so big
she could not get the rope around him! How could He, who has no beginning or end, and is
everywhere in space, and who is all powerful, ever be bound with ropes? Yet little Krishna,
secretly smiling, finally allowed his mother to fasten the rope around him. Because of her great
love, he could not resist her any longer and let her have her way.
We too can come close to Sri Krishna, by the love we have for Him: He hears the call of a loving
and devoted heart and responds. You'd better believe it!
Srimad Bhagavatam
11. How medicine came to be used
Long, long ago, men and animals lived in great friendship together and could talk each other's
language. They could understand each other very well. However, mankind multiplied and took
up more and more of the land so that the poor animals got crowded out into the forests and desert
places. Gradually friendship ended between them and men began to make weapons to kill
animals for their flesh and skins.
At first, the animals were surprised that man could treat them in this way. Then the animals got
angry and decided they must do something about it.
So the Great Bear Tribe called a big meeting, which was presided over by their chief, the Old
White Bear. Many spoke of the cruel and terrible hunters that men had become and they decided
to make war upon mankind. But then they realized that they did not have the same kind of
weapons. It was suggested by one of the bears that man's wicked instruments should be turned
against man himself. As it was with bows and arrows that man did his killing, the bears decided
to make a bow. They got some suitable wood and one of the bears gave his life so that others
could have gut to make the bowstring. When the bow was ready, it was discovered that the bears'
claws caught in the bowstring and spoiled the shooting. However one of the bears cut his claws
and managed to hit the mark. Then the Old White Bear pointed out that if they did not have
claws, they could not climb trees to obtain food, like honey, and would therefore starve.
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Now the deer also had a big meeting under their chief, "Little Deer", and they decided that any
hunter who killed one of the deer tribe without asking pardon in a suitable way should get very
bad rheumatism as a punishment. They sent a special notice to the nearest group of men, telling
them what had been decided, and they sent instructions as to how they were to ask pardon if it
were absolutely necessary to kill one of the deer. Thus, if a deer was slain, Chief Little Deer
would run to the spot and, bending over the bloodstains, would ask the spirit of the slain deer if it
had heard the prayer of the hunter for pardon. If the answer was "No", then the Chief would track
the hunter to his cabin and strike him with rheumatism so that he became a helplessly crippled
The fish and the reptiles also held a meeting all together. They arranged to haunt cruel hunters
with dreadful dreams of serpents twining around them, and dreams of eating bad fish!
Then, finally, the birds and insects and all the smaller animals gathered together, presided over
by the little Glowworm. They each had much to say against man and they decided to strike
mankind with other kinds of diseases.
During this time, the Plants, who were still friendly to man, heard what had been arranged and
decided to help human beings. So each tree, shrub and herb and all grasses and mosses agreed to
give a remedy for each of the diseases that were to afflict mankind.
So, when doctors wish to know what to prescribe, the Spirit of the Plant suggests itself. When
man has foolishly done wrong to his fellow creatures and to himself, and so suffers, then there is
medicine to heal and soothe.
12. God's mysterious ways
People who love God intensely and, through that love, come to know Him (or Her) intimately,
don't find his ways so mysterious after all. Such a person was Sri Ramakrishna, saint of Bengal,
India. He felt himself to be the child of the Divine Mother; so he called her "Ma", just as children
in all lands address their mothers. Quite a number of people gathered around him, from 1880 to
1886. He would tell them little tales, illustrations --"parables" -- about the true nature of God.
Here are a few of them.
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The baby in the family is learning to talk. Mother tries to teach him or her to call father "Papa" or
"Daddy". But baby is only a year old and says only "Pa" or "Da" every time! Now does this
make the father angry, that his little one cannot yet perfectly pronounce the name? Likewise,
God understands our mistakes where he is concerned. And he patiently waits for the unfolding of
our understanding.
You've all played hide and seek; are there children anywhere that haven't? In some countries the
one who hides is called "Granny". This person blindfolds the eyes of the others and then hides.
The players are to find her, one by one. Whoever can find and touch "Granny" has the blindfold
removed and is "free". So it is with the Divine Mother! She has covered our eyes with ignorance
and hidden herself here. Find her, touch her, and you are freed.
There are said to be 500,000 villages in India. In olden days, the Indian village hired a nightwatchman to keep down crime and accidents. He would go around the streets and lanes with a
square metal lantern, open only at the front. The watchman could see, wherever the lantern cast
its light. No rays of light fell on him, who carried the lantern. If you wanted to see who the
watchman was, you had to ask him to turn the lamp back on his own face. We are like that! Our
eyes (ears, tongue, etc.) are all facing outward, looking at and feeling the things of the world.
God says, "if you want to see me, turn the lamp around; look within and find the Source of all
the light."
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And here is some simple arithmetic that all of us will know. If I have "one," and go on adding
zeros in front of it, like this: 0 + 0 + 0 + 001, does it become more than one? It does not. But if I
put the "one" first and the zeros after it: 1 + 0 + 0 + 0, the number goes on expanding to infinity.
In the same way, the universe is like the first "1"; there is something there, and you keep adding
"things", but you don't get much; while God is like the second "1": put him first and only then
will all the rest have value.
------------------------------------------One of the common trades in village India is dyeing. You buy your white cloth an then take it to
this person who has many vats of dye, each a different color. Do you want your cloth yellow? He
soaks it in the vat of yellow dye; purple, in the purple dye, etc. One day there came to a village a
traveling dyer, who had only one vat! (How could he make a living?) But you see, it was a magic
tub: whatever color you asked for, that was the color the cloth came out. People marveled to see
such a thing. The same vat gave blue, red, etc. A clever villager was watching all this at a little
distance. Finally he brought his cloth to the dyer and said, "Please make my cloth the color of the
dye in your tub." Why is God like the magic dye? Because, though he is One, he gives everyone
different things, according to their preference; if you want to know what he is in himself, be like
the clever villager.
In a certain village of India there was a little park where people came to sit and chat. The path to
it lay alongside the forest. On the edge of the path there was a large, well-known tree. One day a
city-dweller came to the village, passed the tree, and saw a peculiar lizard climbing on the trunk.
When he reached the park he told the others sitting there, "I just saw a cream-colored lizard on
that old tree!"
"Oh," said one man, "I know that lizard. I've seen it there several times -- but it's not creamcolored, it's green."
"No, no, not green," said another, "it is yellow." Then others chimed in: "We have seen it -- it is
lavender (gray, etc.). Everyone had a different picture of the lizard.
They decided to go to the tree to find the animal and settle the argument. What they found was a
hermit from the forest, sitting in meditation under the tree. The people questioned him. "I know
all about that creature, who lives on this tree," he answered. (Have you guessed it? Yes. It was a
chameleon.) "It is sometimes lavender, sometimes gray, sometimes green, yellow, cream, and
sometimes it has really no color at all."
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God, said Sri Ramakrishna, is like that chameleon, taking on different qualities and appearances,
and then again He has none.
There are some temples where God is worshipped as Mother. In one of these, in the state of
Bengal, She is represented by a large stone image. The sculptor has carved in stone his idea of
the Mother of the Universe, and many pious people, finding it attractive and inspiring, go there
to pay their respects or make offerings.
One day an old monk who used a cane came into the temple. Approaching the altar he said,
speaking aloud to God, "Mother, you are said to be God; tell me the truth: are you solid like
stone -- this image? Or are you formless, indescribable and impossible to touch?"
"Take your cane," the monk heard a soft voice saying, "and strike my body on the left side." He
did, and the cane hit the stone with a clack. "Now strike me from the other side," She said. When
the cane reached the sculpture it passed right through it as if it were air. Then the monk
understood that God can be both -- tangible and intangible -- at the same time.
In village India laundry is often done by the side of the river. People pay washermen to take the
sheets and clothes down to the river bank, to a shallow place where they can wade -- and wash.
The clothes are soused and whacked against big flat stones, then spread out on the grass to dry.
One day a holy man, a lover of God, coming that way was praying hard and walking with his
eyes almost closed. Accidentally he stepped on some of the clean laundry spread there, and the
washermen saw it. Angry, they came to give him a beating.
Now this holy man became very frightened. He earnestly and loudly called on God to come to
his aid and save him from the washermen's anger. God, who was sitting in conference up in his
heaven, heard the saint's cries and went to intervene. But just then the man himself picked up
some bricks to throw at his tormentors; so the Lord singly returned to his heavenly seat. God
helps those who do not help themselves!
Sri Ramakrishna
13. Clever animals
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Long, long ago there lived in India a crow, with the peculiar name Bhushandi. It was in the time
when Rama, prince of Ayodhya, lived on earth. Now some people had understood that this noble
and heroic prince was actually God Himself, living on earth as a man, playing out a divine
drama. As Rama roamed through forests in search of his wife, Sita, who had been stolen, many
forest-tribes and even animals became his friends and admirers. About him there was something
that drew them; his face shone and his words were blessings.
Bhushandi the crow heard and saw all this, but had serious doubt that Rama was God, and
remained skeptical. In the forest one day he insulted the prince -- maybe just to see what would
happen! Rama, a fabulous archer, took after the crow with his bow and arrow. Bhushandi began
to soar higher and higher in the sky because everywhere he looked he saw Rama coming after
Beyond the high Himalayas, holding his breath, passing the stratosphere into ionosphere, till life
became impossible, he flew and flew, and everywhere there was Rama. Bhushandi plunged again
to earth and, creeping through the underbrush, tried to evade his pursuer. There too, Rama! What
to do?
Finally the crow surrendered and laid himself at Rama's feet. Now Rama, being God, could do
strange things. He picked up Bhushandi and swallowed him whole. But where do you think the
crow found himself? Seated in his own nest on a forest tree! His pride crushed, he now realized
that though Rama looked like any other person, He contained in His stomach, so to say, the
entire universe -- sky, sun, moon, ocean, rivers, humans, animals and trees. Why do I call
Bhushandi clever? Because he learned his lesson.
When Rama and his brother Lakshmana were in exile, they wandered through the forests to
gather food, make new friends for their cause, to ward off possible enemies and to look for signs
of Sita's whereabouts. One day they came to the lake named Pampa. They sometimes bathed
here. Hot and tired, they decided to refresh themselves with a bath. On their backs they had their
quivers of arrows and in their hands the heavy bow which served as their trusty weapon.
They thrust the ends of their bows into the moist earth at the edge of the lake and, unloading the
arrows from their backs, entered the lake. When they had finished their bath and returned to their
belongings, Rama discovered, when he picked up his bow, there was blood on the lower end of
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it. "Look, brother," he said, "maybe we have injured some creature!" Lakshmana dug a bit in the
soil where the bow had been stuck and found a large bullfrog, stabbed and dying.
"Why didn't you croak?" Rama said to it sorrowfully. "You felt us approach; you always croak
loudly enough when a snake has got hold of you!"
Wiser than most, that frog had recognized who Rama really was. He replied, "At the approach of
a snake I cry, 'O Rama, O Lord, save me, save me!' Now I saw it was Rama himself who was
stabbing me, so I kept still." Even death is nothing if you are in the hands of the Lord!
Clever animals -- heroic animals.
from the Ramayana
There was in ancient India a dog whose name was Dharma and who got into heaven. The way he
did it was this. He followed the Pandavas, a family of six pilgrims, up into the high Himalaya
mountains. They were on their last pilgrimage, the one that closes our life on earth. When they
would reach the summit of the highest peak, the heavens would open and they would enter in:
that was the Lord's promise to them.
The climb was difficult and very steep, and they ran out of food, so of course there was none for
Dharma either. One by one, five of the party fell down faint and perished. Only the leader
reached the top, but there was the dog at his side, faithfully following over ice and snow. Heaven
opened to receive this noble leader, who saw his brothers were already inside. "Enter," said the
guardians of heaven, "but you can't bring in the dog; dogs do not go to heaven."
