May the Bell Ring

Swami Krishnananda recounts a classic Indian tale

This article is from What is Enlightenment? magazine (vol. 4, no.2, 1995).

There is a story in the Mahabharata about a great rishi [sage], Sukha Maharaj. He was a little boy sixteen years old. He was one with all the trees, the mountains and everything. If you spoke to him it was like speaking to a tree or a wall. He just went around naked without any consciousness of the body. Vyasa, his father, called, “Sukha my son, where are you?” The trees everywhere in the forest started vibrating, “I am here, I am here, I am here.”

There was a king who was a very virtuous and charitable man. After he was crowned king, he had a desire to feed thousands and thousands of people as a gesture of his greatness as an emperor. And when he did this he wanted to know how many people were eating. He asked the great master Vyasa, “Can you contrive some method so that I may know how many have eaten?” Vyasa hung a bell with a magic spell, a mantra, saying, “When one thousand people eat, the bell will ring once. So you can count the number of times it rings, and know how many thousands have eaten.” The king held a big feast, feeding thousands of people. While all the people ate together for the whole day, the bell rang many times. When it was evening, everybody left. The place was empty and quiet, but then the bell started ringing continuously. “Is something wrong with the bell?” the king asked. Vyasa said, “My bell cannot be wrong.” The king said, “This is a tremendous mystery. Why, when everybody has gone away, is it ringing?” “Whatever it is,” Vyasa said, “my bell cannot be wrong. Go look around and see if people are eating, or what is happening.” The king went out and found the little boy Sukha, looking very dirty. He was sitting with the dogs and they were licking the remains of what all the people had eaten that day. Each time Sukha ate a grain of food, the bell went “dong.” The King ran to Vyasa, saying, “Some poor boy is eating and every time he eats a grain of food the bell immediately rings as if a thousand people have eaten.” “Who is the boy?” asked Vyasa. When the king described him, Vyasa said, “Oh, he is my son. He is the whole universe itself. If one grain of food goes into his stomach, millions have been fed.” The king cried out, “What is the good of my feeding so many people when they have not even seen such a man as this? If he eats one grain it is as if the whole world is being fed. What good have I done with all my charity?” Ashamed, he said, “I never knew that such a person existed, and here I am boasting that I have fed millions of people.” He fell prostrate before the boy, but the boy was unaware. He just continued eating with the dogs.

This is the story of an enlightened rishi who has pierced through the cosmos and made it his own– not merely has he made it his own, but he himself is the cosmos. The Upanishads say, “The universe is his. Nay, he himself is the universe.” What more can we say about enlightenment? It is worth thinking of this matter. And one day we shall have it and afterwards may the bell ring.

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