Devdas was an ordinary man living an ordinary life in the city of Benares. He used to work as an accountant for a wealthy merchant. One day, while walking back from work, he decided to go the river bank and cool off for a while before heading home.
He was sitting on the ghat watching the river when he saw an old hermit, a sadhu, standing before him. The Sadhu was in ochre robe, his hair matted, his face aglow with beauty and power. As if prompted from within, Devdas stood up and bowed to the Sadhu.
The Sadhu spoke to Devdas as if he had always known him intimately: “Quit your job and meet me here, by the Ganga, three days from now.” Then, as if by magic, he disappeared.
Devdas went next day to the merchant and, a bit nervously, announced his decision to quit. The merchant liked Devdas and tried to persuade him to change his mind. But Devdas persisted and so the merchant reluctantly let him go. Devdas did not have many friends or acquaintances in town, so he was not missed.
Three days later, Devdas met the Sadhu on the bank of the Ganga.
The Sadhu said to him, “Go throw yourself into the Ganga! Maybe you will be saved by someone,” and, just as before, disappeared.
Devdas thought only for a moment: “It is a strange command, indeed!” He then jumped into the Ganga. Devdas was a good swimmer, so he did not drown. He kept drifting farther away from the city of Benares, as the day faded into dusk.
Late into the night, fatigued, just managing to float, he bumped into a fisherman’s boat. The fisherman pulled him up into the boat and scolded him: “You foolish man! The current is strong and will sweep you away. What do you think you are doing?”
Devdas shrugged his shoulder and said, “I don’t know!” He then curled up on the floor of the boat and went to sleep.
The fishermen took pity on this mad man and took him home. When he discovered that Devdas was educated and could write and speak well, he asked him to stay back and help him. Devdas, thus, became the fisherman’s apprentice and tried his best to be of use to him.
A few month’s passed. Then, one fine morning, the Sadhu appeared to Devdas again and said: “Leave this place now. No need to bid goodbye. Your fisherman friend will be looked after.”
Devdas immediately left the fisherman’s hut and started walking in the direction of the next town. He kept walking for the rest of the day till he came upon a small village. It was getting dark. He lay himself down to rest. He was so tired that he drifted off into sleep. He awoke as the sun came up. And he saw a farmer approaching him on a buffalo.
“Are you looking for work?”, the farmer asked Devdas, “I am looking for help — the harvesting season starts in a day or two.”
Devdas agreed to help him through the season. The farmer, impressed by Devdas’ skills and hard work, asked him to stay back longer and Devdas again agreed. He was neither happy nor unhappy: no question or doubt arose in his mind.
More than two years passed by. Devdas made some money of his own and saved most of it as he had no expenses. He also learnt much about farming and markets.
Then one day, as the winters approached, the Sadhu returned to him and told him, “Now leave this farming and go to Pataliputra. Use the money you have save to set up your own shop. Do something useful!” The Sadhu, as always, disappeared as mysteriously as before.
As always, Devdas obeyed without a moment’s hesitation. He left the farm and the farmer and started walking again. He walked for many days and, at last, reached Pataliputra. He took some weeks to settle into the new city and set up his own shop selling farm produce.
He did well and prospered. He also became quite well known. People who would meet him would come back quite impressed. “There is something about this man,” most would say of Devdas, “one feels at peace around him!”
Many years passed without the Sadhu reappearing to Devdas. Devdas continued to work hard and prosper. He was still quite a loner but now many folks wanted to come to him, buy from him and spend time with him. He even bagan to think of finally settling down, perhaps buy his own farm and build a house for himself.
And then, one fine day, the Sadhu came back.
Devdas bowed again to the Sadhu and waited, with no restlessness, no question, no expectation.
“Give me your money,” said the Sadhu quietly, “and go to Nalanda. You will find an old ashram on the outskirts. Go and find some work there.”
Davdas gave all his money to the Sadhu and left for Nalanda.
When Devdas reached the ashram and the inmates met him, they all bowed in reverence and thought a great sage had come to their ashram. They welcomed Devdas and invited him to stay with them for however long he wanted.
Devdas had changed much now. What the others saw in Devdas was an ethereal light, a mysterious glow upon his face and a profundity in his eyes. As the days passed, everyone in the ashram began to realize that they had a holy man in their midst. People from all around started visiting him. Word spread. Even scholars from the great university started coming to him.
“Who is your teacher, Sir,” they would all ask, ”To what lineage do you belong?”
And Devdas would say, “That is difficult to answer”.
Devdas was always a man of few words, but now he had become even quieter. But there was always a twinkle in his eyes, as if he was enjoying some cosmic joke.
His friends and disciples would ask, “How did it all start, Sir? Tell us your story..”
And Devdas would say, “I was an accountant to a merchant in Benares. Then one day, I left.”
“Did you take sannyas? Did you renounce the world?” They would all ask.
“No,” Devdas would reply, “I just walked one day. And kept walking”
They wouldn’t understand him but they would all feel awed by the mystery and power around him.
The elders at the ashram once approached him to write the story of his life and sadhana, to inspire the young. This, they said, was the tradition.
Devdas readily agreed and told his story: “I jumped into the Ganga and nearly drowned when a fisherman took me into his boat. I became a fisherman with him. Then, one day, I left his hut and went away to become a farmhand. Then I left farming and became a merchant. I earned some money. I then gave away all the money and came here. And here I am.”
“But,”, the elders persisted, “this tells us nothing. No teacher or teaching, no tradition, no awakening…It’s quite inexplicable! How did all the wisdom and peace come to you?”
And Devdas said, “That is how it was meant to be.”
And, so the story goes, the elders created a deep mystical story around Devdas because saints and mystics must have their stories, with childhood miracles and predictions and great revelations thrown in. Thus was Devdas transformed into a living Saint.
But somewhere in that ashram, even today, Devdas sits alone smoking a hukkah and waiting for a Sadhu.
With a twinkle in his eyes.
Inspired by a story retold by Osho