Articles: The Beggar and the Rich Man
—by Carolyn Jackson
I once met a man who told me that it is impossible to find spirituality
without first having material wealth. This story was inspired by him.
Once upon a time, in the ancient city of Calcutta there lived two men. These men had never formally met, but saw each other on the street almost everyday. One was a very rich man named Ababa. The other was a beggar named Saoel. The rich man was dressed in the finest silk and his cloak was embroidered with the finest gold thread. The beggar wore only rags and his feet were calloused and tough from having walked many miles with no shoes. On the face of Ababa were lines of worry and stress mixed with the look of importance and prominence. On the face of Saoel there was a look of innocence and joy.
One day, as Ababa passed by the street where Saoel sat begging, he noticed the strange look of joy on the beggar’s face. Saoel sat with a beautifully carved bowl beside him and was surrounded by children and dozens of pigeons, that pecked at the scraps he always seemed to have near him to feed them. His face was not lined and his eyes held the wonder of a child. Ababa was mystified. How could a beggar look so content? Saoel noticed the gaze of the rich man also and wondered at the same time at the lines surrounding his eyes and mouth. How could someone who had so much, be so worried? In India, in those days the rich and poor did not speak to each other and took great care usually not to notice each other.
The people of those days believed that God gave each man his destiny and to interfere in that destiny would be an affront to God’s design. Ababa knew this, but the joy in Saoel’s face could not be ignored and he felt drawn to approach him. He reached into his purse and self-consciously dropped a few rupees in the beggar’s bowl. Saoel looked up at Ababa with such a look of deep gratitude that Ababa became terribly confused, dropped a few more rupees and quickly scurried away.
Now Ababa considered himself a self made man. He believed that what was his, he had created. He took care to provide for himself and his family and he took pride in these responsibilities. He liked the challenge of provision. His wife and children loved him for it and were never in lack or in need, but to maintain this world for his family sometimes caused Ababa some concern. It wasn't always easy to make the money, that they had become accustomed to, but Ababa always found a way. In truth, he would have had it no other way. The challenge of this, is what made him feel important and that caused the lines that were on his face. Although Ababa led a respectable life by any man's standards, he could not quite say that he was entirely happy. This is what intrigued him about the beggar. Good men would say that the beggar's life was no life. Ababa felt pity for the beggars in the streets of Calcutta and always took care to set aside a few rupees for them. It made him feel even wealthier and even more important. Saoel was the very first one in whose eyes he had seen such joy.
Now Saoel would have been surprised to know that Ababa had given his life a second thought. He was beyond happy and didn’t question his existence. It was a simple and profound joy to be alive. His eyes were lit with an appreciation for all of life. Although God had given him no family of his own, he loved each of the children that gathered near him. He loved their chattering and games. He loved the pigeons that flocked to him, not knowing that they were drawn to his joy and gentleness. He saw the hand of God in everything. He felt loved by the feeling of the air being drawn into his lungs. He delighted in the strength of his feet and legs, which carried him through the streets of Calcutta. He saw the face of love and generosity in the faces of all of the people who dropped money in his beautifully carved bowl. He possessed this beautifully carved bowl because he considered it a privilege to receive any and everything and that was the secret of his joy.
He was profoundly grateful to be alive and profoundly grateful to receive so freely everything that was given to him. He never considered that he was not the wealthiest of men and in truth he was. He noticed the lines and the discontent on the faces of the men who dropped rupees into his bowl and he knew that they did not know the secret of life. So, he continued to consider himself the richest of all men.
Months and years passed. Ababa and Saoel continued to notice each other and each saw the changes in the face of the other that the years brought. Ababa became a slightly stooped and the lines of discontent turned to lines of anger and disappointment. The joy and innocence on the face of Saoel continued to grow also. More and more people flocked to him to hear his secret. Little by little, Saoel became wealthier and wealthier. He was given a beautiful woman to marry and was blessed with children of his own. Never did he forget the secret. He continued to give thanks for everything that was given to him and to see the face and hand of God in everyone he met. He kept the beautifully carved bowl beside him always to remind himself that being a beggar was his highest aspiration.
Eventually Ababa began to sicken and die. His wife and his children came to visit his bed everyday. They desperately asked him what they could do. As Ababa lay back with his eyes closed and reviewed his life, he replied, ”I need to see the beggar.”
His children searched the city for Saoel, but could not find him on the streets. e had moved to a beautiful house on the outskirts of Calcutta and continued to teach the secret of life.
Saoel heard about the rich man seeking to find him and from the compassion in his heart he traveled to Ababa’s home. When he saw the tired old face of the man he had been curious about for years, he had only one thing to offer him. He laid his beautifully carved bowl beside the dying man and said, “Remember your life with gratitude, for it is life’s greatest treasure to be a beggar.”