Once, there was a cunning merchant who considered himself very clever. Making a cat’s paw of others was his modus operandi.
Somehow or other, he managed to obtain some coconuts from another merchant free of charge. To cut the coconuts and sell them, he needed a sharp-edged chopper. At home, he had only an old and unusable one. He brought this chopper to a blacksmith and asked if the blacksmith could make him a new one and what it would cost. The cunning merchant then listened for a means to cheat his way into a chopper free of charge as the blacksmith spoke, “I can make you a chopper as valuable as the metal you provide. If you provide me with high quality steel, I can make you the best chopper you’ve ever seen.”
Hearing this and getting an idea, the merchant began his ruse, “I trade in steel, and I know how to identify qualities of steel very well. Right now, I have in stock some of the best steel I’ve ever had, and it is selling at top prices. So, I’ll do you a favour. I will send you a large sheet of my best steel. It will be more than enough to make this chopper, and you can keep the extra in exchange for your labour. Anything you make with this top quality steel will fetch a high price, and you’ll end up making much more than your labour charge for my chopper. Do we have a deal?”
The blacksmith reluctantly agreed, and the merchant departed. The merchant obtained by some means a sheet of low quality iron and had his son deliver it to the blacksmith saying that it was high quality steel.
Immediately upon inspecting the metal, the blacksmith saw that it was not high quality steel but cheap iron. Not surprised, he fashioned a chopped from the iron and sent it to the merchant.
When the merchant received the chopper and saw how poor in quality it was, he became angry. He stormed back to the blacksmith and started to berate him. The blacksmith calmly replied, “I said to you first off, ‘I can make you a chopper as valuable as the metal you provide’ and that’s what I have done. Did you really think you would get a top quality steel chopper from a sheet of cheap iron?”
The merchant represents an immature spiritual practitioner. The blacksmith represents Sri Guru, the Vaisnavas, and the Supreme Lord.
The cunning merchant was in such a habit of deceit that he failed to think through his ruse and realise he wouldn’t attain what he wanted even if he succeeded in deceiving the blacksmith. Moreover, he overlooked the fact that a blacksmith is far more adept at identifying metals than a common person like him. Similarly, those inexperienced in spiritual practice often assume they can advance or succeed on the path by means of deceit and fail to realise that by employing deceit they can only end up cheating themselves. Moreover, they don’t realise that the divinely empowered Sad-guru, the pure hearted Vaisnavas, and the omniscient Supreme Lord can easily recognise their attempts at deceit.
We cannot hope to attain spiritual wealth without making the necessary sacrifice (“paying the price” that is): sincere and complete dedication. Because worldly wealth can be temporarily acquired by deceitful means, if we (sometimes without realising it) assume that spiritual wealth can as well, then we will end up frustrated like the merchant and have only ourselves to blame.