The Young Man and the Skull
The following is a folktale from the Mbundu people who live in south western Africa. Although the story has harsh imagery, perhaps derived from the environment in which the people lived at the time, it also conveys some truths in a powerful way:
One day a young hunter had journeyed far into the bush in search of antelope when he accidentally stumbled upon a human skull lying in the earth. Drawing nearer, he stooped to the ground to examine the object and began muttering to himself, “How did you manage to get here my friend? What can have brought you to this unhappy end?”
To the young man’s absolute astonishment, the skull opened its jaws and began speaking: “Talking brought me here, my friend. Talking brought me to this place.”
The hunter raced back towards his village to tell the people all about his discovery.
“Friends,” he cried excitedly, “I have just come across a human skull in the bush and it has spoken to me. It must be a wonderful sign.”
“Nonsense,” they replied, “how can you possibly hold a conversation with the head of a dead man?”
“But it really did speak to me,” the young man insisted, “you only refuse to believe me because you are jealous.”
But still the people continued to jeer at him. “Why not go and tell the chief all about your discovery,” one mocked. “I’m sure he will be overjoyed by the news!”
“I will do precisely that!” retorted the young man angrily, and off he marched towards the chief’s house to tell him all about the skull. But the chief, who had been taking his afternoon nap, was extremely unhappy that he had been disturbed.
“Why have you come here with your tall stories?” he shouted. “You had better be telling the truth or I will see to it that your own head comes off. Now, take me to this wretched place and let me hear the skull’s message for myself.”
A small crowd set off from the village, arriving shortly afterwards at the place where the young man had made his discovery. And sure enough, they soon spotted the skull sitting in the earth.
“It looks perfectly ordinary,” complained the people after a time. “When are we going to hear it speak?” The young man crouched to the ground and repeated the words he had first spoken to the skull. But no answer came, and the skull’s jaws remained firmly shut. Again, the man spoke to it, raising his voice loudly, but only silence followed.
Now the crowd began to grow restless and when a third and fourth attempt produced exactly the same result, they leapt on the young man and chopped off his head as the chief had ordered.
The head fell to the ground and rolled alongside the skull. For a long time afterwards, all remained quiet as the villagers disappeared over the hill bearing the body homewards for a funeral. Then the skull opened its jaws and spoke up: “How did you manage to get here my friend? What can have brought you to this unhappy end?”
“Talking brought me here,” replied the head. “Talking brought me to this place.”
The tale contains penetrating insights into aspects of human nature in its portrayal of the talkative hunter, the irritable chief, and the crowd. But some lessons can also be drawn from this story by those of us who strive on the spiritual path. For example, do we talk too much and do too little? Do we really want to go inside to the inner regions, or do we just want to “play the tipster”, as Maharaj Sawan Singh once put it, in order to gain personal fame? Because if we do want to go inside, how do we apply ourselves? As part-timers who prioritize our family affairs, social needs and business demands before meditation? Or do we do what we silently pledged to our Master that we would do on the day of our initiation– regularly complete two and a half hours of meditation each day whilst fulfilling our civic and social duties? As Maharaj Sawan Singh explains in Spiritual Gems:
There may be people who hold that, in spite of their great desire to go within, they do not seem to get the help. Such people have only to search their hearts a little deeply. They will find that what they call their great desire is very superficial. They do not want to go within and stay within but wish as a matter of curiosity to return and play the tipster. When a soul really wishes to go back, there is nothing to prevent it. It is the law. Has any father given away his hard-earned money to his son to squander away? Or has any father kept away his earnings from his deserving son?
If we have been fortunate enough to go inside but then dissipate our treasure in talk, the outcome might not be as severe as it was for the unfortunate hunter, but the Masters advise that our spiritual experiences can be stopped for our own good. What is the motive for telling others of our experience, or of the times that the Master appears in our dreams, if not to impress others of our spirituality? We surely realize that this motivation is simply ego and not spirituality. In Divine Light, Maharaj Charan Singh writes:
One should never tell one’s spiritual experiences to anyone, not even to one’s mate. We ought to be very careful about this. This habit of showing off progress is a great hindrance to one’s spiritual progress. This treasure should be kept even more concealed and should be more carefully guarded than any worldly treasure.
On the other hand, those of genuine spirituality say nothing of it but harmonize with the environment their karma has allotted to them. Baba Ji hints at the state of mind of spiritually aware people when he explains that the last thing a self-realized person wants is company – he (or she) loves being on his own, and everything he does, no matter how small (and even if no one else knows about it) is important to him. He quotes a story he had read about a person whose wife had died. All his friends clamoured around the grieving man, gushing out their sympathy, vying for his attention. A lady approached who wanted to help her friend in his hour of need. The time had arrived for everyone to go to the church for the funeral when she noticed a large pile of dirty shoes lying in a cupboard. Instead of going to the funeral ceremony she sat quietly and cleaned all the shoes without anyone else seeing her or knowing that she was doing it. She cleaned them not for recognition but to be supportive. It is summed up by Maharaj Jagat Singh in A Spiritual Bouquet as follows:
Enough has been written and enough has been said. Now what is wanted is silence and work. Speaking distracts and scatters your attention. Silence collects thoughts. It draws your attention inwards and strengthens the spirit. Now set yourself earnestly to practise. Practice makes a man perfect. Be as perfect as your Creator.