Stories for Young and Old - as told by Dr. Svami Purna

stories will be added and changed periodically - the only 'permanent' one will be :  Savitri and the Banyan Tree



Lord Shiva and the Demon

 Many times people are confused about the manifestation of ’miracles’.  This is a story of how even genuine miracles can at times misfire:

A long time ago, in response to great austerities of a demon, the Great God, Shiva, offered him a boon.

“What do you want of me that you have worked so hard to please Me?” asked Shiva in benevolence.

The demon replied: “When I put my hand on the head of a person he should immediately be burned to ashes.”

‘Oh dear’, Lord Shiva thought, but granted the somewhat gruesome request, delighting the demon, who answered: “Right, you first!”

A shocked Shiva resorted to flight as the demon tried to touch His head. The demon’s motivation had had nothing to do with pleasing the Lord, but merely to gain the affections of Shiva’s consort Parvati.

As this little drama unfolded, another Divine Manifestation, Lord Vishnu, watched with great interest from behind a clump of bushes.  It was quite a sight, Shiva running here and there, the demon in hot pursuit, hand poised to incinerate the God of Destruction.

Vishnu decided that something had to be done; He had to intervene, and changing Himself into the form of Parvati, He confronted the demon in a rather seductive manner.

“Really”, She said, why bother chasing after Shiva when I am willing to come to you?  You are so attractive; there is no need to destroy Shiva.”

This pleased the vanity of the demon tremendously who approached Parvati with demonic lust.
“No, wait please”, She halted him, “whenever Shiva comes to Me, He performs his wonderful dance first.”

“But I cannot dance” said the demon dejectedly.

“Never mind, I will show you.” replied Parvati, and She began to teach him the movements of the Tandava, Shiva’s celestial dance of destruction, which involves placing one hand upon the head!

So the demon danced.  He danced the dance of destruction with all his heart and soul, and a small pile of ashes at the feet of Parvati was all that bore witness to the event.

In the meantime, from a safe distance, Shiva had watched the entire spectacle. The danger over He ventured forth to meet the admonishing gaze of Vishnu, now Himself again.

“Granting boons to demons, indeed!” reminded Vishnu.

Shiva may have demonstrated His powers with no other motivation than love, even toward a demon, but the result was disaster. It is a mistake to associate any kind of sensationalism with Divinity. The performance of miracles does not gauge the caliber of spiritual awareness in God or Guru.



Ashtavakra and King Janaka

King Janaka, mighty ruler of ancient Mithila, had a dream.  He dreamt that he was in a large forest, destitute and starving. Yet somehow he managed to find some plants and roots in the jungle and with great care was able to prepare a meager meal.  But just as he was ready to satisfy his hunger with the modest food he had prepared, a large bull stormed into the clearing where King Janaka had made himself comfortable. Within seconds the bull had devoured every last bit of the food.  The King cried in frustrated disappointment and at this point he woke up.

This dream puzzled him greatly and he wanted to know: What is the Truth? Who am I, am I the king in this palace, ruling a kingdom or am I this man lost and starving in the forest?

He wanted to find out.  He invited all the scholarly pundits from far and wide to give him the answer to his question – offering half his kingdom for a satisfactory reply.  Many came, after all there was the enticement of half a kingdom to consider, but alas, no one could find a suitable answer. 

Finally one man stepped forward, deformed in eight joints and because of that was named Ashtavakra, (Eight Bends).  All the other ‘wise’ men began to laugh and made derisive jokes at his deformities.  Ashtavakra looked around the assembly and said:  “I thought I was in the company of wise men, but now I realize that you are those who can only see the outside, the skin.  Since you have only recognized my deformed body and not my Self, I cannot believe that I am in the company of astute scholars who cannot understand that “although the river may be crooked, the water never is…”    

Then he moved on to the King and said:  “So you want to give me half your kingdom. How do you plan to do this - does it even belong to you? “ 

“But, yes, of course it belongs to me; I am the legal, bona fide king.”

“So you think it belongs to you; before you, who owned the kingdom?”

“My father.”

“And before that?”

“His father”

“After you?”

“My sons”

“So how come it was not yours before and will not yours be after you, yet in between you became the owner of the kingdom? “

The king had to admit that there had been a flaw in his thinking and that he was actually only the caretaker of the kingdom and that it did not belong to him. Ashtavakra had made it clear to him that he could not give what he did not own.

The king puzzled for a moment, then said:

“Alright, I’ll give you my body”

“Oh King, you are making the same mistake again, are you the owner of this body?”

“Yes, of course, I am the dweller of this body, therefore I own it, and everything is under my control.”

“And where was this body of yours 100 years ago and where will it be 100 years from now?”

Again the king had to admit that the body did not really belong to him either and that it was just given to him on loan by Mother Nature for the duration of a lifetime, after which it would have to be returned to Nature.

“Alright, said the king, “I’ll give you my mind”

“You think you own your mind; you cannot even control your mind. How can you give something over which you have no control? You tell your mind to do this and it does not even listen to you?”

In due course the king, quite defeated by Ashtavakra’s logic and wisdom, said:

“Oh Master, I really must it some give some thought to what is really mine… “

Eventually King Janaka realized that he was in the presence of a great Master, and asked to be accepted as Ashtavakra’s disciple to be taught the mysteries of the Self.

The essence of the dialogue between King Janaka and Ashtavakra is beautifully rendered in the Ashtavakra Gita.

You are the Solitary Witness
of All That Is,
forever free.
Your only bondage is not seeing This.





The Bread Thief

There is a small story to illustrate the kind of powerful energy that can see God in any creature. That kind of intensity is missing in today’s world.

