A poor man and a rich man each found themselves captives as part of a secret personality test conducted by a team of very unscrupulous researchers. The two individuals were kidnapped and each subsequently detained in different rooms. Both were then told that they could be released from their captivity if they authorized their captors to torture the other. Without any hesitation, the rich man consented to the torture of his impoverished counterpart. Posing as a captor in this experiment, the lead researcher then asked the rich man why he seemed so at ease with his decision. The rich man replied in a very arrogant tone:
“Its really quite simple. I’m more important. I worked hard to get to my station in life while he (referring to the poor man) failed to improve on his own lot in life. If released, I can do better for society then some leech who lives off the system.”
Meanwhile, in the other room, the poor man was given the same stark choice by his phony captors to either authorize the torture of the rich man and secure his release or remain in captivity. The poor man replied just as quickly as the rich man but unlike him, inflected deep kindness and sincerity in his voice:
“Look, I know that the rich man will probably opt to have me tortured to secure his release. However, no matter what he decides I can’t in good conscience know that my freedom would come at the cost of another’s suffering. If coming from less has taught me anything it is to have empathy. I have suffered grave indignities that I wouldn’t wish on my own worst enemy. Leave me to rot then in my own captivity.”
The team of researchers were so moved by the selflessness of the poor man that after unmasking their true identities they arranged for a one-time payment to him of $ 3 million for his participation in the study. The poor man gratefully accepted the payment and in good nature even embraced the individuals who he had thought were his captors.
In sharp contrast, the rich man received no cash payment for his participation in the study. But the researchers did offer to set him up with one of the most renown therapists in the country to address his extreme narcissism. Predictably, the rich man refused the researchers’ offer and instead threatened to sue them for the ordeal he had just endured.
Over time, as the seeds of karma would dictate, the rich man was devoured by his own selfishness. In only one years’ time, the rich man managed to push away all his friends and family due to his callous behavior and sadly became addicted to opiates. Eventually, the rich man’s businesses went under too and he found himself destitute and homeless on the streets. By happy comparison, the poor man went on to start countless service projects for the very homeless community that the rich man now belonged to and became a highly beloved figure within that community for his boundless love, flowing generosity, and infinite compassion.
A seeker of truth journeyed two hundred miles (322 Kilometers) by foot deep through lush green forests to have the darshan of a great and celebrated holy man who lived an aesthetic life high in the mountains. After two long weeks of trekking through the wilderness, this seeker of truth at last arrived at an old hermitage that sat on the edge of a breathtaking cliff overlooking the vast and fertile valleys below. The pilgrim knocked on the door three times and a tall old man answered. He then motioned for the young seeker to come inside and sit on the floor before him. The old man closed the door behind him and then took a seat on a small wooden bench. Both beings sat in the lotus position. The pilgrim who had traveled such a long distance then broke the awe filled silence and said:
“Oh, dear and venerable sage, I have come all this way to ask you but one question: What is life’s greatest secret?”
The old man smiled, then unfolded his hands and said the following with a hint of irony in his voice:
“Life’s greatest secret is that there is no destination. It is your journey that holds the one within all. Now tell me, young pilgrim, does this statement live as truth to you?
The seeker smiled real wide and the twinkle in her eyes made the old sage absolutely certain that she had just attained enlightenment in that moment!
One day, a well-known televangelist with a bad temper and a penchant for stoking division gave a sermon to an overflowing audience of around 500 people. The preacher, who was adorned in a golden silk robe, ran a hand through his slicked-back hair and excited his fundamentalist following with one of his infamous hate-filled speeches:
“Today, we gather as a proud community of worshipers who are under attack by all the Devil’s servants. Make no mistake about it, gay people are one of our greatest enemies. Their lifestyle is an abomination and an affront to the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman. We can not sit idly by and watch them threaten our way of life.”
The crowd started wildly cheering as the preacher paused for dramatic effect, and then continued in a menacing tone:
“But gay people are not our only enemy. The Muslim religion wants to destroy our God and our great nation. Mark my words, before long, we’ll make those radical Muslims stand and kneel before our flag and Bible!”
The congregation roared with approval as the multi-millionaire charlatan pounded his fist on the lectern and continued on his tirade:
“Let us be clear that all those border-hoppers, hippie degenerates and homeless vagabonds are also our great enemies, and will be swiftly dealt with in whatever manner our Father wants us to. He will see to that. As will the forces of law and order who are on our side!”
