Illumination-experiences on Indian soil, part 2

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Akbar's punishment

Once, in the kingdom of the greatest Mogul Emperor, Akbar, the traders were all quarrelling and fighting among themselves. The Arab, Indian and Portuguese traders were all trying to exploit one another.

One day a Portuguese merchant got mad at a Muslim trader, so he tied a copy of the Koran around the neck of a dog and set the dog free. The dog started roaming along the streets, going here and there at random with the book hanging around his neck.

Akbar's mother, Hamida Bhanu Begam, saw the dog and became furious. She said, "It is such a sacred book! How can someone put it around the neck of a dog!" Hamida Bhanu asked her son, the Emperor, to send someone to catch the dog and punish it. She also wanted Akbar to find out who the owner was so that he could also be punished mercilessly.

Poor Akbar! On the one hand he was very devoted to his mother. On the other hand, what kind of punishment could there be for this kind of crime? Suddenly a brilliant idea entered into his mind. He asked one of his servants to bring him a monkey. When the servant brought it to him, Akbar tied a Bible around the neck of the monkey and asked the servant to let the monkey loose in the street. The monkey started wandering along the street, going from one place to another with the Bible hanging around his neck.

When Akbar's mother heard about this, she was not satisfied. She said to her son, "What are you doing? You are making this a fight between a monkey and a dog. Is this what I wanted? I wanted the dog and its owner to be punished."

Akbar said, "Mother, how can I do that kind of thing? Someone has created this kind of mischief to make fun of our religion, but I don't know who the culprit is. The sacred book is innocent, the dog is innocent, and nobody will confess to being the owner of the dog. So, if somebody speaks ill of the Muslims and puts the Koran around the dog's neck, then the best thing that we can do is to put a Bible around a monkey's neck. We can only play the same kind of trick on that person. If he makes fun of us, we can make fun of him. But more than that we can't do. We can't punish people for these kinds of jokes."

The immeasurable wealth

Once the Emperor Akbar wanted to know how much wealth he had in the treasuries of all the cities in his kingdom. First he wanted to see how much jewellery and gold he had in the treasury of his famous capital, Agra.

He asked his treasurer to give him a report as soon as possible. The treasurer hired one thousand men who used four hundred pairs of scales day in and day out.

After five months Akbar called in his son and asked, "What is the report?"

His son replied, "Father, the treasurer and his men are nowhere near the end of this monumental task. There is still so much wealth left to measure!"

Akbar asked, "How much longer will it take? How much more time do they need?"

His son said, "They have no idea how many more months it will take."

Akbar remained silent for a moment. Finally he said, "Please tell them to stop." He realised that even the wealth of just one city, Agra, was immeasurable.

Boiram Khan retires

The Emperor Akbar's father died when Akbar was quite young, so for some time a very wise man named Boiram Khan ruled the kingdom in Akbar's name. When Akbar finally took charge of his kingdom, Boiram Khan remained as one of the commanders of Akbar's army. Unfortunately, he became very haughty and undivine and began doing many wrong things.

Akbar was very grateful to Boiram Khan because he had helped him so much during his youth. But complaint after complaint kept coming against this commander because he was killing people for no reason. Finally Akbar said, "The best thing is for Boiram Khan to retire and spend the rest of his life in Mecca."

Even on the way to Mecca Boiram Khan was fighting and killing people. People attacked him because he had been very unkind, so Boiram Khan and his followers fought against the attackers. At one point one of Akbar's great admirers, a brave lieutenant, came and attacked Boiram Khan. The commander and his group counter-attacked and killed the lieutenant. All of a sudden, Boiram Khan's eyes became filled with tears. His soldiers said to him, "You were such a great general. Once upon a time you were Akbar's only adviser. You protected his kingdom. We have never seen you in tears before. Why are you crying today?"

