A Royal Thief-Catcher Mar 5, 2009 4:03:16 GMT -5
Post by on Mar 5, 2009 4:03:16 GMT -5
In one of the smaller cities of India called Sravasti the people gathered together on a very hot day to stare at and talk about a stranger, who had come in to the town, looking very weary and walking with great difficulty because his feet were sore with tramping for a long distance on the rough roads. He was a Brahman, that is to say, a man who devoted his whole life to prayer, and had promised to give up everything for the sake of pleasing the god in whom he believed, and to care nothing for comfort, for riches, or for good food.
This Brahman carried nothing with him but a staff to help him along, and a bowl in which to receive the offerings of those who thought it their duty to help him and hoped by doing so to win favor in the sight of God. He was naked, except for a cloth worn about his loins, and his long hair was all matted together for want of combing and brushing. He made his way very slowly and painfully through the crowds, till he came to a shady corner, and there he sank down exhausted, holding out his bowl for the gifts of the people. Very soon his bowl would have been full of all sorts of good things, but he made it clear that he would accept nothing to eat except rice still in the husk, and nothing to drink but pure water. He was however willing to take money; and when the people who wished to help him found that out, they brought him a good many silver and gold pieces. Some who had no money to spare gave him jewels and other things which could be sold for money.
As time went on, the Brahman became very well known in Sravasti. His fame indeed spread far beyond the town, and people came from far away to consult him about all sorts of things, and he gave them good advice, for he was a very wise man. Those who wanted him to tell them what to do paid him for his advice, and as some of them had plenty of money and were glad to help him, he soon became quite rich. He might have done a great deal of good with all this money by helping the poor and suffering, but unfortunately he never thought of doing so. Instead of that, he got to love the money for its own sake. At night, when all those who had come to see him had gone to rest, and there was no fear of his being found out, he used to steal away into the forest, and there he dug a deep hole at the root of a great tree, to which he took all his money and jewels.
In India everybody has a siesta, that is to say, a sleep in the middle of the day, because the heat is so great it is difficult to keep well and strong without this extra rest. So, although it is quite light at the time, the streets are deserted, except for the dogs who prowl about, trying to find something to eat. Now the Brahman loved his money and other treasures so much, that he used very often to do without this siesta and go to the forest to enjoy the pleasure of looking at them. When he got to the tree, he would bend down, clear away the earth and leaves with which he had hidden his secret hole, take out the money and let it slip through his fingers, and hold up the jewels to the light, to watch how they gleamed and glistened. He was never so happy as when he was alone with his riches, and it was all he could do to tear himself away from them when the time came to go back to his shady corner. In fact he was becoming a selfish miser instead of the holy man the people of Sravasti thought he was. By the time the siesta was over he was always back again in his place beneath the tree, holding out his bowl and looking as poor and thin as ever, so that nobody had the least idea of the truth.
For many months the Brahman led this double life; until one day, when he went as usual to his hiding-place, he saw at once that some one had been there before him. Eagerly he knelt down, full of fear of exactly what had actually happened. All his care in concealing the hole had been wasted, for it was quite empty. The poor man could not at first believe his own eyes. He rubbed them hard, thinking that there was something the matter with them. Then he felt round and round the hole, hoping that after all he was mistaken; and when at last he was obliged to believe the terrible truth that there really was not a sign of his money and jewels, he became almost mad with misery. He began to run from tree to tree, peering into their roots, and when there was nothing to be seen, he rushed back again to his empty hole, to look into it once more. Then he wept and tore at his hair, stamped about and cried aloud to all the gods he believed in, making all kinds of promises, of what he would do if only they would give him back his treasures. No answer came, and he began to wonder who could have done such a terrible thing. It must, he felt sure, have been one of the people of Sravasti; and he now remembered he had noticed that a good many of them had looked into his bowl with longing eyes, when they saw the money and precious stones in it. "What horrible, wicked people they are," he said to himself. "I hate them. I should like to hurt them as they have hurt me." As he thought in this way he got more and more angry, until he became quite worn out with giving way to his rage.
After roaming about in the forest for a long time, the Brahman went back to the house in Sravasti where some kind people had lent him a room, glad and proud to have such a holy man, as they thought he was, living under their roof. He felt sure they had had nothing to do with the loss of his treasure, because they had given him many proofs of their goodness and honesty. Soon he was pouring out all his grief to them, and they did all they could to comfort him, telling him that he would very soon have plenty more money and jewels. They let him see however that they thought it was mean of him to hide away his riches, instead of using them to help the poor and suffering; and this added very much to his rage. At last he lost all self-control and cried, "It is not worth while for me to live any longer. I will go to some holy place of pilgrimage by the banks of the river, and there I will starve myself to death."
A place of pilgrimage, you know, is one where some great event, generally connected with religion, has taken place, to which pilgrims go to pray in the hope of winning some special favor from God. The word pilgrim means a wanderer, but it has come in course of time to signify any traveler who comes from a distance to some such place. Benares in India is a very famous place of pilgrimage, because it is on the River Ganges, which the Hindus worship and love, believing that its waters can wash away their sins. Hundreds and thousands of Hindus go there every year to bathe in it, and many who know that they have not long to live wait on its banks to die, so that after their bodies have been burnt, as is the custom with the Hindus, their ashes may be thrown into the sacred stream.
The news of the Brahman's loss spread very quickly through Sravasti; and as is so often the case, every one who told the story made it a little different, so that it became very difficult to know what the truth really was. There was great distress in the town, because the people thought the Brahman would go away, and they did not want him to do that. They were proud of having a man they thought so holy, living amongst them, and ashamed that he should have been robbed whilst he was with them. When they heard that he meant to starve himself to death, they were dreadfully shocked, and determined to do all they possibly could to prevent it. One after another of the chief men of Sravasti came to see him, and entreated him not to be in such a hurry to be sure that his treasure would never be found. They said they would all do everything they possibly could to get it back for him. Some of them thought it was very wrong of him to make such a fuss about it, and blamed him for being a miser. They told him it was foolish to care so much for what he could not take with him when he died, and one especially wise old man gave him a long lecture on the wickedness of taking away the life which had been given to him by God to prepare for that in the other world. "Put the idea of starving yourself out of your head," he said, "and whilst we are seeking your treasure, go on as you did before you lost it. Next time you have any money and jewels, turn them to good account instead of hoarding them up."
In spite of all that any one could say to him, the Brahman was quite determined that he would not live any longer. He set off to the place of pilgrimage he had chosen, taking no notice of any one he met, but just marching steadily on. At first a number of people followed him, but by degrees they left off doing so, and soon he was quite alone. Presently however he could not help noticing a man approaching from the direction in which he was going. Very tall, very handsome, very dignified, this man was one whom no one could fail to admire, even if he had been only an ordinary person. But he was the king of the whole country, whose name was Prasnajit; and a little distance behind him were a number of his attendants, waiting to obey his orders. Everybody, even the Brahman, loved the king, because he took such a very great interest in his people and was always trying to do them good. He had heard all about the loss of the money, and was very much vexed that such a thing should have happened in his land. He had also heard that the Brahman meant to kill himself, and this distressed him more than anything else, because he thought it a very wicked and terrible thing to do.
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