The Five Wise Words of the Guru

Once there lived a handsome young man named Ram Singh, who, though a
favourite with everyone, was unhappy because he had a scold for a
step-mother. All day long she went on talking, until the youth was
driven so distracted that he determined to go away somewhere and seek
his fortune. No sooner had he decided to leave his home than he made
his plans, and the very next morning he started off with a few clothes
in a wallet, and a little money in his pocket.

But there was one person in the village to whom he wished to say
good-bye, and that was a wise old guru, or teacher, who had taught him
much. So he turned his face first of all towards his master’s hut, and
before the sun was well up was knocking at his door. The old man
received his pupil affectionately; but he was wise in reading faces,
and saw at once that the youth was in trouble.

‘My son,’ said he, ‘what is the matter?’

‘Nothing, father,’ replied the young man, ‘but I have determined to go
into the world and seek my fortune.’

‘Be advised,’ returned the guru, ‘and remain in your father’s house;
it is better to have half a loaf at home than to seek a whole one in
distant countries.’

But Ram Singh was in no mood to heed such advice, and very soon the
old man ceased to press him.

‘Well,’ said he at last, ‘if your mind is made up I suppose you must
have your way. But listen carefully, and remember five parting
counsels which I will give you; and if you keep these no evil shall
befall you. First–always obey without question the orders of him
whose service you enter; second–never speak harshly or unkindly to
anyone; third–never lie; fourth–never try to appear the equal of
those above you in station; and fifth–wherever you go, if you meet
those who read or teach from the holy books, stay and listen, if but
for a few minutes, that you may be strengthened in the path of duty.’

Then Ram Singh started out upon his journey, promising to bear in mind
the old man’s words.

After some days he came to a great city. He had spent all the money
which he had at starting, and therefore resolved to look for work
however humble it might be. Catching sight of a prosperous-looking
merchant standing in front of a shop full of grain of all kinds, Ram
went up to him and asked whether he could give him anything to
do. The merchant gazed at him so long that the young man began to lose
heart, but at length he answered:

‘Yes, of course; there is a place waiting for you.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Ram Singh.

‘Why,’ replied the other, ‘yesterday our rajah’s chief wazir dismissed
his body servant and is wanting another. Now you are just the sort of
person that he needs, for you are young and tall, and handsome; I
advise you to apply there.’

Thanking the merchant for this advice, the young man set out at once
for the wazir’s house, and soon managed, thanks to his good looks and
appearance, to be engaged as the great man’s servant.

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One day, soon after this, the rajah of the place started on a journey
and the chief wazir accompanied him. With them was an army of servants
and attendants, soldiers, muleteers, camel-drivers, merchants with
grain and stores for man and beast, singers to make entertainment by
the way and musicians to accompany them, besides elephants, camels,
horses, mules, ponies, donkeys, goats, and carts and wagons of every
kind and description, so that it seemed more like a large town on the
march than anything else.

Thus they travelled for several days, till they entered a country that
was like a sea of sand, where the swirling dust floated in clouds, and
men and beasts were half choked by it. Towards the close of that day
they came to a village, and when the headmen hurried out to salute the
rajah and to pay him their respects, they began, with very long and
serious faces, to explain that, whilst they and all that they had were
of course at the disposal of the rajah, the coming of so large a
company had nevertheless put them into a dreadful difficulty because
they had never a well nor spring of water in their country; and they
had no water to give drink to such an army of men and beasts!

Great fear fell upon the host at the words of the headmen, but the
rajah merely told the wazir that he must get water somehow, and that
settled the matter so far as _he_ was concerned. The wazir sent off in
haste for all the oldest men in the place, and began to question them
as to whether there were no wells near by.

They all looked helplessly at each other, and said nothing; but at
length one old grey-beard replied:

‘Truly, Sir Wazir, there is, within a mile or two of this village, a
well which some former king made hundreds of years ago. It is, they
say, great and inexhaustible, covered in by heavy stone-work and with
a flight of steps leading down to the water in the very bowels of the
earth; but no man ever goes near it because it is haunted by evil
spirits, and it is known that whoso disappears down the well shall
never be seen again.’

The wazir stroked his beard and considered a moment. Then he turned to
Ram Singh who stood behind his chair.

‘There is a proverb,’ said he, ‘that no man can be trusted until he
has been tried. Go you and get the rajah and his people water from
this well.’

