China’s foolish king

Many, many years ago in China there lived a king who was always afraid of losing his prestige. The king thought that if his subjects had more information, knowledge or wisdom than he did, then they would not bow to him and obey him. So he asked his ministers to burn all the books in the schools, the libraries and everywhere in the kingdom. He did not want anybody to read books. The ministers carried out his orders and all the books were burned to ashes. Then the king was very, very happy because he thought nobody would be able to surpass him in information, knowledge or wisdom. O God, there were some scholars who had learned by heart some important books and who had also hidden their books. The king was very happy that others would become fools, and the scholars were so happy that they had made a fool of the king. They became even greater scholars than before because they learned many things by heart and also because they had kept the really good books in hiding. It is because of these great scholars that Laotzu’s and others’ works are still available in China.

The thief’s new profession

There was once a thief who used to commit theft every night. His wife was an honest woman. She would beg her husband not to commit theft. But her husband wouldn’t listen, so she was miserable. Like this it went on for years.

At times the thief used to be caught. Surprisingly enough, his wife would outwardly show no sadness. She used to say that he deserved to be caught; he deserved to be punished. But inwardly she always felt sad and miserable. After all, he was her husband. But he would never, never listen to her when she asked him not to steal. He would tell her, “If you really do not want me to steal, then why do you keep taking my money?”

She would say, “What am I going to do? I take very little money from you, next to nothing, and it is only for my necessities. But I don’t want you to do this kind of work. You can easily find some other profession. I am a village woman; otherwise, I myself would have found work. But now I have made a decision. If you continue stealing, I will go out and work. If I go out and work, then you will be embarrassed! You will be ashamed that your wife has gone out to work.”

In India women don’t usually work. It is beneath the dignity of the husbands to send their wives out to work. So when his wife threatened him in this way, the husband told her that he would stop stealing. The wife believed him because he started staying home at night. Previously he used to steal only at night, and now he was staying home at night. He told his wife that during the day he took jobs here and there and was making money. But he was actually stealing during the day and hiding all his stolen goods in a room that he had rented. The thief amassed lots of things in his rented room. But the wife thought that he had turned over a new leaf and become a good and honest man.

O God, one day he came to his rented room with something he had stolen and got the shock of his life. All the things that he had stolen over the months had been taken by some other thieves. He came home and cried and cried and cried. His wife asked him, “Why are you crying? Why are you crying? Has your boss fired you or has anything gone wrong today?”

The husband wouldn’t tell her. She said, “Am I not your wife? Can you not tell me what is wrong with you?”

Finally he told her the story. He admitted that he hadn’t stopped stealing. He had only lied to her. He had stolen thousands of rupees’ worth of things, and now they were all stolen by some other thieves. He was so sad and miserable.

His wife said, “Now look, you are crying for things that were not even your own hard-earned possessions. You went somewhere and in a few minutes’ time you stole things, and now you are miserable that they have been stolen from you. But look how hard the actual owners had to work to buy these things! It took them weeks and months of hard work to earn enough money to buy these expensive things. They saved money from their salaries for months. So if you feel sad now, think how much sadder the actual owners must have felt when their things were stolen.”

The husband said, “This time I am telling you the absolute truth: I am not going to steal anymore. I will get a regular job so that I can make you happy and also make myself happy. Stealing is not only an embarrassing task; at times it is also very dangerous. I want to be worthy of you. You are a very honest wife. I want to be as good as you are. I am giving up stealing, this time for good.”

The fool tries to become wise

In a certain village there lived a stupid fellow. Everybody ridiculed him and he felt miserable. Since he was in his teens, he went to school, and in the class all the other students made fun of him. Even children who were in lower grades cut jokes at his expense. All the time they made fun of him, and he used to feel miserable. But what could he do? Only the teachers didn’t ridicule him. They were wise and sympathetic and they showed him utmost compassion and affection. There was also another reason why they were so kind to him. He came of a very rich family. His father and sister were well-educated and his mother had a very big heart.

