Illumination-experiences on Indian soil, part 3

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Sajahan drinks water with grass

Once Emperor Sajahan went out on an expedition with some of his friends, relatives and admirers. He was walking quite fast in front of the entourage and, at one point, became separated from the group. The Emperor was not familiar with the area, and unfortunately he got lost. His friends and relatives could not trace him.

After some time the Emperor became very thirsty, but there was no water nearby. All of a sudden, Sajahan saw an old man carrying a container of water on his back, and he asked him if he could have some to drink. The man said, "All right, since you are so thirsty," and he gave Sajahan a large quantity of water. The Emperor started drinking it very fast.

The man became worried, for he felt that it was not advisable for anyone to drink so fast. Since he was also carrying a bag of grass on his back, he took a handful of grass and threw it into the container that Sajahan was drinking from.

Sajahan got furious. He said, "What are you doing? Why did you throw grass into my water? You were so kind to give me water. You saved my life. Now why are you throwing grass into my water?"

The man explained, "My good friend, I have a number of asses, and I never allow them to drink water fast. If I put grass in their water, they drink more slowly. If you drink too fast, you may develop colic pain. I was only trying to be considerate of your health."

In the meantime, Sajahan's friends and admirers had discovered the Emperor. From a distance they saw the man throw grass into Sajahan's water, and immediately they became furious. They wanted to beat and strike the man mercilessly.

But Sajahan stopped them. He said, "No, no, no! This man has saved my life. It was only out of concern that he put grass in my water."

Then the Emperor turned to the man and said, "You don't have to make your living by working with asses anymore. I am making you the head of a village because you have saved my life."

Sajahan teaches his officer a lesson

Once Sajahan went out on an expedition with some soldiers in his army. All of a sudden, a man came up to him crying, "Your Majesty, your Majesty, I have a complaint to make against one of your officers."

The Emperor asked, "Is he here? Who is it?"

The man pointed to one of the officers and said, "Yes, he is here, sitting on that horse. I work for him, but for the last four months he has not paid me. I assure you, your Majesty, I work very, very hard."

Sajahan asked the officer if this were true. The officer remained silent and then with his head bowed, he admitted that it was.

Sajahan ordered the officer to get off his horse. Then he turned to the servant and said, "Now, you get on the horse. You ride with the others in my army who are coming with me on this expedition. Wherever I go, you follow me on this horse."

The Emperor turned to the officer and said, "You have to run and follow the expedition wherever we go. This is my command."

The officer started running, following Sajahan wherever he rode. Soon he started panting, and after a short time he cried out, "I am dying, I am dying, I am dying!"

The Emperor stopped his horse and said to him, "You deserve to die. I give you money because you serve me. This innocent man serves you day in and day out. How is it that you don't pay him? You must pay him his back salary right now."

The officer said, "I am more than ready, but I don't have money with me now."

The Emperor said, "Then take money from me."

The officer took the money and gave it to his servant. Then Sajahan said, "As you know, I never give loans. Whenever I give something, it is always as a gift. But promise me that from now on you will always pay this man. If you break your promise, I will give him your post and make you his lifelong servant."

Sajahan receives two complaints

Once a man came to see Sajahan at the Emperor's court. He said to the Emperor, "Your Majesty, I have a serious complaint to make against a particular girl."

Sajahan asked him who the girl was, and then he summoned her. He said to the man, "Now make your complaint."

The man said, "Your Majesty, we were in love for many years. Five months ago we got engaged. Since then, I have spent all my money on her. Because of her, I have become practically poverty-stricken. And now, all of a sudden, she has decided that she no longer wants to marry me. When I had a lot of money, she was all love for me. Now that I have no money, she hates me."

The girl said, "Your Majesty, this is a total lie!"

Sajahan asked the man, "Can you prove what you are saying?"

The man said, "Oh yes, easily I can prove it. You know, we were so close, so intimate with each other that I can tell you where she has marks on her body." Then the man told the Emperor about them.