An unexpected visitor
The applause from the audience was deafening as yells of “Amen!” were heard from many in the congregation. Once more, the rabid preacher paused for dramatics.
But just as he did so, a strange man suddenly appeared in the center aisle of the megachurch and interrupted the preacher’s hate-filled sermon. The tanned-faced man was dressed in a tethered plain white robe. He wore sandals on his feet and had a long beard and hair down to his shoulders.
The audience turned towards the man and gasped, as the wicked televangelist turned red in the face with anger and exclaimed in a frightening tone:
“Who dares to interrupt my sermon?!”
The strange man’s eyes beamed with a brilliant radiance of unconditional love and humble acceptance. He smiled at the irate preacher and replied:
“My brother, allow me to apologize for my tardiness and disrespect. You see, I’ve had a very eventful morning. I began the day early and basked in the glorious love of two wonderful men who asked me to marry them. My heart was overfilled with joy to honor their request and bless their beautiful union together.
“After marrying these two devout lovers, I then spent the middle part of the morning praying with both my Muslim and Christian brethren under the same house of worship. And, let me tell you, the two traditions are really just like different paths up one mountain to the same peak of God.
“Following morning prayer, I continued my work to secure a safe passage across this country’s border for some of my Hispanic brothers and sisters who are simply fleeing the horrors of war in their homelands. I then spent the remainder of my morning picking up trash at a cleanup organized by those very ‘hippie degenerates’ you speak ill of.
“Finally, in the moments just before I arrived here, I followed a calling from the Divine to feed, clothe and wash the feet of the homeless at a local shelter, only one block from this very church. I’ve come here to share a message from our Creator that I fear you and this congregation aren’t yet grasping … the word of God is truly the spirit of unity and love, not separation and hate.”
The preacher’s face turned an even brighter shade of red, as he glared at the strange man standing before him and sarcastically said:
“Now that you’re finished speaking, allow us to show you our appreciation!”
The 8-foot stake
Within seconds, three large men from the congregation seized the man by the arms and pushed him out the door of the church, into a hidden meadow behind the parking lot. The three men then tied him to an 8-foot stake as the entire congregation gathered around them.
The preacher approached the tied-up man with one big stone in each hand, and one more on the ground between his feet. He said:
“Any words you wish to say, before I unleash God’s fire and fury upon you?”
The unknown man on the stake replied:
“Yes. There is indeed one thing I wish to say. The fire and fury you speak of doesn’t belong to my Father in Heaven. Boundless compassion and infinite wisdom are the only two qualities that can be attributed to the God you claim to speak of. My only wish for you and this entire congregation is that you learn to be and to love.”
The man on the stake then closed his eyes and fell into a trance like state, as he began repeating his last words: to be and to love. With his supporters gathered around, the violent preacher stepped within about 9 feet of the man, and threw the first of the three stones at his face.
The man cried out in excruciating pain, as blood instantly ran like a river down his cheek. The crowd cheered as the preacher devilishly grinned and hurled the second stone even harder at his victim’s head. But to everyone’s shock, including the preacher’s, the stone passed straight through his body without leaving so much as a mark. Just as incredibly, the man’s inflicted wound from the first stone miraculously healed and then vanished before everyone’s eyes.
All but two of the false preacher’s flock dropped to their knees and bowed their heads in reverence to the divine being on the stake. The two who didn’t do so charged at the preacher to prevent him from throwing the last of the three stones. But before they could get to him, he managed to throw the final stone with all his might.
What happened next became the stuff of extraordinary legend. Just a split second before the third stone was about to hit the sage’s head, it instantly transformed into seven glorious doves that took flight into the heavens above. The foolish preacher turned in horror and exclaimed:
“Impossible! It can’t possibly be you!”
He ran immediately into the hills above the church, and was never heard from again. The three men who’d tied the holy man to the stake hurried over to bow and untie him, with tears in their eyes.
All gathered and rejoiced with the God incarnate that now stood before them, wearing nothing but a look of pure forgiveness on his unblemished face. It has been said that on that day, the living spirit was reintroduced into an old and storied tradition that had just simply forgotten how to be and to love.