"What! When he has been my faithful companion all this way? If he cannot come with me, I go
not into heaven. Do as you like." The guardians had to relent and Dharma and the king went in
from the Mahabharata
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This world is like a big fish-net that fishermen drag through the water to make their catch. People
are the fish, and they get caught, attracted by all the bright and pretty things in the water, and by
the "flies" and baited hooks, often leading them to disaster. Some try to pretend they are not
caught, by burrowing into the mud of the lake. Some poke their heads through the holes in the
net, but sadly they (their "egos") are too big to go through. Still, these are at least looking for the
way out.
Only a few jump high out of the net with a big splash, and people say, "Oh, there goes a big
one!" These are the clever fish, the sages and saints who find their freedom. But the cleverest
fish of all (and they are very rare) are the ones who see the net and avoid it altogether, suspecting
that this contraption, the world, is likely to catch them.
Sri Ramakrishna
Sri Ramakrishna used to say that people who have self-control, over their mind and senses, are
like that very special animal, the tortoise. The tortoise, you know, when it is attacked by an
enemy too large for it to fight, draws its limbs, head and tail and its four legs inside its hard shell.
It sits still, armored and unmoving. At the first hint of danger it protects its soft parts in this way.
"After that," says Ramakrishna, "it will not put out its limbs," even to see what is happening; -"not even if you chop it up with an ax." And people who are not attached to outside things, to
sense-objects, and who hold fast to their purpose, he would compare to the tortoise.
In our stories of wise animals we come now to that magic crane who held the Pandava brothers
The five Pandava brothers were lost in the forest and about to die of thirst. They were overjoyed
when one of them climbed a tall tree and saw, not far off, cranes and other water birds gathered
in one spot. Yudhi-sthira, the oldest, said to the youngest, Nakula, "Now go off in that direction,
find the lake and bring back water to us. We are about to die." Nakula set off and found a lovely
small lake of crystal-clear water, surrounded by grasses in which there were many birds and
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other small animals. As he knelt down to take the precious water in his palm, a loud voice said:
"Stop! I am the crane who owns this lake; this water belongs to me. You must answer my
questions before you drink, or you will die." Nakula paid no attention, drank from the lake, and
fell down senseless.
When he did not return, the next elder, Sahadeva, was sent in search of him, and the same thing
happened to him. Yudhi-sthira was sure that skillful Arjuna would uncover the mystery of why
no one came back with water, and sent him. When Arjuna got to the lake and saw his brothers
lying there he wanted to examine them, but first he had to have water.When he heard the crane's
command he politely told him, "I will answer your questions when I have wetted my throat and
can speak." "Wait!" said the crane. "Answer first." Arjuna, already drinking, fell down to the
Second brother Bhima was a large and fearsome warrior. Desperate now, Yudhi-sthira said,
"Brother, it is you alone who can save us now. Go, and with your God-given strength, your
mighty frame and threatening manner, overcome whatever evil force is working here." When
Bhima found the lake and saw his brothers lying lifeless on the ground he was enraged. "What
wretch has taken these lives and hides from me?" he shouted. The crane, sitting up in a tree
calmly replied, "I will take yours too, if you do not answer my questions at once." But Bhima 's
thirst was unbearable. "What! Some spirit in a crane's body? Just you wait until..." and he drank.
After some time Yudhi-sthira, agitated, arrived on the scene. Weeping, he stroked the faces of
his brothers. He found that there was no sign of wound or struggle. "Evidently the water is
poisoned," he thought. Besides, as eldest in the family, he had practiced for years endurance of
hardships and all the spiritual disciplines expected of the Crown Prince, and had much patience.
Now he heard the crane:
"The water will quench your thirst and is pure. But first you must answer my questions -which your brothers did not do."
"Ask, then," said the Pandava prince.
"What makes the sun shine everyday?"
"The power of Brahman," replied Yudhi-sthira.
"What moves more swiftly than the wind?"
"The mind moves more swiftly than the wind."
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"What accompanies people when they die?"
"Dharma, righteousness alone."
"What is that, if one gives it up, one is loved by all?"
"What is that, if one gives it up, one becomes rich?"
"What is the greatest wonder in the world?"
"People see others dying every day, yet somehow feel that they will never die."
"You have answered well and proven yourself worthy. Your brothers are not really dead;
they are in a coma. Behold them restored."
They were and the crane disappeared.
from the Mahabharata
14. Christmas everyday
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This is a tale about something that happened very long ago, before you were born, way back in
the nineteenth century. A little girl -- let's call her Jinnie -- lived in the north near a forest. She
used to wander in the forest and make up games, and one day she came upon a huge old tree with
a label carved into the bark: Wish-fulfilling Tree. Pondering, Jinnie asked, "Are you really a tree
that can grant wishes?" "Yes," said the Tree. "Now that you have found me, you may make one
wish that will come true. Ask quickly." Now Christmas was almost here and Jinnie loved what
happens at Christmas. Why not have it every day? "Please, sir," said she, "let it be Christmas
everyday!" "Very well," said the Tree, "you may have it so for a year; after that, we'll see about
When the great day arrived Jinnie was already excited. In their family, presents were opened in
the morning, and sure enough, here were all the things people received in those days -- stockings
on the fireplace bulging with Mandarin oranges, candies, rubber balls and pretend-jewels, her big
brother's filled with ruler and pen and ink and other things for school. Jinnie filled up on
chocolates and so on, and didn't want any breakfast. Out of her pile of boxes came dolls and
water-colors and picture books and her first earrings and all manner of things, which she found
around the Christmas tree. (No Nintendo or software games or line skates as you have now,
nothing like that!) Then came dinner, which was turkey and all the fixing's, roast potatoes and
pumpkin pies.
The day went on like this and Jinnie forgot all about her wish. She was keeping it a secret,
anyway. It was a white Christmas, so she took out her new sled (her largest gift) and coasted
around the neighborhood. She watched her little sisters play with their silly things, got a stomach
ache, felt tired all evening and went to bed early.
In the morning Jinnie felt heavy and tried to sleep late, but here were her sisters, jumping and
yelling, "C'mon, it's Christmas, c'mon, c'mon!" "No way," said Jinnie, "it was Christmas
yesterday." "Never mind that, just you come and see." Then she remembered the Tree. Sure
enough, there in the living room were the lumpy stockings and the fancy wrapped packages. Her
parents, picking up their presents, were looking sleepy and puzzled. Mother almost cried,
wondering how she would use all these things. Father mumbled some thing about "deja vu!"
(which means, "Didn't we do this yesterday?") and the wrappings piled into a mountain. Jinnie
laughed to herself and ate so much candy she didn't want any breakfast. And so it went on the
whole day, just like before.
Next day it was Christmas again, and the day after. It was Christmas on April Fool's Day and on
the Fourth of July and that really gummed things up. People only got more cross and ill
tempered. You can probably imagine how things went on at this rate. Turkeys got to be a
thousand dollars apiece and people were cooking all kinds of other birds instead. So many trees
were cut down to make Christmas trees that stumps were everywhere and all the early
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environmentalists were much alarmed. Everyone became poor from giving presents, except the
candy-makers and gift-shop owners and the post office. Finally people were taking their
presents, even unwrapped, and just throwing them at the doors of houses, without any cards,
saying, "Here, take it, you old so-and-so!", and many people built barns to hold their presents
and the barns got full and overflowed.
Jinnie was afraid, now, even to tell her mother. And she was too ashamed to go back and ask the
Wish-fulfilling Tree to take back her gift. Pretty soon she just sat on her dolls as there was no
other place to sit. By Thanksgiving somehow it had come out how all this had happened and no
one would play with Jinnie now, for they said it was her greediness that had brought it on, and
there was nothing to be thankful for. At last she went in search of her Tree, but strange to say,
she could find it nowhere in the forest. So the year had to finish: there was no help for it. You
may imagine how relieved everyone was when the following real Christmas was over!
retold from William Dean Howells
15. Tales of two fishermen
A man was sitting on the bank of a stream, all alone, fishing. It was getting late and still he had
caught no fish. After a while the float on his line began to move. Now and then its tip touched
the water. The fisherman was holding the line tight in his hands, ready to pull it up, when
somebody came walking by, on the road above the banks of the stream. "Sir," the traveller said
to the fisherman, "can you tell me where the Lettermans live? It's somewhere around here..."
There was no reply from the fisherman, because he was just on the verge of pulling up his rod.
There seemed to be business at the end of the line. Again and again the traveller said, in a louder
voice, "Sir, can you tell me where the Lettermans live?" But the man fishing in the stream was
unconscious of everything around him. His hands were trembling, his eyes fixed on the float, the
picture of a fine fish about to come up, vivid in his mind. "This man must be stone deaf," said the
traveller to himself, very much annoyed, and so he started walking on the road again.
After he had gone quite a way, it happened that the fisherman's float sank under the water and
with one pull of the rod he landed a good sized fish. Wiping the sweat from, his brow (it was a
hot day) he now turned and shouted after the visitor. "Hey!" he said. "Come here! Listen! But the
man would not even turn his face. After much shouting, however, he did come back. He said to
the fisherman, "Why are you shouting at me?"
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"What did you ask me about?" said the fisherman.
"Why, I repeated my question so many times and here you are, asking me to repeat it again!" The
fisherman replied: "At that time a fish was after my bait, so I didn't hear a word of what you
Sri Ramakrishna tells us that this is the kind of single-mindedness we must have in meditation;
we must become completely absorbed.
This story too is about being absorbed in meditation, but this was a fisherman of a different kind:
this fisherman was a thief. Now, in India wealthy persons often keep an estate in the country on
which many kinds of flowering trees and shrubs are planted, often surrounding a large lake or
pool. At certain hours the gate is kept open so that neighbors and visitors may come in, walk
around and enjoy the plants, and sit in the shade. Once in a while a homeless holy man gets into
a garden, and makes a place for himself there, and nobody minds. In spite of the brick walls on
the boundaries, thieves sometimes crawl over and steal flowers and other things -- like fish, from
the lake. One night a fish-thief got into such a garden and threw his net into the lake. But the
owner heard noises, and ordered his servants to fan out into the grounds of the garden. They
brought lighted torches and began to search for the intruder in the shadows, behind the bushes
and at the bottom of the wall. This thief was very clever. He quickly smeared his face with some
ashes and sat down under a secluded tree. Then he closed his eyes and pretended to be
meditating. He tried to look as if he were deep in meditation. The owner and his men searched a
long time but could not find any thief in the garden. All they saw was a holy man marked with
ashes, still and silent, meditating.
The next day the news spread in the neighborhood that a great yogi was staying in the garden.
People gathered there and honored him with offerings of fruit, flowers and sweets. Many also
threw down silver or copper coins in front of him. People in India have so much respect for
anyone who leaves everything in search of God! Now the thief began to wonder within himself.
"How strange," he thought, "I am only a pretend-holy man, not a genuine one, and still people
show me so much respect and devotion! If I were to become a real seeker of Truth, what a
difference it would make in my life! Probably I would realize God without much delay." And he
gave up his stealing and began to become a holy man himself.