Sajahan asked two elderly women to take the girl into another room to see if the man was correct.

The elderly women returned with the girl and said, "O Emperor, what he says is absolutely true. There were marks in exactly the places that he said."

Sajahan turned to the girl and said, "You liar! You have to marry this man."

The girl cried and cried. Then she said, "I beg of you, can I wait just three months before I marry him? There are quite a few things I have to do to get ready for the wedding. I will definitely marry him in three months' time, since it is your order."

The Emperor turned to the man and asked, "Will you agree to wait for three months?"

The man said, "Yes, I will wait. But remember that she is promising to marry me in front of you, your Majesty."

Sajahan said, "Yes. She must keep her promise and obey my order. If she does not, then she will be hanged."

In two weeks' time the girl hired three strong, stout women and went with them to the home of her future husband. As soon as he opened the door, they immediately started strangling him and the man was totally helpless. Then the girl put a bracelet into his hand and started screaming.

All the neighbours rushed over to see what was happening. The girl told them, "This man came to my house and stole my very precious gold bracelet. Fortunately, my friends were there, and we chased him to his house. Now he should be punished."

The complaint went to Sajahan that this man had stolen the gold bracelet. The Emperor summoned both the girl and the man to his palace. He said to the man, "You are such a rogue! You must be punished." Then he asked the girl, "How do you want him to be punished? Whatever punishment you want, just tell me. Do you want him to be hanged?"

The man was frightened to death. He said, "O Emperor, I wish to tell you that somebody else also deserves some punishment."

Sajahan said, "Who? What are you talking about?"

The man said, "The maid of this particular girl also deserves punishment. I bribed that old lady with a lot of money so she would tell me something about the marks on the girl's body. That lady was her servant for many years and used to braid her hair. I learned about the marks from her."

Sajahan summoned the maid and ordered that the man and the maid each be whipped one hundred times. Then he said, "This innocent girl doesn't have to marry this rogue. In fact, I am going to give her lots of money to compensate for the suffering she has gone through because of this rascal."

After a few months the girl again came to Sajahan's palace. This time she was full of remorse. She told the Emperor about her trick with the gold bracelet. She said, "I never had anything to do with him, and I didn't want to marry him. Since he told so many lies about me, I wanted to see him punished."

At first the Emperor was shocked to hear her story. Then he said, "Do not worry. You did the right thing. He deserved that kind of punishment for lying and saying that you had been in love. He was the one who started everything. What you did, I admire. I need intelligent women like you in my kingdom!"

The Muslim mendicant

The Emperor Sajahan had heard many good things about a particular Muslim mendicant in his kingdom. People said that the mendicant always prayed to Allah and that he was very pious and spiritual. Everybody felt that he said and did the right thing at all times, and they greatly appreciated and admired him. The Emperor was also full of appreciation for him and had a strong desire to meet him. Of course, since he was the Emperor, Sajahan could have asked to see the mendicant at any time. But Sajahan never wanted to summon him or in any way force him to come to his court.

One day when Sajahan was on the third floor of his palace with some of his close friends and relatives, this particular mendicant happened to walk by the palace gate. Everybody said to the Emperor, "Look, here is the mendicant whom you have wanted to meet for such a long time."

Sajahan said to his relatives, "Since he is near the palace, please tell him that I would be extremely grateful if he would come to see me for a few minutes. Tell him that he does not even have to walk up the stairs. We will hang a basket off the balcony by a rope and lift him up to the third floor."

The mendicant was very surprised to hear that the Emperor himself wanted to see him. He was very humble and said, "If his Majesty wants to see me, how can I refuse?"

So he sat in the basket and Sajahan and a few others pulled him up. The Emperor said, "I am so happy and grateful that you have accepted my invitation. Today I wish to discuss spiritual matters with you. All the time I am with people who don't practise spirituality, and I am also in that same category. If I wanted to, I could make time for my spiritual life. Unfortunately, I don't have sincere aspiration. But I do appreciate you and admire you very much."

