There is a link to the site's glossary of yoga terms in the bottom left corner. Almost all the tales in this selection are edited, and some are retold. Book sources to draw on further, are at the bottom.
Once on a time a wood-cutter went into a forest to chop wood. There suddenly he met a bramachari.
The holy man said to him, "My good man, go forward. "On returning home the wood-cutter asked himself, "Why did the brahmachari tell me to go forward?" Some time passed. One day he remembered the brahmachari's words. He said to himself, "Today I shall go deeper into the forest. "
Going deep into the forest, he discovered innumerable sandal-wood trees. He was very happy and returned with cart-loads of sandal wood. He sold them in the market and became very rich.
A few days later he again remembered the words of the holy man to go forward. He went deeper into the forest and discovered a silver-mine near a river. This was even beyond his dreams. He dug out silver from the mine and sold it in the market. He got so much money that he didn't even know how much he had.
A few days more passed. One day he thought:
"The brahmachari didn't ask me to stop at the silver-mine; he told me to go forward. "This time he went to the other side of the river and found a gold-mine. Then he exclaimed:
"Ah, just see! This is why he asked me to go forward!"
Again, a few days afterwards, he went still deeper into the forest and found heaps of diamonds and other precious gems. He took these also and became as rich as the god of wealth himself.
Whatever you may do, you will find better and better things if only you go forward. You may feel a little ecstasy as the result of japa, but don't conclude from this that you have achieved everything in spiritual life.
"The farther you advance, the more you will see that there are other things even beyond the sandal-wood forest - mines of silver, gold and precious gems. Therefore go forward.
"But how can I ask people to go forward? If worldly people go too far, then the bottom will drop out of their world [and they will sink in devotion]. . . . Do one thing: sink now and then, and come back again to dry land."
Once several men were crossing the Ganges in a boat. One of them, a pandit, was making a great display of his erudition, saying that he had studied various books - the Vedas, the Vedanta, and the six systems of philosophy. He asked a fellow passenger, "Do you know the Vedanta?"
"No, revered sir."
"The Samkhya and the Patanjala?"
"No, revered sir."
"Have you read no philosophy whatever?"
"No, revered sir."
The pandit was talking in this vain way and the passenger sitting in silence when a great storm arose and the boat was about to sink. The passenger said to the pandit, "Sir, can you swim?"
"No", replied the pandit.
The passenger said, "T don't know Samkhya or the Patanjala, but I can swim."
What will a man gain by knowing many scriptures? The one thing needful is to know how to cross the river of the world.
A frog lived in a well. It was born and brought up there. One day another frog came from the sea and fell into that well. The frog of the well asked the newcomer, "Where are you from?"
The frog of the sea answered, "From the sea."
The frog of the well went further, "The sea! What is that?"
The frog of the sea said, "It is water as in this well, but water as far as you can see. It is huge."
The frog of the well then took a leap from one side of the well to the other and asked, "Is it as big as this?"
"Much, much bigger," said the frog of the sea, "It is no good to compare the sea with your well."
The frog of the well said, "Nothing is bigger than my well. This fellow is a liar; he must be turned out."
Such is the case with every narrow-minded man who is sitting in his own little well.
Two friends went into an orchard. One of them possessing much worldly wisdom, immediately began to count the mango trees there and the number of leaves and mangoes each tree bore, to estimate what might be the approximate value of the whole orchard. His companion however went to the owner, became friends with him, and then, quietly going to a tree, began, at his host's desire, to pluck the fruits and eat them.
Whom do you consider to be the wiser of the two? Eat mangoes! It will satisfy your hunger. What is the good of counting the trees and leaves and making calculations?
The vain man of intellect busies himself uselessly with finding out the "why" and "wherefore" of creation, while the humble man of wisdom makes friends with the Creator and enjoys His gift of supreme bliss.
A rich man said to his servant, "Take this diamond to the market and let me know how different people price it. Take it, first of all, to the egg-plant seller."
The servant took the diamond to the egg-plant seller. He examined it, turning it over in the palm of his hand, and said, "Brother, I can give nine seers of egg-plants for it."
"Friend, "said the servant, "offer a little more, say, ten seers."
The egg-plant seller replied, "No, I have already quoted above the market price. You may give it to me if that price suits you."
The servant laughed. He went back to his master and said, "Sir, he would give me only nine seers of egg-plants and not one more. He said he had offered more than the market price."
The master smiled and said:
"Now take it to the cloth dealer. The other man deals only in egg-plants. What does he know about a diamond? The cloth-dealer has a little more capital. Let us see how much he offers for it."
