The love of the parents for the children is much greater than the love of the children towards them, for while the parents’ thought is all centered in the children, the children’s thought is for themselves first. Someone asked the Prophet, ‘Whose love is greater, the children’s love for their parents or the parents’ for their children?’ He said, ‘The parents’ love is greater, for while they do all things with the thought that their children may grow and be happy and will live after them, as if they expect to live in the life of their children after their death, even worthy children think that some day the parents will die, and with this thought they render them what little service they can.’ The questioner asked, ‘Of the parents, whose love is greater?’ The Prophet said, ‘The mother’s; the greater respect and service is due to her, for heaven lies at her feet.’ The love of the parents is most blessed, for this love is clear as crystal.
There is a well-known story of Shirvan Bhagat, who was devoted to his aged parents, who had reached the age when they were helpless and entirely dependent upon the service of their only son. Shirvan was so devoted to them that he sacrificed all freedom and pleasure in life in their service. He gently attended to their calls, and bore with patience all the difficulties that one funds in association with the aged.
The parents one day said that they greatly wished they had once in their lives made a pilgrimage to Kashi. This worthy son at once consented to their wish, and, as in those days there was no other means of travelling, he undertook to accomplish the journey on foot. He made baskets in which he placed his old parents and lifted them on to his back, and thus set out on a journey of thousands of miles, through many forests and mountains, crossing rivers on his way.
He travelled for months in this way, but before he arrived at their destination a misfortune happened. Shirvan, at his parents’ request, set down his baskets on the ground and went to fetch some water. When he drew near to the river he was stuck by the arrow of Raja Dasheratha, who had aimed at a deer and by accident hit him. Hearing the deep sigh of a man the Raja went to him, and was grieved beyond expression. He said, ‘Is there anything that I can do for you, O man?’ Shirvan said, ‘I am dying. I have only one desire, and that is to give my parents this water; they are thirsty in the heat of the sun.’ ‘That is all?’ the Raja asked. ‘I will do it with great pleasure as my first duty.’ Shirvan said, ‘If you wish to do anything more then look after them and see that they are carried to Kashi, although I doubt whether they will live any longer after I am gone.’
The Raja went, bearing water in his hands, and gave it to the old parents without saying a word to them, fearing they might not drink it, hearing the voice of a stranger. The parents said, ‘O worthy son, all our life we have never seen you vexed; this is the first time that you have handed us the bowl of water without your loving word which always gives us new life.’ Raja Dasheratha burst into tears, and told them of the death of their son. They, hearing this, could not live to drink the water. They lived only on the love of their son. Each of them heaved a deep sigh, ‘O, our beloved Shirvan’, and passed away.
This story has since become a tradition in India, and there are followers of this tradition who carry baskets on their shoulders and travel about, teaching the virtue of devotion and service to parents.
Love Human and Divine, chap. I: The Philosophy of Love
The Sufi Message series vol. V: Spiritual Liberty