Chapter 88 — The Tale of the Rich Man Who Failed to Grasp the Real Philosopher’s Stone

Chudala (as Kumbha) related:—

Once there lived a rich man who combined the opposite qualities of charity and poverty in his character, just as the sea contains water and undersea fires in its depth. He was skilled in arts as he was practiced in arms. He was restrained in all dealings as he was expert in business. But his great worldly ambition to which he devoted all his pursuits kept him from the spiritual knowledge of the most high.

He employed all his endeavors to obtain the imaginary gem of the philosopher’s stone (chintamani), just as the undersea fire wants to devour the waters and dry up the sea bed. After a lapse of a long time, his great enthusiasm and persevering patience succeeded in bringing him the precious gem at last, because there is nothing which may not be produced by man’s ardent zeal. 5 His attempts were successful because of his unwearied labor joined with firm resolution and a well directed plan. Using such means, even the meanest man is favored with fortune. He saw the stone lying before him, ready to be grasped in his hand, like a hermit sitting on a mountain peak thinks he can easily grab the rising moon with his hand. He saw the brilliant gem before him, but became mistrustful of his sight and the reality of the object, like a poor man, hearing of his sudden elevation to royalty, mistrusts the report and doubts that it was meant for him. The rich man was immersed in his thoughts of amazement for a long time. Overlooking and neglecting to lay hold of his great gain, he kept questioning in his mind in the following manner.

The rich man’s thoughts:—

Whether this stone is a gem or not, and if so, whether it be the philosopher’s stone or any other, I fear that if I touch it, it will fly away or be soiled. 10 Until this time, no one has obtained the long sought philosopher’s stone. If ever anyone obtained it, the Shastra scriptures say it would be in his next life. 11 No doubt only my miserliness makes me wrongly see this brilliant gem before me with my eyes, like a short-sighted man seeing a flashing firebrand and deep-laid moon in the sky. 12 How could the tide of my fortune run so high at once that I should succeed so soon to obtain the precious stone that is the splendor and height of perfection and which produces all treasure?

13 There must be few, very few indeed, fortunate men who can expect their good fortune to court and wait on them at such little pain in such a short time. 14 I am only a poor and honest man possessed of very little qualification, worth or account among mankind. It is impossible that so miserable a wretch could ever be blessed with this masterpiece of perfection.

Chudala (as Kumbha) continues:—

15 For a long time the unbelieving rich man hung in a state of suspense between his certainty and uncertainty. He was so infatuated by his mental blindness that he did not even stretch out his hand to lay hold on the jewel lying openly before him. 16 Hence, whatever is obtainable by anyone at anytime is often missed and lost sight of because of either his ignorance or negligence of it, just as the precious gem in the parable, the sought after object that lay tangible in full view. 17 As the rich man was hanging undecided, frozen by his suspicion, the precious gem flew away and vanished from his sight, just as the deserving man avoids his critic, an arrow flies from its string, or a stone from its sling-shot.

18 When prosperity appears to a man, she confers on him her blessings of wisdom and prudence. But as prosperity forsakes her foolish devotee, she deprives him of all his discretion. 19 The man tried again to invoke and recall the precious gem to his presence, because the persevering spirit is never tired of trying again and again for his expected success. 20 He came to behold before him a brittle piece of glass, shining with its false glare like the former gem. This glass was placed before him by the invisible hands of a spiritual master who had come to tempt him and deride his folly. 21 The fool thought this brittle thing lying before him was the real gem, just as an ignorant fool believes sparkling sands to be pure gold dust.

22 Such is the case with the deluded mind. It mistakes eight for six and foe for a friend. It sees a serpent in a rope and views desert land as a watery expanse. It drinks poison as if it was nectar and spies another moon in the sky in the reflection of the true one. 23 The rich man took up that fraudulent worthless imitation for a real gem. He thought it was the philosopher’s stone which would confer on him whatever he desired. With this belief he gave all he had to charity as they were no use to him anymore.

24 He thought his own country was devoid of everything that was delightful to him. He thought the society of its people were debasing to him. He thought his lost house was of no use of him and that his relatives and friends were averse to his happiness. 25 Thinking like this, he determined to remove himself to a distant country and enjoy his rest there. So taking his false gem with him, he went out and entered an uninhabited forest. 26 There his deceptive gem was of no use to him. It loaded him with all imaginable disasters, like the gloomy shadow of a black mountain and the horrid gloom of deep ignorance.

27 The afflictions brought on by one’s own ignorance are far greater than those caused by old age or the torments of death. The calamity of ignorance, like black hairs covering the crown of the head, supersedes all other earthly afflictions.