LONG long ago there was a king by name Pradyumna. He was religious minded and he took keen interest in spiritual sciences.
One day King Pradyumna posed a simple question before the sadhus and Vedic scholars thus: Between grihasti and sanyasi, who is far ahead on the spiritual path. Some argued grihasti far greater than sanyasi. Some replied the other way round. The king requested every one of them to justify his argument. Nobody could put forward convincing arguments.
One day a sadhu by name Chinmaya arrived at the king'scourt. The king placed the same question before Chinmaya. Chinmaya said, ?Sir, you have irrepressible desire to know who is superior, grihasti or sanyasi. If the desire is irrepressible God does provide the answer to the curious of his own. So both yourself and myself will proceed on a journey. We will just watch the men and events coming across in the course of our journey. I am sure sheer observation on your part will provide a convincing answer to you.?
King Pradyumna accepted the plan suggested by sadhu Chinmaya. So both Pradyumna and Chinmaya proceeded on a joint journey on foot.
They crossed the rivers and streams. They traversed the jungle. After eight days they reached a beautiful town where a great event was taking place. A huge well decorated hall was attracting the attention of everybody in the town. In this hall swayamvara of the princess by name Vasumati who was almost a last word in beauty was going on. The princess with a garland in her hand was moving from one prince to another in an attempt to choose the match as per her will. Introduction of each prince was, provided by a responsible poet from the king'scourt. So she was moving from prince to prince just like a moon entering into one zodiac sign after the other.
Pradyumna and Chinmaya both in disguise were present in the hall as casual spectators.
A sanyasi with shaved head, wearing a saffron robe and wooden sandals in his feet who was hurrying by the side of the nearby street just peeped inside the hall out of casual curiosity and he was about to move away. At that very moment the princes happened to see the sanyasi. The sanyasi was not known to anybody nor to the princess. However, the princess was captivated by the divine luster on the appearance of the sanyasi. The princess was almost hypnotised. She rushed to the sanyasi. She tried to put the garland around the neck of the sanyasi indicating her choice of acceptance, to the surprise of everybody. However, the sanyasi quickly foiled the attempt on the part of the princess. He caught the garland just in the air, he threw the garland away like a dead serpent, turned his back and started moving away rapidly.
The princess was extremely excited. She started wailing and with frenzy she started running after the sanyasi. The king of the town too chased the princess in an attempt to control her. While on the run the king requested the sanyasi to turn back and honour the choice of his daughter. Further, the king promised the sanyasi to pass on to him the whole kingdom. However, the sanyasi completely ignored the pleading on the part of the king and he ran into the forest. The princess too vanished away into the jungle leaving her aged father lamenting behind.
Both Pradyumna and Chinmaya followed the running princess keeping themselves at a safe distance.
Sanyasi entered into a deep forest. And so did the princess. Pradyumna and Chinmaya too followed them at a safe distance.
The sanyasi had a light foot. He made a smart move and he parried the princess and disappeared into the deep forest.
The princess was left alone in that fearsome forest. She was afraid of the jungle beasts. She sat near the trunk of a bunyan tree and started crying. It was evening then.
At this juncture both Pradyumna and Chinmaya approached near the princess. They consoled the princess saying ?Be not afraid. We will provide you necessary protection. Tomorrow morning we will search your way back home, drop you at your father'splace and then proceed on our journey ahead.?
So the princess sat at a certain corner and both Pradyumna and Chinmaya a bit away from her.
Soon it was night. It was very cold. So all three of them started shivering.
Just above the three of them, on the branch of a bunyan tree there was a beautiful nest. In that nest there lived a family of sparrows?He sparrow, she sparrow and the child sparrow.
Casting his sight just below, the He-sparrow said to his wife, ?We are a family. We are a grihasti. Grihasti must observe the atithi dharma. Just below three atithis (Guests) have arrived at our home. They are suffering from cold. We are duty-bound to keep them in good spirit with adequate warmth.?
?How can we do that?? questioned the She-sparrow.
He sparrow said, ?I have a way?. Saying so the He-sparrow flew a distance. He went to a place where wild fire was getting extinguished. He picked up in his beak a burning wooden stick. He flew back. He sat near his nest. He then carefully dropped the burning stick just in front of the three atithis. Pradyumna picked it up as a gift from the God. Chinmaya collected dry leaves and pieces of dry wood. They lit a bonfire. The three sat around the fire. In this way they staved the cold away and became happy.
Looking at the fire, the He-sparrow said to his wife, ? The atithis are getting the warmth from the fire. But they are all hungry. As grihastis it is our bounden duty to provide them food. How can we do that??
They were not in the habit of storage of food of any kind. So both the He-sparrow and his spouse were worried.
At long last the He-sparraw said ?At any cost we must abide by the atithi dharma as we are grihastis.?
The He-sparrow closed his eyes and he dived deep straight into the fire. His body got burnt and he fell aside lifeless. So the princess picked up the baked bird and she alleviated her hunger.
Now the She-sparrow said to herself, ?My husband has immolated his body and observed the atithi dharma. I must not lag behind in my duty.?
And so the She-sparrow too threw herself into the fire and sacrificed her life at the alter of her duty as a grihasti. Her burnt body fulfilled the appetite of Pradyumna.
The child-sparrow too followed suit and it provided food for the third atithi. In this way the entire sparrow family did self-immolation to observe the duties ordained for the grihasti.
Now sadhu Chinmaya opened his mouth. He asked king Pradyumna, ?Oh king, you have observed that a sanyasi has spurned the hand of the most beautiful princess accompanied with the whole kingdom. You have seen a grihasti family quietly self-immolating and observing the grihasti dharma of treating atithis. Now, please decide yourself which one is supreme?sanyasi or a grihasti?
King Pradyumna replied, ?Sir, I have now realised the truth. Both sanyasi and a grihasti are equally supreme. They are beyond comparison of any kind.?