A promise to a beggar

1001 Tales told by the Master

“A promise is possible only if tomorrow is certain. But who knows anything about tomorrow?”


He who lightly makes a promise will find it often hard to keep his faith.

If you understand life you will never make promises, because a promise is a postponement. You must either do it now or you must say, I don’t know, I will see tomorrow.

In Mahabharata there is a beautiful anecdote. Pandavas, the five brothers, are hiding in the forest. One day a beggar comes. Udhishthir is sitting outside the hut and the beggar asks for nothing much, just some bread, a few chapattis.

Udhishthir is brooding – and as it happens always whenever there is a beggar, you would like to postpone. You say, Come tomorrow, just to avoid. He may not come again tomorrow. You don’t want to be so rude as to say, I will not give anything; also, you want to protect your image that you are a great giver. So you say, Come tomorrow. Don’t disturb me now. Udhishthir did the same; he said, Come tomorrow.

Bhima, another brother – who is not known much for his wisdom or intelligence, but sometimes it happens that people who are not very intelligent flare up – he suddenly started laughing and he ran out of the house with laughter, towards the town. Udhishthir asked: Where are you going? He said, I am going to tell the people in the town that my brother has conquered time! He has promised something to a beggar if he comes tomorrow!

Suddenly Udhishthir became aware. Because how can you say, Come tomorrow? You may not be here tomorrow. The beggar may not be here tomorrow. Udhishthir ran off, caught hold of the beggar, gave him whatsoever he could give him, and dropped the habit of promising.

Because a promise is possible only if tomorrow is certain. But who knows anything about tomorrow?

Osho, The Three Treasures – Talks on fragments from Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, Vol 3, Ch 7

Series compiled by Shanti
All excerpts of this series can be found in: 1001 Tales
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