THE PAUPER AND THE ALL-KNOWING SAGE
Discovering the fortune of devotion.
Adapted from a parable by Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur.
Once, a poor brahman was struggling to take care of his many young children. Poverty stricken, the brahman would constantly lament and cry. His neighbours did not sympathise with him at all; they would ignore his plight and from time to time even come over to mock him. They would also slander him in various ways, saying things like, “This brahman is actually very rich. He is just making a show of being poor as ploy to get money from others without doing any work.”
On the one hand, the brahman was suffering greatly from poverty, and on the other, he was heartbroken by the neglect and ridicule he received from his community.
One day, an all-knowing sage named Sarvajna happened to pass by the home of this poor brahman. Seeing the brahman sadly lamenting, Sarvajna said, “O brahman, why are you so upset? Your father was extremely wealthy, and before he passed away, he buried all his savings right here in this courtyard. Do you not know that? Perhaps thinking you would misuse it, your father did not tell you about. If you are willing to labour briefly to dig up the treasure your father has left for you, you will be immensely rich in just a few minutes.”
Saying this, Sarvajna pointed to the courtyard where the treasure was buried, and the brahman immediately took up a spade and rushed forward to dig. He began on the southern side of the courtyard. Just as he started, however, Sarvajna said to him, “O brahman! Beware! Don’t dig on the southern side of the courtyard. There is a large hornets’ nest there, and if you start to dig, they will arise in a swarm and bite you in mass.”
Listening to Sarvajna’s words, the brahman ran across the courtyard and started to dig on exactly the opposite side in the north. But again, Sarvajna cautioned the brahman, “O brahman, be careful! On this northern side lives a large black python, and he is even more dangerous than the hornets. If he strikes, you will be devoured whole.”
The brahman then tiptoed over to the western side of the courtyard and cautiously began to dig. But again, Sarvajna warned the brahman, “There you have to be even more careful! A ghost lives there and keeps watch over your father’s treasure. If anyone tries to take it, he kills them. This ghost is a very fearsome entity.”
At this point, the brahman became frustrated. He was exhausted, distressed, and hopeless, and he began to doubt Sarvajna’s honesty and motive, “Alas! You too have come here only to torment me! I am hungry, thirsty, weak, and tired. I have no prospect of relief from anywhere, and my neighbours simply harass me. Somehow or other, I am barely able to continue my life. But seeing me in this condition, you too have come here only to allure with the promise of wealth, manipulate me, and lastly leave me in despair! I can’t go on any more, but I can’t give up my life either because I have to somehow provide for all my children. My life is simply misery!”
Sarvajna listen patiently and then gently replied, “O brahman, please don’t get upset, and please have confidence in what I am saying to you. Seeing you in such a miserable condition and wanting only to help you, I have stopped here, informed you of your inheritance, and shown you where you can reclaim it. You of your own accord have run to dig it up in various places but have so happened to get yourself into danger. I have simply warned you about the dangers around you to protect you. I am not mocking you or trying to torment you. Rather, I am helping you safely discover your father’s treasure and have a prosperous life in the future.
“Wherever there is a great thing, there are always many obstacles surrounding it. Your father was very intelligent, and he hid his treasure on the east side of this courtyard because he knew it was well protected on all other sides by the hornets in the south, the python in the north, and the ghost in the west. You wouldn’t have had to encounter all these dangers if you have asked me where exactly to dig before running off to claim the treasure. So now that you are listening, I can tell you that if you just dig a little bit over there on the eastern side of the courtyard, you will easily find your father’s treasure.”
Reflecting on Sarvajna’s words and the turn of events, the brahman regained faith in Sarvajna and calmly went over and began to dig up the earth on the eastern side of the courtyard. Within a few minutes, he was overjoyed to find his father’s golden urn filled with gold coins and other riches.
All the brahman’s woes soon disappeared, and he lived a happy and prosperous life thereafter.
The pauper represents a soul struggling through their sojourn in samsara. The pauper’s poverty represents the unavoidable suffering found within samsara: birth, death, old age, disease, fear, and so forth.
