Everyone is great in his place: be it a householder or a saint
This is a bit long story of a king and his endeavour in knowing the greater man- he who is a householder or a sannyasin.
A certain king used to inquire of all the sannyasins that came to his country, “Which is the greater man- he who gives up the world and becomes a sannyasin, or who lives in the world and performs his duties as a householder? Many wise men sought to solve the problem. Some asserted that the sannyasin is the greater, upon which the king demanded that they should prove their assertion. When they could not, he ordered them to marry and become householders. The others came and called householders as the greater, but they could not prove their assertion. Hence the king also ordered them to marry.
At last there came a young sannyasin, and the king similarly inquired him also. He answered, “Each, O king, is equally great in his place.” “Prove this to me”, asked the king. “I will prove it to you”, said the sannyasin, “but you must come and live as I do for a few days, that I may be able to prove what I say.” The king consented and followed the sannyasin out of his own territory and passed through many other countries until they came to a great kingdom. In the capital of that kingdom a great ceremony was going on. The king and the sannyasin heard the noise of the drums and music, and heard also the criers; the people were assembled in the streets in gala dress, and a great proclamation made. The king and the sannyasin stood there to see what was going on. The crier was proclaiming loudly that the princess, daughter of the king of that country, was about to choose a husband from among those assembled before her.
It was an old custom in India for princesses to choose husbands in this way. Each princess had certain ideas of the sort of man she wanted for a husband; some would have the handsomest man; others would only have the most learned; others again the richest, and so on. All the princess of neighbourhood put on their bravest attire and presented themselves before her. Sometimes they too had their own criers to enumerate their advantages and the reasons why they hoped the princess would choose them. If she was not pleased with what she saw and heard, she said to her bearers, “Move on”, and no more notice was taken of the rejected suitors. If, however, the princess was pleased with any one of them, she threw a garland of flowers over him, and he became her husband.
The princess of the country to which our king and the sannyasin had come was having one of these interesting ceremonies. She was the most beautiful princess in the world, and the husband of the princess would be ruler of the kingdom after her father’s death. The idea of this princess was to marry the handsomest man but, she could not find the right one to please her. Several times these meetings had taken place, but the princess could not select a husband. This meeting was the splendid of all; more people than ever had come to it. The princess came in on a throne, and the bearers carried her from place to place. She did not seem to care for anyone, and everyone became disappointed that this meeting was also going to be a failure. Just then came a young man, a sannyasin, handsome as if the sun had come down to the earth, and stood one corner of the assembly watching what was going on. The throne with the princess came near him, and as soon as she saw the beautiful sannyasin, she stopped and threw the garland over him. The young sannyasin seized the garland and threw it off, exclaiming, what nonsense is this? I am a sannyasin. What is marriage to me? The king of that country thought that this man was poor and so dared not marry the princess, and said to him, “ With my daughter goes half my kingdom now, and the whole kingdom after my death!” and put the garland again on the sannyasin. The young man threw it off once more, saying, “Nonsense! I do not want to marry”, and walked quickly away from the assembly.
Now the princess had fallen so much in love with this young man that she said, “I must marry this man or I shall die”. And she went after him to bring her back. Then our other sannyasin, who had brought the king there, said to him, “king, and let us follow this pair”. So they followed him at a good distance behind. The young sannyasin who had refused to marry the princess walked out into the country for several miles. Then he came to a forest and entered into it, the princess followed them. Now this sanyasin was very well acquainted with that forest and knew all the intricate paths in it. He suddenly entered into one of these and disappeared, and the princess could not discover him. After trying long time to find him, she sat down under a tree and began to weep, for she did not know the way out. Then our king and the other sannyasin came up to her and said, “Do not weep; we will show you the way out of this forest, but it is too dark to find it now. Here is a big tree; let us rest under it, and in the morning we will go early and show the road.”
Now a little bird and his wife and their three little ones lived in that tree in a nest. This little bird looked down and saw the three people under the tree and said to his wife, “My dear, what shall we do? Here are some guests in the house, and it is winter, and we have no fire.” So he flew away and got a bit of burning firewood in his beak and dropped it before the guests, to which they added fuel and made a blazing fire. But the little bird was not satisfied. He said again to his wife, “My dear what shall we do? There is nothing to give these people to eat, and they are hungry. We are householders; it is our duty to feed anyone who comes to the house. I must do what I can, I will give them my body.” So he plunged into the midst of the fire and perished. The guests saw him falling and tried to save him, but he was too quick for them.
The little bird’s wife saw what her husband did, and she said, “Here are three persons and only one little bird for them to eat. It is not enough; it is my duty as a wife not to let my husband’s effort go in vein; let them have my body also.” Then she fell into the fire and was burned to death.
Then the three baby-birds, when they saw what was done and there was still not enough food for the guests, said, “Our parents have done what they could and still it is not enough. It is our duty to carry on the work of our parents; let our bodies go too.” And they all dashed down into the fire also.
Amazed at what he saw, the three people could not of course eat these birds. They passed the night without food, and in the morning the king and the sanyasin showed the princess the way and she went back to her father.
Then the sannyasin said to the king, “King, you have seen that each is great in his own place. If you want to live in the world, live like those birds, ready at any moment to sacrifice yourself for others. If you want to renounce the world, be like the young sanyasinto whom the most beautiful woman and the kingdom were as nothing. If you want to be householder, hold your life of renunciation; do not even look at beauty, and money, and power. Each is great in his own place, but the duty of the one is not the duty of the other.”