These tales are told by Sri Ramakrishna, who liked to give his visitors spiritual lessons in such
simple stories
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16. Fantastic stories
Vyasa and the dairy-maids
Once there was a great sage named Vyasa. He lived near one of the big rivers in India, called the
Yamuna. In those days one had to cross the river by ferry boats, and one day when he wished to
cross, the ferry, for some reason, did not show up. He noticed that some dairy-maids of the
village of Vrindaban were seated on the bank, also waiting. They had tubs of butter, milk and
yogurt with them, to be carried to market across the river. The dairy-maids were getting worked
up, and quite anxious about not getting there before their produce began to spoil. Vyasa said to
them, "I am very hungry." Now the milkmaids, thinking "This is a famous holy man, who keeps
no money; so it is surely our duty to feed him," asked him to help himself. So Vyasa drank and
ate and ate and drank till he had finished about half of their wares. People like Vyasa can acquire
great spiritual power, and sometimes this comes out as "miracles." That is why Vyasa could say
to the river: "O Yamuna! If I have not eaten anything today, let your waters part and allow us
to walk through." And sure enough, the waters of the river parted, leaving a pathway through
which they all walked! (You may have heard of a similar incident in the Bible.)
When they reached the other bank the dairy-maids were in astonishment. "What?! He ate all that
food and then he says to the river, 'If I have not eaten today, may your waters part!' What does it
Well, it means this: Vyasa, being enlightened, no longer thought of himself as a body or mind.
Constantly he kept himself in the thought "I am the soul, the Atman. No action, good or bad,
belongs to me. It is the work of the Universal Doer." His ego had gone.
Srimad Bhagavatam
Rama's devoted crow
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Prince Rama was looked upon as God embodied on earth. Not only human beings were devoted
to him, but also many of the animal kingdom. One of those was a crow. The story goes like this:
One day Rama and his younger brother Lakshman were walking beside Lake Pampa. Lakshman
noticed on the other side of the lake a large crow, behaving strangely. It would run up to the
water, look at it, bend its head, and then run back into the forest without drinking. It was seen to
do this several times. So Lakshman (who had great respect for his brother's opinions) asked
Rama what he could make of it. Why should a bird act like that? Rama gave one look at that
crow and said, "Oh, I can tell you: this one is very devoted to me -- so much so that he has my
name constantly upon his tongue. Just now he is thirsty, quite thirsty. But to drink the water he
would have to interrupt his repeating of my name, and he just cannot bear to do that."
A surprise for Pushpadanta
Lord Shiva is often accompanied by his bull, a wonderful shiny creature, whose statue you can
see crouched on the ground in front of Shiva, in most of the temples built in his honor in India.
Nandi is the name by which the bull is usually known, and he is considered very wise and
powerful. After all, he has to carry the Lord of the Universe around on his back! You can
imagine, too, what big white teeth Nandi has.
This story is about a worshipper of Shiva named Pushpadanta. Pushpadanta was a great scholar
and poet, and a disciple of the philosopher Sankara. He wanted to write a deep philosophical
poem celebrating Shiva, the object of his devotion. So he labored hard and spent years in
perfecting this poem. But you know, even when people do great things, they often get big egos as
a result: they are overly proud of their work. So it was with Pushpadanta. When the poem was
finished he presented it to the Lord in the temple, with great flourish.
Shiva just glanced at it. "Go, look into the mouth of Nandi," he said. "Ask him to open his mouth
wide." The poet was taken aback! Why do that? But he went up to the bull and asked him to
open his mouth. There, to his great surprise, he found every verse of his poem, on the teeth of
Nandi, engraved in tiny letters. "You are not the author of anything," Shiva explained. "All this
was written long ago; you are merely the instrument of its coming out."
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17. The prince and the beggars
Here are some stories about a Muslim whose name was Ibrahim ibn Adham. Like the man who
became the Buddha, he was a prince in a small Kingdom in Persia. Ibrahim was very pious and
spent many hours a day at prayer. He said his prayers in a beautiful gem-studded chapel of his
palace. One day while praying he heard a terrible noise above him on the roof. It sounded like
the clattering of horses' hooves! Rushing out, he looked up to the roof and, sure enough, there
was his palace guard -- twenty men on horseback. (In such countries the roofs usually are flat.)
"What in the world are you doing up there?" Ibrahim shouted.
"Your Majesty," yelled the captain of the guard, "we are searching for our camels that have
wandered away."
"But why, O fools, are you searching camels on the palace roof?" asked the prince. "We are only
following the example of Your Majesty, who seeks for God while living in all the luxuries and
power of a royal palace," came the reply.
The prince also had a charitable nature. He arranged a place where wandering beggars and holy
men could come and receive free food and drink, on one of the porches of the palace. This
facility closed, however, at nightfall and no one was allowed inside the palace after dark.
One day a tall strong man of radiant appearance arrived just at sunset and asked for food. When
he had eaten his fill he told the guard that as he had nowhere else to stay he wished to spend the
night in the screened porch. The guard told him it was against the rule and asked him to leave at
"I demand to see the master of this rest-house and I will not leave until I do," said the stranger.
"This is not a rest-house, and His Majesty is saying his prayers," the guard replied. So the
argument went on until finally the servant went to the door of his master's chapel and knocked.
"There is a beggar on the porch, sire, who calls the palace a rest-house and refuses to leave. He
insists on speaking to Your Majesty."
The prince was astonished. "Let me just go and hear this madman," said he, and went out to the
end of the porch.
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They met, the prince and the beggar. "You have heard the rule of this place," said the former,
"why have you not left as others do?"
"This is a rest-house," the wanderer replied. "The night is chill, and I wish to spend it here under
Your Majesty's protection."
"What do you mean, a 'rest-house'," said Ibrahim. "Do you not see that it is a palace?"
"Did you build the palace?"
"Certainly not. I have inherited it."
"Did your father build it, then?"
"Not even he. His father's father built it, long ago."
"And each of these has come and gone, passed through this palace and out of it again?"
"Of course," said the prince, impatiently.
"And you too will do the same. Yet you say it is not a rest-house!"
The eyes of Ibrahim's understanding were opened. He brought the wise man into the palace and
the two talked long into the night.
When Prince Ibrahim one day looked from his palace window he saw near the brook a beggar
dressed in rags, weary and hungry, pulling from his knapsack a chunk of stale bread. The man
dipped this in the water, sprinkled some salt on it, and hungrily devoured it. Then he lay down on
the hard ground and fell asleep. After some time Ibrahim sent a messenger to ask the man to
come and meet him at the palace gate. The beggar, in wonder, stumbled to the gate. The prince
asked him if he had eaten to his satisfaction. "Praise Allah, sir, I did." Then he was asked if he
had slept peacefully on the ground. "Indeed, I did, sir, for I have no worries, thanks be to God."
It is said that Ibrahim, comparing the wanderer's life with his own, so full of anxiety, thought
deeply about his own unhappiness with life. That very night he changed his royal robes for
castoff rags and leaving his family and palace, went out to a life of poverty and wandering.
Sufi Traditions
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18. Love conquers all
Sometimes you read in stories and in poems that "the Angel of Death" came to So-and-So, which
is a nice way of saying that they died. Whether there really is an angel of Death is not the point.
In India people have always said there was, but there he is more likely to be called a "god" of
Death. And they know his name: Yama. So here is an Indian story about Yama.
There have been times and places for Indian girls, especially princesses, to search for the
husband of their dreams. This is the story of Savitri, a beautiful, strong and righteous princess,
now eighteen years old. The king and queen wished her now to marry. Savitri had another idea:
"Let me go," she said, "on a trip to see holy men and women, visit hermitages and hear the sound
advice of saints. When I come back I shall think about whom to marry."
She did this. Accompanied by a royal retinue, Savitri made her way through forests and deserts
and the journey took many months. One day in a forest she saw a strong young man who carried
an axe and a bundle of wood. Watching him she was astounded by the dignity and gentle manner
of this tall woodsman. Inquiring, Savitri discovered that he was the son of a king and queen who
had lost their kingdom because the old king had become blind. They were living in exile in that
forest, where Satyavan (that was the young man's name) was caring for them by selling wood.
"How wonderful!" she thought.
Returning to her own palace she told her parents that she was ready for a royal wedding, but the
bridegroom must be only Satyavan. "Who is Satyavan?" asked the king. Now a wise and holy
man, Narada by name, who knew many secrets, was present there. When the princess described
the wonderful woodsman, Narada jumped up. "Oh, no! Not that one!" he said. "I happen to know
that somebody has put a curse on him: he will die exactly one year from today and she will be a
All attempts to persuade Savitri to change her mind were in vain. "My heart has gone out. I will
never marry if I cannot marry Satyavan." What to do? So a message was sent and his parents
agreed if only the princess would give up her palace and come and live with them in the forest.
They were married. Bride and groom lived happily for many months.
Satyavan knew nothing of the curse. But Savitri kept always in her mind the date when Yama,
Lord of Death, would be expected. As the day came near, her heart told her to fast, and to pray.
She prayed to God that her courage and resolve might not fail. And every day she asked her
husband to let her accompany him to the forest while he worked.
Savitri had calculated the last day of that fateful year. It had arrived. As noon approached,
Satyavan suddenly felt very tired, complaining of headache. Coming to rest in the shade beside
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his young wife, he put his head in her lap and fell into deep sleep. At this moment a grim and
shadowy figure, came out of the woods, stately, carrying a rope noose.
"I have not come for you, child," said Yama, smiling, as he put his noose around the soul of
Satyavan. Moving back into the forest he said, "Do not grieve: death is certain for all."
Savitri stood up and followed. "Go back" cried Yama, "You cannot follow anyone into the
realms of death!" And on she walked, her soul bound in love to Satyavan's. Yama now thought to
prevent her following by giving gifts. "If you'll go home, I'll grant you a wish; ask for what you
"Then," Savitri replied, "Let my father-in-law recover his eyesight." "Granted. Now turn back,
for this is no place for you." She only kept on following. "Girl!" Yama exclaimed, "Do you not
hear me? All right, ask another wish."
"Yes, let my husband's parents regain their lost kingdom!" she said. "That, too, is granted.
Goodbye." And Savitri followed still. "How can I persuade you, foolish one? one more wish I
grant; this time ask something for yourself. You may have anything but the life of Satyavan; but
this is my very last gift; after this you will see me no longer." [Can you guess what she asked?]
"Grant me then, that I may have many sons and see their children before I die." "Well and good!"
said Yama."This too I give you, on my word." But Savitri followed on. Yama turned sternly.
"Good sir," she said, "in our country a widow does not remarry." The god of Death was trapped.
"My child," said he, "brave is the heart that follows a husband even to the grave," and he released
Satyavan. An hour later her husband awoke under the tree and told Savitri: I've had the strangest
dream! I dreamt that I was dead."
19. Yama goes about his business
You have heard the story of Savitri, the loving wife who cleverly saved her husband from the
jaws of death. In the West you often hear "the jaws of death," but, as you read in that story, the
"angel" of death in India is a genial gentleman who can also grant favors, as he carries out his
task. The name of this god of Death is Yama.
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Sri Krishna approaches Yama
You may be surprised to know that even God has to go to school! Yes, when he is born on earth,
taking the form of a human child, what else will he do? He has to get his education. Sri Krishna,
who was an "incarnation" or avatar of the Lord, had a schoolteacher whose name was
Sandipani. When the only son of Sandipani and his wife fell ill and died, Krishna felt their
sorrow deep in his heart.
Sandipani and his wife both knew that Krishna, their brilliant pupil, had divine power. So they
begged him to restore their son to life. Sri Krishna's love and regard for them was so great that he
went straight to Yama, the King of Death, and said to him, "I know that it is you who have
charge of the souls of the dead. In the matter of death, everyone must bow to you. But do you
know who has appointed you and where your power comes from? It really comes from Me, for I
am not the schoolboy that you see: I am none other than the Supreme Person, Lord of the
Universe and Master of its power. Therefore I ask you for the soul of Sandipani's son."
And Yama, recognizing his Master and saluting him, brought the boy back to life.
(Does it remind you of a story in the Bible?)
Come Sweet Death!
