Once upon a time in India there was a student whose guru instructed him to spend his time reading the holy scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. “Become the servant of the Gita!” he advised. Therefore the student found a quiet place in the jungle where he could improvise a small shelter, and devoted himself each day to reading the sacred words.
In a short time, however, he discovered that there were mice living there, and if he was not attentive, they would irreligiously chew the pages of the Gita. He tried to chase them away, but they always returned, especially when he was asleep.
“These mice are unbelievers of the lowest kind,” he thought. “I cannot allow the holy book to be damaged in this way. Disregarding it would surely invalidate any spiritual merit that might come from reading the Gita. What is more, imagine if they ate whole words – it could change the meaning of the Scripture!”
Therefore, he went to the nearest village, half a day’s journey away, and returned with a young cat. This had just the effect he was hoping for – the nightly attacks on the holy book ceased, and the mice vanished. He discovered, though, that the cat, being hungry, made persistent demands for food, especially when he was trying to concentrate on the scriptures.
“You must have milk,” he said to the cat, “but the village is a half day’s journey from here. To go there for milk and come back is a full day, and there will be no time left to read. Therefore, I must get a cow.”
Soon he had a cow, and the cat was happy with the milk and left the man in peace. The man found, though, that taking the cow to pasture, and bringing it back and milking it and looking after it in various ways took a great deal of time. “Then I must have a servant to look after the cow,” he said.
The student found a servant, and he was greatly relieved not to have to look after the cow all day – but he soon learned that the servant was lazy and neglectful, and it was necessary to watch him to make sure he did his duties. “If I had a wife,” the man thought, “she could make sure the servant does his work, and I would be able to read the Gita.”
Therefore the student found a wife and settled down with her. As he had hoped, she kept the servant hopping from one task to another, so the student was freed from that care, but the wife, as is normal, wanted one thing and another. What is more, soon children began to appear, so that the man was even more busy than before.
Some years passed, and it happened that the guru, travelling in the region, came to visit his student. After observing the student’s way of life, he said, “I told you to read the Gita. Now I see wife, children, cow, servant, cat – what happened to the Gita?”
“Guru-ji,” said the man, “it is like this…” And he told the whole story. “So you see,” he concluded, “all this that you see here – wife, children, cow, everything – is simply my service to the Gita.”
“So you say,” said the guru. “But I say it is not service to the Gita. It looks like service to the mice.”