There once was a High Being, who lived in the forest, tending a little shrine.  Every day it was his custom to cook delicious food, which he ritually offered to God in the little shrine where God was supposed to dwell. Allowing some time for God to have “finished the meal”, the food is distributed between the devotees as prasad, blessed food.  

One day the Master was intent on arranging the food with the utmost care, having prepared the vegetables and the roti. It is custom to add a little clarified butter, ghee to the roti for taste as well as to make the bread nice and soft and to add a touch of “purity”.  Everything was ready but as the Master went to get the ghee, a large dog came by, and, snatching the entire stack of bread, ran off with it. 

Well, the Master, in hot pursuit, ran after the dog, calling out:  “My Lord, please wait, please wait and let me put the ghee on the roti…” and thus continued running after the dog.  It was a long chase until, at the point of complete exhaustion, the Master finally collapsed.  And legend relates that God appeared to him in the form of the dog, telling him: “I am pleased with your dedication and devotion – no one has ever done that.”


It is at the height of devotion, that you may be able to truly “see”.  No matter what culture you live in, or what your concept of God may be, humans create a concept of some power greater than themselves.  If you have to create a concept of that power, which you might call God, why not create a concept which is beautiful and fulfilling, a concept whereby you can uplift yourself? 


The Yogi and the Deer

A long time ago there was a sage who had withdrawn into the forest for the practice of yogic disciplines and spiritual meditation.  One evening as he was sitting by the banks of a stream, engaged in deep  meditation, a lion’s roar suddenly  echoed through the stillness of the forest. The sound sent shivers of fear through a group of deer that had been grazing peacefully nearby. In their panic to escape the predator, the animals fled across the stream.  Among them was a pregnant doe who, unable to control the course of nature, gave birth just as she leaped, dropping the helpless fawn into the cold rushing waters beneath.

The yogi, aroused from his mediations by the fearful vibrations of the herd, had witnessed the unfortunate birth and quickly rescued the newborn who soon recovered in the warmth and comfort of his arms.  The yogi took the young animal into his cottage and continued to care for it with great love. 

As the days and weeks passed, the yogi’s whole interest became centered on the little fawn.  He developed such a great attachment to the little creature that he neglected all his practices, austerities and meditations.  Then early one morning the deer wondered off into the forest and did not return all day.  As the sun traveled through the sky the yogi’s anxiety mounted.  His anguish became so great that he lost his grasp on reality.  He could not bear the agony of separation from the beloved deer and by nightfall the yogi lay dying.  At that moment the deer returned, but it was already too late.  With dying eyes the yogi beheld the lovely creature and there was sorrow in the deer’s heart.  

This last impression was so strong upon both soul personalities that in their next lives the yogi incarnated as a deer, whereas the deer now had a human body of a sage who carded for the deer – in a reversal of roles.  It was in his life as a deer that our former yogi realized who he was.  He understood that attachment was the sole cause of his present situation.  In light of this insight he waited for the natural destruction of his animal body for further development to take place.

In their third incarnations after the incident at the stream, but soul personalities had human bodies.  The deer was now the yogi’s father and both were gifted with the understanding of their karmic relationship. However, there were six other sons who did not share this wisdom.  Their brother’s quality of non-attachment was regarded as laziness and disinterest in anything they considered worthwhile.  He was a constant source of aggravation to them.  The brothers finally concluded that their sibling was good-for-nothing.  In a last desperate attempt to let him be of some use, he was given the job to chase the birds off the fields.  Surely he was able to do that.  Alas, their reckoning had a big flaw, for our yogi appreciated the opportunity of undisturbed meditation in the quiet fields – and the birds happily picked the grain, as is their wont.

The enraged brothers had had enough.  After giving him a totally useless lecture they added an equally useless beating as a farewell and finally threw him out of the family for good.

Now our yogi was happy.  Freed from all the obligations towards his family, he was able to resume his spiritual practices.  One more he retreated to the forest life of his former incarnation – to austerity, peace and devotion.  Henceforth he became a great sage, Jadabharata (Jada means tall like a tree and bharate refers to knowledge and wisdom).  This name was rather descriptive, for he was a huge being, muscular, tall and sturdy like a tree.  Yet he had a rather peculiar walk, meandering, as if the legs were not quite attached to the rest of the body.  It could be said that his head was in the trees, for he moved in a state of meditative quietude, far removed from the mundane thoughts of grosser men and women. 



Body Organs go on Strike


 One day all the  organs of the body were very angry. They were so angry at the tummy that they decided to go on strike. This is how it happened:

The hands complained bitterly: “Just look at us, from morning till night we are working our fingers to the very bone.  And for what?  For only one reason: to satisfy the tummy. We have to pick the food from the market, then cook and feed the stomach all the time and it just takes it and does not do any work at all…”

“Yes, the eyes said, “we are also constantly busy having to go and  look for the right kind of  food, pandering to that stomach’s likes and dislikes.”


The teeth also agreed: “We have to keep busy chewing, chewing, chewing… and that lazy tummy does naught.  All of us are working so hard except that tummy – it does absolutely nothing, just takes it all in. Hey everyone, let’s go on strike and teach that lazy tummy a lesson.”  


So they all stopped doing their usual tasks. There was no food for one day, two days… many days, no nourishment at all for a long time…  Eventually all the complaining organs became very weak, their belligerent voices less strident and lastly they went silent and per force of circumastances reflected on their situation.  It was not easy for the organs to admit that without supplying the much malignend tummy with food, they received no nourishment either and could no longer function.

At long last all the organs realized that the tummy, the whole digestive system, does the most important job of all by nourishing each and every other organ of the body.  They had learned a valuable lesson.   They called off the strike!