Persons who live in or near forests of India often make their living by gathering firewood. They
tie it into bundles which are slung over their shoulders and carried on their backs to a marketplace. One day an old man, out in the woods alone was picking up sticks. He greedily made a
pile so large that, when it was tied, he found it too heavy to lift. Sweating and groaning he tried
in vain to get it onto his back; the market was far, and the coming of dusk forbade a second trip.
Despair came over him. He thought of his lot in life -- so full of labor and poverty and pain -and he began to long for death. Sitting on the ground he moaned and groaned an muttered to the
god of Death to come and take him to the next world. Yama, in his mercy, heard the cry,
appeared, and approached him in the forest.
"You summoned me?" said Yama, "What may I do for you?"
Swallowing hard, the woodsman answered, "I -- I just wanted you to help me put this load of
wood onto my back!"
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Be careful what you want: you just may get it!
Srimad Bhagavatam
20. Buddha in the deer park
It is told about Gautama Buddha that he spent many lives in animal form, as various animals of
the forest, before being born in human form as the prince, Siddhartha of the Sakhya clan. This
story is about his life as King of the Deer.
Three kings come into our story. One is Brahmadatta, a man, King of Benares, who had a "deer
park" -- a large private hunting ground where roamed a thousand deer. The second is the future
Buddha, king of the Banyan Deer and golden in color, the third the king of another herd, the
Branch Deer.
There were five hundred Banyan deer and five hundred Branch deer in the preserve.
Brahmadatta used to ride through this forest with bow and arrow uplifted, frightening and
scattering the deer in all directions, in his quest for deer meat. Some fell while running away and,
crippled, died of starvation; for all of them life was made miserable. Finally the two deer kings
got together and the Banyan King (the Bodhi-sattva) said, "Friend, to avoid all this fright and
loss of life, let us make an arrangement. Every day we shall draw lots, one day from your herd,
one day from mine, and whosoever's turn it is will go to the chopping block and lay down his or
her head for the executioner's axe. That way the King will have his meat." King Brahmadatta
was getting old and hunting was now difficult for him, so he was satisfied. But he said that the
two beautiful king deer were never to be killed (royalty recognizing royalty, you see).
One day it fell to the lot of a doe of the Branch Deer to lay her head on the block. She went to the
Branch Deer King and said, "Lord, please put off my turn because I am going to have a little one.
I am sure the lot is not meant to kill two at once. After the fawn is born I will take my turn."
But the Branch Deer King replied, "You know that I cannot pass your turn on to others, like that.
Don't upset things. Go on your way."
Not getting any help from him, the doe went to the King of the Banyan Deer, bowed before him
and told him her plight. He was moved with pity and compassion. He said he would take her
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turn. (It was the very nature of this great soul, who would one day become the Buddha, to give
his own life to save that of another.) He then went to the chopping block and lay down with his
head upon it. When the King's cook arrived and saw him he was astonished and ran to tell King
Brahmadatta what had happened.
The King came on his chariot followed by a crowd of people. "Friend," he said, "King Deer, did
I not grant you that you would not be killed? Why then are you lying here?"
"Oh, Great King," said he, "a doe whose little one was just about to be born, came to me and
said, 'Please change my turn to that of someone else.' Now it was impossible for me to deny such
a pitiable request, so I have taken her turn."
At this, Brahmadatta's heart melted. In his face and his voice it was seen that new feelings of
compassion and remorse were coming over him. He commanded that there should be no more
killing of the deer in his park. The influence of the Bodhi-sattva totally transformed his life.
To this day, the place is called the Deer Park, to remind us of how the deer were saved from the
[Many people think that only human beings know right from wrong, rescue and defend others,
and give their places and even their lives for their sake.
Buddhists believe that animals sometimes do it too, and this is illustrated in such stories of the
past lives of the Enlightened One.]
Jataka Tales
21. Mr. Ant-hill
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In ancient India there lived a robber whose name we do not know, because, as you will see, he
got a new one. It is by this new name that he got famous. Young and strong, he could easily
attack and overcome travelers going by lonely roads. Then he would take their money and all the
valuables they had with them. Many were his victims. This man knew better, but he thought it
was the only way he could make his livelihood. Moreover, his father, mother and wife were there
at home, depending on him.
One day the robber caught hold of a traveler who had nothing. Angry, he asked him how he
could wander around like that. "I am the sage Narada," said he. "I travel freely even between
heaven and earth. I am one of the 'immortals'." As we said, the robber had a sense of right and
wrong, and he felt some respect for the sage.
"Don't you know it is a great sin to rob and kill human beings?" asked Narada; "Why do you do
all this?"
"I want to support my family," the robber replied.
"All right," said Narada, "you tie me up here securely and then go ask your family if they will
share in your sin, the way they share your money."
The robber agreed, tied Narada to a tree, and went to find his father.
"Do you know how I support you?" he asked.
"No, I have always wondered," the father replied.
"I am a highwayman -- I rob -- and sometimes I have to kill."
"What! Horrible!" the father exclaimed, "Get away from me."
"So will you not share in my guilt, in the eyes of God?"
"No! Why should I?" answered his father.
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In the same way he told his mother and his wife, asking if they would share in his sin, help to
bear his karma. The mother said, "Why should I? I never stole anything in my life!" And his wife
said, "Of course not! It is your duty to support me."
The robber's eyes were opened. Going back to the tree where Narada was tied, he told the sage
what had happened. "Now I see that each of us travels a lonely road, a single track in life. Even
my nearest and dearest, who live by my plunder, do not agree to share in my guilt! Tell me, O
sage, what can I do?"
"Give up your life-style, foolish one. The 'love' of your loved ones is fair-weather love: it lasts
while riches last, and leaves when riches leave. Learn to love and worship Him who is the only
one who stands by us, in our good and in our evil."
Narada taught the young man to worship and told him to go into the forest. He went into solitude
and began to practice meditation and prayer. He kept this up for many years, living at first on
fruits and roots. Eventually he became totally absorbed in meditation and forgot himself, losing
awareness of his body. As a result, ants even came and made ant-hills around him, heaped up
high, so that he looked like a mountain of ants.
After many years a divine voice came to him. "Arise, O Sage." it said. "Sage?" he exclaimed; "I
am a robber."
"No more robber," the voice went on, "you are a purified soul. Your guilt has been erased; you
have had a new birth, and you now have a new name: Valmiki -- meaning, he that was born in an
One day when he went to the river Ganges to take his bath, Valmiki saw a pair of doves whirling
around and around and kissing each other. They were about to make a nest. Valmiki felt happy at
the sight. The next moment an arrow whizzed past his ear and brought down the male dove.
Hunters were near. The female dove went on whirling around her dying companion with cries of
shock and anguish. Valmiki, now enlightened, filled with compassion, could at once feel her
distress. He turned around and saw the hunter.
"You are a wretch" he cried, "without an ounce of mercy! Your slaying hand would not stop
even for love!"
Valmiki was surprised. The words that had come from his mouth were strange. "I have never
spoken in this way before," he thought to himself. Then he heard the divine voice again: "Do not
be alarmed. What is coming out of your mouth is poetry; your true nature is that of a poet. Write
now the life of Lord Rama in poetry for the benefit of the world." When the former robber
discovered what was hidden within him, he began to write the book called Ramayana.
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How the chipmunk got his stripes, is one of the episodes in the Ramayana. It happened in this
way: King Rama has to get a bridge built, from the land of India to the island of Sri Lanka. It
looks like quite a jump, doesn't it? Actually there is ocean bed not far under the water -- a kind of
natural bridge. Well, the whole of Rama's army and all the company which followed him are
anxious to have the king rescue his queen, Sita, from the demon kingdom in Sri Lanka. They all
pitch in to pile up stones and logs and soil and sand to bridge the gap.
One day what do they see but a little chipmunk, rolling himself in sand and running back and
forth to the bridge and shaking himself there.
"What are you doing?" someone asks him. "I am helping to build Rama's bridge," said the little
one. Everybody laughs. They are bringing tons of sand for the bridge, and here is what the
chipmunk is doing! But Rama had made many friends among the birds and animals of the
forests, during his long exile. He sees all this and says, "Blessed be the little chipmunk; he is
doing his work as best he can, he is just as great as any of you." Affectionately he bends down
and strokes the little animal down its back. And because Rama is God Himself, you can see the
marks of his fingers on all the descendants of the chipmunk.
22. Not Deaf, Not Mute
A few children -- very few -- are born into this world with Knowledge of the Truth: the truth
about the universe, about man and about God. They suspect from almost the beginning that
things are not what they seem to be; that there must be a hidden Reality, here, to be discovered.
By the time they are five or six years old they begin to remember their past lives -- where they
came from and where they are going; and they ask the right questions.
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Once in a very long time someone is born who has full knowledge of Truth. We are not going to
explain, today, how that can happen, but here is a story from ancient India about just such a boy.
His name was Jadabharata.
Before it came time for children his age to start talking, Jadabharata made up his mind that in
this life he would not speak at all. He would only think in his head about God, and meditate on
him. He recalled the difficulties and distractions of his former lives, and thought that in this way
he would avoid many of them. And he kept his promise to himself -- he spoke only once in his
This is how it happened:
His family, you see, thought he was dumb -- in two ways -- mute, and an imbecile. In their eyes
he was not fit to be married or hold a job, not fit for anything. When his father died his brothers
divided the inheritance, leaving out Jadabharata. They just kept him around the house, to build
fires, haul water, clean up etc. Naturally they sometimes got angry with him, and then he would
go out and sit under a tree to wait until they cooled down.
One day he was doing just that, when a palanquin came down the road. Do you know what a
palanquin is? It is something like a sedan-chair. The rider sits in a box between two poles,
carried at the ends by four men. But there were only three men bearing this one. In the palanquin
was the king of that land, being taken to his summer palace, and one of the bearers had fallen ill.
When they saw Jadabharata, strong and silent under the tree, they thought he would make an
excellent substitute. The kind then stuck out his head and commanded him to be the fourth
bearer. Strange to say, Jadabharata jumped right up and put the end of the pole to his shoulder.
What a strange ride! The new bearer was looking down and hopping now and then, jerking and
swaying. Jadabharata, you see, was full of mercy to every living creature and could not bear to
step on a worm or ant or beetle, and was avoiding all of them.
The king put his head out again. "Hey, clumsy," he said, "are you already so tired that you can't
walk straight?" His new servant looked the king in the face, smiled, and spoke for the first time
in his life, in a very sweet voice.
"Whom are you calling 'clumsy'? Is there anything in the whole world that is not yourself?
Everything is the Self. How can the Self ever be tired or need rest?"
Startled, the king got out of his "box", came to him and bowed low before him.
"Who are you, O sage? I see that you are a knower of Truth, a knower of Brahman. A thousand
pardons. Kindly give me instruction."
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They talked for hours, about the highest truths declared in the scriptures. And if you want to
know the end of the story, the fact is that the king ruled wisely and in the end gave up his throne
to become a wandering monk. Jadabharata went back to his family, and of course they saw him
now in a very different way!
23. "I Give You Three Wishes"
You've seen "Aladdin", so you know about rubbing magic lamps to have a genie come out. This
story begins with something like that.
A man in India who was very poor thought that he might be able to please God in the form of the
image in a famous temple. If he succeeded, he would ask for a boon -- a special favor. He used to
take to the temple whatever he could scrape together -- ripe fruits, candies, blossoms, coins -and lay them before the image.
One day the Lord, pleased with this humble worship, spoke aloud to the man: "All right, I give
you as a boon three wishes and a pair of dice." Rushing home even without thanks, the man told
his wife the wonderful news. She told him to throw the dice and wish for wealth first. But he
thought a moment and then said, "Look, we both have ugly little noses and people make fun of
us. Why not ask for beautiful noses first?"
