Amidst the encircling gloom of social and geographical disasters, it can be hard to keep our personal moral meter ticking steadily.
With heavy qualifiers (as found in our Constitution), scripture offers dramatic stories to help us hang in there. An example is this intriguing Jataka that sounds like the story of Shakuntala and Dushyant.
Once upon a time, goes the old storyteller’s voice, the king of Benares went hunting in the forest. Through the thickets, he heard a beautiful voice singing.
He searched for the source and discovered a girl who was so pretty that the king lost his wits, such as they were, and followed her home. By and by he realised that a week had passed and nobody had traced him and as king it was his duty to return to his responsibilities.
He gave his new forest sweetheart his signet ring and blithely told her that should she have a daughter, the ring would buy a dowry and should she have a son, the boy should come to court with this proof of identity and would be looked after. (Yes, I know, but onwards with the tale, we could look at the better message and reject the bad bits).
Anyhow, she had a boy and it was not very easy being a boy either in such circumstances. All the little forest boys laughed at him for not knowing who his father was and when he insisted his father was the king of Benares, they took to calling him “Little Prince No-Father”. This was understandably hard to bear in a traditional society and one day the little boy insisted that his mother should take him to his father.
The mother made sure to take the ring and soon enough they found themselves at the palace gates, seeking admission to the royal court as petitioners.
“This is your son, Majesty,” said the mother with all the ministers and courtiers goggling at them. “Certainly not!” said the king, embarrassed. “But this is the signet ring you gave as proof of identity,” faltered the mother. But the king flatly refused to own up.
“What price, truth?” said the mother, feeling dreadful for her child. She flung her little son up in the air and there he floated in padmasana like a meditating angel.
Faced with a miracle, the king had to accept the truth and so did everyone else and they all lived happily until their time was up.