A Jug of Water
In the Masnawi of Jalaluddin Rumi, Book 1, a story is related of a Bedouin and a jug of water. Living in poverty in the Arabian Desert, the man and his wife agreed that he should go as supplicant to the famed Caliph of Baghdad. The caliph, known for his wealth and munificence, might have good things to bestow so that their pitifully restricted lives could be turned around. But how should they ingratiate themselves? What rare gift could they take to please him?
Eventually they decided on the thing most precious to them in that drought-ridden land – a jug of water. The wife earnestly assured her husband that the caliph might have gold and jewels but he would not have water like that. So off he went with a jug of rain water carefully sealed within a felt bag, carrying it day and night until he reached the caliph’s court.
The story describes his gracious reception; the caliph was a true king in every sense, and his own perfect manners were reflected in those of his courtiers. When the courtiers saw the jug of what was in fact nothing but ditch-water, they smiled but nonetheless accepted it and took the Bedouin before the caliph.
Little did the poor man know that the mighty river Tigris flowed through Baghdad. He had brought his pitiful little jug to one who lived beside this source of endless sweet water. But, we are told:
When the caliph saw the gift and heard his story, he filled the jug with gold and added other presents … saying “Give into his hand this jug full of gold. When he returns home, take him to the Tigris. He has come hither by way of the desert and by travelling on land; it will be nearer for him to return by water.” When he [the Arab] embarked in the boat and beheld the Tigris, he was prostrating himself in shame, saying “Oh wonderful is the kindness of that bounteous king and ’tis even more wonderful that he took that water.”
The story is a metaphor for the grace and compassion of those spiritual kings, the Masters. Maharaj Sawan Singh writes in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. V:
Bees rush to flowers for their fragrance and honey; similarly, the seekers go to the perfect Master to partake of his wealth of spirituality and righteousness. No one returns empty-handed from the bountiful Master.
We are like the ignorant man and his wife – but our poverty is spiritual. In our spiritually arid world, we toil to collect a little devotion to present to the Master. How excellent our gift appears to us, but how little we understand of true spirituality. Nonetheless, with immense generosity, the Master accepts our poor offering and rewards us by giving us the wherewithal to turn our lives around. Maharaj Sawan Singh writes that “when anyone visits [the Master] he can see the visitor’s inner condition as if that person were encased in transparent glass.” Yet he never humiliates us by exposing our deficiencies and, in spite of his greatness, treats us with the tenderness of a mother.
Maharaj Sawan Singh continues:
When a disciple is reborn, so to say, in the family of the Master, he is ignorant of spiritual matters. His thoughts and cares are always entangled in low desires. But the Master stills the mind and senses of the disciple and purifies him.… Whenever the disciple encounters difficulties, he comes to his help.