His wife was for wealth first, and caught hold of his hand to keep him from throwing the dice.
Pulling his hand away he quickly threw the dice, exclaiming, "We want nothing but noses,
beautiful noses."
At once their bodies were covered with beautiful noses. Noses all over. What a nuisance! So they
both agreed they would have to use the second wish to get rid of the noses. When people get
excited they are likely to make mistakes like this; when he threw the dice again, the husband
said, "Let these pesky noses be taken off." At once they were gone, and the noses on their faces
went too! Now they were uglier than ever.
Only one wish left. Why not ask to have a fine, well-proportioned nose on each face? Ah, but
now some sense was dawning upon them: people would see the new noses and ask them about
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how they got them. They would have to explain and people would call them fools and make
more fun of them all the more for wasting their three wishes.
So husband and wife threw the dice again asking for their own original noses to be put back on.
This left them right where they were before.
Do you think God was teaching them a lesson? What do you think that was?
24. The Seven Jars
Long ago there lived in Northern India a merchant whose wife had died and who went daily from
his lonely house in the foothills to the town below, for buying and selling. "I must have a
holiday," he said to himself one day, and he began to climb up into the hills to enjoy the view
and the sounds of the forest. In the hot afternoon, feeling sleepy he looked for a quiet place for a
nap. Soon he discovered a kind of hole in a cliff, actually a cave; so he lay down in the dark
interior and slept. Waking up, he felt there was something with him, in the cave.
Crawling back inside he found a large earthen jar. Then another, and another and another -- there
were seven jars there, altogether! Now the merchant wondered if he dared to open them. There
was no sound of anyone about, still it seemed a bit risky. But curiosity, as you know, is powerful
indeed. He found he could lift the lid of the first jar. What do you know! It seemed to be full of
gold coins. So were the second, third, fourth and fifth. Under the lid of the sixth jar he found an
aged piece of paper. On it was written, "Finder, beware!! The seven jars of gold are yours, but
there is a curse. No one who takes them with him can leave the curse behind." Now, next to
curiosity, greed is the most powerful urge. Our merchant overjoyed with his luck, wasted no time
in borrowing a two-wheeled cart to carry the jars of gold to his house. It was exhausting and next
to impossible. Bulky and hard to lift, they had to be taken two by two; in the dark of night he
lugged them to his house. On the last trip, with the seventh jar alone thankfully the load was
lighter, and he noticed nothing.
"Let me count the coins," he thought , "and see how great my fortune is."
But -- when that seventh jar was opened he found it was only half-full. "What!" he cried, "I was
promised seven jars!" He had thrown the note away and forgotten about the curse. The merchant
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was overcome and obsessed by a spirit of grasping and greed. Now, in the town, he went at his
money-making hand and fist; it was all he lived for. "I must fill the seventh jar with gold,": this
was his constant thought. Yet the more he put into the jar, strangely the more it remained halffull. He lived some years more, but never did he enjoy spending the gold he had found, because
it was never enough.
Arabian Nights, adapted.
25. Crossing the Waters
You must have heard that Jesus walked on water to save the drowning Peter, his disciple. There
are many accounts in India of persons who walked over water in this way, due to their
tremendous faith. This story is about a farmer's daughter whose duty it was to carry fresh milk to
customers in various villages. One of the customers was a priest. To reach his house, the
milkmaid had to cross a good-sized stream. People crossed it by a sort of ferry raft, for a small
One day the priest, who performed worship daily with the offering to God of fresh milk, finding
it arrived very late, scolded the poor woman. "What can I do?" she said, "I start out early from
my house, but I have to wait a long time for the boatman to come." Then the priest said
(pretending to be serious), "What! People have even walked across the ocean by repeating the
name of God, and you can't cross this little river?" This milkmaid took him very seriously. From
then on she brought the priest's milk punctually every morning. He became curious about it and
asked her how it was that she was never late anymore.
"I cross the river repeating the name of the Lord," she replied, "just as you told me to do, without
waiting for the ferry." The priest didn't believe her, and asked, "Can you show me this, how you
cross the river on foot?" So they went together to the water and the milkmaid began to walk over
it. Looking back, the woman saw that the priest had started to follow her and was floundering in
the water. "Sir!" she cried, "You are uttering the name of God, yet all the while you are holding
up your clothes from getting wet. That is not trusting in God!"
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Never under-estimate the power of faith!
Sri Ramakrishna
Our next tale is another example of the same. It comes to us from one of India's great storehouses
of stories, the Ramayana.
Ravana, king of the demons, had an older brother who was a truly spiritual man, very unlike the
rest of his family. Others came to him as a holy man; they knew his great devotion to Rama,
whom he looked on as God in human form. One disciple of this older brother wanted very badly
to go from Sri Lanka, where he lived, to India, to see Lord Rama. There were no boats to take in
those days. When he explained his great longing to his teacher, the latter went aside, and taking a
large leaf, wrote upon it the name of Lord Rama, wrapped it and told the disciple. "Don't be
afraid. Keep this in your pocket. The power of this alone will carry you across on foot. But look
here: the moment you lose your faith in it, you will be drowned."
The man set out and he was walking easily on the water on his way to India, when suddenly he
became curious.
"What could this be, so powerful to work this miracle?" And pulling the packet from his pocket
he opened it. "What?! Just this -- a leaf with the name of the Lord?" And as doubt crossed his
mind he began to sink.
The story doesn't say so, but Rama himself must have come to him and lifted his devotee from
perishing. We can hope so!
The same book tells about Hanuman, the monkey-devotee and the way he too crossed from
India to Sri Lanka. King Rama and all his armies and followers were laboring to build a bridge
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over the strait. But Hanuman said, "What, I have taken the name of Rama -- then is there
anything I cannot do?" He had such total faith in the power of his Master's name, that in one big
jump he cleared the many miles of water, from the tip of India to the island.
These three tales used to be told by Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. Having faith in
oneself, faith in the teacher, faith in the words of scripture, and faith in God, they said, we must
26. How to Conquer Death
This body is the city of Brahman.
In the heart of this city,
There is a little space shaped like a lotus,
Within which he lives.
Find him and realize him.
What is there to find? For what reason?
That little space within the heart is as large as the
Infinite universe outside; the heaven and the earth.
Fire and wind, the sun and the moon,
Lightning and the stars all are contained in it.
If you say, "What happens to all beings, all desires,
All that exists in it, when old age comes, decay
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And the body dissolves in death?"
When old age comes and body decays, this reality
Within the body does not decay.
When the body dies This does not die.
This space inside the body is in truth the city of
Brahman lives here as the inner Self of all beings.
He is beyond sin
And sorrow, old age and death,
Beyond all hunger and thirst. All selfless desires are
Contained in him and he fulfills all desires that are
Here on earth people do what they are told to do by
Or are led by the customs, traditions and law of the
Or they do what they want to do, be it ruling a
Or owning a piece of land.
Earthly pleasures are finite, after reaching a point
They come to an end, so are the pleasures of
Those who die without realizing their real Self,
The divinity within, have no freedom and no peace
In life or death. But those who have realized the
Are ever free both here and hereafter,
They get what they truly desire.
Our selfless desires are covered by selfish ones
And for this we do not have this power: therefore,
Our loved ones die we cannot see them again.
All desires, whether to see our loved ones who are
Or dead or to acquire objects hard to get, are
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When we realize the Self in meditation, entering the
Of the heart where the Lord lives.
(The objects of all desires are given by the Lord
Who dwells within, being concealed by our vain
And selfish preoccupations.)
Like a person who walks on the ground but does not
Know the gold that lies underneath, day after day
We come in touch with the Lord in deep sleep,
But we do not know him.
The Self dwells in the lotus of the heart and for this
He is known as the Lord of the heart. A sage knows
And in meditation he visits this temple in the heart,
Day after day he enjoys the kingdom of heaven
Chandogya Upanishad
27. Never Will I Leave Thee
In ancient times in the city of Benares there lived a hunter who was in the forests one day
looking for antelope. In those days poisoned arrows were used as the weapon. These were kept in
a quiver on the hunter's back. Now, deep in the forest he suddenly found a herd of antelopes and,
choosing a target, shot his first arrow. Of course the animals scattered. He missed his aim and the
poisoned shaft penetrated a large tree.
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Gradually that poison entered the life-system of the tree and made it shed all its leaves and fruit.
In a hollow in this tree there lived a small parrot who had been there for many years. (Parrots
often have very long lives.) Although the tree was now withered and could no longer provide the
parrot with her food, she would not leave her nest. Half-starved and silent, she resolved to stay
with her host, the tree.
When any very noble vow is taken on earth, Lord Indra, it is said, feels the "hot seat". So now his
throne heated up very much. Looking down to earth for the cause of this, Indra marvelled at the
devotion and resolve of this noble bird. He wondered how a lowly creature like this could have
such unusual feelings. "But then," he said to himself, "maybe it is not so strange after all,
because every creature has some tendency to be loyal and self-sacrificing." He decided to test the
parrot, and coming to earth, he travelled to the great tree and came up to the hollow.
"Good bird," he said, "why don't you go to some other tree and leave this withered one?"
"Welcome to you, O Indra, king of the gods," replied the parrot. "By the power of my spiritual
practices I recognize you through the disguise and understand who you are."
"Good for you!" Indra exclaimed, marvelling at the bird's wisdom. Again he asked, "There are
many good trees hereabout, and some have hollows in them; why do you not forsake this barren
old fellow?"
The parrot sighed. "I am your servant. But look: in this very tree I was born and nurtured. Here I
learned my wisdom. My tree has protected me from every enemy. Why do you urge me to leave
the path of dharma (virtue) when I feel grateful and compassionate? How can I abandon now the
tree who has lived so long as my protector?
At this Indra was so pleased that he asked the bird to "choose a boon"; that is, he would grant
him whatever he wished.
"Very well," said the parrot, "then let the tree be revived." Indra thereupon sprinkled it with his
magic "water of life" and the sap in it began to flow once more and the tree soon put forth leaves
and blossoms.
Human beings too, by friendship with the righteous and holy, get their good desires fulfilled.
King Yudhi-sthira, before he went to Heaven was given a look into it and there he saw a
number of his enemies, and his heart burned. What were those villains doing in Heaven? They
did not belong there at all! Then he was given a look into Hell. Standing at the gate he saw the
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scenes of fire and torture and heard the murmuring of voices, crying and sighing, and begging
him to come and console them. Then he recognized some of these voices : they belonged to his
relatives and companions! Anger blazed up in him. He said to his guide, "This is an outrage. Go
to the high gods and tell them I shall never be with them again. What! Evil men dwelling with
them, and these my kinsmen fallen into Hell? This is a crime. I will never live with those who
have brought this about," he thundered. "I will stay here with my friends." The messenger left
and Yudhi-sthira was alone, heartsick and brooding over the fate of all these he loved.
The scene quickly changed. The sky became bright and all the foulness and misery of Hell
disappeared. Yudhi-sthira, looking up, saw that he was surrounded by the gods. "Well, done,
noble hero," said they, "your trials are over, you have fought and won. All kings must see Hell as
well as Heaven. Your lifelong compassion has made you divine. Enter now, together with these,
your kinsmen and friends, into the kingdom of Heaven and take on your immortal form and
A. Coomaraswamy and Sister Nivedita,
Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists
28. How the Moon Got to Look Like That
This is a totally unscientific story. But then, most stories are, aren't they?
You know very well that what we see on the moon are those big empty spaces, called "seas."
However, centuries ago all that was not known, and in different lands there were very different
legends of how the moon got its spots. Here is an old one from India, where, unlike you and me,
they see not a man-in-the-moon, but a rabbit! In India he is called a hare.
