Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836–1886,) the eminent Hindu mystic of 19th-century India, used stories and parables to portray the core elements of his philosophy. The meaning of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s stories and parables are usually not explicitly stated. The meanings are not intended to be mysterious or confidential but are, in contrast, quite uncomplicated and obvious.
In the Hindu and other traditions of the major religions of the world, parables form the language of the wise for enlightening the simple, just as well as they form the language of the simple for enlightening the wise.
The Parable of the Barber and the Seven Jars of Greed
A barber, who was passing under a haunted tree, heard a mysterious voice offer, “Will you accept seven jars full of gold?”
The barber looked around, but could see no one. The offer of seven jars of gold, however, roused his cupidity and he cried aloud, “Yes, I shall accept the seven jars.”
At once came the reply. “Go home; I have carried the jars to your house.”
The barber ran home in hot haste to verify the truth of his strange announcement. And when he entered the house, he saw the jars before him. He opened them and found them all full of gold, except the last one, which was only half-full.
A strong desire now arouse in the mind of the barber to fill the seventh jar also, for without it, his happiness was incomplete.
The barber converted all his ornaments into gold coins and put them into the jar; but the mysterious vessel was as before.
One day he requested the king to increase his pay, saying his income was not sufficient to maintain himself on. Now the barber was a favorite of the king, and as soon as the request was made the king doubled his pay.
All this pay he saved and put into the jar, but the greed jar showed no signs of filling.
At last, he began to live by begging from door to door, and his professional income and the income from begging all went into the insatiable cavity of the mysterious jar.
Months passed, and the condition of the miserable and miserly barber grew worse every day. Seeing his sad plight, the king asked him one day, “When your pay was half of what you now get, you were happy, cheerful, and contented. But with double the pay, I see your morose, careworn and dejected. What is the matter with you? Have you got ‘the seven jars’?”
The barber was taken aback by this question and replied, “Your Majesty, who has informed you of this?”
The king replied, “Don’t you know that these are the signs of the person to whom the Yaksha consigns the seven jars. He offered me also the same jars, but I asked him whether his money might be spent or was merely to be hoarded. No sooner had I asked this question then the Yaksha ran away without any reply. Don’t you know that no one can spend that money? It only brings with it the desire of hoarding. Go at once and return the money.”
The wise king’s words brought the barber to his senses. He returned to the haunted tree and said, “Take back your gold, O Yaksha.”
The Yaksha replied, “All right.” When the barber returned home, he found that the seven jars had vanished and mysteriously as they were brought in, and with it had vanished his life-long savings.
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa concluded the story by instilling some wisdom into the hearts and minds of his disciples, “Such is the state of some men in the Kingdom of Heaven. Those who do not understand the difference between real expenditure and real income lose all they have.”
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa once said, “Rain-water never stands on high ground, but runs down to the lowest level. So also the mercy of God remains in the hearts of the lowly, but drains off from those of the vain and the proud.”
- ‘Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: The Sadhaka of Dakshineswar’ by Amiya P. Sen
- ‘Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda’ by Swami Vivekananda and Sister Nivedita
- ‘Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna’ by Lex Hixon
- ‘Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna’ by Swami Nikhilananda
- ‘Ramakrishna: His Life and Sayings’ by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
- ‘Vivekananda: A Biography’ by Swami Nikhilananda