The commander said, "My young friends, what have I done with my strength? I curse my life more than anybody else on earth. Because of my strength and power, today I have caused the death of hundreds of beautiful and powerful human beings. If I didn't have such strength, such capacity, then I would not have been able to kill such powerful people. They had so many good qualities. They were very brave; that's why they fought. Only because I happened to be stronger was I able to kill them. This strength of mine — is it a blessing or a curse?"

The minister's temple

Once Jahangir, the Emperor Akbar's son, said to his father, "Father, how is it that you have allowed one of your Hindu ministers to erect a temple and spend so much money? The top of the temple is even studded with diamonds. Why did you allow him to spend so much money for the Hindu religion?"

Akbar said to him, "My son, I love my own religion. Is there anything that I will not do for my religion? Will money ever stand in my way? If I wanted to build a beautiful mosque, would I care about the amount of money it costs? This Hindu minister also loves his religion. If he wants to spend money for his religion, what right do I have to prevent him?

"I love something because it is my very own. Does he not have the right to love the thing that is his very own? His religion is his very own, just as my religion is my very own. I cannot ask him not to spend money on his religion, for I know that I would do the same thing for my religion."

Jahangir punishes his son

The Mogul Emperor Jahangir once got a severe complaint against his son. What had happened was this. His eldest son had very happily and proudly ridden his elephant from the palace to a particular place in the kingdom. On the way the prince had seen the wife of a low-class man and had thrown a piece of beetlenut at her in a very amusing way. When the husband came to know that his wife had been insulted by the prince, he went to Jahangir's court and made a complaint.

Jahangir got furious and made inquiries to find out if what the man had said was true. After some investigation, he learned that the story was correct. Jahangir immediately ordered that the low-class man should ride on the Prince's elephant from the palace to the same place to which the prince had gone. The Prince's wife would stand at the same place along the street where the man's wife had been standing. Then, when the low-class man passed by, he would throw a piece of beetlenut at the princess.

"This will be the only compensation," the Emperor said.

Everybody said, "How can the Emperor do this? She is the princess and he is just a low-class person." Everybody was protesting that it would be so humiliating for the princess.

But Jahangir said, "No, my son has to learn that he cannot do this kind of thing. My order is my order. You have to execute it immediately. Otherwise, both my son and his wife will be even more severely punished."

Finally the low-class man ran out of the palace, crying, "I don't want them to be punished. I forgive your son."

Then Jahangir said, "Since he has forgiven my son, I have nothing to say." The Emperor turned to his son and told him, "He has forgiven you, my son. That is the only reason why I am forgiving you."

King Firuzshah's generosity

Once the throne of Bengal was occupied by a king named Firuzshah, who came from Abyssinia. He ruled Bengal with great kindness and generosity. He was especially kind to the poor and was always giving them alms, irrespective of their caste. Even if people were only pretending to be poor, the king would still give them money. When his ministers objected, he would say, "If they say they are poor, what can I do?" His ministers didn't like his generosity and were always trying to save money. But the king would not listen to them.

Once King Firuzshah told his ministers that he wanted to give a very large amount of money to the poor. The ministers were very shocked. They said to one another, "Perhaps he does not know how much he really loses when he gives away his wealth!" So they brought all the gold coins and jewels that were supposed to be distributed that day to one of the rooms in the palace. Then they invited the king to come and see the wealth. They said to him, "O King, you always want to give away expensive things to the poor. We are happy that this time you will be giving away such a large amount of money."

In the back of their minds they thought that when the king saw all the wealth in one room, he would be surprised and shocked at how much he was giving away. They thought he would say, "So much wealth I am giving away? No, I cannot give so much. Give only a quarter of this or half of this." In this way they felt they would be able to stop the king from distributing so much money to the poor.

O God, instead the king said, "You fools, at least four times this wealth I want to give to the poor. Four times this amount will please me."

Then the king ordered them to give away four times more than they had collected in the room.