The hare in our story was a great soul in disguise: he was none other than that one who would
one day be born as the Buddha. Living in the woods with his friends, Monkey, Jackal and Otter,
Hare seemed to know about his future life, since he lived and preached good behavior, selfsacrifice and all sorts of righteousness. He observed days of fasting, too, when he ate no grasses
at all.
Now one day when Monkey was out climbing trees for mangoes, and Otter was diving for fish
and Jackal looking for meat, Hare was on a fast day. He got to thinking, "Well, if any beggar
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comes by, he must certainly be fed and not scorned; that is the rule. And today, if any beggar
comes, I cannot give him grass and I have nothing else. So what to do? Let me sacrifice my own
body for him."
As you have read in other stories, when any wonderful vow like this is heard on earth, it rises to
the heavens and the king of the gods gets a hot seat. His throne becomes quite hot and
uncomfortable. (He is afraid of being replaced.) So now, the king of the gods learning what the
hare had vowed to do, decided to test this fellow. He came down to earth and took the form of a
man who was begging. First he went to Otter and asked for food. Otter offered him a fresh fish.
Next he saw Jackal who had just found some meat and offered that. Of course when he came to
Monkey, a mango was held out to him. The king refused them all, and said he would return the
next day.
Then he approached Hare, who without a murmur told the beggar to gather some wood and build
a fire, and promised him he would soon have a freshly cooked delicious meal. This the "beggar"
did. As soon as the fire became live coals, moved by pity for the beggar's hunger, Hare, hopping
to the place, sprang into the fire. Strange to say, the fire did not burn him -- it was as cold as the
air above the clouds. Hare was astounded, and stared, questioning, at the beggar. "What does this
mean?" he exclaimed. His guest then revealed that he was no beggar, not human; he had come
from heaven to test his sincerity and virtue.
"You have wasted your time," said Hare, "I would give my body for the need of any creature
who asked me."
Then the king of the gods replied: "Such a spirit of self-sacrifice as yours is not found anywhere;
people must be reminded of it till the end of time. I will draw your profile on the moon, so that
no one will forget it." And so he did.
Can you find Hare in the moon??
A. Coomaraswamy and Sister Nivedita,
Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists
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29. Your Dream or My Dream?
Here is a story which has travelled all around in Europe and the Middle East, and perhaps all
over the world by now. However, maybe you haven't heard it. I am going to give it to you in the
way it is told by the Hasidic Jews of Eastern Europe.
Have you heard of Cracow, a famous city in Poland? Once upon a time there lived in Cracow a
certain Isaac, the son of Yekel. Isaac was devoted to God and followed all the religious customs
of the Jewish people there, but he was very poor and had many debts; the rent was overdue, his
grocery bill unpaid; his daughters were of an age to be married, and poor Isaac would have to
pay for their weddings! So he moaned and groaned. He worried day and night. In the synagogue
and out of the synagogue he told God all about it and offered prayers to the Lord begging him to
relieve his poverty.
It was no use. God did not seem to listen. Isaac went on with his requests just the same; neither
did he become less poor nor did he become less devoted to the Lord.
Then one night he had a strange dream. He was carried away to another country and to a bridge
in a great city. A voice told him, "This is Prague [Capital of what is now the Czech Republic].
Now look well, for under the bridge, at the spot where you are standing, there is a treasure,
buried; it is waiting for you, it is yours."
When he awoke in the morning, Isaac laughed and shrugged off his dream. Mere wishfulfilment. But the same dream came that night! Prague, the bridge, the treasure! This time the
voice asked him, "Well, do you want to be rich, or would you rather keep all your worries?" Still
Isaac thought, What nonsense! Prague was so far away and he had no money for the trip.
Moreover, he didn't know anyone there. "It is better to pray than to dream, " he said, and began
more prayers to God.
Of course you know by now that these things always happen three times: that magic number
three. Sure enough, the third night he saw the same spot under the bridge, and the voice said:
"What! You haven't left yet?"
Isaac was annoyed and just a bit curious. At last he set out on foot for Prague and walked all the
way. He found the river, recognized the bridge, saw the familiar-looking spot. But how could he
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dare to dig? Soldiers were above, guarding the bridge. What if they should notice? He would
surely be arrested. Isaac walked around trying to decide what to do.
Alas! The captain of the guard came and took him in, accusing him of spying. Simple and
truthful as he was, Isaac could only stammer out his story. He was sure he would be called a liar
and put in prison. But what do you know -- the captain began to laugh, and he laughed hard.
"Did you really come all the way from Cracow believing in a dream? You're crazy, man! Who
believes in dreams? Why, do you know that if I were as silly as you are, I'd be in Cracow myself
right now? I dreamed, night after night, that a voice was telling me, 'There's a treasure waiting
for you at the house of a Cracow Jew named Isaac, son of Yekel. Yes, under the stove.' Now,
half the Jews in Cracow are named Isaac and the other half Yekel. And they all have stoves! Can
you see me going from house to house tearing down the stoves and digging for treasure?"
Isaac hurried home and found the treasure buried under the stove in his house. He paid his debts,
got his daughters married, and had enough left to build a synagogue in honor of the Lord he had
never deserted and who had not deserted him.
Very often we discover that what we seek most is right under our nose.
Souls Afire, by Elie Wiesel, adapted.
30. The Way of the Buddha
"Buddha" means awakened, or enlightened. That is to say, one who has gained unusual wisdom - wisdom of a special sort, full of insight, and understanding of human nature. Perhaps you have
read or heard about Solomon, the Isrealite king who was famous for his wisdom. These two
stories, "Your turn, Our turn," and "Where, Oh Where, is Such a House," tell us how Gautama
the Buddha, too, showed his superior judgment.
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Your Turn, Our Turn
One day, four or five centuries B.C., when Buddha was out travelling with his monks (on foot, of
course!) they came to a river where a fight was about to take place. The stream was a boundary
between the lands of two tribes, the Sakyas and the Koliyas, and the farmers of both wanted to
use the water. So heated the argument had become, that bands of armed men had gathered,
shouting, on both sides of the river. Seeing this, Buddha walked among them and the men
honored him and became quiet. "Send me," said Buddha, "six of your chief men from either
These came and he said to them, "you have lived as neighbors for centuries, for all the history of
India; why are you going to wage war now?"
"Because it is the hot season and there is drought, and these robbers (each pointing to the other)
want all the water of the river for their fields."
"Where does the water of this river come from?" Buddha asked.
"Sir, it gathers together from the slopes of the Himalaya mountains." "Who owns those
mountains?" said Buddha. The men scratched their heads and said, "Ah, who can say that ? The
mountains are God's. No man can claim or even climb them." "And if war begins between your
two peoples," Buddha continued, "what will become of the crops? Will not your farmers lie dead
in the mud, the rice not sown, your wives and children going hungry?" Buddha had good reason
to think about this: he himself was from the Sakya clan, and Yashodhara, she who had been his
wife, was a Koliya!
"Tell me," he said to the angry farmers, "Can you hold back the water of this river, the way men
tether a goat?"
"Of course not, sir, it flows and stops nowhere." Then the Buddha made his judgment. It went
like this:
"Let the Koliyas have freedom to draw the water today, and let the Sakyas dig their channels to
the fields for them. Tomorrow let the Sakyas draw water and the Koliyas dig the channels. Thus
working together you will bring life to your fields and fruition to the harvest."
Where, Oh Where, is Such a House?
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There was a woman named Kisa who was much devoted to the Tathagata (Buddha) and liked to
sit at his feet to listen to his preaching. Kisa had given birth to a baby daughter not many months
before. But, as fate would have it, the child had fallen ill, and now lay dead in her arms. Nearly
mad with grief she came to Buddha carrying the baby, and weeping loudly she fell at his feet.
"Lord," she wailed, "you have divine power and can bring my daughter back to life. You are full
of mercy and I know that you will honor my request. I am sure you have some remedy." Buddha
looked down at her and his heart burned with her sadness and misery. "Bring me," he said
slowly, "a handful of mustard seed; but it must come from a house where no one has lost a loved
Now Kisa, thinking this to be part of a charm that might restore her baby, wiped her tears and,
full of hope, set off on her quest. From house to house she walked. At the door of every one she
heard: "Alas, not here. We lost our grandfather here." "Last year my mother died." "A beloved
cousin was staying with us and she fell to a fatal disease."
At last the light dawned upon Kisa that what had happened to her is what all beings are caught
in, the ancient pair, life and death -- the chain of becoming, in which all are bound. She gave last
rites to her child, and came back to her Master. She was ready now for "entering the stream",
which means starting, with Buddha's guidance, on the Eight Step Path to Enlightenment.
The Youngest Disciple, by Edward Thompson
31. Two Kinds of Food
Guru Nanak was the first of the people known as Sikhs. He did not like the biased attitude of
some of the Hindus and some of the Muslims, and he always tried to bring better understanding
between these two groups. He also tried to get people to give up caste prejudices.
One day while travelling with a companion, Nanak took shelter in the house of a poor, low-caste
Hindu carpenter named Lalo. He took a liking to Lalo and stayed with him for two weeks. Then
he heard that people were gossiping. They said, "Nanak is a high-caste Hindu; why should he be
staying with a low-caste man? It is not proper."
One day a wealthy landlord of the neighborhood decided to give a big feast and to invite all the
four castes of Hindus -- brahmins, military, merchants and manual laborers. A brahmin friend of
Guru Nanak came to him and told him about the feast. "You really must go," he said. But Nanak
did not believe in castes, and considered all men equal. He did not like the idea, and said, "I do
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not belong to any of the four castes, so why invite me?"
"Ah,"said the brahmin, "now I see why people call you a 'heretic'. Malik, the landlord, will be
very displeased with you if you refuse his invitation." And he walked away.
Nanak did not go to the feast, and, sure enough, afterwards Malik came and confronted him.
"Why did you dishonor me by staying away?" "Well," replied Nanak, "I do not crave fine food.
But if this offends you, then I will eat some of your food." But Malik was still not happy, and
accused Nanak of ignoring his own caste and eating and staying with Lalo, a low-caste man.
"Then give me my share of elegant food from your banquet," said Nanak," and turning to Lalo he
asked him to bring him something from his stock of simple food. When both foods were set
before Guru Nanak, he took Lalo's coarse food in his right hand and Malik's fine food in his left,
and squeezed them both. Lo and behold, from Lalo's food milk flowed out, and from Malik's,
This was Nanak's way of showing that the landlord's food was got by the cruel bribery and
oppression of the poor cultivators, and so was impure; while Lalo's simple food had been earned
by honest work and was pure.
adapted from A Story of stories, by C.M. Kay.
32. He Who Loves, Owns
You probably know about the Buddha, that when he was just a boy he was kept inside the palace
grounds by his father, the King, who strictly controlled what he was allowed to see. This was
because his father had heard a fortune-teller say that the boy might become a wandering monk.
And that was something the King did not want to see! Naturally he wished his son to succeed
him as king. The young prince was not supposed to come across any old, wrinkled person, nor
one who was visibly ill, and of course he should never see any dead body. Whenever he went into
the town, such sight were cleared away beforehand, for fear he might get the idea that life is not
all sunshine and roses.
One day the prince, (Siddhartha was his name then) was playing on the grounds of the palace
when a wounded water-bird fell at his feet. It had been shot by an arrow sent by his cousin,
Devadatta, who was a great hunter. As the bird lay there on the ground, Siddhartha bent down
and stroked the wounded bird, gently pulling out the arrow and tending the wound. (You can see
what sort of feeling he had, even at this age.) Soon his cousin came, looking for the bird, and
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when he saw it in Siddhartha's arms he said, "That bird belongs to me." The prince refused to
give it to him. So they argued about it, and finally decided to put the question to some wise men
of the kingdom.