One day he said to his father, “Father, I know you are very wise. Although I am your son, I am not wise. I am so sorry. Please tell me how I can be wise like you.”

His father said, “Always listen to me. If you listen to me, then everybody will think that you are wise. Now, do one thing. Still you have not learned how to make calculations. When you have to add or subtract, you make mistakes. So listen to me. In our family you have your mother, your father, yourself and your sister. If I say that your mother is the first member of the family, your sister is the second member of the family, you are the third member of the family and I am the fourth member, how many members are we?

The son said, “Four!”

The father continued, “Right, we are four! Don’t say five or six or seven. Always listen to whatever I say!”

The son agreed to do this. Then, in a few minutes’ time, he ran out of his house and went to the house of another boy from his class. “Look, look!” he said. “Now I am really wise and you won’t be able to laugh at me anymore.”

The boy said, “I won’t be able to laugh at you anymore?”

The stupid fellow said, “No, no! I can easily tell you how many members you have in your family. I know how to calculate, how to add.”

The boy said, “All right, tell me.”

The stupid fellow said, “Let me examine you! You tell first how many members you have in your family. In case you make a mistake, I will correct you.”

His friend laughed and laughed and said, “Look here, my brother is the first member of the family, I am the second member, my mother is the third and my father is the fourth.”

The stupid fellow said, “No, no, it can’t be. You are wrong. My father told me that he is the fourth member. My father has told me always to listen to him. So I am listening to him. You can say anything about your brother being the first member, you being the second member and your mother being the third. But the fourth member, no! My father is the fourth member. My father has told me that if I always listen to him, then I will become wise. So the fourth member cannot be anybody else but my father.”

The king’s three sons

Once a king had three sons. The first and second sons were very good, but the third one was very bad. He was the worst possible rogue. In spite of knowing that the third one was bad, the king liked him. After all, he was his son.

The king was getting old. One day the third son said to his father, “You know, my two brothers are useless. Although they spend all their time reading books and following other kinds of scholarly pursuits, they are not as smart as I am. When you die, the oldest one will get the throne. Then your whole kingdom will immediately be ruined because he is not as clever and as smart as I am. Neither is your second son. So please make me the king after you leave the body.”

The king said, “How can I do that?”

The son said, “If you don’t do that, then your kingdom will be ruined.”

The king said, “All right, let me see who can really please me. From now on I would like to see how well my sons can utilise my wealth. Let me give each of you one lakh of rupees and see how you use it, since money-power can easily corrupt. After giving you this money, I would like to know how you utilise it. From this I will know which of you three is the wisest.”

With the money that his father gave him, the first brother bought many, many books and opened up a library so that not only he, but also others could study. He wanted both himself and others to be wise.

The second brother said, “The best thing is to give the money to charity. I am not doing this for name and fame, but because there are so many poor people on earth. Let this money go to them. If Father hadn’t given me this money for a special purpose, I would not have got it at all. So actually it is not my money. Even if I feel it is my money, let me give it to the poor.” So he gave away his money to charity.

The third one used the money to form an army, and he told some of the new recruits that when he became the king, he would give them very, very high posts. He said that he would easily be able to defeat his father’s army with his own army.

In three months’ time the father sent for his sons and asked them what they had done with the money.

The first one said that he had opened up a library and the second one said that he had given his money to charity. The third one, instead of saying anything, brought four hundred soldiers right in front of the king and said, “Now give me the throne, or I will kill you. Since you are an old man, the best thing is for you to leave with honour. Either say that you are giving me the kingdom because I am your wisest son and keep your honour, or I will kill you and get the kingdom that way. Make up your mind.”

The king remained silent. Then he said, “Since my life is in your hands, you decide what you are going to do. Either you can kill me now or you can wait for a few years and then take the throne.”

The son said, “If you promise that you will give me the throne, then I will wait until you die. But if you don’t promise, then I will take it now by killing you.”

The king said, “I have to be kind and just to my other two sons who really deserve this kingdom. The best thing is for you to kill me.”