King Hyder Ali saves a kidnapped girl

Once a week King Hyder Ali used to receive complaints directly from his subjects. On that day his subjects didn't have to go through the usual channels. On one such day a man came up to the king and said, "Your Majesty, my only daughter has been kidnapped by a high-ranking officer and taken away to his village. Whenever I go to complain to the magistrate, he turns a deaf ear to me. So many times I have told him what this officer has done, but he will take no action. What am I going to do?"

The king sent for the magistrate and asked, "Is this story true?" The magistrate remained silent and then finally admitted that it was indeed true. The king became furious and ordered the magistrate to be whipped two hundred fifty times by the strongest man in the palace. Then he ordered several strong guards to bring back the man's daughter. He told them, "You know what kind of punishment I want you to give. Do the needful!"

So those guards went to that particular village and brought back the girl — along with the head of the culprit. The king was so pleased with them. He said, "This is the punishment I wanted. Now, anything you want from me, you can have. You deserve a reward."

In this way the man got his beautiful daughter back.

The prince's prison term

There was once a king who had only one son. Unfortunately, the prince was notoriously undivine, to say the least. The king was miserable that his only son was so bad.

One night a report came to one of the ministers that the king's son had been involved in a robbery. The prince and his friends had all been caught. When the minister heard that the prince was involved, he didn't want to take any measures against the culprits without consulting the king. So in the middle of the night he went to the king's chamber and knocked on the door.

The king asked, "What has happened?"

When the minister told him the story, the king got furious. "You are an idiot!" he shouted. "Why do I keep you as my minister? If you were equal to your position, then at this hour you would not have come to bother me. You should be equal to your post."

The minister understood the king and ordered the prince and his friends to be arrested and thrown into prison for six months. The following morning the minister went to the king and told him what he had done.

The king said, "You have sentenced them to six months in prison? For the other culprits six months is all right, but for my son the punishment must be six years. This is my order. His friends will stay in prison for six months, and he will stay in prison for six years."

Every week the prince and his friends were allowed to visit the king. The king was so nice to his son's friends. Each time he would give them beautiful presents and have talks with them. He would tell them, "Never rob again. It is not a good thing." He would show them such kindness and affection. But he would never say a word to his son. He would only say to his son's friends, "How could my son do this kind of thing?"

After six months all the culprits were released except the prince. The prince continued coming to the palace once a week, but the king would never speak to him or show him any kind of affection. The prince would sit in his father's room for some time, and then he would be taken back to the prison.

Finally, after six years, the prince was released. At that time the king had a long talk with him. The king said, "I am the king. I am richer than the richest. If you had asked me, I would have given you anything you wanted. How much wealth could anyone have in comparison to my wealth? My wealth is all yours. Someday I will leave my kingdom in your hands, and then you will get everything. When you become king, you will have to be good to your subjects. People appreciate me because of my kindness, sympathy and oneness. When you, the prince, commit a robbery, what kind of oneness are you showing with your future subjects?"

Because of his father's strictness, the prince turned over a new leaf and eventually became a wise and compassionate ruler.

The pious minister

Once an old minister did a number of extraordinary things and the king was very pleased with him. The king went to the minister's house and lavished many expensive gifts on him. He gave him jewels and money, as well as horses and elephants.

The minister was very sincere and pious, and he wanted to live a very simple life. So all the wealth that the king had given him he gave away to the poor in the king's name. He kept only a few horses and elephants.

The king's other ministers were very jealous because the king always spoke so highly of this minister's bravery and kindness. So they plotted against him and forged his signature on a letter which showed that he was a traitor. Then they brought the letter to the king.

The king couldn't believe his eyes, but since all the ministers were saying that the old minister was a traitor, what could he do? There was only one punishment for a traitor, so he ordered that the minister be killed. When the old minister was brought before the king, he said, "O King, I used to serve your father most devotedly, and I have also been serving you most devotedly. Now you believe that I have become a traitor. I know that my life is very insignificant, so what is the use of defending myself? Once upon a time, when I used to fight for your father, my beard used to become red. At that time it was red with the blood of his enemies. Now, when you kill me, my own blood will make my beard red."