Some of them said, "The bird belongs to Devadatta, because he saw it first and was able to bring
it down."
"No," said some of the wisest, "It is still a living thing, and it should belong to the one who saves
life -- not to one who kills. Give the bird to Siddhartha, for he saved it and he is one who cares for
its life." Then the others realized that this was true and gave the water-bird to the prince, who
kept it and looked after it with loving gentleness. This was only the beginning of the Buddha's
long relationship to the animal world.
adapted from A Story of stories, by C.M. Kay.
33. Nothing Like Pride
Today we have two stories Sri Ramakrishna told about the problem of pride, conceit or egoism -all meaning about the same thing. If you're trying to be the right kind of person, it can seriously
get in your way.
The first is about that divine rascal Narada, of whom you have heard before. He really did love
God, but he was also quite proud of it, and of course that's not a very good thing. It went so far
that one day he began to imagine that there was probably no one in the whole wide world who
loved the Lord so much as he did.
Now God has a way of "reading" one's heart, knowing our secret thoughts. After all, our heart is
just where he is seated. So one day he told Narada, "Go to such and such a place. Someone
greatly devoted to me lives there. Go and get acquainted with that devotee." Narada, surprised to
hear this, went to the village, inquired, and found that the man was a farmer. The villagers
described him as a great lover of God.
Narada saw that the man got up early in the morning, spoke the name of the Lord just once, went
to his fields and plowed and tilled the soil all day long and did all his other tasks. Then at bedtime
he again repeated the name of the Lord --once-- and went to bed.
Narada said to himself, "How can this crude farmer be a lover of God? He just works all day at
his commonplace duties and what attention does he pay to the Lord?" Narada went home, called
on the Lord, and told him what he thought of this fellow: not much.
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The Lord listened and said, "Narada, I want you to take this cup of oil, full to the brim, and go all
the way around the city wall with it and come back to me. But one thing: you must not spill one
drop. See that you don't." Now one of the things Narada was most proud of was that he was
always able to carry out any command of God. So he set off with the cup of oil and made his way
slowly around the whole city, not spilling even a drop. Returning to the Lord, exhausted, he
reported his success.
"How many times," asked God, "did you remember me while out on your walk?"
"Lord, not once. How could I, when I had to watch this brimming cup of oil?"
"You forgot me completely? Just in preserving this cup of oil? But that farmer, though carrying
the burden of a family and a farm, still remembers to think of me twice a day!"
In ancient India there lived a certain wise king. One day a pandit (scholar and teacher) who had
studied many scriptures and holy books came to the palace and asked to see the king.
"Your Majesty," said he, "I should like it very much if you would permit me to teach you the
Bhagavatam, the holy scripture on the life of Sri Krishna. I will not require an unreasonable fee."
Now the king, a good judge of human nature, knew enough of that great book to realize that the
pandit, scholar that he was, still had not understood what it says. Otherwise, why would he be
coming to a king's palace in search of wealth instead of seeking for the Lord in the depths of his
own heart.
He said to the pandit: "I perceive that you have not fully mastered the Bhagavatam as yet. I will
make you my tutor only when you have learned it well." As he went on his way the scholar
thought to himself, "Why, I've been studying the book over and over all these years. How foolish
the king is to say that I have not mastered it!" Yet a seed of doubt had been sown in his mind. He
carefully read the book again and again he applied to the king. This time the king repeated the
same thing.
Mightily puzzled, the pandit reached home and shut himself in his room. He pored over the holy
book day and night, and gradually the truth began to dawn on him. Then he began to see his own
vanity and greed for the riches and courts of kings, and also for his own fame. Now he applied
himself entirely to the worship of God and never thought once of returning to the king.
After a few years the king became curious and paid a visit to the pandit's house. There he found a
changed man, radiant with divine light and love. The king fell on his knees. "I see," he said, "that
you have now realized the true meaning of the Bhagavatam. I am ready to be your disciple if you
will teach me."
from Tales and Parables of Sri Ramakrishna
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34. By the Will of God
In a certain village in India there lived a weaver, making his living by designing and selling
fine fabrics. He was very religious. Everyone knew it, trusted him and loved him. At the market,
when a customer asked the price of a cloth, he would say, "By the will of God, the price of the
yarn is so-much, the labor was such-and-such; by the will of God the profit for me is so-much."
There was no haggling. People had so much faith in him that they just paid up the price and took
the cloth.
The weaver really was very devoted to God. Finished with his supper in the evening, he would
spend long hours in his chapel, meditating on God, chanting his name and singing to him. But it
so happened that late one night the weaver couldn't get to sleep, and went out on his porch to sit
where it might be cooler. At that moment a band of robbers happened to pass along the road in
front of his small house. They had stolen quite a lot of different things from various places and
were having a difficult time carrying all of them, so they wanted another man to help them.
Seeing the weaver, they came up and grabbed him by the hand; "Come with us,"they said, and
pulled him to the road.
Now they robbed another house, and put the booty on the weaver's head (in India this is the
usual way of carrying things) and forced him to march. Just at that moment the police caught up
with them, but the robbers saw them coming and ran away fast. Now the weaver, with his heavy
load, was arrested. It was so late, they just had to lock him up in jail, and do the questioning the
next day. He spent the night in jail, repeating the name of the Lord.
Next day, he was brought before the judge for trial. Word had spread through the village that
the pious weaver had been arrested, and the people came in groups to the court and said to the
judge, "Your honor, this man could never commit a robbery". And they told him about the
weaver's remarkable way of life.
The judge asked our friend the weaver to state exactly what had happened. The weaver said,
"Your honor, by the will of God I finished my meal late at night. By the will of God I was sitting
on my porch chanting his name, when, by the will of God, this band of robbers passed the house.
By the will of God they dragged me with them and by the will of God they put a load on my
head. Just then, by the will of God, the police arrived, and by the will of God the others ran away
and I was arrested. Then by the will of God the police put me in jail overnight, and this morning
by the will of God they brought me before Your Honor."
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The judge understood very well what kind of person the weaver was and ordered him to be let
go. On his way home the weaver said to his friends, "By the will of God I have been released and
all is well."
Sri Ramakrishna
Sri Ramakrishna told us many stories about people devoted to the name of God. There was the
woman who had such faith in God's name that she was able to walk over water without sinking,
and the man who told the doctor, "Cure me of anything you like, but don't cure me of my habit of
repeating the name of the Lord!" Then, too, there was the bird who was dying of thirst, but would
not drink water because it would interrupt his saying of the name of the Lord! These tales we
have told you previously.
35. "Wherever you go, I will go"
Rama, prince of a kingdom in Northern India, had a stepmother who was jealous of him. By
playing a trick on his father, the King, she got him banished to exile in the forest, hoping that this
would make her own son the Crown Prince. By this time Prince Rama was married to a fine
young woman named Seeta. Rama, virtuous as he was, could only honor the regretful command
of his father to go into exile for fourteen years. But what about Seeta? A wife remains with her
husband, but how could she be expected to go through all the hardships and dangers of life in the
forest and jungles? Rama, therefore, told his wife to remain in the palace and wait for him to
return. He told her in detail how she should live there in peace.
Seeta was strong-minded. She would have none of it. "Other relatives, my dear husband," she
said, "may be told things like that; a true wife always shares her husband's fate." And she added,
"Wherever you go, I will go. I shall walk before you, over thorns and prickly grass. I'll be no
trouble to you, living on roots and fruits. I will eat only when you have finished. There will be
pools with wild geese and bright with lotus flowers, where we may bathe. I cannot be happy
anywhere else; with you I can bear any fate--for fourteen years or for a hundred years or a
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"Seeta," said the Prince, "there are many fierce wild animals in the interior of this land, and
poisonous snakes; we will have to sleep on dry leaves, go at times without water or food; fear will
be everywhere." But Seeta, with tears in her eyes answered him patiently: "Do you think, my
dear, that all of that matters to me, if I can be with you? I will take those dangers as blessings. I
am bound to you as Savitri was to Satyavan. [See our earlier story of Savitri]. Your company is
heaven to me, and your absence, hell. No one will blame me if I follow you, because to a true
wife her husband is as a God." Your joy and your sorrow I want to share; otherwise, who knows
what I may do, being depressed?"
When Seeta had thus begged him, and shed many tears, Rama at last consented to let her come
with him on the exile journey. "My fair beloved," he said, "since you do not fear the life of the
forest and since you long to share in fulfilling my vow, you shall be with me. Now prepare for
this new life by giving away your wealth and dressing in the clothes we shall need for the forest."
[Mostly made of tree bark!]
Then Lakshmana, next younger brother of the Rama, said that because Rama was the apple of
his eye, he too would go with them and share their fate. This made the Prince very happy, and the
three of them made ready to take leave of their father, the King, and his assembled court.
But all was not finished yet: a great sage who had been for all these years tutor to Rama and a
chief adviser to the King, spoke up. Looking at the jealous stepmother, he rebuked her, saying "O
Queen, this was not in the bargain, that Princess Seeta should go into exile. Instead, let her sit on
the throne instead of Rama. A man's wife is his second self! Let Seeta rule the kingdom in due
time, in Rama's place. You know very well how your son loves and admires Rama; he surely will
refuse to take the throne which rightfully belongs to Rama so long as Rama lives! Don't you see
there is not a person in the world who is not fond of our Prince? Even the animals and birds and
serpents follow him; nay, the trees themselves bend down their heads towards him!
Seeta had firmly made up her mind, of course, and would give no ear to this. Finally the sage
said, "Then let the King give her robes and jewels and adorn her like a queen!" And Seeta put the
finery the King bestowed upon her over her clothes of bark, and shone like a true queen. Now,
Rama's mother, giving her parting advice, told her to follow the dharma (righteousness) proper to
a king's wife. Seeta gave this famous reply: "The moon may lose its brightness, before I will give
up my promise to follow Rama; a lute without strings is silent; a chariot without wheels is
motionless; a woman parted from her husband can know no happiness."
In those days it was the custom, when taking leave, to walk three times in a clockwise fashion
around one's elders. That is what the three exiles did. Rama, Seeta and Lakshmana "circumambulated" the King and his Queens, before leaving for the life of banishment.
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This tale reminds us of Ruth, in the Old Testament, and shows us why Seeta has been regarded as
the ideal for all Indian womanhood for centuries.
Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists
by Sister Nivedita and Ananda Coomaraswamy
36. Saint Francis and the Wolf
Here we are, coming into the 21st Century. But now hear a tale from the 13th Century.
There was in Italy then a town called Gubbio, which was held hostage by a fierce Wolf. This
Wolf was very large and very hungry. Not satisfied with rabbits and other wild game, it came
into the town to devour the sheep and the dogs and even the people of the town. When folk
would go out into the country roundabout there was every chance of meeting the Wolf of Gubbio
and losing their life. Like most towns of those days, this one had a big wall all around it and the
gates were shut tight at night.
People who had to go out always took weapons with them in case they met the Wolf. Even so,
many were killed, as this criminal animal managed to escape every time.
Once St. Francis came that way on his travels through the country and lodged in Gubbio for a
while. He was a monk and had no weapons at all; he was armed with nothing but his love for
God, man and all creatures, and his faith in Jesus Christ. When St. Francis learned of the Wolf
and the way it was terrorizing the town, he decided to cast out this demon. He told the people of
his intention to walk right out of the gates toward the hills where the Wolf had his den, alone and
unprotected. The townspeople raised a howl of protest. They warned of the fierce and savage
nature of that animal, and tried to stop Francis, whom they now loved very dearly, from carrying
out his plan.
But this was a fearless man, and a determined one, when he felt he knew what was right.
