A Bunch of Grapes

Reginald Machell
"Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?" — Matthew, 6, 30

The people were very poor and there was lack of food, also many were sick and there was none to give them help. But when Harij heard of the suffering of the people he left his cave in the mountains in which he lived the peaceful life of a holy man, and came down to the burning heat of the plains where the people tried to cultivate fields that would have been fertile if the rain had not failed for two successive years.

He had no money to buy provisions for the starving or medicines for the sick, but he understood the nature of herbs, the value of sympathy, as well as practical nursing. So he set about visiting the sick and giving the people advice as to the proper care of themselves and their children. Then he visited the richer houses and begged help for the poor.

There was something very lovable in the old man's manner, so that none could refuse him what he asked. In this way he was able to provide simple meals for the most needy. But his demands became so frequent that the rich people got together and decided that it was not well to keep this good work all in their own hands; better to give others more wealthy than they a chance to share the blessings of this holy man, as well as the satisfaction of taking part in such an admirable form of benevolence. So they sent out the most persuasive talkers in the neighborhood to visit all the wealthy men they could reach, soliciting alms in the name of Harij, the benefactor of the poor.

This good work prospered so well that Harij no longer had need to call for assistance, but could now leave the supply of the necessary provisions to others, whom he selected and organized, instructing each one in his duties. Thus he was able to give more time to the direct care of the sick, who increased in numbers continually, because, though many were cured, more came in from a distance every day, attracted by the fame of this wonderful man. The cures he accomplished were quite natural, but the accounts of them were not only miraculous, they were really at times fabulous. For, "out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaketh," and the speech of a full heart must not be measured grudgingly.

Many visitors came to see the place, which had now become famous. The extent of the benevolent work was constantly increasing so that men marveled how it could be carried on with no wealthy patron to support the penniless hermit. Most of these visitors were so affected by his goodness that they voluntarily left gifts when they went away, and talked of what they had seen to all who would listen.

One day came a very learned man, who was said by some to be a very holy man, and by others was reputed to be a master of magic, though he called it science. He was courteously received and escorted over the whole establishment, and before leaving asked permission to speak with the good Harij himself. This was easily arranged, for Harij regarded all duties as equal in merit, though of different degree of urgency. No one was able to understand how it was that he would decide suddenly to leave some apparently urgent duty in order to attend to some obviously trivial matter. These things he would not explain, nor would he give reasons for refusing to see important visitors at one time, and for dropping his work to go and spend an hour talking to a visitor seemingly of no consequence at another. So on this occasion he left the care of a sick man to go and receive this visitor, who was not the kind of person that usually got much attention from the friend of the poor.

Harij fixed his calm deep eyes on the mage, and took his measure inwardly as well as outwardly. He sighed as he did so, but courteously listened, gravely smiling, to the eloquent compliments of the "man of science." What struck the visitor most was the great cost of such a work and the heavy weight of responsibility that a man without a large fortune or the support of wealthy men must feel in carrying on so extensive an undertaking.

"But," he said, "if you had some assured source of supply that you could count on, how much more free you would be to attend to the spiritual needs of all those who look to you for enlightenment and guidance in the performance of virtue."

Harij tried to make him understand that he did not worry about money or supplies, explaining that if he did his work with all his heart, there was one who would take care of the supplies. He smiled and gently shrugged his shoulders. He was content, he said. But the visitor would not have it so.

"See," said he, "I will show you a great wonder that I have learned by years of labor and research, and by the aid of a master to whom I gave twenty years of my life in service as a price for his instruction. Now I will give this secret to you, because I have never seen a man more worthy to possess it, and you will be as wealthy as you choose to be." He waited for Harij's expressions of astonishment or gratitude; but none came. On the contrary his host seemed a little weary. But the mage was now full of his own importance and of the noble and generous act he was about to perform. He had never done a really generous act in his life, and the experience was quite intoxicating; so he did not notice that his host was looking at the lengthening shadows of the mountains.

He drew a large pipe from his pouch and put a small quantity of tobacco in it, lit it, and blew it up quickly; then he filled up the bowl with sand, repeating some verses to himself as he put in the sand with a peculiar gesture. Then he took three deep breaths and exhaled slowly, breathing on the bowl of the pipe. Taking the mouthpiece then between his lips he drew steadily; then he blew the smoke back, forcing it up through the sand. He repeated this operation three times, after which he laid the palm of his hand upon the open bowl, closed his eyes a moment, muttering again to himself, and reopening his eyes he emptied the contents of the pipe upon a flat stone that lay near. The sand had become a lump of pure gold.

Triumphantly he held up the prize and offered it to Harij, who took it calmly smiling, courteous as ever, but not particularly interested in this performance. Still he spoke some compliment upon the "science" of his visitor, and thanked him for the exhibition of his art.

The mage was frankly disappointed, but thought that Harij had not quite realized that this marvelous secret was to be his as a free gift, so he said: "Now I will explain the method, which I doubt not you will be able to master with considerably less labor than is usual, for I will give you those secrets that a master usually withholds from a pupil even though he has been paid a great fee for his instructions."

"My friend," said Harij finally, "my time is too precious for me to spend it in this way. The ignorant are always waiting for instruction in matters of real moment; the sick are constantly in need of ministration, and I am but one man. [image]How can I leave these duties to spend my time in such a manner, now that I have assumed this responsibility? And furthermore I ask you, how should I face my Master if I were to doubt his power to fulfill his word to me given when he sent me to this work? If I do my part he will do his. The time passes, but you must take some refreshment before you leave my house. Would you like a peach, or some grapes, or some other fresh fruit? The air is hot and dry."

The heat was indeed oppressive, and the mention of grapes and peaches seemed a mockery in such a place where a few figs were all that could be expected, and dried ones to boot. But the man of science was feeling subdued and humbled. It seemed that his host had become more imposing, more commanding, though still kind and courteous. So he said quite meekly, "I thank you for your courtesy. I am more than content with the honor you have done me. I beg you therefore to let me drink a cup of water, that I may say I have partaken of the hospitality of a holy man."

"Nay, nay, you shall have grapes," said Harij smiling, and with that he put up his hand in front of his guest and took from the air a bunch of grapes that were more beautiful than the finest the mage had ever seen. Setting them on a platter he offered them to his guest, who was far too amazed to speak. Gradually it dawned upon him that he had been rebuked by one who was greater than he.

He bowed himself humbly before the master, who repeated a verse from an ancient scripture, as he stood in the poor hut that was his home:

"To live to benefit mankind is the first step; to practise the six glorious virtues is the second."

(From Sunrise magazine, September 1954; copyright © 1954 Theosophical University Press)

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