The mendicant said, "Your Majesty, I don't deserve your appreciation and admiration. You and your subjects see only my face; you don't know my mind. My mind is uglier than the ugliest. I have so many bad thoughts. Outwardly I may appear very calm and peaceful, but inwardly my mind is very undivine. So I don't deserve your appreciation."

The Emperor said, "I deeply appreciate your sincerity, but I know that you are truly a very pure and pious man. Please tell me how you have become so close to Allah. Is it because you pray and meditate all the time?"

The mendicant said, "No, no, no! You think that I am close to Allah, and many others also believe the same. But I tell you, I am not closer to Allah than any of his other children. It is like the relationship between an Emperor and his subjects. I am one of your most useless subjects. I have no capacity. Would I ever have dared to request an audience with a great Emperor like you? A beggar, an insignificant subject like me, would never ask you to grant him an audience. It is your kindness, your affection, your love and your concern for a useless fellow like me that enabled me to come and speak to you. I don't deserve to see you at all.

"You wanted to see me and honour me. If I had had pride and haughtiness, I would not have come to you. I would have thought, 'Oh, although you are the Emperor, you don't pray and meditate. So why should I go to you? I don't need you'. But I was humble, and I was also moved by your invitation.

"Similarly, I am moved by the Call of Allah. Allah does not need an insignificant creature like me. Allah does not really need anyone. Out of His infinite Love and Compassion, He calls me and I respond. In this way He calls each and every man in secret. But very few are lucky enough to be able to respond to His unconditional Call. Because I have been lucky enough to respond to His Call, I am becoming close to Him. It is not my capacities or my qualities that have made me close to Allah, but His unconditional Concern and Love for a useless creature like me. In the same way He can, does and will call each and every human being. Unfortunately, very few respond to His Call."

The arrogant officer

Every evening the Emperor Sajahan had an open audience with anyone who wanted to see him. Hundreds of his subjects would come, and the Emperor would chat with them for about half an hour.

Nobody was allowed to sit right in front of the Emperor. One evening an officer deliberately sat down in the forbidden area. The Emperor and the members of his court were all furious. Sajahan said, "How dare you show such disrespect by sitting right in front of me! I want you to leave this palace right away! I am dispensing with your services, and you will never again be given another job with the government. From now on you can only do ordinary, menial jobs!"

The day after the officer was fired, he again came to the public audience and sat down right in front of the Emperor. The previous day he had at least shown the Emperor a little bit of respect, but this time he had absolutely no respect. His face showed extreme haughtiness.

Sajahan said to him, "What is the matter with you? Yesterday I dispensed with your services. I threw you out of the palace and said that you can't work here anymore. Why are you now being even more disrespectful?"

The man said, "O your Majesty, yesterday I was dependent on you for my salary. Since I was dependent on you, I was always obedient. Now I am not serving you anymore, so I am independent. I can do anything I want to with my life. Previously I was at your mercy, but now I am on my own. I don't have to obey you anymore because I am no longer serving you."

All the people present were shocked at what the officer was saying and they wanted to thrash him. But Sajahan embraced the man and said, "I want everybody to have this kind of independent spirit." Then Sajahan gave him back his job and also gave him lots of money.

The following day everybody was wondering where the officer would sit, now that he had his job back. Finally they noticed him sitting at the very back of the group. Someone asked him, "What are you doing there?"

The officer answered, "An arrogant person can fight with another arrogant person, but he cannot fight with a man of boundless compassion and forgiveness. That is why I cannot fight with the Emperor anymore."

The Taj Mahal

Everyone knows about the Taj Mahal, the most beautiful mosque in the world. It was the Emperor Sajahan who built it in honour of his wife, Mamataj. Today it is considered one of the great wonders of the world, and everybody appreciates its beauty.

One day a king and queen went to see the Taj Mahal. The king said to the queen, "Tell me, what do you think of this mosque?"