So the king was executed by his own son, who then declared himself king.

The burglar’s signature

Once there were two kings who were very good friends. They used to help each other all the time. One day one of the kings needed a large sum of money. He made a request to his friend, and his friend immediately agreed to give it to him. The first king said, “I will send my minister to you, so please give it to him.”

The other king said, “Definitely I will give it to him.”

So the first king sent his minister and three or four bodyguards to the other king. Now, in the first king’s kingdom there was a burglar who used to steal money every night. He was a real rogue, but nobody could catch him. He had stolen lots of money, and with this money he had bribed certain palace officials to give him news of what was happening there. He hoped that one day he would be able to enter into the palace with their help and steal everything.

The thief heard from his palace friends that the minister was going to get money from the other king. That evening, as the minister and three guards set out from the palace, all of a sudden the burglar and three of his friends came and surrounded them. The thief said to them, “Now give us your clothes. I have brought some other clothes for you. I will wear the minister’s clothes and my three friends will wear the guards’ uniforms.” Then the thief and his followers forced the minister and the guards to give up their clothes.

Now it happened that the thief did not know how to read and write. But he was very clever. Several days earlier, he had gone to a great scholar and asked him how to write the minister’s name.

The scholar had asked him, “Why do you have to know how to write the minister’s name?”

The thief told him, “I want to know for some special purpose.”

The scholar said, “No, I won’t teach you how to sign the minister’s name.”

Finally the burglar said, “You have to teach me; otherwise, I will kill you.”

The scholar got frightened and said, “All right, don’t kill me. I will teach you how to sign his name.”

The burglar wanted to be able to sign the minister’s name in case the other king asked for his signature on a receipt. He knew that he was going to get the minister’s clothes, so he also wanted to be able to sign the minister’s name.

After changing clothes the thief and his three followers went to the neighbouring king’s palace and got the money. It was a very, very large amount. The burglar wanted to show off that he knew how to sign the minister’s name, so he said, “Do you not need my signature?”

The king said, “Oh no, your king and I are such good friends. I don’t need your signature.”

The thief said, “Still it is good to get the signature.”

The king said, “All right, if you want to sign, you can. But I really don’t need any signature.”

So the false minister wrote down “Junga the Burglar”.

Immediately the king got a shock. He thought to himself, “O God, how could this happen?” He asked the minister and the three guards to wait for a while. Then he ordered his guards to go to the other king.

When they arrived, the guards said to the king, “We always hear that Junga is the worst possible burglar in your kingdom. How is it that your minister has signed Junga’s name? Our king wants to know why your minister is making fun of him when he is giving you so much money.”

By this time the real minister had returned to the palace with the three guards and had told his king that he had been forced to change clothes. Immediately the king sent the message to his friend. His friend arrested Junga and sent him back to the first king. Then he personally brought the money to the neighbouring king.

So the thief was caught because the scholar was so clever. Since Junga did not know how to read or write, the scholar taught him how to write his own name and told him that it was the minister’s name.

The doctor and his assistant

Once there was a village doctor whom everybody liked because he was always able to cure his patients. He was very smart and he also knew all about medicine.

One day a young man came up to him and said he wanted to be his assistant. The doctor said, “No, no, no, I don’t think you are smart enough.”

The young man said, “No, I will be able to please you. Please let me learn from you.”

The doctor finally agreed, and soon the man began learning how to use medicine. After two years he started begging the doctor to let him come along to see some of his patients. The doctor said, “All right. Since you have been with me for two years, you may come with me today.”

So they went to see a patient. The doctor felt the pulse of the patient and said, “I can see your fever has gone high.”

The patient said, “Yes, I know that my fever has gone high.”

The doctor asked, “Do you know why? It is because you have eaten some candy.”

“Candy!” exclaimed the patient.

“Yes,” said the doctor. “I can see that you have eaten a few pieces of candy.”

The patient said, “It is true.”

The doctor said, “I know, I know. When I feel the pulse, immediately the pulse tells me.”

