This is the life history of an Emperor who lived about 600 years back. His name was Ibrahim Adham, and he was the ruler of Bukhara, now part of Uzbekistan. He was a wonderful monarch, greatly loved by his people. But his greatness also made him ask basic questions about life, many of them the same that had troubled many a seeker. Sitting on his throne, he often used to ponder over questions of deep philosophy, such as:
" What is life? Why are we here? Is there a God, and if so why is He hidden from us?"..et al.
One day when he was so engaged in introspection, he heard a noise on his terrace. When he went to investigate upstairs, he was astonished to find a herdsman with a stick searching for something all over the terrace.
"Who are you, and how did you get to this place outwitting all my palace guards?" the emperor asked.
"I am just an ordinary farmer who has lost his camel, and I have come here looking for it", replied the herdsman.
The king was even more astounded: "What? You lost your camel, and you managed to enter the palace and get to this most guarded part of it in the hope of locating it? But tell me, is it not very foolish of you to be looking for a lost camel in such a place? Whoever heard of a camel straying onto the terrace of a palace, that too one guarded by hundreds of soldiers?".
The herdsman calmly replied: " No more foolish than looking for an answer to life's basic questions while sitting on a golden throne", and vanished into thin air!
This encounter shook Ibrahim Adham to the core, and he immediately left his throne in search of the Truth. He traveled as a mendicant from place to place, until finally he heard that a great mystic named Kabir lived on the banks of the river Gangaa in Varaanasi in what was then known as Hindostan, and so made his way there (these days when we need planes and trains to go from place to place, it is so difficult to believe how easily people criss-crossed continents before these inventions were made! Why? our own avataara-purusha Adi Sankara before he was 32 had covered the length and breadth of our vast nation!).
Kabir was a weaver by profession, and lived a hand-to-mouth existence off his daily earning as a weaver. He had an ashram where his disciples lived with and learnt from him. Many of the disciples were extremely rich, but he would take not a penny from any of them to feed himself or his family, consisting of his wife Loi, his son Kamal and daughter Kamali.
When Ibrahim Adham reached the door of the ashram and knocked, Kabir opened the door and asked. " Yes, what do you want?.
"Sir," replied Ibrahim Adham, bowing with respect," I have heard that you teach the Truth here, and I have come a long way to learn it. I will be ever grateful if you can take me into your ashram and teach me."
"Who are you?, asked Kabir.
"I am, actually, the Emperor of Bukhara, but I have given up my throne in order to search for the Truth.", replied Ibrahim.
"Sorry," said Kabir," I have no room for emperors here,." and closed the door.
Ibrahim then ruminated over what had happened, and what he had said. He then knocked again, re-introduced himself as Ibrahim rather than as Emperor, and was let in, on condition that he would do the job of the scavenger at the ashram.
And so for years Ibrahim was the dutiful scavenger at Kabir's ashram – sweeping and swabbing the floors, cleaning out the toilets. After six years passed, Kabir's wife Loi requested her husband to bestow the gift of initiation on Ibrahim (initiation I believe is the first step in imparting the deep mysteries of spiritual education).
"No,' answered Kabir, "he is not yet ready. His mind still needs to be cleansed of the impression that he is born to rule over others."
"How can you say that?", asked Loi," it is now six years that he has done all the menial jobs around here, surely that earlier impression has been wiped out."
" All right, carry out the following test." said Kabir. " Collect all the human waste one day, stand on the terrace, and when Ibrahim is passing by downstairs, throw it on him, hide yourself, and come and report to me what he says."
Loi did as instructed, and saw Ibrahim's face turn livid at the insult. He looked up and around, and not finding anyone, muttered to himself, "If only this was Bukhara, I would have given this person what he deserves."
Loi went and faithfully reported this to Kabir, who remarked," See, this is what I meant. He needs to cleanse his mind further."
Another six years passed, and one day Kabir called Loi and asked her to repeat what she had done to Ibrahim. This time Ibrahim said .with gratitude written all over his face," I do not know who did this, but I am really thankful to whoever has done it, for it helps me know my real status."
Kabir knew that by then Ibrahim had done the required purification of the mind needed before initiation can be bestowed. Ibrahim was therefore initiated into the spiritual mysteries, and turned out to be one of Kabir's best disciples. Before long he had reached the ultimate in the ladder of spiritual progress – attainment of one-ness with the Supreme.
Kabir then sent him back to Bukhara, where he was living the life of an ordinary man when one day his former Commander-in-Chief spotted him lying on the banks of a famous river. The Commander-in-Chief implored Ibrahim to come back to the capital and sit on the throne again, adding, "we in the army are ever ready to carry out every single one of your orders".
"Don't promise what you cannot fulfill," said Ibrahim. This statement hurt the Commander-in-Chief very much, for he thought Ibrahim was questioning his loyalty, and so he replied," Sir, please command, and your wish shall be instantly fulfilled." ( See what I meant my fauji connexion?)
Ibrahim then took a small pin, and threw it into the flowing waters of the river. "All right, then, retrieve that pin for me," he told the Commander.
The river was a deep one, the water was flowing very fast, and the pin had obviously sunk to the bottom. To retrieve that very pin was humanly impossible, and the Commander knew it.
"You want a pin, Sir – I will get you a thousand pins exactly the same as the one you threw," he offered.
"No, no, I do not want anything other than that very pin. You said my wish will be your command, so get me that pin." said Ibrahim.
The Commander was crest fallen, and protested, "Sir, you are asking for something that even an army of brigades of brave soldiers cannot accomplish. God alone knows how far that particular pin has been swept by the swirling waters of the river, which is so deep that diving to its bottom will require great talent and courage. Even if a thousand soldiers were to do that and search all over the riverbed, it is unlikely they will be able to locate and retrieve that very pin."
"Okay, then, watch," said Ibrahim, and 'applied his attention' – a term used by the mystics (I am told) to refer to the high levels of mental concentration that the higher forms of yoga give them access to. On his so doing, a fish dived into the river, picked up that very pin from its bed, swam to the shore with it, then walked on the beach, deposited the pin at Ibrahim's feet, walked back to the river, and went back into the waters.
The Commander-in-Chief stared in total disbelief at what he was witnessing.
"What I have learnt at the feet of Kabir," Ibrahim explained to him," is that those we call Emperor in this world are fake Emperors, in fact, are impostors. The world does not operate at their command, as we mistakenly believe, but they who operate at the command of their selfish egos. They are slaves of the first order, not emperors. The only way to become an emperor – a real emperor, who has mastered the Laws that govern this universe - is to learn to still one's mind, for which the pre-requisite is to get over our ego-centric preoccupations. That is why Kabir insisted that I spend years as a scavenger in his ashram. It was a preliminary training to the secrets of the inner worlds that lie within each of us. Anyone who is willing to let go the ego can get trained in this wonderful Science of the Soul, which makes us real Emperors, for then we are one with the Supreme Power."
The Commander-in-Chief realized that Ibrahim had become a Saint, one who had achieved Godhood, and fell at his feet.