Once, quite unexpectedly, a serious cyclone took place and caused tremendous damage. Everything was destroyed in the fields, and many, many people suffered as a result. When the king heard about the devastating effects of the cyclone, for a few days he thought over the problem. Then he said, “I have to do something. I am quite rich. I will help my subjects.”
The king had a very wise minister. This minister came to the king and said, “Your Majesty, I am sure you have heard how people are suffering from the cyclone.”
The king said, “Do you think I am wasting my time? I have already sent high-ranking officers to see what my subjects need. They will inform me whether those who are suffering want money or rice or both.”
The officers returned to the palace in a few days and said to the king, “The victims want money from you.”
The king said, “Then take as much as you need from the treasury and give it to them unreservedly.”
The officers took a considerable amount of money and distributed it to all the people who needed it.
Now, the king wanted to hear reports from his subjects about his own kindness; he wanted to hear them sing his praises for having given them so much money. So in disguise, the king went to that part of his kingdom. He talked with many villagers and overheard many of their conversations but, alas, he did not hear his own name mentioned even once. It seemed that all the villagers were only talking about a particular merchant.
When the cyclone first took place and there was lots of damage, this merchant sent a large amount of rice and pickles for the villagers. He immediately delivered cooked rice and pickles because their ovens had all been destroyed. He gave ready-made meals. His house was not damaged because it was well protected.
So everyone was talking about that merchant. Everywhere the king went, he heard the same thing: “How kind the merchant is! He has given us so much rice. He has really saved us. Soon we will finish rebuilding our ovens and we will be able to cook for ourselves. But we shall eternally remain grateful to him for helping us when we needed it most.”
Nobody was talking about the king’s gift of money. He said, “How ungrateful these people are! I gave so much money to everyone, and nobody is talking about my gift. They are only talking about this fellow who gave them rice and pickles immediately after the cyclone took place.”
The king returned to the palace and told his minister, “I am so disappointed and disheartened. How ungrateful these people are! So much money they have received from me through my officers. I am sure they did get money, but they are not talking about the money at all. They are only talking about the cooked rice and pickles that one merchant has given them. What is his gift next to mine?”
The minister said, “O King, for everything there is a right time. When the cyclone took place and destroyed everything, at that time they desperately needed food to survive. And you were so late in responding to their plight. After so many days you started helping them. When one gets timely help, then one is most grateful. Now the crisis has passed and they can manage. They have food, and they are starting to repair the damage. Your money-power will help them, true, but it did not save their lives because you delayed for so many days. When they needed help badly, at that time the merchant was the one who came forward and gave them food — rice and pickles. You have to give help in a timely way. Today if I am extremely hungry and I do not get food, then I may die. Even if I know that in a few days I will be given a banquet, it does not make any difference. Before that day comes, I may die. Whatever I receive today, I will eat, even if it is only rice and pickles. This is how those people were saved. They were given the rice on time.”
The king was embarrassed and, at the same time, he was enlightened by the minister’s words. Always we have to serve others in a timely way. If we give help not at the right moment but a few days or a few weeks later, then they will not be as grateful to us as they are to those who were timely helpers. Time is a great factor. When someone is hungry, that person will eat the simplest food. Otherwise, if he has to wait for three days until someone comes with his money-power to buy him a huge feast, by then he may pass away. If you are kind, show your kindness as soon as possible. Only then will people derive real help from you.