The queen said, "If you ask me what I think about it, I will speak about the architecture, the workmanship and so forth. But if you ask me what I feel about it, then I will tell you my real feelings. Will you honour my feelings?"

The king said, "Definitely I want to know your feelings, and definitely I will honour them."

The queen said, "All right. I would be willing to put an end to my life tomorrow if you would build a Taj Mahal like this one for me. Are you prepared to do so? I am ready to take my life this moment, but are you prepared to build another Taj Mahal for me?"

The king was speechless. The queen continued, "I can fulfil my promise tomorrow, but I can see that you are not ready to build another Taj Mahal for me. You would not even dare to promise to build me another Taj Mahal!"

The poor king looked at his wife in silence.

Let Allah's Will be done

There were once two princes. When their father died, the older one became king. This older brother was good, sincere and pious, but the younger one was undivine to the extreme. He wanted to dethrone his older brother, so he organised a big army and started fighting against him.

The commander of the king's army said to the king, "We will definitely win. Our army is more powerful, and I am sure it is Allah's wish that we win."

The older brother said, "I do not know what Allah's wish is, but I am praying to Allah that His Will be done. Whomever He chooses to win, I will be very happy. If He thinks that my brother will take better care of the kingdom than I do, then Allah should allow my brother to win and become the king. I want Allah's children — my subjects — to be well protected and well guided.

"Right now my brother may be very undivine. But who knows, if he becomes king, perhaps he will become very nice, kind and pious. I don't know the future. If Allah feels that my brother will far surpass me in good qualities and that under his rule the kingdom will prosper much more, then I feel that my brother should win and not me. I want only Allah's Will to be done so that his children can be really happy."

The mother saves the youngest prince

Once a particular king died, and his eldest son became king. His ministers immediately advised him, "Kill your five brothers. Otherwise, one day they will try to dethrone you."

So the king killed all his brothers, except for his baby brother who was only two years old. Still the ministers warned him, "It is better to kill the child now. Who knows what will happen in the future?"

The king's mother was sad and miserable that her eldest son had killed his four brothers. But what could she do? The king was the king. When she heard that he was planning to kill her two-year-old son as well, she went to him and said, "You have killed all my other sons. Tomorrow you will take the youngest one's life. What can I do? You are the king, and this is your order. But please give me a day to calm my mind and bring forward my inner strength before my youngest son is killed."

Then, in secret, with the help of friends, the mother found a merchant from another country who agreed to take her youngest son away and bring him up in his own country. She gave him lots of money and asked him to take good care of her son.

One of the mother's servants happened to hear about the plan. She went to the mother and said, "I have heard that you are sending your son to another country. Tomorrow if the king does not see his baby brother, you will be in trouble. Let me substitute my own son for the baby prince. He is your son's age, and he even looks like your son. Please let my son be killed in his place. Who knows, perhaps your son will one day be the king of this land or of some other land."

The queen was so moved and so grateful. She wanted to give the servant a very large amount of money, but the servant would not accept anything. She said, "The prince's safety is my reward."

So the servant's son was killed, and the young prince went to another country. After some time the merchant sent a letter to the mother telling her that her son was all right. He said that he had employed two or three nurses to take care of him.

O God, nothing remains a secret. Ten years later one of the nurses became jealous of another nurse who was getting a higher salary than she was. She became furious with the merchant and wanted to take revenge. This particular nurse knew the story of the child, so she informed the governor of the state that the prince was hiding there. When the governor came to know about the prince, he sent a message to the boy which said, "Give me a very large amount of money or I will send you back to your brother." At that time the prince was twelve years old.

The boy wrote a letter to his mother, and the merchant brought it to her. The mother sent the governor a very large amount of money. But, to be safe, the merchant took the prince to a different country. When the prince grew up, he became the ruler of that country.