Then there flashed into Ram Singh’s mind the first counsel of the old
guru–‘_Always obey without question the orders of him whose service
you enter._’ So he replied at once that he was ready, and left to
prepare for his adventure. Two great brazen vessels he fastened to a
mule, two lesser ones he bound upon his shoulders, and thus provided
he set out, with the old villager for his guide. In a short time they
came to a spot where some big trees towered above the barren country,
whilst under their shadow lay the dome of an ancient building. This
the guide pointed out as the well, but excused himself from going
further as he was an old man and tired, and it was already nearly
sunset, so that he must be returning home. So Ram Singh bade him
farewell, and went on alone with the mule.

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Arrived at the trees, Ram Singh tied up his beast, lifted the vessels
from his shoulder, and having found the opening of the well, descended
by a flight of steps which led down into the darkness. The steps were
broad white slabs of alabaster which gleamed in the shadows as he went
lower and lower. All was very silent. Even the sound of his bare feet
upon the pavements seemed to wake an echo in that lonely place, and
when one of the vessels which he carried slipped and fell upon the
steps it clanged so loudly that he jumped at the noise. Still he went
on, until at last he reached a wide pool of sweet water, and there he
washed his jars with care before he filled them, and began to remount
the steps with the lighter vessels, as the big ones were so heavy he
could only take up one at a time. Suddenly, something moved above him,
and looking up he saw a great giant standing on the stairway! In one
hand he held clasped to his heart a dreadful looking mass of bones, in
the other was a lamp which cast long shadows about the walls, and
made him seem even more terrible than he really was.

‘What think you, O mortal,’ said the giant, ‘of my fair and lovely
wife?’ And he held the light towards the bones in his arms and looked
lovingly at them.

Now I must tell you that this poor giant had had a very beautiful
wife, whom he had loved dearly; but, when she died, her husband
refused to believe in her death, and always carried her about long
after she had become nothing but bones. Ram Singh of course did not
know of this, but there came to his mind the second wise saying of the
guru, which forbade him to speak harshly or inconsiderately to others;
so he replied:

‘Truly, sir, I am sure you could find nowhere such another.’

‘Ah, what eyes you have!’ cried the delighted giant, ‘you at least can
see! I do not know how often I have slain those who insulted her by
saying she was but dried bones! You are a fine young man, and I will
help you.’

So saying, he laid down the bones with great tenderness, and snatching
up the huge brass vessels, carried them up again, and replaced them
with such ease that it was all done by the time that Ram Singh had
reached the open air with the smaller ones.

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‘Now,’ said the giant, ‘you have pleased me, and you may ask of me one
favour, and whatever you wish I will do it for you. Perhaps you would
like me to show you where lies buried the treasure of dead kings?’ he
added eagerly.

But Ram Singh shook his head at the mention of buried wealth.

‘The favour that I would ask,’ said he, ‘is that you will leave off
haunting this well, so that men may go in and out and obtain water.’

Perhaps the giant expected some favour more difficult to grant, for
his face brightened, and he promised to depart at once; and as Ram
went off through the gathering darkness with his precious
burden of water, he beheld the giant striding away with the bones of
his dead wife in his arms.

Great was the wonder and rejoicing in the camp when Ram Singh returned
with the water. He never said anything, however, about his adventure
with the giant, but merely told the rajah that there was nothing to
prevent the well being used; and used it was, and nobody ever saw any
more of the giant.

The rajah was so pleased with the bearing of Ram Singh that he ordered
the wazir to give the young man to him in exchange for one of his own
servants. So Ram Singh became the rajah’s attendant; and as the days
went by the king became more and more delighted with the youth
because, mindful of the old guru’s third counsel, he was always honest
and spoke the truth. He grew in favour rapidly, until at last the
rajah made him his treasurer, and thus he reached a high place in the
court and had wealth and power in his hands. Unluckily the rajah had a
brother who was a very bad man; and this brother thought that if he
could win the young treasurer over to himself he might by this means
manage to steal little by little any of the king’s treasure which he
needed. Then, with plenty of money, he could bribe the soldiers and
some of the rajah’s counsellors, head a rebellion, dethrone and kill
his brother, and reign himself instead. He was too wary, of course, to
tell Ram Singh of all these wicked plans; but he began by flattering
him whenever he saw him, and at last offered him his daughter in
marriage. But Ram Singh remembered the fourth counsel of the old
guru–never to try to appear the equal of those above him in
station–therefore he respectfully declined the great honour of
marrying a princess. Of course the prince, baffled at the very
beginning of his enterprise, was furious, and determined to work Ram
Singh’s ruin, and entering the rajah’s presence he told him a story
about Ram Singh having spoken insulting words of his sovereign and of
his daughter. What it was all about nobody knew, and, as it was not
true, the wicked prince did not know either; but the rajah grew very
angry and red in the face as he listened, and declared that until the
treasurer’s head was cut off neither he nor the princess nor his
brother would eat or drink.