The servant went to the cloth-dealer and said, "Will you buy this? How much will you pay for it?"
The merchant said:"Yes, it is a good thing. I can make a nice ornament out of it. I will give you nine hundred rupees for it."
"Brother, "said the servant, "offer a little more and I will sell it to you. Give me at least a thousand rupees."
The cloth-dealer said, "Friend, don't press me for more. I have offered more than the market price. I cannot give a rupee more. Suit yourself."
Laughing, the servant returned to his master and said, "He won't give a rupee more than nine hundred. He too said he had quoted above the market price."
The master said with a laugh, "Now take it to a jeweller. Let us see what he has to say."
The servant went to the jeweller. The jeweller glanced at the diamond and said at once, "I will give you one hundred thousand rupees for it."
All cannot recognise an Incarnation of God. Some take him for an ordinary man, some for a holy person, and only a few recognise him as an Incarnation.
One may learn useful lessons from many.
An angler was fishing in a pond. The Avadhuta approached him and asked, "Brother which way leads to such and such a place?"
The float of the rod at that time was indicating that the fish was nibbling at the bait; so the man did not give any reply but was all attention to his fishing rod. Having first hooked the fish, he turned round and said, "What is it you have been saying, sir?"
The Avadhuta saluted him and said, "Teacher, when I sit in contemplation of the Deity of my choice (Ishta), let me follow your example: Before I have finished my devotions, let me not attend to much else." [Adapted]
Four blind men went out to see an elephant. One touched the leg of the elephant and said, "The elephant is like a pillar."
The second touched the trunk and said, "The elephant is like a thick club."
The third touched the belly and said, "The elephant is a like a big jar."
The fourth touched the ears and said, "The elephant is like a big winnowing basket."
Thus they began to dispute hotly among themselves as to the shape of the elephant. A passer-by, seeing them thus quarrelling, said, "What is it you dare disputing about?"
They told him everything and asked him to arbitrate. The man said, "None of you has seen the elephant. The elephant is not like a pillar, its legs are like pillars. It is not like a winnowing basket, its ears are like winnowing baskets. It is not like a stout club, its trunk is like a club. The elephant is the combination of all these - legs, ears, belly, trunk and so on."
In the same manner, those who quarrel (about the nature of God) have each seen only some one aspect of the Deity.
Once a man entered a wood and saw a small animal on a tree. He came back and told another man that he had seen wa creature of a beautiful red colour on a certain tree. The second man replied, "When I went into the wood, I also saw that animal. But why do you call it red? It is green."
Another man who was present contradicted them both and insisted that it was yellow. Presently others arrived and contended that it was grey, violet, blue, and so forth and so on.
At last they started quarrelling among themselves. To settle the dispute they all went to the tree. They saw a man sitting under it. On being asked, he replied, "Yes, I live under this tree and I know the animal very well. All your descriptions are true. Sometimes it appears red, sometimes yellow, and at other times blue, violet, grey and so forth. And sometimes it has no colour at all. Now it has a colour, and now it has none. It is a chameleon."
In like manner, one who constantly thinks of God can know His real nature; he alone knows that God reveals Himself to seekers in varlous forms and aspects. God has attributes; then again He has none. Only the man who lives under the tree knows that the chameleon can appear in various colours, and he knows further that the animal at times has no colour at all. It is the others who suffer from the agony of futile argument.
Once a fishwife was a guest in the house of a gardener who raised flowers. She came there with her empty basket, after selling fish in the market, and was asked to sleep in a room where flowers were kept. But because of the fragrance of the flowers, she couldn't get to sleep for a long time. She was restless and begsn to fidget about.
Her hostess saw her condition and said, "Hello! Why are you tossing from side to side so restlessly?"
The fishwife said: "I don't know, friend. Perhaps the smell of the flowers has been disturbing my sleep. Can you give me my fish-basket? Perhaps that will put me to sleep."
The basket was brought to her. She sprinkled water on it and set it near her nose. Then she fell sound asleep and snored all night. (17, retold)
Once two friends were going along the street when they saw some people listening to a reading of the Bhagavata. "Come, friend," said the one to the other, "let us hear the sacred book." So saying he went in and sat down.
The second man peeped in and went away. He entered a house of ill fame. But very soon he felt disgusted with the place. "Shame on me!" he said to himself. "My friend has been listening to the sacred word; and see where I am!"
But the friend who had been listening to the Bhagavata also became disgusted. "What a fool I am!" he said. "I have been listening to this fellow's blah-blah, and my friend is having a grand time."