Aurangazeb sacrifices grapes

Once one of the generals of Emperor Aurangazeb fell sick. For months he suffered, and then his case started getting worse and worse. Finally, the Emperor called in a Greek doctor to help the patient. The doctor gave the general some medicine and told him that he should not eat grapes. He said grapes were not good for him and were creating problems. The general kept arguing with the doctor. He could not understand how not eating grapes would help his condition. Since he was very, very fond of grapes and they were one of his favourite foods, he did not want to give them up. But the doctor told him, "I am sorry. You must not eat any more grapes."

The Emperor believed in the doctor. Again, he was very fond of the general and did not want to see his dear friend suffer unnecessarily. So he made a bargain with the general. He said, "You like grapes and I also like grapes. But if you promise not to eat grapes, I also will not eat them. Then, when you are cured, at that time you, Allah and I will all eat grapes together. And if anything ever happens to you, if you do not survive your illness, then I will never eat grapes again."

The general was deeply moved, and he promised not to eat grapes until he was cured.

The Muslim king and the poet

A Muslim king was very fond of poetry. He used to honour poets all the time, giving them gold and diamonds. Sometimes if a poem was extremely beautiful, he would ask the poet to stand on one side of a scale, and on the other side the king would put gold coins to equal the poet's weight. Then he would give the poet all the coins.

Once a poet wrote a very beautiful poem, and the king was very pleased with him. Unfortunately, the poet was very greedy. When the king was discussing how much the poet would get, the man became so restless that he could not wait to hear the outcome. So he said to the king, "Perhaps you will give me one lak of gold coins. May I see how many coins that is and how much it weighs?" The poet only wanted to see the coins. He did not actually know how much he would be getting.

The king was amused and said, "All right, bring one lak of gold coins to show him."

When the money was placed in front of the poet, the king said to him, "Now, what is happening inside you? Tell me!"

The poet said, "I am admiring you and appreciating you for having shown me all these coins. I have never seen so much money in my life, and perhaps I will never again see a lak of gold coins at one time. I have never seen such a huge amount!"

The king said, "I want you to be grateful to somebody else, and not to me."

"Who is that person?" the poet asked.

The king put all the coins in the poet's hands and said, "Look up. Now be grateful to Allah. I am giving you these coins in His Name. So please be grateful to Allah and not to me."

A sincere man's promise

This is an authentic story about two friends. One day a young man said to his good friend, "I can see that some day you will become great and rich."

His friend scoffed, "Ridiculous! I will become a great man and a rich man!"

The first friend said, "Yes, I can see it. It is written on your forehead."

The second one said, "All right, if I become great and rich, I will give you ten thousand rupees."

"Do you really mean it?" the first friend asked. "If so, then write it down."

The second one wrote down, "I will give you ten thousand rupees if ever I become rich and great," and he signed his name.

The young man kept the note that his friend had written, but he never took his friend seriously. The agreement was made only by way of joke. Now, it happened that in ten or twelve years the one friend really did become rich and great, while the other unfortunately remained quite poor. By that time both friends had drifted apart and were leading their own lives. Even so, the one friend continued to preserve the note, although he felt that since it was a joke, he would never receive the money.

Quite unexpectedly, the poor man fell seriously ill. Just before he died, he called his son, who was only seven years old, and said to him, "My son, please bring me the box that is near the window. Inside it there is something very precious which I have kept for you."

The son was so sad that his father was dying that he didn't want to bring the box. He felt that nothing could be more precious than his father's life. But the father insisted, so the son went and got the box. Then the father said, "When I die…" and immediately the little boy and his mother started crying. But the father continued, "After I die, you go to this man and show him what he has written." The wife and son looked at the paper and were surprised to learn that the rich man had promised to give ten thousand rupees. But at that time they could not think of anything but their beloved one who was about to leave them.

Soon the man died. Friendship is such that the rich man, who was once his best friend, did not even come to see him before he left this world. But after three or four weeks' time the son took the note to the rich man. By that time the rich man had many servants. At first the man's servants didn't want to allow this little boy to bother him. But finally, when they saw he was only an innocent child, they allowed him to come in.

The boy gave the rich man the note. The rich man read it and asked, "Did I write this?"

