We all love stories. Storytellers know that teaching through stories engages the listeners’ imaginations and makes it easy for them to learn and remember.
A modern-day saint, Rev. Dada J. P. Vaswani, tells a story with a powerful lesson about the preciousness of human life and the importance of seeking our higher purpose.
A King Gets Lost In The Forest
Long ago in India, there was a king who went hunting in the forest. As he chased a deer, he rode deeper and deeper into the thick bushes and undergrowth. Staying focused on his prey, he totally lost track of time and where he was going. When he finally stopped, several hours had passed. He then realized that not only had he lost the deer, he had also lost his way.
As he wandered around, tired, thirsty and hungry, he saw a simple cottage in a clearing. Excited to find someone who could help him, he ran and knocked loudly on the door. A humble woodcutter, who lived there, greeted him. The woodcutter did not recognize the king. He kindly offered him water, some simple food and a bed to rest for the night.
The next morning, the woodcutter escorted the king back to the road leading to the city. As they were parting, the king revealed his identity and gave him some silver pieces that he had in his pocket. “Thank you, my friend,” he said. “You helped me in my time of need. If you ever need me, please visit me in the palace and I will do what I can to help you.” The woodcutter gratefully accepted the silver and thanked the king for his generosity.
A Visit from The Woodcutter
Years passed. As the woodcutter grew older, he found it increasingly difficult to make a living chopping and selling firewood. One day, he thought of the king and decided to pay him a visit to ask him for some help.
When the king saw the woodcutter, he immediately recognized him. He welcomed him warmly and hosted him at the palace for a few days. Afterwards, he asked the woodcutter how he could help him. The woodcutter said, “I am getting old and can no longer travel far distances to find firewood to sell. Can you please find me a simpler means of livelihood?”
The king was touched by his simple request. He thought for a few minutes and then said, ”There is a small and rare sandalwood forest that was planted by my ancestors a great distance from the city. Those trees are very dear to me. You can be the forest guard. Don’t worry; there is no danger from thieves as it is enclosed by walls. I shall build you a cottage there and give you a salary and provisions from the royal granary. Do you agree?”
The woodcutter was delighted with the king’s magnanimous offer. He happily agreed.
Life in the Sandalwood Forest
The new forest guard soon moved into his home in the royal sandalwood forest. It was a quiet, peaceful life.
After several months, however, he started to get restless. As comfortable as he was in his beautiful surroundings, he was bored with his new life. There was nothing much to do except walk around the forest and look at the trees.
One day, a thought came to him. Why not cut a few branches and sell them as firewood to the villagers just outside the walls of the forest? It would be lucrative and easy. The trees and his customers would be readily available.
It was a tempting thought. He wavered between following it, and not betraying the king’s trust. But the prospect of spending his life without doing anything useful finally won over the small voice of his conscience.
That very afternoon, he cut a few branches and stood by the gates of the forest. Within minutes, a villager who was walking by, bought them. The forest guard was delighted!
The next morning, he cut some more branches to sell. Again, they were quickly snapped up.
Before long, the forest guard reverted to his old woodcutting habits. He started cutting the branches and selling them daily.
Unknown to the king, his cherished sandalwood trees were being cut down one by one…
The King Comes for a Visit
A year later, the king decided to pay a visit to his beloved forest and his old benefactor. Imagine his shock when he found an ugly clearing and only a handful of trees standing. He felt as if the woodcutter had taken a dagger to his heart. He was speechless.
On seeing the ashen face of the king, the woodcutter immediately realized his folly and was filled with remorse. But it was too late. The precious trees were gone.
Needless to say, the king ordered him to be arrested. He was thrown into jail for the rest of his life.
The Significance of Sandalwood
The sandalwood trees have great significance in this story. To understand their value, here are some facts:
Sandalwood is prized for its distinctly rich fragrance, innumerable uses and health benefits. Indian sandalwood trees produce the best quality fragrant wood and oil in the world. They are very rare and expensive. The wood retains its fragrance for decades afterwards. The best oil comes from trees that are about 80 years old.
Precious Human Life
The rare sandalwood trees can be compared to our invaluable human life. Rev. Dada J.P. Vaswani tells us we are like the foolish woodcutter. Not understanding the preciousness of our human life, we squander it away through indiscriminate living. We give in to worldly desires and temptations only to realize our folly too late.
The spiritual masters of Vedanta tell us that it is extremely difficult and rare to be born as a human. They advise us to find the purpose and divine potential inherent in our human lives.
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