There was a feeling of anticipation and excitement amongst the seventy or so people who lived in a remote location on a mountainside, for a highly revered Saint was due to arrive in their village the following day.
He was to stay overnight. The Saint’s reputation for maintaining a silent state preceded him. He was a man of very few words; however, his words were said to be profound and worth their weight in gold.
The great Saint sent forth a disciple to inform the village people they could ask him two questions, and he would answer them. The disciple recommended they choose their questions very carefully, and then to listen even more carefully to the Saint’s reply.
The pressure to find the best questions caused competition amongst the village people. Many very clever questions were put forward, only to be dismissed by another person who proposed an even cleverer question. Squabbles broke out and many feared that they would be unable to agree on two questions before the Saint’s arrival. Fierce debate raged through the night. In the morning, only three people remained: the local priest, a much respected elder (a house-holder) and a hermit (a renunciate). After further discussion, the three men finally agreed on two questions.
Meanwhile, the village people had come together to wait for the Saint’s arrival. They built a small dais under the shelter of a large evergreen oak and decorated the dais with mango leaves and fragrant flowers. They also filled a large basket with fruit. There was a hush from the crowd when the Saint appeared. He bowed before the villagers respectfully and motioned with an elegant hand movement for all the women and children sitting in the hot sun to move closer and share the shade with him. The women offered the Saint and his disciples refreshments, which they gratefully accepted, and then the Saint climbed onto the dais and sat down in a cross-legged position. He motioned for the people to come closer.
One by one, the people came forward and received darshan (blessed glance) from the Saint, he handed each of them a piece of fruit as prasad (blessed food). Some brought with them a little flower or a flower garland or some other little gift, which the Saint received graciously. Afterwards, the priest moved towards the dais, nearer the Saint. “Dear Teacher, we have agreed on two questions we wish to put before you.”
The Saint smiled sweetly.
The priest continued. “Please tell us the quickest method to find liberation? Is it through repetition of the holy Names or is it through austerities? Some people believe the quickest method is found by listening to or reciting the Holy Scriptures, while leading a Godly life. Others say with firm conviction prayer and meditation is the superior way. Some insist we should leave the household, and live alone. Could it be the quickest way is found by remaining a house-holder and offering selfless service, giving alms, going on a pilgrimage? Controlling the senses?”
The list continued for several minutes and countless other things were mentioned.
When the priest sat down; there was pin-drop silence and all listened attentively to hear the Saint’s reply.
The Saint smiled broadly and replied: “The quickest way to liberation is found in the company of a Saint.”
The priest allowed no time for the audience to digest the Saint’s reply; instead he rose quickly to his feet and spoke again. “O Learned One, we have a further question, a few of us differ in opinion and believe our own chosen way to God to be superior. Kindly tell us who amongst us is the closest to transcending illusion and finding release from the wheel of life?”
The Saint replied: “You may ask your second question – tomorrow.”
That night the priest, the elder, and the hermit each had a dream. They gathered together in the early hours of the morning before dawn in the garden where the dais had been erected, all three were wide awake, and wanted to discuss their thoughts. The hermit rekindled a small fire with dry twigs.
The elder spoke first: “It is plain none of us can sleep, I feel embarrassed to repeat the second question to this great Saint, I have been thinking about the reply of the Saint to our first question and now realize that this second question is not worthy.”
The priest turned to the hermit and asked: “Do you think we should change our second question?”
The hermit nodded his agreement and said: “The truth is I favored the second question because I believed I was closest to the goal, instead the Saint has shown me what a great fool I am. I thank him for that. Last night I had a dream. I was at a feast, every tasty food imaginable was laid before me, and I ate heartily. I was surrounded by the family and friends I had left behind many years ago. The Saint appeared, and he spoke to me but I didn’t listen. There was such a racket going on, my attention remained on the old faces I have loved, and then he disappeared.”
The priest said: “I feel humbled by your confession and must admit – I believed I would be the one singled out by the Saint as the most spiritually advanced, due to my vast knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and my dedication to God. The Saint also appeared to me briefly in a dream. I was busy reciting the scriptures, he said something, but I also could not hear his words, because my own voice was too loud and it drowned out the voice of the Saint. Then he vanished.”
The elder mumbled under his breath, “Divinity has a human face!” He paused for a few moments, and then regained his train of thought. “I also dreamed about the Saint,” The elder sighed: “Such sweetness, such beauty! Smiling, smiling, smiling, his pure love. He spoke to me also but I was unable to hear him, because I was complaining about my legs and back and how they ached from years of prayer, and how I worried about the weight I had lost from fasting. When I became aware again, he was gone. I never believed the Saint would choose me as the most spiritually advanced. The sad truth is I was tired and hungry and sick of the arguments. I agreed on the two questions only to put an end to our discussion.”
The priest asked earnestly: “What do these dreams mean?”
The hermit answered: “The Saint has shown us something very precious. Dive deep my friend and find the pearls! They will have more value if you bring them up yourself.”
The elder lamented in a soft voice: “Yes, I will think long on this dream, and his radiance will stay with me. This Saint has affected me deeply. If only my attention had remained on him.”
The proposed time to meet with the Saint arrived. Together, the three men stood before the Saint, their heads bowed low. They each touched the feet of the Saint with great reverence.
The priest broke the silence: “Blessed One, we have realized the futility of our second question, please address the real problem at hand, and give us the remedy too, we wish your words to profit all who listen.”
The Saint’s face glowed with joy and delight; he touched each man firmly on the head.
The priest added: “Now we are ready to listen!”
In simple language the Saint explained to the people about the illusory character of Maya. He emphasized how imperative it is to take the Guru’s teachings and to practice them in daily life; he described how many clever ones had remained in delusion.
Before the Saint left the village, he stood before the three men once more and spoke to them tenderly with all love: “The way out of suffering is through faith and devotion. Just give your heart, my dear!”