In course of time they both died. The messenger of death came for the soul of the one who had listened to the Bhagavata and dragged it off to hell. The messenger of God came for the soul of the one who had been to the house of prostitution and led it up to heaven.
The Lord looks into a man's heart and does not judge him by what he does or where he lives.
Once a man was going through a forest, when three robbers fell upon him and robbed him of all his possessions.
One of the robbers said, "What's the use of keeping this man alive?" So saying, he was about to kill him with his sword.
The second robber interrupted him, saying, "Oh! no! What is the use of killing him? Tie his hand and foot and leave him here."
The robbers thereupon bound his hands and feet and went away.
After a while the third robber returned and said to the man, "Ah, I am sorry. Are you hurt? I will release you from your bonds." After setting the man free, the thief said, "Come with me. I will take you to the public high way."
After a long time they reached the road. At this the man said, "Sir, you have been very good to me. Come with me to my house."
"Oh, no!" the robber replied. "I can't go there. The police will know it."
This world itself is the forest. The robbers rob a man of the Knowledge of Great Truth. We could say: Tamas wants to falsify him. Rajas binds him to intrigues. Sattva rescues him much.
There was a goldsmith who kept a jewelry shop. He looked like a great devotee, with beads round his neck, rosary in his hand, and the holy marks on his forehead. And people trusted him and came to his shop on business. They thought that, being such a pious man, he would never cheat them.
Whenever a party of customers entered the shop, they would hear one of his craftsmen say, "Kesava! Kesava!'
Another would say after a while, "Gopal! Gopal!'
Then a third would mutter, "Hari! Hari!'
Finally someone would say, "Hara! Hara!'
These are different names of God. Hearing so much chanting of God's names the customers thought that this goldsmith must be a very superior person. But what was the goldsmith's true intention? The man who said " Kesava! Kesava!" meant to ask, "Who are these? - Who are these customers?'
The man who said "Gopal! Gopal!" conveyed the idea that the customers were merely a herd of cows. That was the estimate he formed of them after the exchange of a few words.
The man who said "Hari! Hari!" asked, "Since they are no better than a herd of cows, then may we rob them?"
He who said "Hara! Hara!" gave his assent, meaning by these words, "Do rob by all means, since they are mere cows!"
Men may be divided into four classes: those bound by the fetters of the world, the seekers after liberation, the liberated and the ever-free.
Among the ever-free we may count sages that live in the world for the good of others, to teach men spiritual truths.
Those in bondage are sunk in worldliness and are forgetful of God. Not even by mistake do they think of God.
The seekers after liberation want to free themselves from attachment to the world. Some of them succeed and others do not.
The liberated souls are not entangled in the world. Their minds are clarified. And their hearts are turned to God.
Suppose a net has been cast into a lake to catch fish. Some fish are so clever that they are never caught in the net. They are like the ever-free. But most of the fish are entangled in the net. Some of them try to free themselves from it, and they are like those who seek liberation. But not all the fish that struggle succeed. A very few do jump out of the net, making a big splash in the water. Then the fishermen shout, "Look! There goes a big one!"
But most of the fish caught in the net cannot escape, nor do they make any effort to get out. On the contrary, they burrow into the mud with the net in their mouths and lie there quietly, thinking, "We need not fear any more; we are quite safe here."
But the poor things do not know that the fishermen will drag them out with the net. These are like the men bound to the world. [Retold]
A sadhu under the instruction of his Guru built for himself a small shed, thatched with leaves, at a distance from the haunts of men. He began his devotional exercises in this hut. Now, every morning after ablution he would hang his wet cloth and the loincloth on a tree close to the hut, to dry them.
One day on his return from the neighbouring village, which he would visit to get some daily food, he found that the rats had cut holes in his loincloth. So the next day he went to the village for a fresh one.
A few days later, the sadhu spread his loincloth on the roof of his hut to dry it and then went to the village for food as usual. On his return he found that the rats had torn it into shreds. He felt much annoyed and thought within himself, "Where shall I go again for a rag? Whom shall I ask for one?"
He went the villagers the next day and showed them the mischief done by the rats.
Having heard all he had to say, the villagers said, "Who will keep you supplied with cloth every day? Just do one thing - keep a cat; it will keep away the rats."
The sadhu got a kitten in the village and carried it to his hut. From that day the rats stopped troubling him and there was no end to his joy. He now began to tend the dear, little cat with great care and feed it on milk he got in the village.
After some days, a villager said to him, "Sadhu, you come for milk every day. But if you keep a cow you may have milk all the year round. drinking its milk and you can also give some to your cat."
