IS THAT SO

IS THAT SO

Eruch Jessawala

It so happened that in a certain area of the country there lived one who loved the Lord. He had settled in an isolated area some distance from the nearest village. There was a small cave in a hill a mile or so outside of the village and that is where he stayed. You may call him a recluse if you wish, but what need did he have of other people's company when his constant companion was the Lord? But, as Ramakrishna Paramhamsa said, "When the flower is ripe, the bees come of their own accord." And so it was that the villagers started coming to visit.

You know how it is. First, probably, it was just one of the boys herding goats who happened to notice that someone was living in the cave and he told the other boys and they told their parents and so people started coming to see who was there, out of curiosity and to pay their respects. For it was obvious that it must be a devotee of the Lord, for who else would chose to live in such an isolated place?

And so, bit by bit, the villagers started to go visit their recluse, and what did they find? They found him absorbed in his devotion to the Lord. So the people would humbly bow, pay their respects and leave. But every once in a while, they might come when he was just sitting at the entrance to his cave, seemingly lost in admiration of God's creation. And they would seize this opportunity to begin a conversation, as they were naturally curious to know where he had come from, how long he planned to stay, what sect, if any, he belonged to, whether he could give them mantras to protect their livestock, in short, the usual endless questions that worldly people have for those who have given up the world.

But no matter how hard they tried, they could not engage him in conversation. For his response to everything and anything they said was always the same, "Is that so?" If they told him how they had come just to see him, he would look up very serenely and reply, "Is that so?" If they wept and said one of their family members was sick, he would reply just as calmly, "Is that so?" In short, to each and everything his answer was the same, a very gentle, "Is that so?"

This was a disappointment to those thirsting for gossip or words of advice or comfort and yet, the villagers found that they were comforted and sustained just by sitting in his presence. They began to send him small offerings of food which they would leave outside the entrance to his cave. And sometimes they would sit there for a while, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere, before returning home. All were happy. The recluse was pleased to be left alone to his worship and adoration of his Beloved, and the villagers were happy that their area was blessed with the abode of a true lover of God.

Now, it so happened that in the village itself we find an entirely different scene. One of the unmarried girls had become pregnant. Her mother eventually discovered this and was horrified. She began weeping and wailing at this calamity. When the father returned home in the evening he was even more upset at this revelation and began yelling at his daughter, berating her and demanding to know who was responsible for this outrage. You see, in those days people were very strict, such a happening brought disgrace and dishonour on the whole family – even the village felt itself shamed.

The girl began to weep but she was afraid to name the one responsible for fear that her parents would hurt him, so the more her parents demanded to know who had done it, the more she wept. Finally she blurted out, "Don't keep saying, ‘Who is responsible?' If you must know, you are the ones at fault. It is because of you that I am now in such a wretched state."

"Our fault! But how can that be?"

"Because you are the ones who used to send me every morning with the bowl of curds for the saint living outside of town."

"So? What has that to do with .... you mean he is the one?!"

And the girl tearfully confessed that one morning after leaving the curds, the saint came out of the cave and raped her and she hadn't dared say anything until then because she knew what high esteem he was held in by all.

Well, the parents were understandably shocked and outraged at this, and the father began cursing the scoundrel and muttering, "I knew he was up to no good." See how the mind works. Only that morning he had sent the saint a bowl of curds and spoken of him with the greatest reverence, but as soon as his daughter confessed that he had raped her, then suddenly he always knew that the saint was an imposter, a rascal.

So the father goes to the village elders and tells them what has happened. Most are for going to the cave immediately and thrashing the man. But a few, remembering the feeling they always had in his presence, found it difficult to believe that he could have done such a thing and insisted on confronting him first, before taking any action.

Thus, a party of the village men tramp out to the cave and call the saint out. After a while he emerges, as unconcerned and benign as ever. "You rascal," the father shouts on seeing him. "You raped my daughter!"

"Is that so?" the saint replied, as if the father had merely said, "It seems like it might rain." The father rushed forward to strike the saint, but one of the elders held him back and addressed the saint himself. "This man's daughter is pregnant and she claims you are the father."

"Is that so?" the saint replied with equal unconcern.

"She says you raped her!"

"Is that so?"