After the pious minister was executed, the other ministers said, "O King, we should now get back all the wealth that you have given this bad minister."

The king agreed, "Naturally we should get it back." So he sent his soldiers to the old minister's servant. "Show us where he has kept his wealth!" they ordered.

The servant replied, "There is nothing left. He distributed everything to the poor, except for a few horses and elephants."

None of the soldiers believed the servant, so they brought the servant to the king. The king said, "Now, tell the truth."

The servant said, "O King, I will tell the truth. You gave so many things to the old minister, but he gave away everything to the poor in your name. He pretended that you had asked him to distribute the wealth. It was really his, but he gave away everything except for a few horses and elephants."

The king asked, "Why did he keep the horses and elephants?"

The servant replied, "He said that if you were ever attacked by your enemies, you would need them. Then it would be necessary for you to buy back the elephants and horses from those people to whom he had given them. Because you had given them to him out of your affection and love, he kept them only for you to use in an emergency. The rest of the wealth he gave to the poor in your name."

The servant paused. Then he said, "O King, he also told me that what the other ministers said against him is all false."

The king got furious and said to the other ministers, "If this servant is telling the truth, and you confess, then I will forgive you. But if you don't confess, and I find out later that what he is saying is true, then I will kill all of you immediately."

The other ministers confessed that they had forged the letter and that the old minister had given everything away to the poor. About the elephants and horses, they said it was up to the king whether or not to believe it.

The king cried, "What have you done? I knew he was such a good, pious, sincere minister, but you convinced me to kill him. How cruel I have been! I promised that I would forgive you, so I will not punish you. But now I know that good people cannot stay with me. Only bad people like you will force themselves on me and stay with me. To the end of my life I will feel miserable that I have lost such a good, pious minister. I have lost him, and now I am left with only unthinkable rogues like you!"

The punishment is compassion

In India there was once a Muslim mendicant who had a certain amount of occult power. His name was Bajit Bastami. In Chittagong there is a special place where many Muslims worship him. Even the Hindus have tremendous love for him.

In a pond near his tomb there are fifteen or twenty very large turtles that were actually human beings once upon a time. Bajit Bastami got angry at these people because they were unkind to him, so he turned them into turtles. He gave them all names: Rajali, Majali, Pulali and so on. He said that when the time came, he would turn them into human beings once again — not ordinary human beings, but great human beings. Because they were going through such severe punishment, he said that some time in the future his compassion would help them become great human beings.

There are many stories about Bajit Bastami's compassion. Once at midnight he was walking along the street praying and meditating when he saw a man playing on a flute. The flutist was heavily drunk, but he was playing extremely well. Since he was playing such melodious, haunting tunes, people had gathered around him. But whenever they appreciated him, he would insult them, using very foul language. Some people cursed him and left, while others, in spite of being scolded and insulted, stayed there. They didn't take his insults seriously, since he was obviously drunk. Besides, the man was playing very well, and they were enjoying the fun.

As soon as the musician saw Bajit, he started insulting him, and this time he used the filthiest, absolutely the most foul tongue. Bajit was annoyed and said, "You stop using these kinds of words!"

The drunk flutist got furious. He approached Bajit and struck him mercilessly on the forehead with his flute. The drunkard's flute broke and Bajit went home with his forehead bleeding profusely.

By that time Bajit had many, many disciples and followers, and when they saw their Master's plight, they wanted to kill this flutist. But Bajit said, "No, no! You must not do that. Tomorrow morning I will do something about it." The disciples were very happy that their Master was going to punish the man.

The following morning Bajit gave one of his servants some most delicious Indian sweets plus a few rupees to take to this flutist, along with a message. The message was that Bajit was extremely sorry that his head was responsible for breaking the man's flute, and he was sending money so that the musician could buy a new one. Also, since he had experienced a little bit of the man's foul tongue the previous day, he was sending some sweets to sweeten his tongue.