The pauper’s father represents Krishna, the all-loving, original Supreme Being who is the progenitor of all living entities in existence. The pauper’s inheritance, the treasure left by the pauper’s father, represents the blissful nature of the soul: the soul’s natural propensity to serve the Supreme Soul Krishna (this is, bhakti) and the capacity to do so with pure selfless love (prema). The pauper’s unawareness of his inheritance represents maya, the illusion in which souls struggle to find sustenance and fulfilment within the world of samsara.
Sarvajna represents the manifest grace of Sri Krishna: the revealed scriptures, the enlightened spiritual master (Sad-guru), and the spiritual conscience within awakened by good fortune (sukrti).
Sarvajna’s travelling and advising the pauper represent the compassion for others’ suffering that pure-hearted servants of the Supreme naturally feel within their hearts.
The western side on which the pauper first began to dig represents the path of dutiful action (karma-yoga). On this path, people seek happiness and relief from suffering by living and acting virtuously. The hornets that attack one on this path represent one’s inevitably unfulfiled desires that remain and the reactions that all actions within the world of samsara produce.
The pauper’s turning from the south to its opposite the north represents the path of renunciation (jnana-yoga). Persons who have become frustrated with their desires and material existence resort to this path when they lack understanding of their higher spiritual nature and prospect. The black python that lies on the northern side of the courtyard represents prakrta-nirvana, the state of dissolving one’s individual existence into the subltemost, undifferentiated state of material energy (the goal sought by most followers of the Buddha). It also represents brahma-nirvana, the state of dissolving one’s individual existence into the plane of undifferentiated spiritual energy (the goal sought by most followers of Sankar Acharya).
The west represents the path of yoga, which people turn to out of a mixture of renunciation and desire. The ghost guarding the treasure in the west represents yoga-siddhis (magnificent powers produced by advanced yoga practice), which allure one away from the true nature and function of the self and lastly inspire one to seek to dissolve one’s individual soul into the Supreme Soul.
The pauper’s not listening to Sarvajna represents the conditioned soul’s ego, the assumption that one is able to find complete fulfilment all on one’s own. The pauper’s frustration represents the suffering that souls undergo in life primary as a result of their own misinformed attempts to find happiness.
The eastern side represents the path of devotion (bhakti). When one sincerely accepts this path, then within a short time one can uncover their inner treasure, divine love (prema), which is the greatest wealth through the whole of the world, the whole of the material and spiritual realms.
As a person who discovers a great treasure becomes free from poverty and its troubles, so one who discovers the soul’s treasure of divine love becomes free from worldly suffering and conditioning. But just as wealth is not happiness itself but rather a means in the pursuit of happiness, so becoming free from worldly concerns is not the primary effect of developing divine love but rather is a natural bi-product of it which helps to facilitate one’s constant absorption in it.
Krishna, devotion to Krishna, and love for Krishna—these are the three great eternal treasures of the soul, the attainment of which makes the life of every soul in this world and the next sublime in every respect.
This illustration was used by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in His teachings to Srila Sanatan Goswami to say that Sri Krishna is the soul’s true guardian, devotion to Krishna is the soul’s true dharma, and the joy of selfless loving service to Krishna is the soul’s highest attainment. The text is as follows (Sri Chaitanya-charitamrta: Madhya-lila, 20.127–143):
ihate drstanta—yaichhe daridrera ghare
‘sarvajna’ asi’ duhkha dekhi’ puchhaye tahare
[Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to Srila Sanatan Goswami:] There is an illustration in this connection. Once, Sarvajna, an all-knowing sage, came to the home of a pauper, saw that he was unhappy, and questioned him.
tumi kene eta duhkhi, tomara achhe pitr-dhana
tomare na kahila, anyatra chhadila jivana
“Why are you so unhappy? Your father’s treasure is there for you. He did not tell you this, however, and gave up his life elsewhere.”
sarvajnera vakye kare dhanera uddese
aichhe veda-purana jive ‘krsna’ upadese
Sarvajna’s words direct the pauper to his treasure. Similarly, the Vedas and Puranas teach souls about Krishna.
sarvajnera vakye mula-dhana anubandha
sarva-sastre upadese, ‘sri-krsna’—sambandha
Sarvajna’s words direct the pauper to his original treasure. Similarly, all the scriptures teach that Sri Krishna is sambandha (our .
bapera dhana achhe—jane, dhana nahi paya
sarvajna kahe tare praptira upaya
The pauper will not receive his father’s treasure only by knowing that it is there. So, Sarvajna tells him the means to attain it.
ei sthane achhe dhana—yadi daksine khudibe
‘bhimarula-baruli’ uthibe, dhana na paibe
Your father’s treasure is here. If you dig to the south, however, hornets will arise, and you will not attain it.
