In the depths of a jungle in India lived a holy Master and his disciples. Far removed from worldly desires and sense-drugging environments, these childlike devotees of simplicity led a simple, natural life, free from the burdens of unfulfilled ever-increasing hopes.
Master and disciples woke with the dawn, spreading their prayers with the sun rays and subsisting on jungle fruits and roots. They slept beneath the Nature-hewn caves on the lower spur of the forest-hills.
Disciple Rama had renounced the sophisticated environment of his parental manor and had joined the jungle hermitage in order to live its very simple life. As time went by, however, Rama began to display his usual over-critical spirit and started finding fault with the simple disciplinary duties of the hermitage.
His Master had warned him not to go to extremes, but nonetheless, one day Rama said to his Master:
“Honored sir, I find I have left one family only to get into another, larger family here. I used to perform duties at home and here I have to do the same thing. At home we ate and worried about food and cleanliness, and I see that we do the same thing here.
“Master, I am fed up with the material duties of your hermitage, which are nothing but substitutes for the worldly duties I performed at home. I want to get away from all materiality and live in solitude by myself in the temple of contemplation.”
The Master answered warningly: “Son, you may go, but beware that you don’t get enmeshed in delusion by living surrounded only by your own erroneous thoughts. You may escape the good people of the hermitage, who are far better than worldly people, but it will be very difficult for you to fly from your own restless thoughts, which may lead you astray.”
Rama paid no heed to the entreaties of his Master and fellow-disciples and sallied forth in search of a solitary spot. To be free from all encumbrances, Rama left behind all the simple belongings of his hermitage-life, taking with him only two pieces of rag to serve as loincloths, and a begging bowl for water.
At last Rama found a very quiet place on the top of a hill at the outskirts of the jungle and the local village. His home was now a hollow rocky ledge under a huge shade tree. The first night passed in peace, though he was lulled to sleep by the howling of jackals, coyotes, and jungle tigers.
When dawn arrived, the young anchorite, Rama, was dismayed to see that a mouse had made a few small holes in the second piece of rag, which he had hung on a tree branch. That silent thief–a nocturnal monkey–had stolen his begging bowl.
Rama thought: “Heavenly Father, I left all for You and now You have taken my bowl and sent a mouse to make holes in my very last possession — the piece of rag.”
At this moment a villager was passing by the rock, and having caught sight of the young anchorite, halted to pay him respect. Seeing that he was worried, he inquired: “Honored Saint, prithee tell me what is worrying you?”
On hearing about the rag, the villager advised, “Your Holiness, why don’t you keep a cat to frighten away the mice?”
“That is a marvelous idea, but where will I get a cat,” remarked Rama anxiously. “Well, that can easily be fixed, for I will bring you a cat tomorrow,” replied the villager.
The next day Rama added to his possessions a fuzzy Persian cat. This solved the problem of the rag, for the mice knew better than to hazard death for a tiny bit of rag.
Every day, with a newly acquired begging bowl, Rama would go to the village to fetch milk for his cat. A year went by and the villagers ungrudgingly supplied free milk for Rama and his cat. Then one day, the village elder said to Rama as he begged for milk, “Holy Rama, we are tired of supplying you with milk.”
“But how is my cat going to live?” retorted Rama. “Why don’t you keep a cow?” replied the village elder. “How can I get one?” asked Rama. “I will give you one right now,” was the village elder’s happy answer.
Rama, beside himself with joy, returned to his sylvan home with a cow. Now Rama, the cat, and the cow formed a nice family, cheering one another in mutual language of affection. This cow, which was known as the “Saint’s Cow,” would roam about, marauding the paddy fields of the villagers for food, causing them extreme anguish.
Another year passed, and finally one day the villagers came in a group and complained about the ravages wrought by the “Saint’s Cow.”
“Well, how am I going to feed my cow?” asked Rama. “Why don’t you have your own land? We will give you a twenty-five acre piece of land,” the villagers said.
Rama was delighted with this. He gathered together the children of the village and, exhorting them in the name of God, had them build a cottage-hermitage, till his soil, feed his cat and cow, and, in short, do all the hard work required on his farm, for no pay.
The villagers mutely tolerated these saintly privileges for two whole years until they found that they could not get their children to perform their own duties at home. In a body they went to Rama and complained.
“Your Holiness, we shall have to stop loaning you our children to do the work on your farm. Our own farms remain neglected without the help of our children.”
“Well, how am I going to manage my farm without the help of your children?” asked Rama.
“Why don’t you get a mate and raise your own children? Any of us will be happy to give you a marriageable daughter. It will be an honor, for you will be a wonderful spiritual husband,” cried the villagers in unison.
“That is a brilliant idea,” cried Rama.
In a month Rama was getting ready to be married, when his Master, alerted by intuition, came to the rescue. The Master, on meeting Rama, said, “I thought you left the hermitage to get rid of material duties, and now I see you have a cat, a cow, land, home, and I hear that you are going to get married. What is the matter with you?”
“Well, Master,” cried Rama, “This is all for a rag. I got the cat to save my rag, and took the cow to feed my cat, and accepted the land to supply my cow with fodder, and now I have planned to marry to have children to work on my farm because the villagers refused to lend me their children.”
After Master and disciple had indulged in a hearty laugh, Rama left his newly acquired family and farmhouse and returned to live under the benign wisdom-saturated influence of the jungle hermitage.
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This story illustrates that if you leave the world for God, see that you also forsake worldly thoughts from within. Otherwise, wherever you go, your worldliness will go with you, attracting to you a worldly environment.
Live simply if you are a renunciate. Do not complicate a boiled-down material existence and entangle yourself in material things, gathered in the name of spiritual necessity.
This story illustrates also that one must never go to extremes in the spiritual life, but by gradual steps, conquer the sense-inclined mind.
Finally, this story shows that no one should live without performing some material duties. But it is better to perform material duties in the company of wisdom-guided people than among materially-minded relatives, or in the company of one’s own habit-governed mind.
This article first appeared in print in Summer 2009: “ALL FOR A RAG,” Swami Kriyananda, Clarity Magazine.
From the Praecepta Lessons, Vol. 3, 68-70, 1938
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Aha, lovely story.
Inspiring and a lesson to all on spiritual path!
Replete with divine wisdom.. simply illustrated but with layers and layers of food for thought. Wonderful!! When we are yet in the material world physically and mentally, and with our as yet limited hold on senses, to consider or rather dare to divorce ourselves completely of material duties is foolhardy.
Great story with thought evoking lessons about living a spiritual life. Easy does it and simplicity are true lessons. I understand what it is like to be absorbed in my ego’s ideas. I have always received much better gifts of thought when I attune myself with God’s divine inspiration. :)