Ancient Sanskrit tale of Vedic sages translated, retold and illustrated by U. Mahesh Prabhu
Long ago there lived a young man named Virendra. He earned his living by serving a merchant. He passed his nights sleeping on the veranda of an inn whose keeper had a kind of liking for him. Virendra wasn’t rich; yet lived a contented life.
One day after long toil he returned to the inn feeling exhausted. As he was about to sleep, he found a few beggars cooking their food at a distance. “How lucky are they! They do no labour; yet earn better than me!” This comparison sowed a seed of discontentment in his otherwise relatively contented mind.
Virendra decided to let go his present work which took all his energy by the day and paid him “pittance”. Instead, he went near a temple and implored the devotees to give him alms. Some gave him bits of food and some gave him coins. “Not bad,” he thought looking at his earnings by the end of the day bereft of any hard labour.
Although he earned more by begging than working – he was hardly contended. Easy money wasn’t easy on his sense of contentment. He chose new places and learnt various ways of attracting people’s attention and sympathy. Very soon he grew into an accomplished beggar.
A year passed. One night he heard two men talking in subdued voices inside the inn. All others were deep asleep. Virendra got curious and spied upon the two men. It didn’t take him long to understand that they were thieves. They were dividing the booty between themselves.
Virendra went as close as he could get without them noticing his presence. He saw coins, ornaments and varieties of other valuable things. The thieves looked happy.
Virendra’s eyes were amused by the sheer sight of the wealth. “Why not I too resort to stealing? Once I lay my hand on something valuable, I need not worry about the means of living for weeks or months! Begging hardly gets me anything compared to stealing.” The evil comparison raised its hood in his mind – yet again.
Soon, he began stealing. In a day or two he got enough to pull on for a month. But stealing proved to be addictive – he went on practicing it even when he had no need for it. No amount of stealing would bring in a sense of peace in him.
Unfortunately, one night he was caught red-handed while stealing. He got a good thrashing before being handed over to the authorities. After a trial he was jailed for two full years.
Upon his release he wished to revert to begging. But the people shouted at him, “In daylight you will spy upon our wealth; at night you will steal them. No alms for you!”
From begging, be tried to revert to his old practice of working for a living. “No work for a thief!” said the people closing their doors on his face.
Virendra was reduced to misery. He left the place in despair and arrived at a distant town. There he got work in a building under construction.
At the day’s end, when he received the wages of his work, he was not just contented but happy beyond comprehension. Something he didn’t felt for a long time since he had begun stealing or begging. Why it be so? He deeply contemplated on this question. He concluded that it was verily his comparison of earnings with beggars and thieves which got him into trouble in the first place. Had he not compared – why would he resort to begging or stealing?
“From now on I shall seldom compare myself with others – just better myself with every passing day.” He promised to himself. In due course of time Virendra created a life for himself that was not just prosperous but also peaceful.