In a few days the sadhu procured a milk cow. By and by, he found he needed grass for his cow. Villagers in the neighbourhood told him, "There are lots of uncultivated lands close to your hut; just cultivate the land and you can have grass and hay for your cow."
Guided by their advice, the sadhu took to tilling the land. Gradually he had to engage some labourers and later on found it was best to build barns to store the crop in. Thus he became, in course of time, a sort of landlord. And at last he had to take a wife to look after his big household. He now passed his days just like a busy householder.
After some time, his Guru came to see him. Finding himself surrounded by goods and chattels, the Guru felt puzzled and asked a servant, "An ascetic used to live here in a hut; can you tell me where he has moved?"
The servant did not know what to say in reply. So the Guru ventured into the house; there he met his disciple. The Guru asked him, "My son, what is all this?"
The disciple muttered, "Oh, it was all for a single piece of loincloth!"
A frog had a rupee, which he kept in his hole. One day an elephant was going over the hole, and the frog, coming out in a fit of anger, raised his foot as if to kick the elephant, and said, "How dare you walk over my head?"
Such is the pride money begets!
A certain sadhu lived for some time in the room above the concert-room of the temple of Dakshineswar. He did not speak with anybody and spent his whole time in his meditation. One day, all of a sudden, a cloud darkened the sky and shortly afterwards a high wind blew away the cloud. The holy man now came out of his room and began to laugh and dance in the verandah in front of the concert-room. Ramakrishna asked him, "How is it that you, who spend your days so quietly in your room, are dancing in joy and feel so jolly today?"
The sadhu answered, "Such is Maya that envelops the life! At first there is clear sky, all of a sudden a cloud darkens it and presently everything is as before once more."
Once on a time a sadhu acquired great occult powers. He was vain about them. But he was a good man and had some austerities to his credit. One day the Lord, disguised as a holy man, came to him and said, "Hello, I have heard that you have great occult powers."
The sadhu received the other cordially and offered him a seat. Just then an elephant passed by. The disguised Lord said to the sadhu, "Can you kill this elephant if you like?"
The sadhu said, "Yes, it is possible." So saying he took a pinch of dust, muttered some mantras over it, and threw it at the elephant. The beast struggled a while in pain and then dropped dead.
The other said, "What power you have! You have killed the elephant!"
The sadhu laughed.
Again the other spoke, "Now, can you revive the elephant?"
"That too is possible," replied the sadhu. He threw another pinch of charmed dust at the beast. The elephant writhed about a little and came back to life.
Then the other said, "Wonderful is your power. But may I ask you one thing? You have killed the elephant and you have revived it. But what has that done for you? Do you feel uplifted by it? Has it enabled you to realize the Self?" Saying this he vanished.
It could be that latent powers get roused in advanced meditation as time goes by. They could be needed. Patanjali Yoga Sutras lists many such powers, and points out eight of them as primary. Krishna lists ten more mystic perfections in the Uddhava Gita 15:6-7. Buddhist yoga also tell of meditation-given powers that awaken in some persons. In Tantric Buddhism, supernatural powers "include items such as clairvoyance, levitation, bilocation, becoming as small as an atom, materialization, having access to memories from past lives." [WP, sv. "Sidhi"] [More on ESP and yoga powers]
What could be more needed than seeking miracle powers is a good and rewarding daily routine of meditation. A fit perspective as to what is good work helps too - and what role miraculous powers should have - with how, when, under what conditions, etc. covered. It stands to reason. Flaunting uncommon prowess a lot could prove very unwise. And in sorry cases occult powers steal guts that otherwise could be put to good use - that is also part of handed-over, ancient teachings.
A disciple who had firm faith in the great power of his Guru walked over the river by simply uttering his name. Seeing this, the Guru thought, "Well, is there such a power in my mere name?"
The next day, the Guru also tried to walk over the river uttering his own name, but he sank down and was soon drowned. He did not know how to swim.
There is a story about a man in a deep forest. He sat down on a dead body to meditate according to an old tantric ritual. First he had many terrible visions. Finally a tiger attacked and killed him.
Another man happened to pass by. He saw the tiger coming, and climbed a tree. Afterwards he got down and found all the arrangements for worship at hand. He did not know all of the old ritual, but sat down on the corpse to meditate a bit anyway. No sooner had he started to meditate than Divine Lakshmi appeared before him and said: "My child, I am so pleased with you. Accept a boon from me also."
He bowed low at the feet of the goddess and asked, "Why all this with so little effort on my part? I am amazed. The other man worked so hard to get what is prescribed for this sort of ritual and tried to propitiate you for such a long time, but you did not favour him. And I, who have done almost nothing, who have neither devotion nor knowledge nor love, and who haven't practised any austerities, am receiving so much grace?"