Prevailing against their protests, he walked right into the hills, while people climbed to the top of
the wall and stood on the roofs of houses. And what do you think they saw? Here came the Wolf,
running and panting toward St. Francis, its jaws opened wide and sure of an easy meal. But
Francis held out his arm, made the sign of the cross, and the Wolf closed its jaws, slowed to a
trot, and came up to the saint's feet. Wonder of wonders! And more was to come.
"Brother Wolf," said St. Francis, "come here. I order you not to hurt me nor anyone." The
Wolf lay down on the ground at his feet. "You have done great harm in this region, destroying
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God's creatures without any mercy, and even eating human beings, made in the image of God. I
want to make peace, now, between you and these people of Gubbio who fear and hate you." The
Wolf began to wag its tail in agreement and to flap its ears, as it lay peacefully at his feet. "They
must forgive you for your crimes of all these years, and you must change your way of life and
promise not to kill here anymore."
"This is what we will do:" St. Francis said, "We will make a pact between you and the people
of the town. They will give you your food every day so long as you live. I know, Brother Wolf,
that it was due to hunger and greed that you did all this mischief throughout these years. But now
you will not have to be hungry any more. Never again will you hurt man or animal-- this must be
your promise. Now how shall I know that you have agreed?"
Brother Wolf stood up and put his paw in the right hand of Francis and wagged his tail. By
these tokens it was understood that he consented to the bargain. Then, like a lamb, he followed
the saint into the town and began his new life. The people were astounded.
After some days St. Francis departed the town. The Wolf lived two years more, going from
door to door for food. It hurt no one and no one hurt it, and everyone in Gubbio felt bad when it
finally died.
The Little Flowers of Saint Francis
There are other incidents of this kind in the lives of the saints, of every land. The special
protector and lover of the creatures of nature was St. Francis, who saw the divine in all of them.
37. One Good Turn Deserves Another
In one of India's little kingdoms of long ago there lived a King who (like most of them) was fond
of hunting in wild places. His Chief Advisor was a very intelligent man, and also a very
optimistic one. He was famous for seeing the rosy side of things. In fact, so strong was his habit
of finding good in everything that at times this annoyed his ruler.
One day when the King and his Advisor were on a hunting trip through a dense jungle which
went on for miles, the King decided to have a fresh coconut for his breakfast, and, finding a
coconut tree near at hand, with his sword cut down a coconut. But as luck would have it, his
sword slipped in his hand and came crashing down on one of his toes, cutting it off! Limping
over to his Advisor with loud shouts of pain, he was terribly shocked to hear the latter say, "Ah,
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that's wonderful!"
"What?!" yelled the King; "I cut off my toe and you say it is wonderful?"
"This is a real blessing," replied the Advisor. By now the King was furious, thinking the man was
making fun of him.
"Take it from me," said his Advisor, "behind this apparent bad accident there is some good which
we cannot now see." That was it! The King had noticed a dry well nearby, and being a strong
man, he picked up his companion and just threw him into that well. Then he set out to limp back
to his fortified town and castle.
This meant, however, walking through dense jungle, frequented by the wild tribes of those days,
some of whom were headhunters. On his way the King met a band of those headhunters, who
decided that, being royalty, he would make an excellent sacrifice for this month's festival. As you
may imagine, the King did not feel at all honored by this decision. The warriors carried him to
the tribal priest. It was the duty of this priest to approve all of the offerings that were to be
presented. The priest was most particular to see that the item to be offered to the gods was perfect
in all respects. While anointing the King's body the priest noticed that he was lacking one toe.
"I am sorry," he told the King, "but we cannot use you after all for this holy sacrifice. The gods
will not accept anyone who is not whole-bodied You will have to go." Naturally the King was
delighted and began hobbling away toward his palace. Aha! he thought, so his Advisor had been
right -- there was indeed a hidden blessing behind that accident. As fast as his wounded leg
would allow, he turned around and went back to the well where he had left his counsellor. There
he was, standing down in the well and whistling happily to himself.
Now the king managed to reach down far enough to grasp the hand of the Advisor and with great
effort to pull him up. Then he apologized for having doubted him and having thought him a fool.
"Oh how sorry I am that I threw you in there," said the King as he dusted off his courtier. "I was
taken prisoner by some wild native headhunters who were about to make me a sacrifice victim.
Then they saw that my toe was missing, and let me go. And you foretold all this, in a way. Can
you ever forgive me?"
"You need not apologize at all; it was a blessing that you threw me down the well and left me
"Now, how are you going to make something positive out of that?" queried the King.
"Well,"said the other, "if I had been with you they would surely have taken me for their
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In the last century, a tourist from the States visited the famous Polish rabbi Hafez Hayyim.
He was astonished to see that the rabbi's home was only a simple room filled with books. The
only furniture was a table and a bench.
"Rabbi, where is your furniture?" asked the tourist.
"Where is yours?" replied Hafez.
"Mine? But I'm only a visitor here."
"So am I," said the rabbi.
Anthony de Mello, Song of the Bird
38. Who Taught Whom?
Today we have a wise tale from China.
Duke Huan, a nobleman and scholar, sat on a balcony studying one of the nation's great
books. On the ground below was one of the servants of his estate, a maker of wheels (for in those
ancient days all the wheels were wooden and had to be carved by hand). P'ien was his name.
Laying aside his hammer and chisel, P'ien went up the steps and said, "Your Honor, I wish to ask
what words you are reading."
"They are the wise words of the sages," said the duke.
"Are those sages alive?" asked P'ien, who had no education.
"They are dead," was the reply.
"Then,"said P'ien, "what you are reading is nothing but the cold left-overs of those old men."
"Why should you, a wheelmaker, have anything to say about the book I am reading?" asked
Duke Huan. "If you can explain yourself, very well; if you cannot, you deserve to die."
The wheelbarrow was
invented in China
in the 3rd Century A.C.
The wheelwright said, "Your servant (meaning himself) will look at the thing from the
viewpoint of his own art. When I make a wheel, if I carve gently, it is easy on me but the product
is not good. If I carve roughly, violently, that is hard on me and the wheel turns out crudely. But
if the movements of my hand are neither too gentle nor too rough, the picture in my mind takes
birth on the wheel. I can't tell anyone how to do this: there is a knack to it. I cannot teach that
knack to my son, nor can he learn it from me.
"I am seventy years old and in my old age I'm still making wheels in this way. Now those
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ancient sages of yours have gone and their knack has gone with them; it was impossible for them
to pass that on. So, what you, my master, are reading is nothing but their cold left-overs!"
The narrator of this story continues:
The world prizes books, thinking that they explain the Tao, the mystery of life. But books are
only a collection of words. Words carry truth, but those ideas are the result of something else.
Nobody can say in words what that something else is. So, what we look at and see are only the
outward form and color, and what we listen to and can hear are only names and sounds. How
foolish it is for people to think that form and color, name and sound, are enough to explain the
Tao, the secret of life. They do not convey It's real nature! That is why in China we have this ageold saying: "The wise do not speak and those who speak are not wise."
[Now, P'ien spoke; then was he wise or unwise?]
Worse and Worse!
When a king named Yao ruled China, Po Ch'eng was appointed governor of one of the states.
Then the king died and the throne passed to his son; the son died rather early and it passed to the
grandson, Yu. At that time Po Ch'eng resigned his post and became a farmer. Knowing he had
been a good governor, Yu went to see him, thinking to get him back in the country's service. Yu
bowed low to Po Ch'eng out of deep respect, then stood up and asked him:
"When my grandfather Yao ruled the kingdom you used your talents well; why have you left
your dignity behind and have come here to plow?"
"You see, " Po Ch'eng replied, "when Yao ruled the land, people urged one another to do what
was right without rewards. They also avoided doing evil without threats of punishment from him.
Now you use both rewards and punishments, and in spite of that the people do not behave well.
From this time on their virtue will gradually decay; the disorder of future ages will begin. Why
don't you, Your Majesty, go away and not interrupt my work." And he began again to plow, not
looking back.
Taoist Tales, a Meridian Book
39. Bigmouse, the Rat
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Today we have another wise tale or two from China. In Chinese a rat is called a "big mouse."
Mister Tu lived in China and was a great scholar. Night and day he studied his books. People
called him clever, and a man of superior intelligence. Tu thought himself to be very clever too.
But he was outdone in cleverness by a rat.This is how it happened:
He was sitting up late at night when all of a sudden he heard somewhere the gnawing of a rat.
Disturbed, Tu gave a loud rap on his chair. The gnawing stopped. Soon it began again. After
calling to his servant to bring a light, he and the servant looked all around the room. They heard a
grating sound coming from a gunny sack on the floor. "Aha!" cried Tu, "the rat has got into this
sack and is trying to gnaw his way out." When they opened the sack, there didn't seem to be
anything in it, but at the bottom they found a dead rat lying there.
The servant (who was a bit superstitious) said, "Oh my! Is it possible that the rat who was just
now gnawing died so suddenly? Or was it perhaps the ghost of this rat who was making that
noise?" Turning the sack inside out he dumped the body of the dead rat onto the floor, whereupon
it ran full speed away, before they had time to do anything.
"This is a very strange thing," said Tu, sighing, "the cleverness of that rat. The sack was too
tough for it to gnaw through, so it attracted attention with its noise and then pretended to be dead,
to save its life. Now, I have always believed that the highest intelligence is in the human being.
We can tame the alligator, break in the buffalo, train the tortoise and the flea. Yet, here am I,
trapped by a rat! It lay down like a corpse and then ran like a rabbit."
Then Tu became thoughtful and his mind filled with ideas: "Your knowledge," he thought, "is
the knowledge of books; you stare at the truth but see it not. You do not concentrate your mind
within, but allow it to be distracted outside. So you are deceived by the gnawing of a rat. One
person may throw away a precious jewel , yet cry her eyes out over a broken cooking-pot.
Another will snare a wild animal, yet faint at the sting of a bee. Those are words you wrote, Tu;
have you forgotten them? Master Tu bent his head and laughed.
40. How to Carve a Masterpiece
Khing was a carver, who worked in rare and precious types of wood. He would make statues
and pieces of furniture, demanded by the rich and high-placed people of his land. Sometimes he
created new designs from his imagination and put them on display for the highest bidder. Once
he made an exquisite and peculiar stand for hanging bells. (In fashionable houses people
sometimes hung bells of different sizes, which they could ring as they went in and out; bells were
also rung in temples.) Khing's new bell-stand became famous, drawing folk from all around to
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see it. Superstitious villagers said, "Heavenly spirits must have come and done it for him; no
human hand could have created such a masterpiece."
Small and ignorant people often belittle the power of the great, and suppose that all greatness
comes from somewhere outside.
The land Khing lived in was called Lu, and one day the Prince of Lu arrived at the house to
see the famed work of art. The Prince, too, was much impressed. "What is the mystery of your art
and skill?" he asked.
"Your humble subject (meaning himself) is but an artisan," Khing replied. "What mystery is
there about me? And yet, there is one thing: when the idea of the bell-stand came to me, I decided
to guard against any waste of my vital energy. I stopped taking food, in order to make my mind
very quiet. After fasting for three days, I gave up every thought of what I could earn, in money or
honor, from the work I was about to undertake. Thinking like this, after five days I had forgotten
all about myself -- even my limbs and my body I became unconscious of. By this time my skill
had become concentrated; everything outside that could divide my mind had disappeared.
"Then I went into the forest and looked at the natural forms of the trees. When I saw one of
perfect form, the image of the bell-stand formed in my mind and I began my carving. If I had not
found this particular tree, I would have had to give up. I let the TAO (universal principle) in me
cooperate with the TAO in the wood, and thus I was able to produce what you see here."
Taoist Tales, a Meridian book (adapted)
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