The Three Flames

Swami Chintanshuddhi Saraswati

In a little valley hermitage, far away from the eyes of the world, there lived a guru and several disciples, who were devoted to the quiet study and reflection of sublime spiritual truths.

One late autumn day, as the vale's myriad trees glowed with red and golden leaves, a homeless child wandered into the hermitage. The disciples were sitting in deep contemplation by the river, but one opened his eyes and smiled as she approached, hearing the rustle of leaves under her light step. She asked him if she might stay awhile, being so very tired and hungry, but he guided her gently back to the valley path and gave her some fruits, explaining that there was a town beyond the sacred valley where she would find a place to stay.

The girl felt sad, but thanked him for his kindness and wearily set off along the path. After a few steps she turned and saw the guru watching from across the river, his face as radiant as a hundred suns. His gaze burnt an image in her mind and heart as she continued on her way, and stayed with her for the many miles of her journey.

As dusk fell, the girl came to the outskirts of a country town. The cobbled streets seemed grey and dismal in the fading light. A few carriages passed by, otherwise the town was very quiet, as if in some deep slumber. Sitting under a tree by the road, she ate the last of her fruit and lay down to sleep, exhausted by the long journey. As she closed her eyes the image of the radiant guru shone brightly in her mind, warming her chilled body and filling her aching heart.

The next day, the girl was fortunate enough to meet an enterprising shopkeeper, who gave her a job selling matches. She carried the matches in a little wicker basket, offering them for sale as she wandered up and down the market street. Some kindly folk stopped at the sight of this poor little waif and purchased a box or two. Thus she survived, eating a little and sleeping wherever she could find a sheltered doorway or corner.

As winter approached, its icy fingers gave her no peace at night and her ragged clothes were too thin to keep her warm. As snowstorms struck, she could find no souls on the streets to buy her matches.

One night, huddled in a corner, ill with cold and hunger, she struck a match to warm her freezing fingers. As if by magic the flame burst into a great light, and in the flame she saw a picture - the face of her long-dead mother smiling in the garden by the family cottage. Even the roses were visible in full spring bloom. She gasped in amazement, but then the flame died down and the world became dark and cold again. A few snowflakes settled on her hand as she lit a second match. Once again the flame burst into a great halo of light; this time she saw herself journeying through desolate fields, in grief and pain, trying to find shelter, comfort and peace.

The vision faded and she realized that now there was only one match left. Striking it, she watched with wonder as the flame burst into brilliance. This time she saw the guru's radiant face, and felt his warming gaze as he reached out to her from within the flame. And as she took his hand she closed her eyes to the fading world.

And many snowflakes fell that night, covering her little body in a pure white grace, such as the sleeping world would never see.