ONCE UPON A TIME there lived a king and his minister. The king, though strong and generous, possessed a short temper. His minister was wise, patient, and devoted to God. In everyday affairs the king usually thought he was the one making everything happen. The minister, however, saw the hand of God everywhere. Despite these differences, the king appreciated the minister, and they were firm friends.
To protect his citizens from dangerous beasts, the king, armed with bow and arrow, would often ride into the forest with a small party of men. His minister would always go with them.
One day while they were out hunting, the king proudly charged through a thicket on his fine steed. But a large cobra slithered in front of the horse, spitting poison from its fangs. The frightened horse kicked up violently, hurtling the king through the air. The king crashed to the ground beside the snake. The snake promptly sank its fangs into the king's finger, and then slithered back into the undergrowth.
The king realized that unless his finger was quickly removed, the poison would travel through his body, reach his heart, and kill him. Without hesitating, he unsheathed his sharp sword and chopped off his finger.
The king's minister bandaged his hand and tried to pacify him with wise words.
"Take this as simply the mercy of the Lord. Accept it as part of His plan."
The king, shaken and upset, did not appreciate the minister's view.
"Be quiet!" he snapped.
But the minister continued to speak of the Lord's mercy.
This enraged the king so much that he ordered his men, "Take this foolish minister back to the city and cast him in the dungeon."
Determined not to change his hunting plan for the day, the king, his hand neatly bandaged, continued alone through the forest searching for wild beasts.
A short while later he was ambushed by a gang of bandits. They captured and bound him. Their leader, grinning broadly, spoke in a gruff voice.
"This is your lucky day; I am going to sacrifice you to the Goddess Kali.* It's not every day she enjoys royal blood!"
* Goddess Kali, the controller of the material energy, neither wants nor accepts human sacrifices. Unfortunately, uncivilized, wicked persons sometimes concoct such a method of "worship."
The king, however, considered himself most unlucky. Bound with ropes, he had no way of saving himself from a bloody death on Kali's altar.
Pointing at the king, the leader ordered his men, "Our human offering should be stripped, washed, and wrapped in a new cloth."
As the men stripped him, one cried out, "Look, there's a finger missing."
Inspecting the king's hand, the leader of the gang was disappointed.
"We cannot possibly offer an incomplete human to Kali," he grunted. "Release him, you fools, and find someone else."
Unexpectedly freed from his bonds, the king mounted his horse and sped back to the city. Going straight to the dungeons, he ordered the release of the minister. Embracing his friend, the king apologized.
"By the mercy of the Lord I lost a finger. And as a result I had my life spared!"
After explaining the incredible incident to his minister, the king paused thoughtfully.
"I'm still a little puzzled. If everything that happens is the mercy of the Lord, what is the point in your being thrown in the dungeon?"
With a knowing twinkle in his eye, the minister replied, "If you hadn't ordered me to be thrown in the dungeon, I would have been with you when you were captured. Finding me with no parts missing, the gang would undoubtedly have used me as the human offering."
The king and his minister laughed loudly, tears streaming down their faces. Glad to be alive, they agreed that it certainly was all the mercy of the Lord.
Excerpted from Vedic Stories from Ancient India.