This is a story about three friends. One friend was always bragging that he had so much knowledge, so much wisdom and so much wealth. He asserted his superiority in every way. His kind-hearted friends said, “It is true. You are wealthy and we are poor. But do not brag, do not brag. Boasting is not good.” In spite of this, the friendship of these three was in very good shape.
One afternoon all three friends were on the bank of a river under a tree. The two kind-hearted friends advised the boastful one, “It is true, you are wiser than we are, you have more wealth than we have, but it is not good to brag. You will invite some calamity.” Unfortunately, their friend did not heed their advice. He continued his endless boasting. But they forgave him because they wanted to maintain their friendship.
As they were chatting about various topics — “cabbages and kings” and so forth — a young man happened to pass by. He looked very strong and smart. Out of curiosity, they asked him who he was and he answered, “I am the wisest man in this district, and I am also the strongest. Everybody appreciates me, admires me and adores me. It is very strange that you have not heard about me.”
They were puzzled because they had no idea who he was. They did not know anything about him. Then the friend who was very proud of his knowledge, wisdom and wealth said to this young man, “Would you like to answer one question?”
The young man answered, “Certainly! I will answer any question you have, since I am the wisest man.”
The boastful friend continued, “Now you are seeing me and my two friends. Please tell us which one is giving you more joy. You are looking at us, but all of us cannot give you the same kind of joy. Somebody has to give you more. Which one of us is it?” He was sure that he would be the one chosen because he was clearly superior in every way.
The young man said, “Now, this is a most difficult question. I cannot answer it immediately. I have to examine you one by one. I shall ask you a question with regard to money. This will determine the outcome. Please tell me how you deal with money.”
One friend said, “It is good to have money. Money enables us to buy material things, so in that sense, money is keeping us alive.”
The second one said, “True, money is necessary, but money quite often creates problems for us. When we misuse money, we suffer.”
The third friend, the richest one, said, “I have lots of money, but I am not attached to money at all.”
He wanted to prove that he was rich, and at the same time that he was spiritually great.
He went on, “I have plenty of money, but I am not attached to it in the least. If anybody wants to take away my money-power, I will not mind.”
Again he was showing off to this man that he had tremendous wealth, but he was above it.
The young man said, “Unfortunately, I am now on my way to the town, so I cannot give you an immediate decision. Tomorrow, if you happen to be here, I will tell you which one I have selected. Or, if you wish, I could come and see you. Where do you live?”
The friends answered, “We also have houses in town.”
“You have houses in town?” said the young man.
“Do you want to be our guest?” asked the three friends. “We each have our own house.”
The young man said, “All right, if you will allow me, I will gladly be your guest. With each one I shall spend a night, so I will be spending three nights altogether, and then I will be able to give you my answer.”
The young man started reciting slokas from the Vedas, the Upanishads and other sacred books. He was showing off how he was the greatest pandit. The three friends were deeply moved that they would receive knowledge and wisdom from him.
Then the two kind-hearted friends said, “Here is our dearest friend. He is the one who has so much material wealth and who is so learned. We feel in all sincerity that he deserves to have you as his guest first. Then you can come to our places to stay.”
The young man agreed to this proposal. He said, “Let me be at his place today, and tomorrow and the day after I shall come to your homes.”
The young man accompanied the boastful friend to his home. This particular friend was very, very kind to him and showed him tremendous hospitality. Together they talked and talked far into the night. Alas, the boastful friend was tempted to show off. He showed the young man where he kept his safe and his expensive things, such as diamonds and gold.
The young man said, “I am not interested in these kinds of things. I am only interested in the Vedas, the Upanishads and physical strength. For me, the body and the spirit must go together. It is good that you have so much wealth. God is indeed kind to you. But, unfortunately, I am not interested in material wealth. I am only interested in my own physical strength and in reading the scriptures.
The boastful friend was a little bit sad that this young man was not interested in material wealth and could not appreciate his expensive things. But he enjoyed talking with the young man immensely. After some time, the young man declared that the following day he did not have to stay at the other two places, for he was planning to announce that of the three friends he had chosen this one.
“You are giving me tremendous joy,” he said. “I do not think that I will get the same kind of joy from the other two. I am ready to declare you the winner.”
The boastful man was so happy and so proud that he was chosen before the other two had even been examined. Then both the host and his guest retired for the night.
Now, the young man merely pretended that he was fast asleep. He even started snoring. The richest man was sleeping soundly. This young man was actually a rogue of the first water. When he was certain that the rich man was fast asleep, he emptied the safe and took all the jewels. As he was leaving the house, he saw that the rich man was still fast asleep. He said, “How can he sleep like this?” Then he kicked the rich man a few times. In case his victim woke up, he was ready to run away. He said, “I am infinitely stronger that this stupid fellow. He will not be able to do anything.” He gave the rich man a few extra hard kicks, but still he did not wake up. Then he left with the stolen things.
Early the next morning, the rich man woke up. He immediately noticed that the young man was missing and the door of the safe was wide open. The rich man said, “What has happened! He has taken away everything!”
He rushed to his friends and cried, “I have nothing. I have nothing! Everything has been stolen by that rogue. I am now bankrupt!”
The two friends tried to console him. They said, “We begged you not to brag. We knew that you would invite some calamity and now this is what has happened.”
The rich man stopped crying and said, “God has really blessed me today. Although you two were my friends, inwardly I used to look down upon you because I was infinitely richer and more learned than you. In every way I felt superior. I told that young man that, despite having great wealth, I was not attached to it. You two said that money is necessary and then again money can create problems. In my case, I was showing off, but in the heart of my heart, was I not attached to my money? I was so proud of my money-power. God has really saved me from my pride. Now I can truly claim you two as my friends. My friendship with you has proven to be infinitely more important than my attachment to wealth.”