• 24 Jun, 2024

Sitting Still, Doing Nothing

Sitting Still, Doing Nothing

My awareness did not change — it was the same in your palace as it was under the tree. Palace or hut, city or forest, luxury or austerity, nothing makes a difference. My inner state does not change...

The ruler of a certain kingdom, during one of his city tours, happened to see a young man sitting silently under a tree. Something about the young man caught his attention. He stopped by and waited for him to move, but the young man did not move, sitting still as a statue. The king was fascinated. He returned that night in disguise to see what the young man would be doing. He was amazed to see that the young man was still sitting under that same tree, as still as rock.

The king would come every night after that to check on this strange young man and would always find him seated still in meditation, eyes lightly closed.

Eventually, unable to restrain himself, he approached the young man and introduced himself, expecting some reaction at least. There was none. The young man’s eyes seemed to reflect a profound emptiness that the king was unable to fathom.

“I’m sorry that I disturbed your meditation, young man,” the king said apologetically, “but I am fascinated by you.”

The young man smiled and said, “You don’t need to apologize. I was not meditating.”

“Oh,” said the King, “I thought you were. You were sitting still, with your eyes closed.”

“That I was” replied the young man.

“Isn’t that meditating?” Asked the king, his curiosity aroused.

“No, that is not.”

“Then what is it?”

“It’s sitting still. Doing nothing.”

The king was puzzled. The young man smiled again and said, “But go ahead, what is it that you wanted of me?”

The king said, a bit hesitantly, “I wish to invite you to my palace, to be my guest for some days. I will take care of your needs. I have fallen in love with your silence, young man. Your imperturbability is utterly fascinating. Will you come with me?”

The king was hesitant because he knew the true motive lurking behind his innocent invitation — deep inside, he wanted to test the young man: would he actually accept his invitation? Would one like him, sitting under a tree, in such deep silence, accept such an invitation? If he is genuine, he won’t..he shouldn’t…

The young man stood up, picked up a small bag which probably contained all of his belongings, brushed the dust off his clothes and said, “Let’s go.”

The king was taken aback for a while. What it this? This man was ready to come with him to the palace. What happened to his meditation, or sitting still, or whatever? Was he then pretending? He can’t be a meditator, a holy man. What would a genuine meditator have to do with palaces and comforts? The king seemed disappointed deep in his mind. But now, he couldn’t go back on his word.

The young man, meanwhile, stood quietly beside the king, his bag hung on his shoulder, not a flicker of expression on his face.

“Thank you, young man,” said the king at last, “let’s go.”

So the two went back to the king’s palace. The young man was given a spacious luxurious room in the palace, servants attended upon him, the best meals were prepared for him, young girls waited upon him, the best wines in the palace were served to him. And, to the utter bewilderment of the king, the young man accepted all that was offered to him without a murmur, as if he was accustomed to these luxuries all his life. But with each passing day, the king was getting disenchanted and upset that he had been taken for a ride.

The king kept thinking to himself: What have I got myself into? This fellow is an imposter. He was sitting there like a buddha just to trick me because somehow he knew I would be passing his way and that I was interested in sages and saints. God! How easy it must have been! But now how do I get him out?

The weeks passed in silent agony for the king. His queen would also mockingly question him about his royal guest, the silent sage. Eventually, the king couldn’t take it any more and lost his patience.

One evening, as the two were strolling in the garden, the king asked the young man, “I have one question that I need absolutely to ask. I have been pondering over this for days.”

The young man said, “Sure, ask me anything.”

“This may be awkward — but I really want to know. I have been observing you for the last few weeks and have seen you enjoy all the luxuries of the palace. What then is the difference between you and me?”

The young man smiled at the king and said, “Yes, I was expecting this question. This question arose in your mind the moment I had accepted your invitation. You weren’t expecting me to. You should’ve asked this question much earlier.”

“So will you explain?” The king asked, a bit uncertainly.

“Yes, I will. But not here, like this. For my answer, you will have to come with me to the borders of your kingdom.”

The king readily agreed. The border was just across the river, a few miles ride. They rode together in silence, and in a couple of hours, they had come to the river across which the king’s province ended.

The young man looked quietly at the king for a few moments and said,”Here is my answer, my friend: I am going. Will you come with me?”

“Going where?”

“Wherever the path takes me. Maybe I’ll find some other spot under some other tree somewhere… who knows?”

“But,” the king stammered, “How can I come? I have a kingdom to manage, a family to take care of..”

The young man looked into the eyes of the king and said very simply, ”Do you see the difference between you and me? I have only a bag with a change of clothes. Nothing else.”

Something dawned on the king at that moment.

The young man continued, “And there’s another difference: My awareness did not change — it was the same in your palace as it was under the tree. Palace or hut, city or forest, luxury or austerity, nothing makes a difference. My inner state does not change.”

The king understood immediately. The light had dawned. The young man’s gaze was as empty as before, and as serene. He had not lost any of his silence. The king began to recall several occasions in the palace as he was observing the young man — the king’s attention had been distracted all through by the material details, but he had quite overlooked what was staring him in the face all along: that the young man’s gaze had not changed, his expression had not changed, his demeanor had not changed. The king had observed only the outer details and had lost faith, what he had missed were the expression, the eyes, the gaze.

The kind bowed to the young man and said with a broken voice, “Forgive me, my young friend, I have been foolish and hasty in my judgment. I could not fathom your silence. Please come back with me or I’ll never forgive myself.”

The young man smiled gently and said, “No, King! Don’t feel sorry for my sake. I belong nowhere and to none. I neither come nor go. You have work and responsibilities and so you must return. I go where the wind and the waters take me.”

The king became even more insistent and repentant. “No, I beg of you. This time I shall pay attention to you and not to the outer details. I will learn from you…”

The young man spoke again, gently and softly, “O, King! I can come back, but then there will be other things to disturb and distract you. The mind will always find flaws and reasons to doubt. Why put yourself through more suffering? Instead, go back to your kingdom and your palace with more silence, more meditativeness… Or come with me and we shall walk together.”

The young man then turned away from the king and started walking into the forest, without a backward glance. The king, with a heavy heart, turned towards his kingdom.


Retold by Nirankar

Acharya Nirankar

A practitioner and teacher of Vedanta who prefers to write and speak anonymously. A teacher, in the dharmic tradition, is known as 'Acharya'.

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