So the patient confessed that he had eaten candy. The doctor told him not to eat candy until he was totally cured and his fever had gone down.

When the doctor and assistant were coming back, the assistant said he was so amazed at how the doctor could tell what someone had eaten just by feeling the pulse. “How could you do it? How could you do it?” he asked.

The doctor said, “You fool, I saw at the door a few candy wrappers. I said to myself, ‘Who else could have eaten the candy?’ So immediately I challenged the man and he confessed. Otherwise, do you think that by feeling the pulse one can say who has eaten candy? But don’t you do this kind of thing. You will be in trouble.”

The doctor was a smart doctor, but he was also sincere. He told his assistant what he had done. A few days later, when the doctor was supposed to see another patient, it happened that he himself was sick. By this time he had a little faith in his assistant, so he told him, “Today I am feeling very sick. You go and see this patient. But be very careful, because this is the first time you are going to see someone.”

“Definitely I will be careful,” said the assistant. “When I come back, you will be very proud of me. You can rest assured that I will do everything correctly, and you will get a good report. The patient will say nice things about me.”

When the assistant arrived at the patient’s house, he saw that the patient had a very high fever. The assistant said, “I know why you have got such a high fever. I can see that you have eaten mangos.”

The patient said, “No, I have not.”

The assistant said, “Your pulse tells me that you have.”

The patient said, “My pulse tells you? Those mangos I have kept for my wife and children. They eat mangos. I have got such a high fever. How can I eat mangos?”

The assistant said, “Your pulse tells me that this morning you ate four mangos. That’s why your fever is so high.”

The man got so furious that he asked his sons and servants to beat the assistant black and blue. He also got mad at the real doctor for sending such a horrible assistant, and he sent one of his servants to insult the doctor.

The assistant never returned to the doctor again. He was so badly beaten that he said, “No, no, I am not going to be a doctor anymore. It is too dangerous a profession.”

The real doctor was very happy that he did not have to deal with that kind of idiot-assistant anymore.

The king and the three thieves

In a certain kingdom there were three thieves. These three thieves used to steal like anything. The king was so sad that he was unable to do anything to punish these thieves. In so many ways his ministers had tried to catch them, but always they failed. The king was physically very strong and powerful. “In some way I will have to catch these thieves,” he said.

So every night he went out of his palace in disguise, wearing most simple clothes like those a thief wears. During the night he went in search of the culprits. He would go by the houses of his friends, the way a thief does, moving around in a very secret manner. He told his friends not to tell anyone what he was doing.

One night it happened that the king, who was posing as a thief, actually saw the three thieves near the house that he was pretending to steal from. So he jumped in front of them and said, “Look, you are thieves. Let me join you. I will be the fourth.”

They said, “Who needs you? We don’t need you.”

He said, “You don’t need me? It is good to have one more. And I tell you, I shall always please you. I am a great thief, just like you are. I have been hearing so much about you. Now I would like to be a member of your group.”

They said, “What kind of special capacity do you have?”

The king said, “Oh, I have no special capacity, but may I hear what special capacities you have?”

One thief said, “I can unlock any door in the twinkling of an eye. I have that kind of capacity.”

Another one said, “I know where the wealth is. He can unlock any door, but I can easily tell in which room or in which place the wealth is.”

The third one said, “I can remember people. Once I see someone, I can always recognise that person even if his face or his body has changed. Even if everything is changed, still I can recognise the person. I have that kind of retentive faculty.”

Then they said to him, “Now you have to tell us what capacity you have. If you don’t have any special capacity, why should we take you in our group?”

The king said, “Look, I have got a ring. If I press my ring, immediately I can kill people. And if I raise my hand, immediately I can save people.”

They said, “Oh, you have that kind of capacity! Then we can use you.”

The king said, “Today, let me take you to the King’s palace. There is no need to be afraid. We have a silly king. Since you have the capacity to unlock doors and the capacity to know where the wealth is, today let us go to the palace and rob the king.”

