In the Courtyard
The carpenter was poor, and one day asked his spiritual teacher whether it was right to pray for a better living.
“I too am poor,” said the teacher, “but after all I have a place to sleep and some food to eat, which some people have not. I am ashamed to ask the Lord for more when there are so many worse off than I am.”
The carpenter thought resentfully, “But you have some rich disciples; why shouldn’t they be asked to do something for me?” But he managed to remain silent. As the years went by, his reputation as a conscientious workman grew, and things improved, though only a little. He began to feel, however, a sort of peace in his heart, and no longer resented the better circumstances of others.
A new king came to the throne, energetic and efficient, and interested in spiritual things. Conditions generally improved. It was announced that the king was inaugurating a new scheme: one person out of each street would be chosen by lot, and invited to attend the palace to come before the king. Soon afterwards, a royal messenger told the carpenter that he was one of the lucky ones. The date and time were given to him.
He was passed through the great outer gate of the palace into a wide courtyard. On the other side was the inner door, guarded by a huge, magnificently attired guard with an impressive mustache. His right hand at the waist held upright a bare sword. Timidly the carpenter approached him and gave his name. The guard gestured toward a large tray on a stand, “Put your presents there.”
“‘Presents’? I wasn’t told about presents. How would someone like me have anything?”
The guard frowned. “No one goes in without making presents. Ministers, ambassadors, whoever they are, they all make presents. Put yours there. Put whatever you’ve got.” He looked away.
The carpenter felt in his pocket, and found only three copper coins. They were hardly visible on the expanse of the tray. As he stood bewildered, his teacher came out of the door. Over his plain coat someone had hung strings of pearls; on his fingers were jeweled rings. He walked across and said, “I will arrange them for you.”
As he bent to move the little coins about, the rings slipped off his fingers. The strings of the pearls broke, and they rained onto the tray in a cascade of light. The guard’s eyes opened wide as the teacher carried the heaped-up tray past him into the palace.
Now, the carpenter’s name was called from within, but he was too confused and ashamed to move; he stood looking down, twisting his toes in the dust. The guard crashed the sword into its scabbard, and strode across. Gently he slid his great hands under the little carpenter’s armpits, and carried him bodily through the door.
“This is the last present,” he said, “and the best.