When the flutist received the gifts and heard the message, he was deeply moved. Immediately the musician and all his friends and admirers ran to Bajit 's cottage and fell at his feet, asking to be illumined by his forgiveness.

In later years they all became Bajit's extremely good disciples. In this way, through his compassion Bajit transformed some undivine drunkards into divine aspirants.

The kind-hearted homeopath

There was once a very good homeopath who wanted to live in a very simple manner. He had a big heart, so he used to help the poor without charging them any fee. Everybody was very deeply appreciative of his kind-heartedness, except his own father. His father used to scold him and insult him, even in front of his wife.

Once it happened that a very poor man developed a high fever and all kinds of ailments. The homeopath went to the man's house to help him and found that he was shivering violently. The homeopath took off his own shawl and gave it to the poor man, in addition to massaging his whole body and giving him medicine. He spent two or three hours there. His fee for house calls was only three rupees, but as happened quite often, he did not even ask the man to pay him.

When the homeopath went home, he was shivering because he no longer had his shawl. His father insulted him mercilessly for his impractical attitude. His wife shed bitter tears, for she too had a big heart, and she felt very sad when her father-in-law insulted her husband.

One day it happened that the richest man in the city developed a serious disease. Even the doctors in the hospital could not cure him. Finally the rich man's friends pointed out by way of joke that there was only one doctor in the city whom he had not consulted: the foolish quack homeopath. Although they were joking, the rich man said, "Since I am heading towards the other world, it cannot do any harm for me to try him."

So he sent for the homeopath, who came and gave him a remedy. In two or three days it became obvious that the patient was improving, and in a month's time he was completely cured. The rich man wanted to give the homeopath three hundred rupees. But the homeopath said, "You have already paid my fee of three rupees. Why should I take this?"

The rich man insisted, "Three hundred rupees is nothing for me."

The doctor's father began insulting him, as usual, and tried to force him to take the money.

Finally the homeopath started shedding tears in front of everyone. Looking up with folded hands, he prayed aloud: "O God, You have really forsaken me. If I become rich, then I will not think of You. This is just a tricky plan to test me. If I take the money, I will no longer think of You. Only if I remain poor will I be able to think of You at every moment. No, I will not accept this money under any circumstances." In spite of his father's unceasing insults, he remained firm in his refusal to accept the three hundred rupees.

This seeker happened to be one of the foremost disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. He was devotion incarnate. When his Master used to give prasad on a plantain leaf, he used to eat even the leaf, because he felt that the leaf was also a blessingful gift from the Master. No other disciple of Ramakrishna had his kind of devotion. You may call it fanatical devotion, but I call it true devotion.

There are many inspiring stories about this disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. Once some friends of his came to visit him. He was so poor that he didn't have fuel, so he cut off one of the beams that was holding up the ceiling and used it as fuel to cook for them.

When Sri Ramakrishna passed away, for two or three months this disciple was bedridden. He cried and cried, saying, "Now there is nothing to see or feel on earth — nothing, nothing."

Sri Ramakrishna told many, many people that this disciple was a householder who could truly be respected by all. He deserved admiration and adoration from even the purest and most spiritual seekers. This homeopath was a radiant example of purity, simplicity, sympathy and oneness-heart.

I love you more than I love my own life

Once there was a young boy named Ramesh. His parents were not only rich, but also extremely kind. Ramesh was a very good student. His classes started at nine o'clock in the morning. From nine o'clock until twelve o'clock he studied. Then from twelve to one he had an hour's recess, and again from one to three he studied.

The students used to bring food from home to eat during the lunch hour. One day Ramesh realised that his friend Gopal had not eaten anything for lunch for a few days. As a matter of fact, Gopal wasn't bringing any food to school with him.

Ramesh went to his friend and asked why he was not eating anything. Gopal said, "My mother could not give me anything. She said we had nothing at home."

Ramesh said, "Don't worry. I will share with you."

"No, I can't take your food," said Gopal.

"Of course you can," insisted Ramesh. "My parents give me much more food than I need." Finally Gopal agreed, and for a few weeks the two boys shared Ramesh's lunch.

