Wisdom is found in every religious tradition. Stories which offer a moral, cause us to think about our decisions and priorities in life, or challenge us to see things in a new way help us grow in wisdom and understanding. Wisdom stories don’t have to follow the laws of physics or be historically true – if they convey a point and cause us to think and reflect on our values, they have done their job. Below is a prose poem from story-teller Anthony De Mello set in a Hindu Indian tradition. It offers us a universal truth not dependent on one religious tradition, and plays upon our wish to win the lottery or have a Genie grant us three wishes, and pokes at our own short-sighted selfishness (even our selfishness in prayer where we attempt to turn God into a Genie whose job is to fulfill our wishes). Wisdom often brings us out of our dreamy wish-world and into reality. And as this story suggests, we might all be better off with some contentment and thankfulness for what we have rather than wishing for life on our terms.
“The Lord Vishnu said to his devotee: ‘I am weary
of your constant petitions.
I have decided to grant you any
three things you ask for. After that,
I shall give you nothing more.’
The devotee delightedly made his first
petition at once. He asked that his
wife should die so that he could marry
a better woman. His petition was
But when friends and relatives gathered
for the funeral and began to recall all
the good qualities of his wife, the
devotee realized he had been hasty. He
now realized he had been blind to
all her virtues. Was he likely to find
another woman as good as her?
So he asked the Lord
to bring her back to life!
That left him with just one
petition. He was determined not
to make a mistake this time, for he
would no chance to correct it.
He consulted widely. Some of his friends
advised him to ask for immortality, But
of what good was immortality, said others,
if he did not have good health? And of
what use was health if he had no money?
And of what use was money if he had no friends?
Years passed and he could not make up
his mind what to ask for: life or health
or wealth or power or love. Finally he
said to the Lord, ‘Please advise me on
what to ask for.’
The Lord laughed when he saw the
man’s predicament, and said, ‘Ask to
be content no matter what you get.’
(The Song of the Bird, pgs. 142-143)