FablesOthersPanchatantraStories from India

The Monk Who Left His Body Behind

In the Koshala country is a city called Unassailable. In it ruled a king named Fine-Chariot, over whose footstool rippled rays of light from the diadems of uncounted vassal princes.

One day a forest ranger came with this report: “Master, all the forest kings have become turbulent, and in their middle is the forest chief named Vindhyaka. It is the king’s affair to teach him modest manners.” On hearing this report, the king summoned Counsellor Strong, and despatched him with orders to chastise the forest chieftains.

Now in the absence of the counsellor, a naked monk arrived in the city at the end of the hot season* He was master of the astronomical specialties, such as problems and etymologies, rising of the zodiacal signs, augury, ecliptic intersection, and the decanate; also stellar mansions divided into nine parts, twelve parts, thirty parts; the shadow of the gnomon, eclipses, and numerous other mysteries. With these the fellow in a few days won the entire population, as if he had bought and paid for them.

Finally, as the matter went from mouth to mouth, the king heard a report of its character, and had the curiosity to summon the monk to his palace. There he offered him a seat and asked: “Is it true, Professor, as they say, that you read the thoughts of others?”

“That will be demonstrated in the sequel,” replied the monk, and by discourses adapted to the occasion he brought the poor king to the extreme pitch of curiosity.

One day he failed to appear at the regular hour, but the following day, on entering the palace, he announced: “O King, I bring you the best of good tidings. At dawn today I flung this body aside within my cell, assumed a body fit for the world of the gods, and, inspired with the knowledge that all the immortals thought of me with longing, I went to heaven and have just returned. While there, I was requested by the gods to inquire in their name after the king’s welfare.”

When he heard this, the king said, his extreme curiosity begetting a feeling of amazement: “What, Professor! You go to heaven?”

“O mighty King,” replied the fellow, “I go to heaven every day.” This the king believed poor dullard! so that he grew negligent of all royal business and all duties toward the ladies, concentrating his attention on the monk.

While matters were in this state, Strong entered the king’s presence, after settling all disturbances in the forest domain. He found the master wholly indifferent to every one of his counsellors, withdrawn in private conference with that naked monk, discussing what seemed to be some miraculous occurrence, his lotus-face a-blossom. And on learning the facts, Strong bowed low and said: “Victory, O King! May the gods give you wit!”

Thereupon the king inquired concerning the counsellor’s health, and said: “Sir, do you know this professor?” To which the counsellor replied: “How could there be ignorance of one who is lord and creator of a whole school of professors? Moreover, I have heard that this professor goes to heaven. Is it a fact?”

“Everything that you have heard,” answered the king, “is beyond the shadow of a doubt.”

Thereupon the monk said: “If this counsellor feels any curiosity, he may see for himself.” With this, he entered his cell, barred the door from within, and waited there.

After the lapse of a mere moment, the counsellor spoke: “O King,” he said, “how soon will he return?” And the king replied: “Why this impatience? You must know that he leaves his lifeless body within this cell, and returns with another, a heavenly body.”

“If this is indeed the case,” said Strong, “then bring a great quantity of firewood, so that I may set fire to this cell.”

“For what purpose?” asked the king. And the counsellor continued: “So that when this lifeless body has been burned, the gentleman may stand before the king in that other body which visits heaven.” And counseller told a parallel story of The Girl Who Married a Snake’ and he set fire to the cell that contained the naked monk.

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