The three thieves agreed. “This is a wonderful idea, a wonderful idea,” they said.

So in disguise the king brought them to the palace. Then the fellow who knew how to open the lock immediately opened the door. The other one who had the capacity to find the wealth, did so. Then immediately the king summoned the guards and the thieves were arrested.

The following morning the minister brought them before the king. The king said to the robbers, “I played this trick and caught you. Now you shall be executed. Yesterday I told you that if I press my ring, then whomever I want to kill will be killed. See, I am pressing my ring. Now you will be executed.”

The three thieves started crying and crying. Now the three thieves realised that he was the king and he had caught them. They said, “But you told us that you also have another capacity. You said that if you raise your hand, then you can save anybody you want to. Will you not show us that capacity too? Will you not raise your hand and save us?”

So the king raised his hand and said, “All right, I will save you three. But now you have to take an oath that you will never steal again. Better yet, I will give you some work here in the palace. Then you will be always under supervision and you won’t be able to steal from anybody else.”

The yogi’s advice

There was once a king who was very unhappy because he was unable to conquer the neighbouring king. He and the other king were friends, but at the same time they were rivals. When meanness, jealousy and ego came forward, the first king wanted to conquer his so-called friend and make him his subordinate. In so many ways he tried to increase his army and military power. But even then he could not compete with his rival-friend. Finally he said, “Now that physical power, military power, is not succeeding, let me try spiritual power.”

So he went to a yogi and said, “Please, please help me out. I will give you everything that I have. All my money-power, everything, I will surrender to you. I will touch your feet; I will sit at your feet and wash your feet every day. Only please tell me how I can conquer the other king.”

The yogi said, “It is so easy. Just conquer your anger. If you conquer your anger, then you will be able to easily conquer the other king.”

So the king went home and followed the yogi’s advice. No matter what people said or did, he did not get angry. For some time he practised this, until there was no anger at all in his life. After six months he was so happy. He went back to the sage and said, “Now that I have conquered anger, will I not be able to conquer that king?”

The sage said, “Just wait for a few more months. For another three months try to keep your temper under control. Don’t get angry with anybody.”

The king said, “All right, all right. For three more months I will do that.”

After three months the king came back. The yogi said to him, “I am so sorry. It seems to me that you will need another two months.”

The king said, “All right. I have already conquered my anger for six months and for three months, so I can easily do it for two more months.”

After two months the king came back again. The yogi said, “Please wait one more month. This time it will be absolutely the last. If you can keep your temper under control for one more month, I tell you, you will be able to conquer the neighbouring king.”

After one month the king came back once again. He was so happy and delighted and said, “Now tell me how I can really conquer my enemy. Now I am calling him my enemy because I have conquered my anger and am about to fight him.”

The yogi said, “What do I know about fighting? What do I know about kings and armies and battles? What do I know about these things? I pray to God for peace, joy and love. How can I be of any help to those who want war and fighting? I try to save people and you try to kill people. In my case by giving new life to people I become happy. In your case you want to be happy by killing people. I am the last person to help you out, because you want violence and I want peace. You have come to the wrong person.”

The king got mad and wanted to kill the yogi. He said, “You told me to come back to you when I had conquered my anger.”

The yogi said, “Look, look! Who is angry now, who is angry now? Have you really conquered your anger? If you can’t conquer your own anger, then how are you going to conquer the other king? I told you that if you conquer your anger, then easily you will be able to conquer that king. But you have not even conquered your own anger. So how are you going to conquer him? I cannot help you at all.”

The sculptor

There was once a rich man who was also kind and generous. He had many friends and admirers. When he died, everybody felt sad and miserable. So some of his friends wanted to have a statue made of him to perpetuate his memory.

Unfortunately, everyone had a different opinion as to who should make the statue. One person said that a particular sculptor was the best. Another one said that someone else would be better. In this way they argued for several months. Finally they decided to take a vote. When they took a vote, they found that one person stood first. So all of them went to that particular sculptor and said, “You are the best according to us. Now please make a statue of our friend.”