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‘But,’ added he, ‘I do not wish any one to know that this was done by
my desire, and anyone who mentions the subject will be severely
punished.’ And with this the prince was forced to be content.

Then the rajah sent for an officer of his guard, and told him to take
some soldiers and ride at once to a tower which was situated just
outside the town, and if anyone should come to inquire when the
building was going to be finished, or should ask any other questions
about it, the officer must chop his head off, and bring it to him. As
for the body, that could be buried on the spot. The old officer
thought these instructions rather odd, but it was no business of his,
so he saluted, and went off to do his master’s bidding.

Early in the morning the rajah, who had not slept all night, sent for
Ram Singh, and bade him go to the new hunting-tower, and ask the
people there how it was getting on and when it was going to be
finished, and to hurry back with the answer! Away went Ram Singh upon
his errand, but, on the road, as he was passing a little temple on the
outskirts of the city, he heard someone inside reading aloud; and,
remembering the guru’s fifth counsel, he just stepped inside and sat
down to listen for a minute. He did not mean to stay longer, but
became so deeply interested in the wisdom of the teacher, that he sat,
and sat, and sat, while the sun rose higher and higher.

In the meantime, the wicked prince, who dared not disobey the rajah’s
command, was feeling very hungry; and as for the princess, she was
quietly crying in a corner waiting for the news of Ram Singh’s death,
so that she might eat her breakfast.

Hours passed, and stare as he might from the window no messenger could
be seen.

At last the prince could bear it no longer, and hastily disguising
himself so that no one should recognise him, he jumped on a horse and
galloped out to the hunting-tower, where the rajah had told him that
the execution was to take place. But, when he got there, there was no
execution going on. There were only some men engaged in building, and
a number of soldiers idly watching them. He forgot that he had
disguised himself and that no one would know him, so, riding up, he
cried out:

‘Now then, you men, why are you idling about here instead of finishing
what you came to do? When is it to be done?’

At his words the soldiers looked at the commanding officer, who was
standing a little apart from the rest. Unperceived by the prince he
made a slight sign, a sword flashed in the sun, and off flew a head on
the ground beneath!

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As part of the prince’s disguise had been a thick beard, the men did
not recognise the dead man as the rajah’s brother; but they wrapped
the head in a cloth, and buried the body as their commander bade them.
When this was ended, the officer took the cloth, and rode off in the
direction of the palace.

Meanwhile the rajah came home from his council, and to his great
surprise found neither head nor brother awaiting him; as time passed
on, he became uneasy, and thought that he had better go himself and
see what the matter was. So ordering his horse he rode off alone.

It happened that, just as the rajah came near to the temple where Ram
still sat, the young treasurer, hearing the sound of a horse’s
hoofs, looked over his shoulder and saw that the rider was the rajah
himself! Feeling much ashamed of himself for having forgotten his
errand, he jumped up and hurried out to meet his master, who reined up
his horse, and seemed very surprised (as indeed he was) to see _him_.
At that moment there arrived the officer of the guard carrying his
parcel. He saluted the rajah gravely, and, dismounting, laid the
bundle in the road and began to undo the wrappings, whilst the rajah
watched him with wonder and interest. When the last string was undone,
and the head of his brother was displayed to his view, the rajah
sprang from his horse and caught the soldier by the arm. As soon as he
could speak he questioned the man as to what had occurred, and little
by little a dark suspicion darted through him. Then, briefly telling
the soldier that he had done well, the rajah drew Ram Singh to one
side, and in a few minutes learned from him how, in attending to the
guru’s counsel, he had delayed to do the king’s message.

In the end the rajah found from some papers the proofs of his dead
brother’s treachery; and Ram Singh established his innocence and
integrity. He continued to serve the rajah for many years with
unswerving fidelity; and married a maiden of his own rank in life,
with whom he lived happily; dying at last honoured and loved by all
men. Sons were born to him; and, in time, to them also he taught the
five wise sayings of the old guru.
(A Punjâbi story.)


[4] A Hindu religious teacher or saint; in this case a Sikh.

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