The Boatman and the Philosopher
Long ago, a learned Hindu philosopher who was thoroughly but theoretically versed in the four vast Hindu bibles, wanted to cross to the other side of the holy Ganges River in India. He engaged a lone boatman to carry him across in a rowboat. The proud Hindu philosopher, knower of the four Hindu bibles, finding nothing to occupy his mind, wanted to show off his knowledge to the boatman.
With this goal in mind, the Hindu philosopher asked, “Boatman, have you studied the first Hindu bible?” The boatman replied, “No sir. I don’t know anything about the first Hindu bible.” The Hindu philosopher, looking very wise, remarked pityingly, “Mr. Boatman, I am sorry to declare unto you that 25 per cent of your life is lost.”
The boatman swallowed this insult and kept on quietly rowing his boat. When the boat had gone some distance across the Ganges, the Hindu philosopher, his eyes sparkling with unholy wisdom, exclaimed loudly, “Mr. Boatman, I must ask you: have you studied the second Hindu bible?”
This question roused the boatman and he replied, “Sir, I tell you definitely that I know nothing about the second Hindu bible.” To this the Hindu philosopher replied with cool amusement, “Mr. Boatman, I am very sorry to declare unto you that 50 per cent of your life is lost.”
The boatman angrily settled down to his work at the oars. When the boat had reached the middle of the river and the wind was blowing a bit strongly, for the third time the Hindu philosopher’s eyes glistened with superiority and he demanded, “Mr. Boatman tell me: have you studied the third Hindu bible?”
By this time the boatman was beside himself with wrath and he shouted, “Mr. Philosopher, I am sorry you cannot find anybody else to practice your knowledge upon. I told you I don’t know anything about the Hindu bibles.”
The philosopher, in gloating triumph and with pseudo-wisdom resounding in his voice, declared nonchalantly, “Mr. Boatman, I am sorry to announce unto you that 75 per cent of your life is lost.” The boatman kept mumbling and somehow swallowed the words of this impossible philosopher.
Ten more minutes passed. Suddenly a demon of a storm seared the veils of the clouds and sprang over the waters of the river, lashing it into furiously excited waves. The boat began to rock like a little floating leaf in the madly raging river current.
The philosopher was shivering and trembling, while the boatman with a smile of assurance on his face looked at him and said, “Mr. Philosopher, you pelted me with many questions. May I now ask you one?” Receiving an affirmative reply, the boatman said, “Mr. Hindu Philosopher, knower of the four Hindu bibles, you established that 75 per cent of my life was lost. Now I will ask you a question: Do you know how to swim?”
To this question the Hindu philosopher tremblingly replied, “No, dear boatman. I cannot swim.” Then the boatman, with victorious indifference, smilingly replied, “Mr. Hindu Philosopher, knower of the four Hindu bibles, I am sorry to declare unto you that 100 per cent of your life is soon going to be lost.”
Just at that moment, as if fulfilling the prophecy of the boatman, a furious gust upset the boat, drowning the philosopher. The boatman, by powerful strokes, overcame the waves and reached the shores of the Ganges in safety.
The moral of this story: No matter how prosperous or powerful you are, unless you learn the art of right behavior and right living, you will drown in the seas of difficulty. But if you know the art of swimming across life’s tumultuous river by initiating the right actions at the right time, with powerful strokes of will power, you will be able to transcend the tests of life and reach the shores of perfect contentment.
From the Praecepta Lessons, 1938.
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