This part is taken from Various Stories & Tales in “Spiritual Stories” as Told by Ramana Maharshi
In 1949 the inauguration of Mother’s Temple took place, and the dedicated labour of ten years was consecrated in Sri Bhagavan’s presence. In front of the Matrubhuteswara Shrine, the Jubilee Hall was built to accommodate the ever-increasing number of devotees. A large granite couch was installed with elaborate carvings, spread with a silken mattress for Bhagavan’s comfort. As a big pillow was placed on one side for Bhagavan to keep his arms, another behind him to lean against and a third one at his feet, the actual seating space was considerably reduced. One day when Suri Nagamma entered the hall Sri Bhagavan said, looking at his attendants, “See how this mattress slips from one side to another! People think that it will be comfortable for Bhagavan if there is a costly mattress. It is, however, not possible to sit on this restfully. Why this? It would be much more comfortable if I sat on the stone seat itself. As told in the story about the sadhu, people think that Swami is undergoing great hardship when he lives in a thatched shed and lies on a stone bench, and so they make a fuss. It will perhaps be better if, like that sadhu in the story, I gather some stones similar to those I had in the Virupaksha Cave, take them to whichever place I go, and spread them on a mattress like this.”
A devotee asked, “What is that story of the sadhu which Bhagavan has now mentioned?” Whereupon Bhagavan began relating the following story.
A Agreat mahatma was living as a sadhu under a tree in a forest. He always used to keep with him three stones. While sleeping, he used to keep one of them under the head, another under the waist and the third under the legs and cover himself with a sheet. When it rained, the body used to be on the stones and so the water would flow underneath, and the water that fell on the sheet too, would flow down. So there was no disturbance to his sleep; he used to sleep soundly. When sitting, he used to keep the three stones together like a hearth and sit upon them comfortably. Hence snakes and other reptiles did not trouble him nor did he trouble them, for they used to crawl through the slits under the stones. Somebody used to bring him food and he would eat it. And so, there was nothing for him to worry about.
A king, who came to that forest for hunting, saw this sadhu and felt, ‘What a pity! How much must he be suffering by having to adjust his body suitably to those stones and sleep thereon. I will take him home and keep him with me for at least one or two days and make him feel comfortable’. So thinking, he went home and sent two of his soldiers with a palanquin and bearers, with instructions to invite the sadhu respectfully and bring him to his palace. He also said that if they did not succeed in bringing the sadhu, they would be punished. They came and saw the sadhu and told him that the king had ordered them to bring him to the palace and that he should come. When he showed disinclination to go with them, they said that they would be punished if they returned without him. So they begged of him to come, if only to save them from trouble. As he did not want them to get into trouble on his account, he agreed to go with them. What was there for him to pack up? A kaupeenam, a sheet and those three stones. He folded and kept the kaupeenam in that sheet, kept those three stones also in the sheet and tied them together. ‘What is this? This Swami is bringing with him some stones when he is going to a Raja’s palace! Is he mad or what?’ thought those soldiers. Anyway, he got into the palanquin with his bundle and came to the king. The Raja saw the bundle, and thinking it contained some personal effects, took him into the palace with due respect, feasted him properly and arranged a tape cot with a mattress of silk cotton to sleep upon. The sadhu opened his bundle, took out the three stones, spread them on the bed, covered himself with the sheet and slept as usual.
The next morning the king came, bowed to him with respect and asked, “Swami, is it comfortable for you here?”
Swami: “Yes. What is there wanting here? I am always happy.” King: “That is not it, Swami. You were experiencing hardships in the forest by having to sleep on those stones. Here this bed and this house must be giving you happiness. That is why I am asking.”
Swami: “The bed that was there is here also. The bed that is here is there also. So I have the same happiness everywhere. There is nothing wanting at any time, either in regard to my sleep or to my happiness.”
The king was puzzled and looked at the cot. He saw that the three stones were on it. Whereupon, the king immediately prostrated himself before the sadhu and said, “Oh great man! Without knowing your greatness I brought you here with the intention of making you happy. I did not know that you are always in a state of happiness, and so I behaved in this foolish manner. Please excuse me and bless me.” After making up for his mistake in this way, he allowed the sadhu to go his way. This is the story of the sadhu.
“So, in the eyes of Mahatmas, the free life is the real happy life?” asked that devotee. “What else? Life in big buildings like this is like prison life. Only I may be an ‘A’ class prisoner. When I sit on mattresses like these, I feel that I am sitting on prickly pears. Where is peace and comfort?” said Bhagavan.
Next day that mattress was taken away and the usual mattress was spread on the couch. Even so, several people thought that it might be better to leave Bhagavan to a free life like that of the sadhu. But Bhagavan had to stay there alone, like a parrot in the cage of the devotees, because the devotees never leave him free.