There was once a king who was very, very kind and compassionate. He was a real father to the poor and needy, and he always found ways to please each and every subject in his kingdom.
The king had a personal washerman. At the end of the day, this washerman would take the king’s garments home to launder them. But the king did not know that when the washerman arrived home, he used to put on the king’s garments and walk around his village showing off. All the villagers were deeply impressed that the washerman had such expensive clothes, so they used to salute him and offer him tremendous respect. Some of them thought that, since he was working for the king, perhaps the king had rewarded him for his services by giving him these magnificent clothes. At the same time, others suspected him. They wondered where he had acquired such costly garments.
So the washerman lived a dual life. During the day he was an ordinary worker, and at night he would pretend that he was a king. It was extremely gratifying to him when all the villagers admired him. Indeed, they were on the verge of worshipping him.
Unfortunately, everybody has enemies and this washerman was no exception. One of his enemies from the village went to the king and complained that the washerman was wearing clothes which were worthy of a king. He hinted that these clothes might even belong to the king himself.
The king could not believe it. “How could my own washerman do this?” he exclaimed. “All right, let me see what I should do. You return to your village and I will take care of the matter.”
That evening, the king put on the dress of a hermit and went in disguise to the village where the washerman lived. Before long he saw the washerman parading through the streets wearing the very clothes that he himself had worn earlier that day. All the people in the village came out to see the washerman and to offer him their admiration. But the hermit did not pay any attention to the washerman at all. On the contrary, he ignored him completely.
This made the washerman very angry, and he began to berate the hermit. He said, “How dare you ignore me? Can you not see who I am?”
The hermit replied very calmly, “No, I do not know who you are.”
The washerman became disgusted. He said, “If you just look at the garments I am wearing, you will see that I am the king!”
This speech failed to impress the hermit, who slowly walked away. The washerman followed him and started scolding and insulting him. He said, “You have no respect for the king. Stop and salute me properly!”
Suddenly the hermit turned and threw off his ochre robes to reveal his kingly garments. “/I/ am the king!” he pronounced in a powerful voice.
When the washerman saw the real king standing before him, he was frightened to death. He immediately fell at the king’s feet and begged for forgiveness. Then he said, “One moment ago, you were a hermit. Now please bless me and give me some peace of mind.”
“What do you mean?” asked the king.
The clever washerman went on, “Only a hermit can ignore a king. You were wearing a hermit’s garments and I was wearing your garments. But a hermit is infinitely higher than a king. You were acting like a real hermit, a spiritual renunciate. Now I want to worship you, so you have to bless me.”
The king did not ignore or rebuff his washerman’s flattery. He gave him a compassionate smile and said, “From tomorrow on, you have to work at the palace. You have to wash my clothes there, not here.”
So the washerman’s flattery worked and, to his great relief, the king did not punish him.