The story of the king and the fakir (ascetic)
Once upon a time, there was a great fakir [an ascetic] who lived a simple life. He ate whatever he found, drank water from the nearby river and meditated under the tree in the forest on the outskirts of a town. Word spread and the king of the province came to know about the fakir.
He decided to meet the fakir. The king was so impressed with the fakir’s unpretentious demeanor that he invited the fakir to live with him in the palace.
The fakir agreed readily, which surprised the king; he was expecting that the fakir will have to be persuaded a lot to accept the invitation. Nevertheless, the king took him along and made lavish arrangements for his stay.
The ascetic settled down quickly and started enjoying all the luxuries of the palace — imperial clothes, royal food and a life of absolute comfort. There was a not a trace of self-denial. Soon, the king started suspecting that perhaps he was being hoodwinked by the fakir.
But he kept his thoughts to himself and continued to observe the man. Six months on, the fakir was still enjoying his stay and didn’t seem to mind this majestic life one bit.
By now the king had become convinced that the fakir had only been pretending in the forest. He decided to confront him. On meeting the fakir, the king said, “When I first met you, I was impressed by your austere lifestyle and minimum needs. Your life was an example of renunciation. But what I now see is totally the opposite. You seem to be enjoying every material pleasure there is. So what is the difference between you and me?”
The fakir smiled and said, “I was waiting for you to ask me this question but I will answer you tomorrow morning.” The next morning the fakir appeared before the king wearing his old tattered clothes.
The fakir said, “I am leaving for an unknown destination. If you really want the answer, you will have to leave your palace, your family, your kingdom and accompany me.” The king was stunned. He said, “You know, I can’t do that!”
The fakir smiled and replied, “Yes, I know. And that is the difference between you and me. I can leave all pleasures and comforts whenever I want because I am not attached to them. You are. I hope you have your answer now.”
It dawned on the king that the fakir was indeed great. He pleaded him to stay on but the fakir had made up his mind. As he was leaving, he said to the king, “Remember, what you hold on to, holds you. And since I hold on to nothing, I have nothing to renounce. I am forever free.”
Detachment is the opposite of attachment, not the opposite of enjoyment
— The Upanishads
Originally published on Complete Wellbeing