Once, ten foolish men were crossing a stream. The current was strong and the stream quite deep. On reaching the other side, they wanted to make sure all of them had in fact safely forded the stream.
One of them began to count, but while counting the others, left himself out. ‘I see only nine. Sure enough, we have lost one. Who can it be?’ he wondered loudly.
‘Did you count correctly?’ asked another, and did the counting himself. But he too counted only nine. Then one after the other began counting — and each of them counted only nine, missing himself. ‘We are only nine’, they all agreed with dismay, ‘but who is the missing one?’.
‘Whoever he is that is drowned, we have lost him forever,’ said the most sentimental of the ten fools, and burst into tears. The others followed suit and there was a deafening outcry .
Seeing the ten men weeping on the river bank, a wayfarer enquired about the cause. They related what had happened, saying that even after counting themselves several times, they could find no more than nine and so one of them must have drowned!
On hearing the story, but seeing all the ten before him, the wayfarer guessed what had happened. He felt pity for these foolish men but he could not tell them that. In order to make them know for themselves they were really ten, that ‘all of them had survived the crossing’, he told them, ‘Let each of you count only for himself, one after the other. And after each count, I will give that man a blow on the head so that all may be sure of having been included in the count’.
Hearing this, the ten men rejoiced at the prospect of finding their ‘lost’ comrade. One man began by counting himself ‘One’ and got a whack on his hand. The second man then counted himself ‘Two’ and duly got a knock on his head too. And so it continued. ‘Ten,’ said the last man as he got the last blow in his turn.
Bewildered, they now looked at one another, ‘We are ten,’ they said with wonder and thanked the wayfarer for having removed their sorrow. Smiling inwardly, the wayfarer continued on his way.
Elaborating upon this parable, sage Rama Maharishi asked his disciples: ‘From where was the tenth man brought in? Was he ever lost? By knowing that he had been there all the while, did the ten men learn anything new?’
‘The cause of their grief was not the real loss of anyone, it was their own ignorance’, sage Rama continued. And then he told his disciples they had no cause to be unhappy.
‘You yourself impose limitations on your true ture of Infinite Being, and then weep that you are but a finite creature. Then you take up this or that spiritual practice to transcend the non-existent limitations. But if your spiritual practice itself assumes the existence of limitations, how can it help you to transcend them?’, he asked.
Thus the sage taught his disciples to know that each of them was really the Infinite Being, the Pure Self. ‘You are always that Self and nothing but that Self. Therefore, you can never really be ignorant of the Self. Your ignorance is merely an imagined ignorance, like the ignorance of the ten fools about the lost tenth man. It is this ignorance that caused them grief’.
We think of moving towards the goal of supreme realization. Rather, we should begin meditating upon the concept of being realized, being the real self, here and now.