The boy said, "I do not know. Before he died, my father gave it to me to give you." The son was practically crying.

The rich man summoned one of his secretaries and explained, "I promised this boy's father many years ago that I would give him ten thousand rupees if I became rich and great. I can say that I have been rich for seven years; now you please calculate how much interest I have to give him in addition to the ten thousand rupees."

The secretary told him, "Seven thousand rupees, which makes it seventeen thousand altogether."

The rich man immediately issued a check for seventeen thousand rupees and gave it to the little boy, saying, "Take this directly to your mother. Don't go anywhere else first."

This is how one sincere man kept his promise.

The prince receives punishment

There was once a king who had only one son. One day a complaint came to the king that the prince had become extremely violent while he was playing with another teenager. He had broken the rules of the game and struck his friend very severely. The other teenager's head had begun bleeding profusely.

When the king got the message, he was horrified. He went to the magistrate and said, "Since he is my son, I don't want to deal with his case. You please look into the matter."

The magistrate summoned the king's son and also the friend who had been hurt. The magistrate saw that both of them were minors. He felt miserable that he had to punish the prince, so he went to the king and said, "Your Majesty, both these boys are minors, and your son is such a good boy. While playing, perhaps he lost control of himself. But he does not deserve punishment."

The king said, "He does not deserve punishment? Then who deserves it?"

The king summoned the prince and his friend and said to the friend, "In front of me you have to strike my son the way he struck you. Only if his head bleeds will I be satisfied. Otherwise, the punishment will not be just."

The boy started trembling. He was afraid to hit the prince.

The king said, "If you do not obey my order, you will be punished! One day my son will rule the kingdom. He has to learn how to control himself."

Still the boy was afraid. The king insisted, "You have to obey me!" he said.

Finally the boy started striking the prince very hard. The king was satisfied only when his son's head started bleeding. The prince was crying, but what could he do? This was his father's order. In this way the king taught his son self-control.

The kind-hearted king

There was once a very kind-hearted king. He was always considerate, compassionate and generous to his subjects. One day he got a complaint from a teacher who said that his students were so unmanageable that he did not know what to do with them. He even had to strike his students because they would not behave well.

The king summoned the teacher and told him, "It is not good to beat your students." Then he called to his palace all the students who had been beaten and presented them with extremely beautiful and expensive gifts. He also gave them three weeks' leave from school.

Another time the king was supposed to give a talk at a particular hall. When the king arrived, he saw that the door was closed, and the guard was lying down in front of the door fast asleep. The king's friends and admirers got furious. But what did the king do? Instead of scolding the guard, he got mad at his friends and admirers! He said, "Poor fellow, he is tired, exhausted. We can't be unkind to him. I was supposed to give a talk here, but let us go to some other place instead."

Then the king told one of his very faithful officers to watch over the sleeping guard so that nobody would disturb him. In this way he made sure that the man could enjoy uninterrupted sleep.

The king's cousin

One day a young man came to a certain king and said, "Please, please appoint me to a high post. I am the cousin of the neighbouring king, who is a good friend of yours. This particular king always speaks highly of you. Therefore, I would like to serve you."

The king appointed him to an important post in his army. The man did a very good job, and the king was quite pleased.

In a few years' time it happened that the neighbouring king invited this particular king to come to his palace. Of course, the king accepted the invitation and asked the young man to accompany him. The young man, who by then had a very high post, became very frightened. He knew that he would be caught because he was not really the other king's cousin.

On the day the king was to leave, the high-ranking officer fell at his feet and started crying. The king said, "You are a military man. What are you doing?"

The man said, "Forgive me. I am not the cousin of that other king. I cannot go there."

The king said, "No, you have to go! Everybody respects you and thinks that you belong to a royal family because I gave you such an important post. Now I have to prove to everybody that you really do belong to a royal family. Since you are not the other king's cousin, you have to become a member of my family. You have to get married to a member of the royal family and become my son-in-law." In this way the king saved the officer's reputation.

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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