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The Foolish Son

Once There lived a sheth. He had only one son. By nature, the son was lazy and refused to work. One day, the Sheth told his son, ''Why don't you learn to trade and earn thousands of rupees.'' ''Father, I shan't set up a business here. I'll sail to the island of Java and come back a rich man,'' replied his son.

To sail to Java, he needed a big ship, lots of gold coins to do business, and what's more, it would take twelve full years for the journey. Three years to reach there, three years to return and six years for trading. The Sheth was already eighty years old, but he put faith in his son and bought him three ships. He sent four of his best men, the accountant, the minister, the advisor and the treasurer on the journey to Java. The lazy son was the leader. Three years passed. The group reached the island. Yet the son showed no urgency in doing business. He passed away four to six months in leisure and relaxation. The accountant reminded him, ''Come, let us begin to trade. What have we come here for?''

The Sheth's lazy son was startled to his senses. But he gave out a most non-sensical order. ''Go out and buy the most expensive thing in this place.'' It so happened, that in Java, things like gold, pearls, jewels and ornaments were being sold at a very low price, because they were in abundance. The minister advised, ''Master, let us purchase these here and we can make a bumper profit back at home by selling them at a high price.'' ''No, No! We must not buy cheap things.'' So they kept hunting for the most expensive item on sale in the market. And you won't believe it, but the most expensive things on the whole of Java island were stones! Yes, stones! ''Minister, invest all our money in buying these stones,'' ordered the son. ''But Master, at home, in Kathiawad, we have plenty of stones such as these.

They are worthless. Instead, let us purchase the gold and jewellery.'' But the son remained stubborn. He would not budge from his foolishness. He spent six years searching for and collecting stones. All his advisors silently watched in horror as the three ships were loaded with stones of varying shapes and sizes. Finally, with the air of a victorious commander, the son ordered his crew for the journey home. Back at home, everyone was eagerly awaiting the return of the expedition. The foolish son had proudly sent a message in advance, ''Dear father, I am bringing back three shiploads of priceless goods.'' The news brought a wave of excitement in the father's heart. He spread the news to everyone in town and boasted about his son's twelve year long enterprise. At night he dreamt about diamonds and jewels, gold and silver... ''Oh my! Three ships overflowing with wealth!'' he thought The father spent his days dreaming and his nights talking. After three years, the day of celebration came.

The ships pulled into harbour. Every man alive rushed to the coast; some had come to congratulate; some were curious to see the riches; and some were there to be the first to buy the goods before they even reached the market. They asked, ''What goods have you brought?'' ''Stones!'' replied the son with pride. ''Come on, don't make jokes,'' they challenged in quiet disbelief. Nobody took him seriously and they all went to the giant assembly his father had arranged for his son's reception. Father and son embraced each other, the whole family celebrated the reunion. Then the Sheth asked, ''O son, the great adventurer, what have you brought to our people from the far lands?'' ''Stones!'' ''I am 92 years old. I have enough experience in these matters. So stop fooling and tell us the truth,'' the father lovingly admonished. ''Honestly, father, I have brought shiploads of stones. These smooth stones were the most expensive things on the island.'' So saying, he ordered his men to
unload some samples.

The whole assembly was shocked into silence. Some people were horrified, others laughed. The son's foolishness had been exposed. His dumbheadedness cut a sorry figure of his father. The family's reputation had received a severe blow, ruining it forever. And at the end of it all, the stones had to be thrown deep into the sea because they were too circular to be of any use even in building houses! Likewise, when we leave our body and sail home to heaven, the Lord will come forth to receive us. He will ask us what wealth we have earned for our soul. We may reply with a list, ''A three-storey house, a few children, and thousands of rupees.'' This is called material wealth.

Collecting material wealth is like gathering stones. It is of no value at all. Only when we spend our life enriching our soul and striving for salvation by collecting the inner wealth of knowledge will our journey to earth become worthwhile.

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© 1999, Bochasanwasi Shree Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, Swaminarayan Aksharpith