Then all of a sudden Gopal stopped coming to school. Ramesh was very sad. One day he asked the teacher why his friend was not coming anymore. The teacher said to him, "Ah, he comes from a poor family. His parents can't afford to pay the school fees; therefore, he can no longer come to school."

Ramesh felt sad and miserable. When school was over, he took down Gopal's address from his teacher and went to Gopal's house. Ramesh begged his friend to come back to school, saying that he would ask his parents to pay the fee. Gopal's parents were deeply moved by his kindness, and Gopal again started going to school.

Gopal's father was an old man. In a few years' time he died. When he died, the family became totally poverty-stricken, and Ramesh supported them with his own money. When Gopal's sister was severely attacked by a serious disease, the family could not afford the hospital bills. Again Ramesh helped them out. In every way he was the friend and guardian of Gopal's family.

Both Ramesh and Gopal completed high school and went to college. One day Gopal said to Ramesh, "To say that my heart is all gratitude to you is an understatement. I wish to say that I love you more than I love my own life."

Ramesh said, "My friend, if you love me, that is more than enough for me. You do not have to love me more than your own life."

Gopal said, "But I do, and I want to prove it." Then he opened his penknife and cut his own arm. Naturally he began bleeding. Gopal placed a few drops of blood at Ramesh's feet.

Ramesh said, "What are you doing, what are you doing?" He touched the cut on Gopal's arm, placed a few drops of blood on his own heart and said, "This is the right place for your life-blood. I give you my earthly treasure in the form of money and material wealth. You give me your heart's love, which is heavenly wealth beyond all measure."

Who is stronger?

There was once a great devotee of Lord Vishnu, a spiritual singer and poet named Surdas. Surdas was blind from infancy. He had six brothers who all died while fighting in a battle against the Muslims. Although Surdas was totally blind, he went in search of his brothers' bodies. While searching, he fell into a well that had no water in it.

For six days Surdas was trapped inside the well. During this time he repeated the name of Krishna, the Avatar of Lord Vishnu, over and over again. At the end of six days Lord Vishnu himself appeared and with his occult power lifted Surdas out of the well. Lord Vishnu also granted Surdas vision so that he would be able to see everything in a normal way.

For a few days Surdas was extremely happy. Then he began to feel miserable because he saw that the world is full of ugliness and that people are always quarrelling and fighting with each other. Finally he said to Lord Vishnu, "O Lord Vishnu, I don't want to see these things anymore. Please take away my vision again. When I didn't see human ignorance so vividly, I was very happy and peaceful. Please make me blind so that I can be happy again." Lord Vishnu granted his prayer, and once again Surdas became blind.

Surdas used to compose most soulful songs. Since he had many good friends and relatives, there was always someone who was kind enough to write down the words and music for him. One day when he was greatly inspired, he began calling out for one of his stenographers, but no one was available.

Suddenly Surdas felt the presence of someone and said, "Please tell me who you are. Announce your name." But the person wouldn't answer. Since Surdas very strongly felt somebody's presence, he tried to grab the person, but immediately the person vanished from his grasp.

Surdas said, "I know, my Lord, it is You who have come to me. You have the power to snatch Yourself away from my grasp on the physical plane. So in this way You are physically stronger than I am. But let me see if You are spiritually stronger than my heart. Let me see if even for a fleeting second You can disappear from Your devotee's heart. This is my challenge. I am sure that spiritually You cannot withdraw from me, because of the heart of love and devotion that You have given me. You will not be able to leave my heart even for a fleeting second."

Surdas was right. Lord Vishnu could never escape from the loving heart of his devotee.

Editor's preface to the first edition

The stories in this book, many based on historical incidents or traditional tales from India's past, offer an illumining glimpse at some of the experiences that helped shape the consciousness of Mother India. The stories have been adapted and retold by a master storyteller whose spiritual insights will benefit Easterners and Westerners alike.

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