She said with a smile, "You don't remember your past lives, but I do. Your good actions in former lives have borne fruit today: You have been blessed to see me. Now ask a boon of me."
Once in a Guru's house there was a ceremony where cooked rice was required among other ingredients. His disciples volunteered to supply the different articles of food according to their powers. He had one disciple, a very poor widow, who had a cow. She milked it and brought the Guru a jar of milk. He had thought she would take charge of all the milk and curd for the festival. Angry at her poor offering, he threw the milk away and said to her, "Go and drown yourself."
The widow accepted this as his command and went to the river to drown herself. But God was pleased with her guileless faith and, appearing before her, said, "Take this pot of curd. You will never be able to empty it. The more curd you pour out, the more will come from the pot. This will satisfy your teacher."
The Guru was speechless with amazement when the pot was given to him. After hearing from the widow the story of the pot, he went to the river, saying to her, "I shall drown myself if you cannot show God to me."
God appeared then and there, but the Guru could not see Him. Addressing God, the widow said, "If my teacher gives up his body because you do not reveal yourself to him, then I too shall die."
So God appeared to the Guru - but only once. [Retold]
Once a butcher was taking a cow to a distant slaughter-house. On the way she was ill-treated by the butcher and got unruly. The man found it very difficult to drive her. After several hours he reached a village at noon. Thoroughly exhausted he went to an almshouse nearby and partook of the food that was freely distributed there. Feeling himself quite refreshed after a full meal, the butcher was able to lead the cow easily to the destination.
Now, a part of the sin of killing that cow fell to the donor of the food distributed at the alms-house. So even in giving food and alms in charity, one should discriminate and see that the recipient is not a vicious and sinning person likely to use the gift for evil purposes.
There was a king who each day used to hear the Bhagavata recited by a pandit. Every day, after explaining the sacred book, the pandit would say to the king, "Well, have you understood what I have said?" And everyday the king would reply, "You had better understand it first yourself." The pandit would return home and think, "Why does the king talk to me that way day after day? I explain the texts to him so clearly, and and he says to me, 'You had better understand it first yourself.' What does he mean?"
The pundit used to practise spritual discipline. A few days later he came to realise that God alone is real and everything else - house, family, wealth, friends, name, and fame - somehow. He asked a man to take this message to the king: "Yes, now understand." Note: This tale is heavily altered at the end to conform to higher realisations: In the Bhagavad Gita 16:7-8, Sri Krishna says the world is real enough. One should take great care not to be even a little deluded.
Those who are demoniac do not know what is to be done and what is not to be done. Truth is [not] found in them. . . . They say that this world is unreal, with no foundation, no God in control. . . . Following such conclusions, the demoniac . . . engage in unbeneficial, [even] horrible works . . . such persons are deluded by ignorance . . . and bound by a network of illusions . . . and fall down into hell. [16.7-16, passim]
The Bhagavad Gita is a minor part in the very extensive Mahabharata epos, which tells about how the Bhagavad Gita's war came about too, and how the war ended. The heroic Bhisma is a key character in the epos.
As the old hero Bhishma lay dying on his bed of arrows, the Pandava brothers and Krishna stood around him. They saw tears flowing from the eyes of the great hero.
Arjuna said to Krishna, "Friend, how surprising it is! Even such a man as our grandsire Bhishma - truthful, self-restrained, supremely wise, and one of the eight Vasus - weeps, through maya, at the hour of death."
Sri Krishna asked Bhishma about it.
Bhishma replied, "O Krishna, you know very well that this is not why I grieve. I am thinking that there is no end to the Pandavas' sufferings, though God Himself [Krishna] is their charioteer. A thought like this makes me feel that I have understood nothing of the ways of God, and so I weep."
The two first books are biographies with stories by Ramakrishna in them. The next book contains extracted tales from these books, and the fourth book contains retellings of some of his instructive stories. -TK
Gupta, Mahendranath. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda. 1942.
Jagadananda, Swami, tr. Sri Ramakrishna: The Great Master. 4th ed. Mylapore: Ramakrishna Math, 1970.
O'Brien, Barbara. "The Five Powers: Empowering Practice." About.com Buddhism, 2014.
Ramakrishna. Tales and Parables of Sri Ramakrishna. 5th ed. Madras: Ramakrishna Math, 1974. (1943)
Ray, Irene, R., and Mallika Clare Gupta, retellers. Tales from Ramakrishna. 1st reprint ed. Calcuttai, India: Advaita Ashrama, 1978.
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