Hazrat Inayat Khan told the following story, which, in addition to the simple, charming and educational message, seems to have a perfume of the Mughal era. The Emperor Akbar, in particular, enjoyed discussing matters of religion, spirituality and philosophy with the wise of different traditions, and even went so far as to attempt to found a religion that was a synthesis of all those current at the time, called ‘Din-Ilahi.’ But although Akbar was gifted as a ruler, he was not a prophet, and the religion did not take hold.
A king was debating with his philosophers and friends on the question of wherein beauty lies. As they were talking together on the terrace of the palace, they watched their children playing below in the courtyard.
Suddenly the king called to the slave of his courtyard and, handing him a jewelled cap, said, “Now take this and put it on the head of the child whose beauty seems to you to suit it best. Choose and crown the most beautiful of all those playing down there.”
The slave, a little embarrassed, but pleased and interested, took the jewelled cap most carefully. First he tried it on the king’s son. He saw that it suited the handsome lad, and yet somehow the slave was not quite satisfied: there seemed to him something lacking about the child. He tried it on the head of another and another, till at last he put it on his own little son.
There he saw that the cap fitted his child exactly. It became him wonderfully; it was just the right cap for him. So the slave took his son by the hand and led him to the king. Trembling a little with fear, he said “Sire, of all the children I find that the crown suits this one best of all. Indeed if I tell the truth I must say this, though I am ashamed to appear so bold; for indeed the boy is the son of my most unworthy self.”
Then the king and all those with him laughed very heartily as he thanked the slave and rewarded him with the same cap for his child, saying, “Certainly you have told me what i wished to know: it is the heart that perceives beauty.”
For the son of this slave was indeed a very ugly child, as the king and all those with him saw at a glance.