The Saint Who Ate Fire
Sananda was a great saint who traveled across the plains of India with a large group of disciples. At that time, some saints preferred to stay in one place and to meditate at the feet of the Infinite, free from all distractions, including the distraction of continuous travel. Others, to avoid the growth of attachment, considered it spiritually important to leave each lodging place after no more than three days. Saint Sananda was of the latter group. He traveled from place to place and, for his livelihood, depended upon the alms he received from householders. Many householders considered it a privilege to entertain a true saint and his disciples.
In ancient times, Hindu householders would eat beef or veal, and they would usually offer veal, especially, to distinguished guests. Later, beef and veal eating were condemned because eating such foods disturbed the vibrations of the human body, and also because cows were needed to supply orphans with milk.
When Saint Sananda and his group of forty disciples arrived at the home of a rich farmer who, in order to entertain the saint, arranged that a calf be killed. Saint Sananda accepted the veal dinner, but strictly prohibited his disciples from eating any meat. He explained that they were under training to learn how to control their passions and appetites, and should subsist only on fruits, herbs, and vegetables, which had a calming effect.
Saint Sananda ate a hearty veal dinner and, in the presence of some of his disciples, even took a second helping. After dinner, the saint ordered the disciples to take up their little bundles, which they carried over their shoulders fastened to bamboo sticks, and to begin a fifty-mile march under the over-zealous tropical sun.
Saint Sananda walked briskly ahead, but he repeatedly had to urge the lagging disciples to walk cheerfully and quickly in order to reach the next village before nightfall. The saint could feel the rebellious vibrations of a disciple named Markat, who was both a Judas and a “Doubting Thomas,” and he exhorted his disciples to use their mental powers to transcend the body and dispel fatigue.
No sooner had Saint Sananda finished his encouraging speech than Markat began whispering to a few nearby disciples, “Look at our teacher and listen to his veal-vitalized speech. He can walk cheerfully because of his second helping of meat, but the rest of us are sustained only by the energy of fruit juices, which have already evaporated under the seething glare of the sun.”
Saint Sananda, being highly advanced spiritually, was aware of Markat’s words and the doubt and dissatisfaction they incited. He turned and walked back to Markat. In front of other discontented disciples, he casually said, “Dear Markat, would you like to eat what I eat? Can you digest what I eat?”
Markat, thinking that the Master was offering him veal cutlets, said emphatically and with assurance, “Honored Sir, just try your food on me and see how fast I can melt it with my digestive fire.” When the forty disciples reached the end of their fifty-mile journey, Saint Sananda casually told them to tarry a while at a huge fiery furnace where a blacksmith was preparing red-hot nails. On the other side of the furnace a big calf was being roasted.
After being welcomed by the blacksmith, the saint said, “Well, children, sit in a circle around this fire, for I am going to offer you some very vitalizing food, which I have long prevented you from eating. But before I invite you to eat, I want Markat to come and sit by me, for he has assured me that he will eat and digest what I eat.
The hungry Markat, beside himself with joy at the sight of the veal roast, leaped to the seat beside the saint. No sooner was Markat seated than Saint Sananda put his hand into the pile of red-hot embers and nails and began to swallow them as fast as he could. While doing so, he smilingly but forcefully said to his disciple Markat, “Come on, keep your promise and eat what I eat, and then we will see whether you can digest it or not.”
Markat, highly chagrined, hid his face in shame and fell at the feet of his Master, sincerely asking his forgiveness.
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This story illustrates that a disciple should follow with faith the discipline enjoined upon him by a true Master. Doubting the motives of a true Master only retards the disciple’s progress while willing obedience leads to freedom.
From The Praecepta Lessons, 1938.
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