Monday, June 11, 2007

A Tale of Two Boatmen

Kewat, the boatman, was waiting eagerly.

He had heard that Lord Ram was likely to pass his way. He had cleaned up his humble boat till it was spick ‘n’ span, he had anchored his boat at a convenient spot, and he had polished a copper vessel, filled it with fresh water from the river and kept it ready. And now he was waiting patiently and confidently. The Lord would soon come.

Sure enough, a while later he saw three people emerge from the forest cover and walk towards the river. He immediately identified Lord Ram from his serene radiance, the grace of his walk and by the way Lakshman and Sita walked in his presence. At the mere sight of the three, Kewat got goose bumps and felt a tingling charge run down his spine. Just then, a fresh breeze wafted across the river and Kewat felt it pass right through him as if he was not solid at all but a mere conglomeration of vibrating energy.

When the three stood before him, Kewat bowed to Lord Ram, who said, “We need to cross the river. Will you take us across, boatman?”

“Of course!” replied Kewat. “But first I need to wash your feet. I have heard that dust from your feet made a stone turn into a woman, Ahilya. I am just a poor boatman and I would be ruined if the dust from your feet were to transform my boat.”

Lord Ram smiled, seeing through Kewat’s ruse. He allowed the boatman to wash his feet with water from the shining copper vessel. After drinking the water as charanamrita, Kewat invited them to step into his boat.

As they were nearing the other shore, Lord Ram glanced at Sita and she immediately understood what he had in mind. They were wandering vagrants and had nothing to offer as payment to the boatman. She quietly took off her ring and handed it to her husband.

When they alighted, Lord Ram offered the ring to Kewat as payment. Kewat refused to accept it. But Lord Ram persisted, saying “This is your occupation and you must accept the fare for the service you rendered.”

Kewat declined, saying “Convention has it that people of the same occupation do not accept payment from each other.”

Amused, Lord Ram said: “Kewat, I can’t understand your logic. You are a boatman and I am not. So how can you claim we share the same occupation?”

Kewat bowed humbly and replied: “My Lord, we are both boatmen. So what if this humble boatman rows village folk across this narrow river while you, you ferry people cross the ocean of misery.”

- A Ramayana tale retold subjectively by shunyayogi