Once upon a time there were two kings who were great friends. Then they started enjoying rivalry. That was not enough: they wanted to exercise their supremacy. They fought and fought and fought, pitting their armies against each other.
During one particular battle, one king was on the point of defeating the other, but the neighbouring kings joined forces to prevent him from vanquishing his former friend. Then the winning king had a dream. In the dream, a goddess appeared before him and said, “It is not good to fight. You are my son and he is my son. All kings are my special children. If you who are the rulers fight, then how will your subjects, all my children, be peaceful? Do not quarrel, do not fight, do not declare war.”
The king wanted to abide by the soulful request of the goddess. He invited his former friend to come to his kingdom for negotiations. He said to his friend, “Let us have peaceful negotiations. Once upon a time we were friends. Let us go back again to our old life of harmony and oneness. We should enjoy our friendship, and not quarrel and fight.”
The other king, who had been on the point of losing the battle, was so surprised and happy. Both of them were in the seventh Heaven of delight now that they were becoming friends again.
It happened that on the day of their meeting it was very, very hot. A close personal servant of the host king brought two glasses of juice — one for each king. This servant was extremely loyal to his Master. All of a sudden, he became afraid. What should he do? Whom to serve first: his king or the king’s guest? He thought that if he offered the juice to his king first, in order to show his loyalty, then the guest king would be offended. He would say, “This stupid servant does not know that the guest always has to be honoured first. I am the guest. How is it that he is not honouring me? He has no manners.”
If he offered the juice to the guest king and not his king, then his king would be slighted. He would say, “Can you imagine? My own servant does not have any respect for me! How does he dare to serve somebody else before me? Perhaps he does not remember who is feeding him, who is keeping him here. I am the one! He is my slave. Is this how he shows his loyalty to me?”
Thus ran the thoughts of the poor servant. So many conflicting ideas were passing through his mind and he was struggling to find the correct solution. He was holding the tray and yet he did not know whom to serve first.
Then a brilliant idea flashed across the servant’s mind. He went to his king and said, “My Lord, according to our ancient tradition, when two kings meet together, the host king himself gives some refreshment to the guest. I am a mere slave, so I feel that you should give this to your guest, because he is, after all, your guest.”
So the host king gave the first glass of juice to his friend and he drank the second one himself. As he did so, he said to his friend, “How smart my servant has become! I simply cannot believe it.”
The other king was also laughing. They were laughing together at the servant’s clear solution to the problem. Then the guest king said to the servant, “Now tell me frankly. You came and gave these two glasses of juice to your Master and asked him to serve me. But while you were pouring the juice, whom did you think of? You know which glass you poured first. Whom did you think of at that time? And whom did you think of when you poured the second glass of juice?”
In this way, the guest king was trying to examine the servant.
The servant replied, “O King, I know everything about my own king. He has been so kind to me for years, so naturally I was thinking of my king only when I poured both the glasses of juice.”
“You never thought of me?” said the guest king, pretending to be shocked. “You knew that there were two kings present. How is it that you never thought of me?”
The servant said, “Why should I think of you? Do I know anything about you? It is only that you happen to be my king’s friend. You became enemies and now you are friends. You are his guest. That is the full extent of my knowledge of you. Since I know next to nothing about you, your name never occurred to me. That is the truth.”
Meanwhile the host king was observing the situation and wondering how the story was going to end.
The servant added, “I always value the one who is good and not the one who is great.”
“What do you mean?” asked the guest king.
The servant answered, “My king proved to you on the battlefield that he is good. He gave up his greatness. He could easily have defeated you. Had the other kings not intervened, you would definitely have lost. Yet my king was so kind-hearted. He not only renounced the victory, but he showed his generosity by inviting you here. He is truly good. And you are truly great in the sense that you accepted his invitation. If you are a really great man, you accept an invitation. But the good man is the one who comes first in our hearts. So my king is good; you are great. That is what I meant when I said that I always value the one who is good. And that is also why I only thought of my king when I was pouring the two glasses of juice.”
Both the kings laughed and laughed because they had received a lesson on goodness and greatness from a simple servant.