The sculptor said, “He was such a great and good man. He was not only rich but great and good as well, so it is a great honour for me to be requested to make a statue of him. I can start right away if you want me to.”

They asked, “How much will you charge?”

The sculptor said, “I will charge one thousand dollars.”

They said, “One thousand dollars? One thousand! That is too much. We shall find somebody else. There are many other good sculptors.”

One person said, “Let us go to a certain young sculptor who is just rising in his career. I am sure he will ask for less money. He may not be well-established, but I tell you, he will do a much better job than this old man. Just because he is young, nobody knows him. But a day will come when he will become very well-known and famous.”

They all agreed to go to the young sculptor. The young man was very happy, delighted and excited to get this kind of job. They asked, “How long will it take?”

He said, “It will take a long time. It will take at least six months.”

They told him, “Don’t worry. Only do a good job. You don’t have to worry about your wages. We will please you.”

After six months they came back and they were quite pleased with the statue. Then they asked, “How much do you want?”

The young man said, “Two thousand dollars.”

They cried, “What! Two thousand? How dare you ask for two thousand when the old man who is so well-known only asked for one thousand.”

The young man said, “That is his business. He can ask whatever he wants. He is my teacher and I bow to him in all artistic matters. But I don’t ask him about the price. In this area I make my own decision. Whatever I feel is right, I ask for. So you have to give me two thousand dollars. Otherwise, I am not going to give you the sculpture.”

They said, “All right, what can we do? Now we have to surrender. We are very pleased with your sculpture; it is so beautiful. But before we give you the two thousand dollars, let us go and ask your teacher how much your work deserves.”

When they went to ask his teacher how much the young sculptor deserved, the teacher said, “How much did he ask for?”

They said, “He asked for two thousand dollars.”

The old sculptor said, “He is right, he is right.”

They said, “How can he be right? You are far better than he is. You are a great sculptor, an expert. You asked for one thousand dollars and he is asking for two thousand dollars. How can you say he is right?”

He said, “If I had done it, then I would have finished it in three months or even less. But he has taken six months. Doesn’t he deserve to be paid for the three extra months he has spent on it? If I had done it, I would have taken three months and asked for one thousand dollars. But he has taken six months because he is not an expert like me. He told you it would take time and he has done a good job. So now for another three months’ work you have to pay. Therefore he deserves the two thousand dollars.”

The telltale mark

A rich couple was blessed with a child who was born with a mark on his forehead. They were very happy and excited. The mother said that the mark was a sign that the boy was going to become a great writer. But the father said, “No, no! The mark means that he is going to be as strong and as powerful as I am. Physically he will be very, very strong and powerful.”

Some of their friends said that the child would be a sailor and sail from one country to another. But everybody said that the mark meant that this little baby would be very great or good or both. So the parents were very pleased. They said, “Let us now see what happens to him when he grows up. Everybody is saying good things, exceptionally good things, about him.”

One day a beggar came to their house for alms. The father happened to be at the gate and he noticed that the beggar had exactly the same kind of mark at the same spot as their little child.

The father immediately summoned his wife and said, “Now look, look! Here is a fellow who has the same mark as our child. And what is he doing? He is a beggar! So let us not boast anymore. Our son is definitely going to become a beggar. Here is the proof!”

The wife said, “You are right, you are right. This beggar has the same mark at the same spot. O God, what have You done, what have You done? When our son grows up, he will also become a beggar. That we don’t want to see.”

The husband said, “From now on, let us put as much money as possible in the bank for him. We are now old, and soon we shall die. But if he has money in the bank, then he will be able to live comfortably on earth. We don’t want our son to become a beggar.”

So they put lots of money in the bank in their son’s name, so that he would not end up poverty-stricken like this beggar.

Editor’s preface to the first edition

The tales in this book, part of a collection that Sri Chinmoy has adapted from traditional Indian stories, have an innocent and childlike quality that appeals to the child in all of us. The stories have been performed as plays by Sri Chinmoy’s students.