We all love to hear stories. They kindle our imaginations, spark our curiosity and hold our attention through suspense about what will happen next.
All great teachers know this and use the power of storytelling to explain things and make a point.
For instance, the spiritual masters of Vedanta emphasize that the real happiness that we are seeking is not to be found in the outer world. To illustrate this fact, they tell us the story of the Princess of Kashi. . .
Long, long ago, in a kingdom in India, a play was being staged in the royal court. It was called, “The Princess of Kashi.”
The role of the Princess of Kashi was to be played by a little girl. Since there was no little girl in the palace, the queen thought that the prince, who was five at the time, could be dressed up as a girl and play that role.
It wasn’t a big role and all the prince had to do was to stand there. He looked so adorable as a princess that the queen ordered a painting to be made of him.
When the painting was done, the artist brushed in the words, “The Princess of Kashi” at the bottom and dated it.
After some years, the painting was taken down to the palace cellar and stored there. By now, the prince was a young man of 20. He was good looking, confident, smart, and was being trained in the affairs of the land.
One day, while wondering through the palace, he found a set of stairs leading to the cellar and decided to explore what was in there.
He chanced upon a painting of a little girl, dressed up in royal garb. Underneath was written, “The Princess of Kashi.”
Looking at the date, he realised that the princess would be the same age as he. She was so pretty that the prince fell in love with her! He decided he would marry no one but her.
Like any young man in love, he became dreamy and preoccupied with thoughts of the Princess of Kashi. He lost his focus on his princely activities and responsibilities.
The king and queen noticed the change in his mood and behaviour and were concerned. When they asked him what was wrong, he was too shy to tell them.
Finally, a kind old minister met the prince and asked him, “What’s wrong, son? Why are you not yourself these days?”
After gently assuring the prince that he would keep his secret, the minister was able to coax a reply out of the prince.
“I’m in love,” said the prince, bashfully.
“Oh, that’s great news,” said the minister. “Who is she? Where is she?”
“She’s the Princess of Kashi. I saw a painting of her in the royal cellar. The date of the painting shows that she would be 20 years old, just like me. I want to marry her.”
On hearing these words, the minister fell silent and started to think. He knew he had heard of the Princess of Kashi before but couldn’t remember where and when. So he asked, “Can you please show me this painting?”
The prince took him down to the royal cellar. When the minister saw the painting, he immediately recognised who the princess was.
Placing his hand on the prince’s shoulder, the kind-hearted minister looked him in the eye and said in a serious tone, “I have to tell you something. . .”
“What is it?” asked the prince, sensing that something was amiss.
“You can’t marry this girl,” said the minister.
“But why?” the prince asked, alarmed. “Is she already married? Is she. . .dead?”
The minister then told him the story of the play that was staged 15 years ago and how he, the prince was dressed up as a girl and made to play the role of the Princess of Kashi.
“Dear prince, you can’t marry her because you are the Princess of Kashi!”
The prince staggered back in shock and bewilderment as he heard the minister’s words.
On realising the truth that the Princess of Kashi didn’t exist, and that he himself was what he was yearning for, his desire for the princess melted away.
Seeking Happiness while living in Duality
Before we understand the lessons from the story of the Princess of Kashi, it’s important to make some points clear.
Vedanta explains that because we take ourselves to be individuals, separate from each other and the world, we live with a sense of duality— “I” and “the world.”
Moreover, since we all have an innate desire to be happy, and we don’t experience happiness within us, we naturally look to the world outside for the happiness that we seek.
But the problem is that the outer world has no real happiness.
You may wonder what I mean. After all, you do experience happiness from the outer world. For instance, you feel happy when you are able to acquire and enjoy something that you want. Or when you’re in the company of people whom you like, or in a situation that pleases you.
While you do feel happy in these situations, it’s not the true happiness that you seek. This is because you don’t just want to be happy some of the time or to be somewhat happy. You want to be absolutely happy, all the time.
The happiness that comes from your contact with the world is impermanent, uncertain and tinged with a subtle undercurrent of fear.
You experience fear because your happy state of mind depends on things, people and situations remaining in a way that suits your particular wants and needs. Yet you know that that is impossible because nothing stays the same.
True happiness is absolute, permanent and independent of any external and constantly changing factors.
What’s interesting is that even though we never find the real happiness that we seek in the outer world, we just can’t seem to give up searching for it. We seem to be programmed with a desire to find permanent happiness.
Lessons from the story
What is the main lesson in the story of the Princess of Kashi?
Coming back to the point of duality and there being only “I” and “the world,” Vedanta argues that if the outer world does not have any intrinsic happiness, then the only other place it can be is in me.
In fact, not only is real happiness within me, it is me. It’s my true nature.*
I am not the personality whom I take myself to be. I am pure spirit or the Self. My nature is absolute happiness, unconditioned by any outer thing, being or circumstance.
But strangely, I’ve forgotten it. There is however, a deep inner knowing that doesn’t go away. That’s why I never give up or tire of seeking happiness. I’m trying to reclaim my own true nature!
The most stunning teaching of Vedanta demonstrated by this story is that in reality, there is no duality. The world which I superimpose happiness on doesn’t really exist just as the Princess of Kashi doesn’t exist.
What I’m searching for is me myself.
There is no world apart from me.
There is only me.
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