The King of Bokhara
Ibrahim Ibn Adham, the king of Bokhara, had a strong devotional inclination but lived in great luxury. This was until a series of unusual events caused him to stop and reconsider his extravagant lifestyle.
One night he was awakened from his bed of fragrant flowers by a noise on the palace roof. He went to investigate and there found a holy man. When questioned, this man said that he was searching for lost camels. Astounded, the king asked how he could expect to find camels on the roof. “In the same way that you expect to find God in your bed of flowers” replied the sage.
A few days later the king was furious to find his bed occupied by a slave girl. The girl responded to the king’s anger by saying, “If, to satisfy my vanity, I provoke my master’s anger by occupying his royal bed for a few moments, how much more will you provoke the Lord’s wrath for all your indulgences in the palace?”
Some months later a Muslim holy man entered the palace, walked past all the dignitaries sitting in the king’s audience hall, approached the king and said, “I want shelter here.”
“Is this a public guest house?” asked the king in some irritation.
The fakir then asked the king to tell him who had lived in the palace before him, and before that who the ruler was, and so on. When the king replied, the fakir said, “Then if this is not a guest house, what is it? One ruler comes, stays for some years and passes away, and then another one comes, and so it goes on. No one lives here permanently.”
As a result of these experiences the king abandoned his throne and travelled to India to seek a master. When he found Kabir and asked to be accepted as a disciple, he offered all the riches he had brought with him as a gift. Kabir told him there was no common ground between a king and a poor weaver like himself and they would not get along. But the king begged and begged. Finally, Kabir’s wife Loi interceded for the king, and Kabir accepted him on the condition that he send back his riches and live as a worker in Kabir’s house.
After six years, observing the great devotion and humility with which Ibrahim was carrying out all the manual work, one day Loi pleaded with Kabir to give him initiation. Kabir replied that Ibrahim was not yet ready. But when Loi insisted, Kabir told her to put Ibrahim’s humility to a test. The next morning Loi went to the roof, and as Ibrahim was passing by after his usual morning bath, she emptied the sweepings of the house on his head. “Ah!” he cried in great indignation, “if this were Bokhara, you wouldn’t have dared to abuse me in this way!” Loi told Kabir, who showed no surprise. “He has not yet completely shed the egoism of his kingship,” he said.
After six more years, Kabir told Loi that Ibrahim was now ready for the gift of Nam and asked her to try him again. So the next day she filled up a bucketful of all the dirt she could collect and tipped it on Ibrahim as he was passing by. “O my Lord,” he exclaimed in great humility, “I am even more dirty than the filth poured on me, and yet you are so merciful as to take me to the feet of your servant!”
The next day Ibrahim was initiated.
During the days of Kabir, saints used to put spiritual seekers such as Ibrahim to severe tests before accepting them as disciples. Because of modern conditions, which have weakened us in both body and mind, saints now make the path easier for us. They do not ask us to distribute our wealth or renounce our position or business. They tell us to continue performing our worldly duties, but instruct us to keep our mind attached to the Lord while doing so.
As retold in Kabir The Great Mystic