Once upon a time there lived in India two friends–Mr. Sham, a rich man devoted to worldly pleasures, and Mr. Honest, a poor man devoted to seeking God. They both lived with their families in a large double house.
Mr. Sham was a shameless, unprincipled, godless rogue, whereas Mr. Honest was a conscientious, upright, religious man. Their lives were paradoxical in that their inner conduct could in no wise explain the difference in their outer status. Although Mr. Sham was an unfaithful husband and a dissolute sinner, he nevertheless had a clinging, loyal, gentle, beautiful, and spiritual wife who put up with all of his humiliating and cruel ways. It appeared that the more Mr. Sham sinned and caroused, the more he prospered, grew strong and healthy, and attracted all kinds of helpful wealthy friends. His investments unfailingly brought him added wealth.
Mr. Honest, on the other hand, was strictly loyal to his wife, although her disposition was as ugly as her appearance, and she had attained perfection in the art of nagging and rapacious gossip. It seemed that the more Mr.Honest became absorbed in his spiritual study of metaphysics and in protracted meditations, the more his fortune worsened. Friends deserted him, investments went bad, and poverty pursued him.
The rich Mr. Sham often said to him: “Mr. Honest, if you would forsake your queer, unprofitable metaphysical ways and take a drink or two and be a good sport like me, I would give you a new financial start, and you would then attract riches and friends. But I say ‘nothing doing’ until you give up your preoccupation with religion and metaphysical matters. ” Mr. Honest would then remonstrate: “No, my friend, thank you very much for your offer, but I have no intention of giving up my idealistic ways, which give me an inner satisfaction even though they do not yield me a harvest of money and other worldly prosperity.”
Months passed, and the worse Mr. Sham behaved the more opulent he grew. But as for Mr. Honest, the more he studied his beloved metaphysics, the more he failed in health, happiness, and prosperity.
This had been going on for some time when one evening Mr. Sham and Mr. Honest met and squabbled over the proper way of living. Mr. Sham started in: “You have gone mad over metaphysics. Perhaps you believe yourself to be an angel, but all I see is a miserable failure; the more religion you try to swallow, the more it chokes you. Why don’t you give up your ascetic practices and behave naturally?”
Mr. Honest at once retorted: “You are a good-for-nothing, ego-inflated wastrel, and I do not want money if getting it requires imitating your reprehensible habits. I am all right, though my outward fortunes may belie it. ”
Mr. Sham, confident of his way of life, gravely said: “Don’t you see how good it is to live a natural life? I take a drink when I want it. I do what my impulses move me to do, and see, I am as healthy and happy as a lark. Your metaphysics have paralyzed your will power and creative ability.
Now you have become queer in your mind and it keeps you physically and financially sick. Look here! Give up God and follow nature and me, and you will be happy. There is no God, and there are no laws of life except what you create yourself. Come on, be a good sport and join me in my way of natural living!
Mr. Honest replied indignantly: “You ignorant man, there is a God, and He does listen to our prayers. He has His own mysterious way of rewarding devotees after they pass all His earthly tests.” Mr. Sham shot back a challenge: “Well, Mr. Super-favourite of a nonexistent God, why don’t you coax your almighty Nothingness to demonstrate something tangible to me?”
Mr. Honest, with perfect assurance, answered: “All right, I accept your challenge. I will start praying to God night and day for a month, and on the Friday following the end of the month I am sure that you will behold a great demonstration of answered prayers. I am confident that God will answer my persevering prayer through all that will happen to you and me on Friday, a month from now.” Mr. Sham inquired curiously: “What do you mean by ‘all that happens to you and to me on Friday, a month from now’?” “Well,” replied Mr. Honest, “I mean that my continuous prayer will result in our Heavenly Father’s answer on that Friday. If on that day good fortune comes to you and misfortune to me, then you win and I lose, and I shall concede that there is no God. But if He sends good fortune to me–and I am sure that He will send misfortune to you, then you will have to admit that God exists and that He responds to prayers.
If you lose, you must follow my spiritual ways of living; and if I lose, I will follow your ‘natural’ ways of living.” Mr. Sham laughed good-naturedly.”All right,” he said. “I will wait for your prayers to bring action on the appointed Friday.” Mr. Honest returned to his home and engrossed himself in praying night and day: “Heavenly Father, my own dear God, as proof of Your existence, please punish Mr. Sham on the Friday I have specified, and on that day bring me some good fortune, so that I may win for Your sake my bet with Mr. Sham.”
Like Mr. Honest, we often pray in our own way and ask God to fulfil our requests in the particular way we want Him to respond, without leaving it in His hands. But inconceivable to man are the ways of the Lord. God does not care to advertise just what His response will be, even to the prayers of true and earnest devotees. And so it happened that God worked most bewilderingly on the Friday designated by Mr. Honest in his wager with Mr. Sham. A very strange and apparently unjust occurrence took place on that important morning. Mr. Sham was in high spirits and could not wait for the day to come to a close. He felt that he was sure to win and, led by a strange hunch, he went to a nearby forest to hunt. Ruthlessly he killed a lot of birds, more than he needed to feed his family, and packed them on his horse. On his way homeward, Mr. Sham stopped under a shady tree to rest. As he lay on the ground he absentmindedly began to strike and dig at the sod with his hunting knife. He was astonished to hear a metallic sound as the knife struck something. Curious, he began to dig, and finally he uncovered an iron chest. Loosening the soil around it, he succeeded in opening the lid. Amazed, he beheld inside a fortune in gold coins. The chest of gold pieces had been there for years, buried in this secret spot by pirates who had subsequently fought with one another over it until every man was killed.
