The Village Idiot, a Teaching Story…

In a small south Indian cottage in 1995, an 89 year old swami told the following story a few months before his conscious transition. It was said that he shared his final talks with “force and gentle humor that were irresistibly attractive”. The following english translation of this tale comes from David Godman’s book: Annamalai Swami, Final Talks.

With our current economic situation as precarious, as say the summer of 1929, this teaching story, originally told to a small group of spiritual aspirants, is exceedingly appropriate.

Annamalai Swami:

Today I am going to tell you a story I once heard. A rich man lived in a village. From his youth till his old age he had spent all his time accumulating wealth. He owned many houses and vast tracts of land. As his material wealth
increased, his ego expanded with it. He enjoyed boasting about his wealth.

One day, as he was sitting in front of his house with a stick in his hand, a poor man who was known to be a little stupid passed by.

‘Why are you holding that stick in your hand?’ he asked. The rich man decided to have some fun with him.

‘It’s a special stick,’ he replied. ‘It has to be given to an idiot. This stick is passed from person to person, and each person who receives it must pass it on to someone who is more stupid than he is.’

Giving him the stick, he continued, ‘Now it is your turn to own it. You must keep it with you until you find someone who is an even bigger idiot than you.’

The poor man humbly accepted the stick and began his quest to find someone whom he felt had even less intelligence than he did. Since he was, by a long way, the least intelligent person in the village, he could not find anyone to give the stick to.

A few weeks later he heard that the rich man was sick and dying. He went to visit him, partly to pay his last respects, and partly to tell him that he hadn’t managed to find anyone to give the stick to. He took his custody of the stick very seriously and he wanted advice from the rich man on what he should do with it.

After some preliminary conversation about the rich man’s health and the fate of the stick, the poor man asked the rich man what was going to happen to all his money when he died.

‘I have to leave all my money here,’ answered the rich man. ‘I don’t know where and when I shall be reborn, but I do know that I can’t take any of my money with me. I shall have to start off with nothing again.’

He relapsed into a glum silence, not relishing the prospect of being parted from his money.

The poor man, who had never really considered this aspect of dying before, thought about it for a while and then came to a conclusion.

‘You must have the stick,’ he said, handing it back to him, ‘because I have suddenly realized that you are an even bigger idiot than I am. Though you have had a long life and many opportunities, you have accumulated nothing of value that you can carry forward with you. You have no peace of mind because
you are worried about losing your money, and you have accumulated no good karma because you have spent your whole life pursuing selfish ends. In a few days the piles of money you have amassed will have the same value for you as piles of
garbage. This money will have no value for you in your next life. By devoting your entire life to the accumulation of things that will ultimately prove to be of no use, you have demonstrated that you are a worthy recipient of the stick.’

He placed the stick on the rich man’s bed and left.

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