The rich disciple's poor choiceThere was once a spiritual Master who had many, many disciples. Most of them were not rich at all. They led very simple lives and somehow they managed to meet with their earthly expenses. But one disciple was extremely, extremely wealthy. This particular disciple was a merchant. Strangely enough, the life he lived was even more austere than that of the poorest disciples. This was not because he was more spiritual than those disciples; it was because he was the most miserly person imaginable. He was only interested in hoarding his money. He would not keep any proper furniture or valuable things in his house. He did not spend money on clothes and he never invited his fellow disciples for meals. Sometimes, if he happened to buy something in the market, he would punish himself for having spent a little extra money by skipping a meal. To compensate for the most trivial purchase, he would not eat! Yet, in spite of his ungenerous nature, the Master tolerated this particular disciple.
After many years, there came a time when the Master gathered all his disciples and said to them, “My days are numbered. Now I am telling you all: do not worry about the future. God took care of me and He will also take care of you. I came as your teacher, but the real Teacher is God. He is the One who will act in and through you. So do not cry, do not weep. God will take care of you.”
In spite of the Master’s compassionate words, all the disciples started crying helplessly. Then the Master said, “All right, I am ready to bless each and every disciple. Come one by one, my children, and I shall give you my last blessings. Since this is my last chance to see you all, I am ready to give you whatever you want. You have only to ask me.”
There were about forty disciples present. One by one, they all stood before the Master to receive his blessings. Each one said the same thing: “Master, I need only your blessing. I do not need anything else in my life. Now you will be leaving. Your blessing is the most important thing. Nothing else matters in my life.”
Finally, it was the turn of the last disciple to come for the Master’s blessings. This happened to be the wealthy merchant. The Master offered him a most compassionate smile and said, “Now, my child, tell me what you want. I shall fulfil your dearest wish.”
The merchant-disciple said, “Master, you know that I am rich, very rich, but I would like you to give me a special mantra which I can repeat to increase my prosperity. This is my last request to you. Today you have promised to grant all our wishes. Now please grant me this wish!”
The Master said, “Here I am dying and you are only thinking of how to accrue more money, more gold? You have so much material wealth! Why do you need more, for God’s sake?”
The merchant-disciple replied, “Master, I feel that one day I will be able to give all my wealth to charity. Right now I am collecting and collecting as much money as I can, but it is for a good cause. A day will come when I will be able to give it all away so that many people will benefit from it.”
All the other disciples were literally shocked that this disciple could be thinking of increasing his wealth at such a time. But the Master simply said, “Oh, I see. All right, I am giving you a special mantra. This mantra will transform a certain kind of iron into gold.” Then the Master picked up a piece of iron that was lying on the ground and said, “Look, I can prove it to you. I will say the mantra and then, as soon as I touch this piece of iron, it will become gold.”
The Master chanted the mantra and then touched the piece of iron. Before everyone’s eyes, it was immediately turned into gold. Then the Master taught the mantra to the merchant-disciple. When the disciple learned it, the Master said, “In the future, whenever you need more gold, you have only to obtain some of this kind of iron and chant the mantra. Then you will be able to transmute the iron into gold just by touching it, the way I did. But do not forget the mantra. Now I am giving you one more piece of iron to take home.”
The merchant-disciple was extremely happy that the Master had granted his wish. He left the Master’s home and went to the market, where he thought he would buy a large quantity of iron to keep in reserve so that whenever he needed gold, it would be available immediately. When he came to the ironmonger’s shop, he found that the price of iron had gone very high. It was much more than he had expected to pay. The disciple said to himself, “My God, even yesterday the price was much lower than this! How could it have gone so high in one day? The best thing is for me to use my wisdom. I know that nobody will buy it at this price. Eventually this greedy ironmonger will be forced to lower the price again. I can wait until then. I already have the piece of gold that the Master created and the second piece of iron that he gave me.”
So the disciple waited for a week or two. Then he went back to the market fully prepared to buy a considerable quantity of iron. To his greatest sorrow, the price had gone still higher. The disciple was so upset and dismayed. He said, “What is this? Now the price is even higher! I am not going to pay such a ridiculous price!” And again he went home empty-handed.
After an interval of two more weeks, he returned to the ironmonger’s place, only to find that the price of iron had risen even higher! This time, the disciple became furious with himself. He said, “Why did I not buy it when I had the chance the first time? How stupid I was! Even though the price was quite high, it was next to nothing in comparison with the amount of gold that I would have been able to produce. Now the price is so exorbitant! I refuse to pay such a high price. Luckily, I have the other piece of iron that the Master gave me. Let me transmute that into gold and then I can wait indefinitely to buy some more iron at a cheaper price.”
The disciple returned home and took out the piece of iron that the Master had given him. He was all ready to say the mantra but, lo and behold, he found that he had completely forgotten it! Not a single word came to his mind. In vain he struggled and struggled to recollect what the Master had taught him. Because he had only been thinking of buying that particular kind of iron at a cheap price, he had forgotten the mantra altogether. Now what was he to do? He was utterly miserable. “What have I done?” he cried. “I cannot transmute this piece of iron into gold and I cannot obtain more iron because of the outrageous price. I am at a complete loss. O Master, you fooled me! You knew that this would happen.”
The rich man’s fellow disciples came to hear of his accusations against the Master and they said to him, “The Master did not fool you. He only illumined you by exposing your greed. We all asked the Master for his blessings. Now he is not in the physical anymore, but we are all living so happily with his blessings. We feel that he is taking care of our spiritual lives. But you had to ask him for gold. How greedy you were! Perhaps by now you have learned your lesson.”
The merchant sighed, “Alas, I have lost both my Master and my mantra.”
The poor fellow died in utter misery because he had lost the things that were dearest to him in his life. This was how the Master punished him.