Mr. Sham was delirious with joy. Disgorging the dead game birds from his gunny sacks, he forthwith filled them with the gold coins. He was positive he was the winner. Hurrying homeward, he wondered what had happened to his friend, Mr. Honest. On his arrival, he heard news that both astonished and amused him. Mr. Honest, while walking in a prayerful mood, had met with a severe accident owing to his absentmindedness, and had been almost killed in a collision with an automobile. He had been carried unconscious to the hospital. Did Mr. Sham then laugh his fill? He certainly did. Exultingly he told himself: “Now I know that there is no God. I hope Mr. Honest recovers from his accident and lives long enough to realize this. Perhaps he will now become a pragmatic atheist like me. After several operations, Mr. Honest returned from the hospital.
The first thing he heard about was his friend’s wonderful luck that Friday afternoon. “Good-bye, God!” he cried. Throwing all his metaphysical books in the fire, he rushed out of his house into the forest, thinking to end his life. He could not believe in God any longer, after such a shock. Neither could he make up his mind to relinquish virtue and deliberately become evil. Coming upon a lake in the depths of the woods, he tied himself to a stone so that he could drown himself. Just at this moment a plainly dressed saint arrived on the scene. God had sent him to explain matters to Mr. Honest. In tones of gentle warning the saint said: “Mr. Honest, what are you doing there on this glorious God-ordained day?” Mr. Honest testily replied: “Get away, you God-flattering man. It is none of your business what I am doing. I don’t want ever to hear that meaningless word ‘God’ again.” To this the saint replied: “Why? Is it because you bet on God and lost by being run over by a car?” Mr. Honest was extremely astonished. This stranger knew about the wager and its unfortunate outcome, which Mr. Honest had thought a secret known only to himself and Mr. Sham. Taken aback by the miraculous words of the saint, Mr. Honest softened and said: “Honoured sir, can you tell me why I, who have zealously studied metaphysics and have faithfully meditated, should have grown physically and financially poorer in every way, the more I meditated? And why is it that God not only turned a deaf ear to my soul-stirring prayer, but made a fool of me before Mr. Sham seemingly proving to him the value of atheism?”
The stranger-saint gravely replied: “Mr. Honest, you could not bribe God with prayer to comply with your wishes. God did not need your prayers to know that Mr. Sham was maligning His good Name. Nor was He duty-bound to answer you just because you prayed to win a bet. You should never bet about God. Nor should you take the attitude that He is obliged to answer your prayers.
Rather, you should depend upon His wisdom, which alone determines whether your prayers are justified and whether they should be fulfilled or not. You do not know, Mr. Honest, that in your past incarnation you were a great sinner, and because of it you became chronically ill. Only in your later years did you see that this was the unprofitable, unhappy result of your conduct. Just before your death you made up your mind that you would be a virtuous man again. That is why in this life you were born with a good resolution to study metaphysics, and a desire to meditate. But, because you had been a sinner before, creating much bad karma for yourself, you have met with many physical, mental, and spiritual reverses. “In your past life you had a very good, forgiving wife whom you never appreciated. You made her life miserable with your evil ways. For this wrong, and for all the other sins of your past life it was inevitably ordained by karmic law that Friday was to be the day of your death. Just think, because you have been so virtuous in this life, your life was spared and you escaped only with an accident. Now that all the seeds of your past evil actions have sprouted and produced their fruits, the balance of virtue in your life has become greater than that of evil. Return home, and henceforth good fortune will seek you in everything.”Mr. Honest, armed with the miraculously received truth, returned home to find his nagging wife stricken with an incurable disease, from which she soon died. Later on he met a wonderfully sweet and spiritual woman, whom he married. His ill health disappeared as if it had never existed, and a rich aunt changed her will a few hours before her death to leave him her ten-million-dollar estate.On the other hand, Mr. Sham found himself suddenly stricken with paralysis, and lay helpless. Shortly after this, his good wife died. According to custom in India, Mr. Sham had buried all of his money in a secret chamber beneath the floor under his bed. A disgruntled servant got scent of it. One day, in collusion with a few robbers, the servant masked himself and entered his master’s room. While Mr. Sham lay helpless, the servant made off with all the money. After that, Mr. Sham had to live on the charity of his friend, Mr. Honest, which he did for the rest of his life.***********************- ******************************- *****************************-
This story helps to explain the paradoxical happenings of life: why some people are born healthy, intelligent, and wealthy, and from the very beginning of their lives do not have to struggle for an existence; and why some others–good, spiritual, and intelligent–are born in poverty, ill health, and trouble.
All our misfortunes or fortunes are due, not to luck, but to definite actions consciously performed at some time in the past.Therefore, no matter how fortunate and good one may be, he should not become inactive in the performance of good or, like Mr. Sham, active in the performance of evil, lest he use up all the fruits of past good actions and be left impoverished and miserable. The wise man increases in virtue until he attains that perfection from which there can be no fall. Even a sinner who apparently “gets away with it,” should not be too sure. He should stop all evil actions lest the counteracting fruition of good actions of the past be spent and the fruits of his erring actions of the present ripen into utter misery, as in the case of Mr. Sham. Man should ever desist from evil ways and steadily reinforce with continued good deeds the virtuous actions of the past.Even a virtuous man who continuously suffers from all kinds of difficulties should not be discouraged from remaining virtuous; for if he continues to be good, he will one day find that the counteracting influence of his virtuous actions has obliterated the karmic power of past evil actions. He who keeps on being virtuous, even when sorely tried in every way, eventually finds that the balance turns; then good fortune seeks him in everything, as it did Mr. Honest.No one should imagine that he can escape the effects of evil actions; nor that virtuous actions are fruitless. It is inevitable that evil actions bring evil, or suffering; and that good actions bring good, or happiness.