There was a king who used to invite other kings to come to his kingdom on his birthday. He also used to invite his special friends and practically anybody who would like to come. He made it known that he would be happy if his guests could bring him gifts. Then whoever gave him the most valuable present was allowed to sit beside him on the throne for one day, his birthday. This practice went on every year. Now this particular year, the king’s Guru came to the palace to celebrate the king’s birthday. The king was overjoyed that his Guru was present. He said, “Nobody can give me any gift that is more valuable than my Guru himself. His presence is the greatest gift. He will sit beside me on the throne. Plus, he will tell me what I should do. First I will keep him beside me. Then I shall ask him to guide me. Whomever he chooses to sit next to him or whatever gifts he chooses for me to receive first, I will gladly obey his will.”
Then the king very prayerfully invited his Guru to sit beside him, but his Guru said, “No, I cannot sit there because I am not the most valuable gift.”
The king said, “Are you not the most valuable? Your very presence is the most precious thing in my life. You have come here out of your infinite compassion and affection.”
“No, no, no,” said his Guru. Then he went on, “Now I am telling you which gift is more valuable. I would like you to declare what the gift is and show the gift to everybody. Then I would like you to thank the person wholeheartedly.”
The king immediately agreed. He said, “I will wholeheartedly thank the person, whoever he is, and also I will appreciate him most sincerely. I will give him a scroll with my gratitude inscribed on it.”
Then the king’s Guru gave the king a large loaf of bread and asked him to write some words of appreciation for the gift. Everybody started laughing. How could a loaf of bread be the most valuable thing? The Guru said, “O King, let me tell you the story and then you can decide. This morning a very, very poor man came here with this loaf of bread. He was afraid of giving it to you, so he gave it to me because I am a simple man. I told him that I am your Guru and that I would give it to you. He was very pleased because he believed me.
“Then he started to go away. I asked him to stay for the celebration, but he said, ‘No, no, no! I do not fit in with the king’s important guests, but I have such love, admiration and adoration for my king. That is why I wanted to bring him my humble gift. In order to get this loaf of bread, I have not eaten for two days.’
“I begged him, ‘Stay, stay here! I will give you food.’
“The poor man said, ‘No, no, no. I want to go. These are all very, very important people and I do not fit in. I cannot stay. I am going back to my village today. When I reach my home, I will be able to eat.’”
The king was so moved by his Guru’s story. He showed the loaf to his friends and, at his Guru’s request, he read out a special message of appreciation for the old man.
Then his Guru said, “Poor fellow! He has set out on his way. I am sure he is feeling very weak. Perhaps he will not be able to cover a very long distance. O King, kindly send your guards to find him and bring him here so that we can feed him properly.”
The king immediately sent his guards in search of the poor man. They went out on horseback in the direction of the poor man’s village. After covering two miles, they saw the man lying by the side of the road. They got the shock of their life to discover that he had died from exhaustion. With heavy hearts, they brought back the dead body and placed it carefully at the feet of the king.
The Guru said to the king, “You have to give this man a special honour. His body you have to bury in a very special way, in a grandiose manner. He deserves the highest honour.”
The king answered, “Yes, I will do anything you ask. You are my Guru.”
The Guru looked around the court and said, “These are all your friends. They give you gifts from their surplus. They do not make any sacrifice. Most of them are very, very rich, and they give in accordance with their wealth and prosperity. In terms of their true capacity, they give you next to nothing. But this old man has given you everything — his last loaf of bread. If he had eaten that loaf of bread himself, today he would have had strength; he would not have died.”
The king said, “My heart is breaking for this poor man. I will keep this loaf on my throne until it becomes very, very hard and only then, when it has become completely useless, will I throw it away.”
His Guru said, “No! You have to keep that loaf of bread by your side as long as you live. This bread will reveal to you the meaning of sacrifice. You see, this poor man sacrificed his own life. He wanted to bring you a gift and he gave his life to fulfil that wish. You want appreciation, admiration and adoration from your friends and neighbouring kings. In addition, I want you to add something good to your life and that is an understanding of the meaning of sacrifice. So it is my wish that you keep this loaf of bread in a box here on your throne permanently. This bread embodies the message of sacrifice. This old man gave his life because he loved you so much. You can also make a most significant sacrifice from now on to show the citizens of your kingdom how much you love them. This is my wish.”
The king listened with utmost devotion to his Guru’s words. Then he bowed to his Guru and said, “O Guru of my heart and soul, I will do as you wish. I will abide by your soulful request.”