Why is it important to be humble?
Once Emperor Ashoka was going round his empire together with his minister. At one place he saw a Buddhist monk. He went up to the monk and bowed his head before the feet of the monk. The minister felt unhappy over the emperor’s action. “Should the head of the great Emperor Ashoka be placed at the feet of an ordinary monk?” he thought.
After returning to the capital, the minister expressed, his feelings to the emperor. He told Ashoka: “The head of the emperor is supremely precious. Is it fitting that it should be placed at the feet of a mere monk?” This, he said, saddened him. Ashoka did not give any reply. He smiled and retired, to his apartment.
Ashoka was waiting for a suitable time. After a few days, he summoned the minister and told him: “I want three heads.” “What are they? I shall certainly get them,” said the minister. Ashoka said: “The heads of a goat, a tiger and a man.”
The minister went out, found a goat and got its head. He went hunting in a forest and obtained the head of a tiger. He went to a cemetery and got the head of a dead man. He informed the emperor that he had brought the three heads as desired by Ashoka. The emperor directed the minister to rake the three heads to the market-place, sell them and bring proceeds. In the marker, the goat’s head and the tiger’s head found ready buyers. But there was no buyer for the human head. The minister returned to the emperor and told him that no one was willing to buy the human head. The emperor told him to give the head free to anyone who might accept it. No one came forward to accept it. The minister reported to the emperor that there was no one to receive the head even as a free gift. The emperor then told the minister: “This head has value only when there is life in the body. When life is gone, it is utterly valueless. Therefore, even while there is life, place your head at the feet of the noble ones and secure their blessings.” The moral of the episode is that you must make proper use of the body while there is life in it. What is wrong in prostrating before a monk? Many atheists as well as believers criticize those who offer their prostrations to holy persons. Such prostrations represent use of the body given to human beings.
Divine Discourse 7 April 1997