There was a hermitage where an ascetic lived with some disciples. A nine year old boy was the youngest disciple there. One day the old ascetic told the little boy, “I am going out for a few days. I have given all the boys certain duties to do, while I am away. You are in charge of this garden. Look after it nicely.”
Ten days later the ascetic came back. He found that the garden and its little caretaker both looked weak and unhappy. He made the boy sit near him and asked him, “Did you look after the garden in my absence?”
The boy nodded his head and said, “I got up early in the morning and worked all day. I even slept in the garden, so that no one would enter and damage anything. I did not allow anyone to break any flowers.”
The Ascetic said, “You spent the whole day looking after the garden? Tell me, what all did you do?”
Boy: Gurudev, I cleaned all the leaves with my Angavastra (shawl). I wiped the dust off all of them. I removed all the ants and caterpillars that crawled on them.
The ascetic listened patiently as the little boy went on.
Boy: Gurudev, I cleaned all the branches and removed the dead leaves. I smelt each flower one by one. I even sprinkled Itra (perfume) on the flowers that did not smell good. I sang songs to the little plants and told them that Gurudev would be coming soon. I wiped the dust off all the fruits and kept guard all day, so that the birds would not peck at the fruits and damage them.
Ascetic: My child, I can see that you have been working very hard, you must be very tired. The boy lowered his tear filled eyes and did not speak a word. The master held his hand softly.
Ascetic: Son, did you water the garden?
Boy: No Gurudev, I did not.
Ascetic: My child, you have taken care of the outward appearance of the plants. You have cleaned and polished them diligently. You have even removed all the insects from the plants. But you did not provide nourishment for them. You did not think of what is within the plants.
It was not important to dust the leaves and branches. Dust does no harm to them. Even the ants and all the crawlers do not damage the plant. They are a part of nature. The plants are used to them. The birds too normally take their share out of nature’s bounty. You did not notice that the leaves looked dry and droopy. You did not feel that the ground looked parched. You did not see that the grass was turning dry and yellow. Did you try to find out why everything looked so droopy and weak?
This is what we also do. We spend hours on our outward appearance. We spend loads of money to buy good clothes, jewellery, cosmetics, perfumes etc. We are concerned about only the outwardly issues. Do we pause to think about what we need for our inner self? The thing that is not visible, that is most important. Concentrate on that. That is the most valuable part of us.