The following story was told by the clerk, a slender, tall young man, one of the travellers in the Canterbury Tales, whose turn it was to entertain his listeners.
IN a certain country there was a very noble, scholarly, and majestic prince who had just inherited a throne. Years and years passed on, yet he did not marry. The people were very anxious that he should marry, as they wished for an heir to the throne. They persistently urged him to choose a wife, and he finally consented to do so, providing they would allow him to make his own selection. You know in that country no freedom was allowed anyone, even in the matter of love and marriage. They were bound by custom. He wanted to marry according to his own wishes. His subjects, thinking if they did not consent to his will he would remain a bachelor all his days, thought it advisable to let him make his choice. He ordered his courtiers and officers to make preparations for a great wedding festival. Everything was prepared in a most royal and magnificent style. With great éclat on the appointed day the army was ready. Everyone was arrayed in his most gorgeous clothes and drove in the best carriages and victorious. The king rode in the middle, one half of the army on one side and the other half on the other. They went on according to the king’s orders, not following any particular road. They went through very deep, dense forests. They said among themselves, “What is the king going to do, is he going to marry a lake, or stock and stones? “They were astonished. They went on and finally came to a place in the forests where there was a small hut, and near that hut was a beautiful, clear, crystal lake. On the banks of the lake they found beautiful, magnificent, natural orchards, and from the branches of one of the trees there hung a hammock or trapeze, on which an old man was lying. They said, “Is he going to marry that old man? “One half of the army passed on and when the king’s elephant reached that place, the king ordered halt. Immediately there appeared on the scene a beautiful, fair, lovely maiden who was gently swinging the hammock on which her father was tying.
The king, before he came to the throne, had been to that forest many times. He had watched the girl and always found her most dutiful; she cared for her father most faithfully, brought water and bathed him, and fed him. She did all sorts of rubbing and scrubbing work. But while doing this work she was always happy, bright, merry and cheerful as a carolling robin. This happy disposition of the girl impressed itself on the king and he vowed to marry her if he ever married. The girl gazed in amazement at all this grand array, little thinking that the man who rode on horseback before their door many times before was this king. She asked her father what this magnificent spectacle meant. Her father told her that it was a bridegroom going to a distant country for a princess to be his wife. Now the king alighted from his elephant, went up to the old man and fell at his feet as is the Oriental custom. The old man said to him, “My son, what do you want? “The face of the king brightened. He said, “I want you to make me your son-in-law.”The old man’s heart leaped with joy. His ecstasy knew no bounds. He said, “You are mistaken, king, you are mistaken. How could you wish to marry the daughter of a poor mendicant? We are poor, very poor.”The king said lie loved no one as much as this lovely girl. The father said if such was the case then she was his. This parent was a Vedantic monk and he had imparted his knowledge to his daughter. He now told the king that he had no dowry to give his child, the only thing he could give was his blessing. The king then presented his bride with all sorts of beautiful clothes which he requested her to put on. She accordingly did so. But the girl did not go to the king empty-handed. She had a dowry. What was it? Into one of the caskets the king gave her in which was to be kept jewels she put in her dress of rags which she wore while living with her father. Now the old man was left alone, one servant was left at his disposal. He wanted nothing else from the king.
The king took his bride to the palace. At first his courtiers did not like her as she was low born. These noblemen and aristocrats wished the king to marry their daughters or nieces, and here they were all superseded by this low girl. They were very jealous of her. How could they pay homage to this low-born girl? But the new queen by her sweet temper, gentle ways, and lovely manners charmed them all. By and by they all began to love her very dearly. She was always calm and tranquil, never disturbed or ruffled about anything, no matter what the circumstances might be. After a year or so a daughter was born to the queen. A beautiful baby girl. How happy were the king and queen! When the child was three or four years old, the king came to the queen and told her that there was going to be a revolt in the kingdom, a mutiny which was most undesirable. The queen inquired the reason of such a condition of affairs. Her husband replied that the officers and ministers were jealous when he married her, and now they could not bear the idea of this girl inheriting the throne, being low-born on her mother’s side. They wanted blue blood, and wanted their king to adopt the child of one of the prime ministers. But the king said that if they did so, when the girl grew up in all probability there would be an antipathy between them. So in order to obviate that result he had been meditating and meditating and had finally arrived at the conclusion that the best thing to be done was to have the girl killed. Then Griselda, which was the name of the queen, made this moot characteristic answer to the king. This answer typifies her conduct and duty towards the king. She said, “You know from the day I came 1 had no desire of my own to enjoy this throne with you. I have made my will and desire entirely yours. My individuality and personality is merged in yours and it is kept up only so far as it may be of service to you and not to obstruct your purpose. If it is your will that the daughter be taken away, let her be taken away. I have never called the daughter mine in my heart of hearts.”The daughter was taken away at the dead of night and after a few hours the king returned and said the child had been given away to the executioners to be slaughtered. The queen was collected, calm, quiet, and cheerful as if nothing had happened. This is Vedanta. Never be disturbed by any outward circumstances.
