A quiet and tranquil village - that was how one would have described it. But that was then. It had since become a place of conflict and intrigue. The village elders came together to discuss the state of affairs. One of them, who had seen the good old days, said, “Let's invite a wise man into our village. His very presence will exert a calming effect on the people here. We can also seek his guidance on how to co-exist peacefully with each other." The others thought this was a good idea. One of them went to an ashram in the neighboring town, and invited the Guru to visit the problem-filled village.

In due course, the Guru came to the village. All the villagers gathered in the square to see this sage. He had a look of such serenity that the villagers felt strangely calmed. One of the elders stepped up. With palms joined together prayerfully, he said, "O holy one, thank you for gracing this humble village with your hallowed presence. We were once a peaceful people. But over the last few years, we've seen problems increasing in this village: fighting among people, lawlessness, and a general sense of discontentment. Please help us regain our peace of mind. Tell us, O holy one, how we may live harmoniously with each other."

After the village elder had spoken, everyone looked expectantly at the Guru. He merely smiled. Then turning to his satchel, he took out what looked like dolls. There were four of them. One of them was made of stone, another of clay, the third of cotton, and the fourth of sugar candy. He then asked one of the villagers to bring four glass containers of water. When they brought the four glass containers, the Guru said, "Watch."

He took the stone doll and immersed it in water. The villagers watched. Nothing happened. The Guru smiled. He then picked up the clay doll and immersed it in the second container of water. The water became muddy at once. The doll dissolved into the water, turning it into a murky brown solution. The villagers looked up at the Guru, thinking they would get an explanation. But he said nothing.

He picked up the cotton doll and proceeded to submerge it into the third container of water In no time at all, the doll absorbed all the water in the container and become puffed up. It looked grotesque. Once again, the Guru offered no explanation but merely smiled.

He then picked up the last doll, the one made of sugar candy, and immersed it in the fourth container of water. Nothing happened at first. Then the villagers noticed that it was slowly melting until it dissolved totally in the water. After a while, all that remained was a clear solution that looked like water.

The Guru cleared his throat. The villagers looked at him. "What did you learn?" he asked.

There was pin-drop silence. No one knew what to say. The Guru spoke again, slowly. "Do you want to be like the stone doll?" He looked around at the villagers, making sure that he had their full attention. He continued. "The stone doll did not do anything to the water. It wasn't affected either. Some people are like that. They don't contribute to society in any way. They are totally selfish."

"The clay doll is like a person whose very presence pollutes the environment. The moment the doll was immersed in water, it turned the clear water into a dirty brown solution. Do you want to be like the clay doll?" There was a soft murmur of dissent.

"Or do you want to be like the cotton doll?" the Guru demanded. "It sucks in everything, like a sponge, and becomes all puffed up! All taking, and no giving!" The logic behind the demonstration was now becoming clear to the villagers.

Finally, pointing to the last container of water, the sage asked, "Look at this! The sugar-candy doll gave itself totally to the water, turning it into sweet water. It gave and never took. By sacrificing itself, it spread sweetness all around." The sage paused for a while, seemingly self absorbed. Gazing at the villagers, he asked, "Which kind of life do you think is noblest?"

"The life of the sugar-candy doll," replied the villagers in unison. The Guru had made his point marvelously—the village would regain its lost peace and harmony if the villagers learnt to be more giving and less selfish. As if to make his point clear, he called all the villagers and doled out to each villager a small serving of the sweet water. It was the prasad of love and self-sacrifice! Om.

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