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The selfless priest

There was once a famous temple, high up in the hills of Assam, India. The priest of this temple was widely respected and known to be a great devotee and scholar. When he grew old, he started searching for a younger priest, who could look after the temple after his death. Much to his dismay, he could not find a suitable person. Finally, as the priest lay ill, he called one of the trustees of the temple and told him, "After my death make sure that only a human being replaces me as the priest of this temple." Soon after, the priest passed away.

News traveled far and wide that the head priest of the famous temple had died and now there was an urgent need for a replacement. A day was set for all candidates to reach the temple where the successor would be chosen. That day, aspirants started climbing the steep hill to the temple. The route to the temple was indeed difficult; it was strewn with thorns and stones. By the time most people managed to reach the temple, they had received cuts and bruises on their feet.

After breakfast, the selection procedure started. The trustee asked all the aspirants to recite difficult stotras or verses from Holy texts, and explain the various duties of a priest. In the afternoon, as the selection procedure was about to end, one young man walked slowly into the temple. The trustee said to him, "Young man, you are very late. What took you so long? What happened to your clothes, why are they torn? Your feet, oh my God! They are bleeding so badly!"

The man replied, "Sir, I know I am late and I will not be able to participate in the selection. If I have your permission, I'll just get my wounds treated, rest for a while and go my way." But the trustee was curious about this man. He repeated, "But how did you manage to hurt yourself so badly? Did you not follow the same route as the others?"

"Indeed, I did sir," replied the man. "But I thought I would remove the thorns and other sharp stones from the path, so that when people come to pray in this temple they will not get hurt. That is why I was late and that is how I hurt myself. I apologise for the delay and know that I will not be able to participate in the selection. Anyway, I am not very well educated, so how can I compete with all the learned candidates present here?"

On hearing this, the trustee smiled. He said, "Congratulations, you are chosen to be the priest of this temple." The other participants were furious. "What do you mean?" they demanded. "Are we not humans? And why do you choose this young man, who confesses to having little knowledge and education?"

The trustee replied, "Our old priest used to say that even animals know how to look out for themselves; they know how to avoid danger, search for food and so on. Only a human being knows how to watch out for others. All of you climbed the same dangerous path, and managed to avoid the thorns and the sharp rocks. But only this man thought of others and took up the task of clearing the path. By this definition, only he qualifies as a human being and hence, he should be the successor of the great old priest."

Moral: Many a time, we too, look out for our own interests, without thinking about the interests of others. Regular spiritual practice helps us to develop the quality of selflessness to be able to be a true human being.

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