Well, this was too much for the father. "Have you no shame!" he declares. "And to pose as a lover of God, you hypocrite!" and he began beating the saint.

The other villagers are also enraged that the saint showed so little concern at such a serious accusation and they conclude that such indifference can only reflect callous guilt and they are also outraged that all these years they have been duped into feeling the man was a saint when in reality he was the lowest of the low, and they all take their anger out by hitting and kicking the saint. Finally, leaving him for dead, they return home, satisfied that they have done what honour demanded.

But the saint did not die. He crawled back to his cave and went on with adoration of the Lord as always. Meanwhile time passes and the daughter gives birth. The parents don't want the child as it only reminds them of their disgrace so the father, who has heard from the goat herders that the saint is still living in his cave, goes there and takes the baby with him.

The saint is sitting outside the cave, silently marveling at the beauty of His Beloved when the father approaches and thrusts the baby in his hands. "Here, this is yours."

"Is that so?" the saint asks, looking at the child.

"This is the fruit of your evil action, now it is up to you to look after it."

"Is that so?"

The father stalks off and the saint, as unruffled as ever, begins to raise the child. Some of the shepherd boys give the saint some milk which he feeds to the child and so time passes.

Meanwhile the parents feel that the only way they can really get over their shame is to get their daughter safely married. Of course, it is out of the question to marry her to anyone in their own village but, by promising a large dowry, they manage to arrange for her marriage to an older man living in a nearby village. With great happiness they announce to the daughter that they have found her a husband. But, to their astonishment, the daughter starts crying. "I won't marry," she says.

"What are you talking about? You have to get married. You are of age, you can't stay in our home forever, and we have a good man in the next village who is willing to marry you in spite of your past." And they begin to extol the virtues of this marriage. But the more they go on, the more their daughter weeps.

She declares, "If you make me marry with any other person, I will kill myself." The parents can't understand this at all. What does she mean, "Any other person?" Finally the girl confesses, "I love another. I have loved him for years. If I marry anyone it will be him or I won't marry. He is the one who fathered my child and he will be my husband or nobody will."

The parents can hardly believe their ears. Immediately the father feels crushed with guilt. The saint had not been responsible for his daughter's dishonour, but he had dishonoured the family by abusing the saint. With great embarrassment and shame, the father goes to the village elders and confesses to them what has happened. They are also all abashed at their former treatment of the saint and they realize there is nothing for it but to go and beg his forgiveness. So once more the father and the village men climb the hill outside the village and stand humbly at the entrance of the cave.

They beseech the saint to come out and soon he appears, carrying a small happy child in his arms. The father is so humiliated at this that he almost can't say anything, but he falls at the saint's feet and finally blurts out, "Forgive me, I have done you a great wrong."

"Is that so?" the saint asks mildly.

"Yes, I am sorry. My daughter has confessed. Here, this is not your child," and the father takes the infant back.

"Is that so?" the saint replies. All of the villagers join in begging forgiveness and asking the saint's pardon, but all he ever says is, "Is that so?"

After confessing their errors, begging forgiveness, and leaving all the gifts and garlands they had brought, the repentant villagers tramped down the hill while the saint went back inside his cave to continue his worship of the Lord as if nothing had ever happened.

When he was given the baby and told it was his, he said, "Is that so?" When the baby was taken away and he was told it wasn't his, he said, "Is that so?" When he was abused, "Is that so?" When he was honoured, "Is that so?"

And why was this? Because the saint, as a true lover of God, took all that happened as His will. As long as we are for ourselves, even if we try to love the Lord, we cannot be resigned to His will. But if we become His, then His will becomes our pleasure and every manifestation of it is a fresh marvel of His divine attributes. If we are His, our equanimity is never disturbed because it is all His doing, and His presence sustains us.

Gist:

In words of Eruch

The saint as a true lover of God took all that happened as His will. As long as we are for ourselves, even if we try to love the Lord, we cannot be resigned to His will. But if we become His, then His will becomes our pleasure and every manifestation of it is a fresh marvel of His divine attributes. If we are His, our equanimity is never disturbed because it is all His doing, and His presence sustains us.

(Is that so?, pp. 106-110, ed. Bill Le Page, 1985 © Bill Le Page)