The king now said that everyone would be pleased. After a year or so there was a little boy born. This child was loved by everyone. The boy grew up to the age of five or six years, then again there was an uproar. The king said that as circumstances are at present, it is advisable to kill this child also. If the child remains, there will be a great civil war, so to preserve the national peace the child ought to be killed. The queen was again smiling and cheerful and said my real self is the whole nation, I have nothing personal, I am like the sun, I give away. Like the sun we do not receive, we should give away. When we have no clingings and are not attached to anything, what can happen that will mar our happiness? The sun goes on giving away all the time, but still constantly shining. That boy was also taken away.
After a few years the third child was born, and when about three or four years of age, was taken away in the same way.
Now, how did the queen keep up her spirits? Since the day she came to the palace she would retire into a solitary chamber wherein she had preserved her old rags. That was her solitary chamber, and there stripping herself of all her beautiful clothes she used to put on those old rags, and in this simple dress she would realize That I am. And in the mendicant’s dress she would feel and realize her divinity. Shakespeare says, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”She knew in her heart of hearts that she was the woman carolling and singing on the banks of the lake. Here she was confined in the palace of the king and bereaved of her freedom and liberty, but she did not make herself miserable, she did not allow herself to get entangled in affairs. She was not attached to this or that; her real Self was continually held aloof from the surrounding circumstances. She was continually merged in Divinity. In this way she purified herself by casting aside all attachments and clingings, no responsibilities she had, she was bound to nobody, no duties. Thus it is, whenever you are in dumps or in blues, strip yourself of all attachments, connections, desires, wants, And needs. Free you are. In this way the queen always kept herself up during her stay in the king’s palace, One night the king approached her and said that it would not do for them to go on killing their sons and daughters all the time, and he did not like the idea of adopting a child. So after thinking the matter over he had come to the conclusion that it was best for him to marry again, and thus peace would be restored. The queen consented willingly because she never derived her happiness from the king, her happiness came from her own self, and not from others. She got all the pleasure from the God within, not from husband, father, and children. The king was amazed at her happiness and asked her what she would like to do. She told him his will was her will. He told her that if she remained the harmony might lie broken, and it was best for her to go away. Immediately the beautiful clothes were taken off and the old rags, the mendicant’s dress, put on again, and she left the
palace. She was cheerful and happy and went to her father, who was also as happy as ever. The servant of the king, who was left with the old man, was immediately sent to the king.
One day the king passed the hut with the intention of sympathising with her, but when he saw her cheerful, smiling countenance, he saw that there was no occasion to do so. He then asked her if she would come and receive the new bride. She willingly consented. She planned and arranged everything in such a lovely way that the magistrates and their wives were astonished at and her children inherited the throne. So you see God is always very grateful, He pays His debts with interest.
Let such be the royal resignation of things in Love by every married woman. In India such are called Pativrata and Patnivrata which means that woman is to live in her husband and her husband is to live in his wife. The woman is to see God in her husband. She is to give away her body and mind to her husband and her husband is to give himself to God in her. There is nothing personal, nothing selfish. A marriage ceremony in India always takes place by the river side in the open air. A lovely breeze blowing and the sun over head. Here you see the idea is that the woman is to take up the hand of the man and the man taking up her hand is giving both to God. Just as Griselda had no attachment, women have to give themselves up to God, Atman.
Let men do the same. Married life cannot but be happy if the husband were to be lost in his wife and the wife were to be lost in the husband. It is the identity of personal life that makes Love and Life really enjoyable.