‘paschime’ khudibe, taha ‘yaksa’ eka haya
se vighna karibe,—dhane hata na padaya
If you dig to the west, there is a ghost that will disturb you, and the treasure will not fall into your hands.
‘uttare’ khudile achhe krsna ‘ajagare’
dhana nahi pabe, khudite gilibe sabare
If you dig to the north, you will not attain the treasure. There is a black python there that devours everyone who tries to dig.
purva-dike tate mati alpa khudite
dhanera jhari padibeka tomara hatete
If you dig up just a little dirt on the eastern side, then immediately the pot of treasure will fall into your hands.
aichhe sastra kahe,—karma, jnana, yoga tyaji’
‘bhaktye’ krsna vasa haya, bhaktye ta̐re bhaji’
Similarly, the scriptures say we should reject karma (the path of virtuous action), jnan (the path of renunciation), and yoga (the path of yoga), and serve Krishna with bhakti (devotion). Krishna is captivated by bhakti.
na sadhayati mam yogo na sankhyam dharma uddhava
na svadhyayas tapas tyago yatha bhaktir mamorjita
(Srimad Bhagavatam: 11.14.20)
[Krishna says:] “‘O Uddhava, neither yoga, nor metaphysics, nor social duty, nor study, nor austerity, nor renunciation can captivate Me as intense devotion does.’
bhaktyaham ekaya grahyah sraddhayatma priyah satam
bhaktih punati man-nistha sva-pakan api sambhavat
(Srimad Bhagavatam: 11.14.21)
[Krishna continues:] “‘I, the soul and beloved of the sadhus, am attainable by unalloyed, faithful devotion. Devotion dedicated to Me purifies even dog-eaters of their birth.’
ataeva ‘bhakti’—krsna-praptyera upaya
‘abhidheya’ bali’ tare sarva-sastre gaya
“Therefore, bhakti is means to attain Krishna. All the scriptures call it ‘abhidheya’ (lit. “that which is to be stated”).
dhana paile yaichhe sukha-bhoga-phala paya
sukha-bhoga haite duhkha apani palaya
When the pauper found the treasure, he achieved the goal of feeling happiness. Unhappiness flees of its own accord from the feeling of happiness.
taichhe bhakti-phale krsne prema upajaya
preme krsnasvada haile bhava nasa paya
Similarly, as a result of bhakti, divine love for Krishna arises, and when one has a taste of Krishna through that love, one’s worldly sojourn is terminated.
daridrya-nasa, bhava-ksaya,—premera ‘phala’ naya
prema-sukha-bhoga—mukhya prayojana haya
Ending poverty and concluding one worldly sojourn, however, are not the goal of divine love. Simply feeling the happiness of divine love is the primary goal.
veda-sastre kahe sambandha, abhidheya, prayojana
krsna, krsna-bhakti, prema,—tina mahadhana
The Vedic scriptures teach sambandha, abhidheya, and prayojan, that is, the three great treasures of Krishna, devotion to (Krishna-bhakti), and divine love for Krishna (Krishna-prema).
The above illustration also illuminates a passage in the Chhandogya-upanisad (8.3.1–2):
“In this world, although true desires are present within the soul, they are hidden under the covering of untruth in the form of ignorance. But those who have vision of the soul, on account of their true desires, attain everything difficult to attain in this world, in the next world, and elsewhere by going into the sky of the heart. As those unaware of a hidden treasure buried in a cave do not attain it even though they pass over it again and again, so living beings, as a result of ignorance, cannot attain the divine plane situated within the heart.”