Sunday, October 07, 2012

The Sannyasi and the Tiger

I'm currently reading Phillip Gowans' Practical Sufism: A Guide to the Spiritual Path, and the following excerpt from it reminds me of the story of St. Francis and the wolf, which I shared last week for the feast of St. Francis.


A distinguished sannyasi, a Hindu holy man, tells this story about himself.

When this man decided to take the yellow robe, the garb of the mendicant spiritual seeker in the Hindu tradition, he was obliged to search out a place in which to do his meditations. Apparently one of the vows you take in this tradition is to choose a place of meditation and stay there whatever occurs. The sannyasi wanted to begin his practices far from civilization. In India this means being where there are predators. He searched for a long time until he found what seemed to be the perfect place: a beautiful valley with a god cave, water within walking distance, and an abundance of fruits and vegetables. There were no signs of predators. He took a formal vow to remain there till he found the Self. Just then the unmistakable cough of a tiger echoed through the forest. He knew he had made the wrong decision. The sannyasi hid in a cave for two days. On the third day he waited until midday, hoping the tiger would be holed up somewhere to avoid the heat. Then, no longer able to control his thirst, he rushed to the stream, filled his container, and turned back toward the cave.

The tiger stepped out on the path in front of him. The sannyasi's first impulse was to flee. But he knew that would be pointless. His next thought was to race for a nearby tree and climb it, thus to escape the tiger's claws. He could wait until the tiger was gone, then flee the valley forever. But what about the vow he had taken not to leave the valley until he had found enlightenment? If he broke his vow, how could he ever expiate this sin? He truly did not know what to do. He was terrified of the tiger and wanted to flee, but he was equally appalled at the idea of breaking his vow.

Then a calm descended on him. He decided that he had taken a vow and that, whatever the outcome, he would see that vow through to the end. If God had decided he would best serve humanity by being eaten by a tiger, then so be it. Having made his decision and having overcome his terror, he stood his ground and watched calmly as the tiger approached him.

The tiger padded up to him. Slowly, it rubbed its long powerful body up and down the sannyasi's thigh. Then it escorted him back to the cave.

Thereafter, until he attained enlightenment, the sannyasi shared the valley with the tiger.

– Phillip Gowans
Practical Sufism
pp. 105-106

Related Off-site Link:
Burning Bright – Steve Williams (Brisbane Times, February 24, 2008).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Francis and the Wolf
The Sufi Way
Learning from the East
Something to Think About – May 26, 2012

Images: Tiger Temple.

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