When a Rishi drank wine

The following story is a part of U. Mahesh Prabhu's book RISHI TALES 1

Long ago, in a city called Avantika, there lived a Rishi. He was held in high esteem not only by the common people but also by the king of the land. Whenever the king felt disturbed in mind, he would approach the Rishi. The Rishi’s wisdom-enriched advice would restore peace in the king’s mind.

“O great sage, I see that you wander from door to door begging for food. But that is not necessary. Please come and stay at the royal campus. I will cater to your needs,” proposed the king.

“That is not possible, my son.” Replied the Rishi. “I am under a vow that I must take some trouble to collect my food. I must wander from door to door.”

Not satisfied by the Rishi’s answer and to ensure that he doesn’t have to suffer for want of food, the king ordered his subjects through a proclamation that whenever the Rishi approached anybody for alms, he must give alms to the best of his ability. This made the Rishis’ work very easy. He got plenty.

It was a time when painting as an art form was still under development and photography wasn’t even heard of. Trying to make the best of this opportunity some vagabond rascals of the land styled themselves as Rishis and moved about merrily at the cost of the people.

Soon they became a pain. The king, his subjects, and even the Rishi became aware of this situation. While the king and his subjects could not devise a plan to distinguish the Rishi from the imposters, the Rishi himself devised a wise plan.

One day the Rishi stood before a wine shop. The shopkeeper greeted him and said, “O Rishi, please come in. But I have nothing except wine to offer you!”

The Rishi entered the shop, smiling, and when the shopkeeper gave him a potful of wine, he drank it, first uttering “O Paramatman, I first offer this to you!”

When the imposters heard of the Rishi drinking wine, they too began to drink to their heart’s content. Most of them soon lost control over themselves and behaved riotously.

The news reached the king. He felt disgusted and angry. He asked the palace guards to cancel the royal decree made to ease life for the Rishi.

All the people heard about the incident. They also learned about the king’s decree not to feed the Rishi anymore. They stopped showing respect to the Rishi. The Rishi and his imposters both had to do with less and less food. This didn’t deter the Rishi; instead, the imposters felt the heat. Naturally, the imposters stopped impersonating the Rishi for better pursuits.

Days passed. The Rishi, while wandering, one day stopped before a goldsmith’s workshop.

The goldsmith chuckled and said “O Rishi, all I have is boiling metal of old. Will you like to drink a cup of it?”

“I’ll drink anything you offer me with your love!” said the Rishi, with a smile. The goldsmith, just to watch the fun, handed over a cup of hot melted gold to the Rishi. The Rishi accepted it quietly and uttered “O Paramatman, I offer this to you!” and gulped it.

He then thanked the goldsmith and went his way.

The goldsmith almost fainted with shock. The news spread as fast as sound. The king heard of this too! He now understood the intent behind the Rishi’s drinking of alcohol. He ran to the Rishi and said “I now realize that wine or poison or fire – all are the same to you. O equipoised Rishi pardon me for having misunderstood you.”

“We rishis don’t beg because we are despicable, we beg to not to be despicable.” the Rishi declared, adding “Don’t worry about me O king, your concern must be towards the welfare of your people. Work for their welfare with all your heart and energy.”

Bowing to the wise sage, the king touched his feet before going his way.

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