Was just reading this book ‘The Sage with Two Horns

 (by Sudha Murty). A nice collection of spiritual stories. Thought of sharing the one on compassion verbatim:

A Beggar, a Dog and a Bird

One day, Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi were relaxing in their abode, Vaikuntha, when Brahma, Indra and a few other gods came to visit them.
Vishnu was happy to receive his guests and soon the conversation took an interesting turn.
Indra asked Vishnu, ‘O Lord! Who is your most compassionate devotee?’
‘Rantideva, of course,’ replied Vishnu instantly.
‘Are you referring to the king who was adopted by the Chandravamshi king Bharata and became his successor?’ Indra clarified.
‘Isn’t he also the son of Sanskriti?’ one of the other gods wondered.
‘Yes, the very same,’ said Vishnu and smiled. ‘His devotion is unparalleled and he believes in being compassionate to everyone, irrespective of their situation and circumstances.’
The gods fell silent. Vishnu understood that the gods were unhappy with his choice of most compassionate devotee.
Very quickly, the conversation moved to other areas of interest and the visit eventually ended on a pleasant note.
While he was departing, Indra said to Vayu, the lord of the wind, ‘I don’t agree with the lord. Let us test Rantideva.’
‘Humans pray to gods only for their personal benefit,’ agreed Vayu. ‘We must test him.’
They approached Varuna, the god of water, and he also agreed.
Rantideva believed that Vishnu’s presence was everywhere and in all beings, including his subjects and other living creatures. So he took excellent care of his subjects and they adored him in return. His country was rich and his kingdom was prosperous.
But just as the gods decided to test him, things changed in the kingdom. Unseasonal rains and unusual heat spread in Rantideva’s land. The crops were destroyed and drought set in. The lack of water caused immeasurable suffering and the people were left with no choice but to approach their king.
Rantideva opened up his royal granary for his people and it began diminishing at a fast pace. Soon, the king also started to fast, praying to Lord Vishnu to protect his subjects and end the drought in the kingdom.
Many days passed and things deteriorated. The kingdom was about to run out of food. Rantideva decided to remain hungry so that even his share of food could be used to feed one of his subjects. Slowly, his body showed signs of breaking down. People became worried about his health and the royal physicians insisted that the king break his intense fast.
After much convincing, Rantideva finally agreed, realizing that he would be of no help to his people if he died in the process.
The royal chef brought him a bowl of rice.
Just then, Rantideva saw an old man in tattered clothing stumbling into the court. He looked like a beggar. Slowly, the man walked towards him with the help of a stick. Rantideva invited the man to sit next to him.
The man looked at the bowl of rice and said to the king, ‘Sire, I am hungry and I haven’t eaten for a long time.’
He glanced again at the rice but didn’t say another word.
Rantideva smiled and handed the bowl to the beggar. ‘Come, you can share my food,’ he said gently.
The old man gobbled the food quickly, as if he hadn’t eaten for days. Soon, the bowl was empty and there was nothing left for the king.
The royal courtiers around the king became disgruntled. They had expected the old man to share the food with Rantideva.
Unaware of the resentment around him, the beggar praised Rantideva, ‘O King! I never thought that I would get a meal so soon. May your tribe increase.’
Saying this, the old man left the court.
Within minutes, another bowl of rice was brought for the king. ‘Please eat the rice, sire! This is the last bowl of rice from the granary,’ said his minister.
Just when the king was about to put the first morsel of food in his mouth, a thin and hungry dog came running and stood in front of the rice. He looked at the king and wagged his tail furiously.
The king picked up the bowl to give a small portion of the food to the dog. Unfortunately, the king knocked the bowl over and all the rice fell to the floor. The dog ate the rice quickly and ran away.
Now only a bowl of water remained. Helpless and sad, the minister said to the king, ‘Please drink this right now before somebody else comes along.’
The king picked up the bowl of water and put it to his lips. Almost instantly, a bird flew and sat on his shoulder. The king could see that the bird was thirsty. So he put the bowl down and said to the bird, ‘Come, you can also drink.’
To everyone’s surprise, the little bird drank all the water.
Rantideva closed his eyes and spoke from his heart. ‘All these beings—the old man, the dog and the bird are representations of Lord Vishnu. It is almost as if he has eaten the food and drank the water. Now I am full and neither hungry nor thirsty.’
Suddenly, a soft voice echoed from around the court, ‘O Rantideva, this is the reason you are my most compassionate devotee. Indra, Varuna and Vayu tested you without your knowledge, in the form of a beggar, a dog and a bird.’
Rantideva opened his eyes and saw Vishnu standing there. Indra, Varuna and Vayu stood behind the lord.
Vishnu smiled. ‘Rantideva, the drought in your kingdom itself was an artificial creation. The drought is gone now, and you can put your worries to rest. Your subjects will not suffer any more. I want to bless you with a boon. Tell me what you desire.’
Happily, Rantideva asked for a boon. He said,
Na twaham kamaye rajyam,
Na moksham na swargam napunarbhawam
Kamaye dukhataptanam,
Praninamarti nashanam
In English, it translates to:
I do not desire a kingdom,
I do not desire moksha or heaven or rebirth,
I see people suffering,
Give me the strength to destroy the suffering of others.
All I ask for is a compassionate heart and strong hands, so I can wipe the tears of others in difficulty.
Lord Vishnu was overwhelmed even as he granted the boon. ‘So may it be.’
Even today, Rantideva is remembered as a king with pure compassion towards humans, animals and birds alike.

Sriman Narayan

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