A particular king observed that for two years the citizens of one town did not pay their taxes. The king became furious, and he blamed the negligence of his tax collectors. He summoned the tax collectors and said, “How is it that for two years you have not collected taxes from that town?”
The tax collectors explained, “In spite of our frequent visits to that town, the citizens have not been able to pay us any taxes. They are extremely poor. That is why we could not be strict with them.”
The king did not listen to the excuses of the tax collectors. He fired them all. Then he sent his prime minister to collect the taxes from that town. The king also sent a large army to accompany the prime minister, in case anything happened to him.
When the people in that town saw a large army approaching with the prime minister, they became frightened. They all left the town because they knew they were in serious trouble. They felt it was safer to go back to their villages. Only one old man and his wife stayed behind in the town. When the prime minister arrived and saw only this old couple, he said, “Are you the only ones who live in this town?”
The old man said, “No, the others became frightened. Many people live here, but when they saw that soldiers were coming, they thought they would be killed, so they left. But my wife and I thought, ‘We two are old. True, we have not done the right thing, we have not paid the tax. We deserve punishment, but if we die at this age, no harm. The time has come for us to die.’”
The prime minister said, “No, go and tell all the people that we shall not punish them and we shall not even ask them for taxes. Let them come back.”
When the citizens returned to the town, they brought with them the papers to show that for two years they had not paid taxes. The prime minister did not even ask for the taxes, but they thought that since the prime minister was so kind, they would show him the papers to prove they knew exactly how much tax they owed.
The prime minister said, “What? Did I ask you to bring these papers?”
They said, “No, you did not ask to see them. We were told that you would not punish us, so we are very grateful to you. We have brought the papers to show you that we are fully aware of how much we have not paid.”
The prime minister said, “Tell me the truth. You are all farmers. Why is it that you have not paid? Is it because you are not getting good crops from your fields? Or is it your habit to escape the taxes by fooling the king in some way?”
The citizens said, “To be perfectly frank, we get very good results from the fields, but we are all first-class liars. When the tax collectors come, we tell them lies.”
Then the prime minister said, “All right. Give me the papers.” Then he took all the papers and tore them up.
The citizens asked, “What is going to happen now?”
The prime minister said, “Nothing is going to happen to you. I am only asking one thing of you: you have to be grateful to the king. You have been very bad, but I am telling you, now you have to be grateful.”
They said, “Oh, we are very grateful to the king. We shall always remain grateful to him. We will do anything he asks. If the king needs our help, we shall give it.”
The prime minister laughed, “You are the ones to give help to the king? Here you have been fooling him for two years, and now you are offering to come to his aid whenever he needs help?”
They said, “This is our solemn promise. If ever the king needs our help in any way, we shall do the needful. We know that we are only ordinary people. The king has so many soldiers. Perhaps he will never need our help. But we want you to know that this is not just an empty promise.”
The prime minister returned to the palace and the king asked him, “Did you collect the money?”
The prime minister replied, “No, I did not collect it.”
“Why not?” asked the king.
The prime minister said, “I have collected something much more important.”
The king asked, “What is this important thing that you have collected?”
The prime minister said, “I have collected their gratitude.”
“What shall I do with their gratitude?” protested the king. “I need the money from their taxes. O minister, what have you done now? I thought that you were the wisest man. I fired the tax collectors because they did not do their job properly. Now you have joined their side.”
The prime minister said, “My King, please give me a little time. I will be able to show you the power of gratitude.”
The king said, “All right, all right. I am very displeased, but I will wait and see.”
The prime minister was sure that one day something would happen to make his words come true.
A few months later, some enemies of the king came and attacked the palace. They had brought with them a huge army. When the king’s soldiers saw such a vast number of enemy soldiers advancing towards them, all their courage vanished. They deserted the palace and left the king to his fate.
In the meantime, the citizens of the town received the message that the king was in serious trouble. Immediately they all gathered up their simple weapons and farming tools and set out for the palace. The king simply could not believe his eyes when he saw so many ordinary citizens coming to help him with such willingness and determination. His citizens’ army attacked the enemies in a very spirited way and managed to chase them beyond the borders of the kingdom.
On that day the king was so happy, excited and delighted. He informed his prime minister that his prophecy had come true.
Alas, the prime minister died on that very day. The king felt very, very sad and, at the same time, he said, “This was the prime minister whose wisdom-flooded prophecy came true.” After that he built a big monument in memory of this prime minister, who taught him that the power of gratitude has no parallel.